When I started exploring Sufi meditation practices and Dhikr I was surprised to come across divergent opinions on using prayer beads. I found many articles on the internet which discouraged the use of prayer beads. I became worried if by using prayers beads I am invalidating my prayers.
After a lot of careful research I came to the conclusion that while reliance on an external tool is not encouraged, prayers beads not prohibited. I am by no means an authority in the rules of the faith and I constantly pray for guidance.
When I was a kid, my relatives who went for Haj would always bring us back some gifts from Mecca which included dates, beautiful prayer rugs and Dhikr beads. We enjoyed the succulent dates and prayed our daily Salah on the prayer rugs, but the prayer beads remained largely unused in our cupboards and boxes.
My parents and my grandmother often recited Allah’s name on their fingers, and beads never became popular in our house.
My Interest in Prayer Beads
In recent years, I started researching Dua which our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) taught to his companions. These Dua and devotions support and strengthen the daily Salah that we Muslims pray.
Traditionally these short short Dua prayers (e.g., the 99 names of Allah) are recited multiple times and this recitation is called Dhikr (Zikr). Usually in the past, I would use my fingers for keeping count of the prayers as I recited them.
A few years back, I tried Dhikr using one of the prayer beads we had in our house, and I was surprised at how much easier and relaxing it was to use the beads, rather than my fingers. When counting on our fingers, we can often get caught up in other thoughts or activities, and lose count. By moving a physical object, for instance a bead on a string, we are free to focus more effectively on the prayer and its meaning.
The prayer beads are for beginners on the spiritual path just as abacus are for kids. As a kid did we not use an abacus-like counting tool? As we grew up, we became more adept at complex calculations and no longer needed the abacus. The truly enlightened do not need a crutch to approach Allah, but tools like the prayer beads if properly used – can perhaps help us concentrate in our Dhikr more easily.
Proper use of prayer beads obviously means not using them for showing off, and using them with mindfulness. Beads are not an essential part of Islam and should certainly not be used for any symbolism.
Tasbeeh and Misbaha
Tasbeeḥ is a form of Zikr (Dhikr) that involves the repetitive utterances of short phrases in the praise and glorification of Allah, in Islam. Sufi masters traditionally teach their disciples specific phrases to invoke Allah’s blessings – these phrases need to be recited multiple times. To keep track of counting, either the fingers of the right hand or a string of beads can be used.
Misbaha is a string of beads used to keep count while reciting the names of Allah or other ways of Dhikr. Typically a Misbaha has 99 beads, (corresponding to the Names of Allah) and two smaller beads separating every 33 beads. With the help of this design, some Muslims would include different phrases like counting Alla hu Akbar, Subhan Allah and Al-hamdu lilah, each 33 times.
The design of beads (i.e. 99 beads with markers after each of the 33 beads) is simply to make counting easy since many of the Islamic Dhikr practices traditionally advise reciting Dua 33 times or 99 times.
The World of Beads
Strings of beads are a popular meditation aid in almost every religion. The prayer beads make it easy to focus on the meaning or sound of the prayer rather than worrying about counting its repetitions.
Tibetans sometimes use grains of rice, yak bones and even human bones in their prayer beads.
Apart from religious purposes, the beads are also used for therapeutic purposes. In Greece, the counting of string of beads is said to promote relaxation. In some Greek traditions the bridegroom, on his wedding night, will perform a worry bead ritual involving rapid back-and-forth movement of the beads.These beads are often made of crystals and stones which are said to have calming properties.
KASM is an Islamic Therapeutic practice based on Quran in which prayer beads are extensively used.
Beads are not only made of wood but are also made of Amethyst, Coral, Pearls, Gold. Black Onyx, Lapis Lazuli, Turquoise and Aqeeq (Carnelian Agate). The last stone (Aqeeq) is specially popular among some Muslims as it’s said that the Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings be upon him) used to wear a ring made from this reddish-brown stone with “Allah Rasul Muhammad” carved on it, which he used as his personal seal when stamping documents.
When I started using prayer beads some friends told me that it is not encouraged in Islam that you use beads. I was told that using fingers for Dhikr is considered better. I was puzzled and wanted to explore this further.
I realize that in today’s world, religion has become a commodity. Politicians flaunt it to garner votes from the faithful. Businessmen carry prayer mats on their shoulder so they are recognized as honest symbols of religion. The priests carry prayer beads in their hands so they are considered devoted to their profession.
The prayer beads became synonymous with showing off and this in turn caused scholars to issue a Fatwa saying that that using prayer beads has no precedent in sharia. Many Muslim scholars went on to say that it is an unnecessary – even intolerable – innovation in Islam (Biddah). People started saying that we should not use prayer beads.
It is documented that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) used his fingers for Tasbeeh and he is said to have advised that “fingers will be asked to speak for you” on the Day of Judgement. Islamic scholars thus justly consider counting Tasbeeh on fingers as a better way of praying.
The way shown by our beloved Prophet, Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) is always the best way and as such I believe that tasbeeh using fingers is best. As far as I know, the Prophet (PBUH) did not forbid other tools for counting prayers. While I could not find documented tradition of using prayer beads during the time of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), there is documented history of the Companions (Sahabah) using dates or pebbles to keep track of their prayers. It is written that the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) saw Aisha (peace be upon her) counting tasbeeh with pebbles and he approved of her doing that. It was also narrated that Abu Hurayrah (Allah be pleased with him) counted tasbeeh with pebbles.
For many of us who need an easier way of counting, the prayer bead can allow us to focus on our prayers more easily than counting on fingers. When our faith becomes strong and our mind is easily focused on Allah then we can stop using the tools like prayer beads.
However in the modern stressful world there are times when our thoughts are so scattered that we find it impossible to concentrate on prayer. We are constantly engrossed by all kinds of thoughts that appear in our heads, and we no sooner start to pray than we catch ourselves thinking about something else. When there is so much mental agitation it is better to use a tool to focus our mind, rather than pray with a distracted mind. The physical presence of the prayer beads in our fingers can help us catch ourselves and return to our task of prayer and tasbeeh. While counting the beads, when our fingers meet up with one of the marker beads, it is like a tiny bell ringing in our head to bring us back to our Dua.
As our minds become more relaxed and quiet, we may not need to continue using the beads or saying Dua audibly. When concentration is difficult, we can use beads (or fingers) as means to help keep our minds on prayer. The important thing is to be able to keep still, make our mind quiet and concentrate on the words of the prayer and the meaning of the prayer as we repeat it.
What is obviously bad about using prayer beads is using them to show off our faith. There is no point in moving our fingers mindlessly while talking to people or while thinking about something else. The truly devout Muslims know that their prayers are only for Allah.
We can use the prayer beads in many ways. At any time of the day when we have some free time, without being seen by anyone, we hold the strings of beads with our hands while whispering the Glorious Names of Allah. While relaxing in our garden or while traveling we can keep the prayer beads in our coat pockets and use them to remember and praise Allah in our hearts.
If we use them for good, and our intentions are good then I am sure, with Allah’s help, only good will come out of our efforts.
- Dhikr: wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhikr
- KASM: Islamic Spiritual Wellness Program: https://www.academia.edu/20260821/The_Beautiful_Path_of_Recovery_from_Mental_Distress_and_Misery
- KASM Therapy Manual for Trainers: https://www.academia.edu/17138680/KASM_Therapy_Manual
- The History and How to of Komboloi aka Greek Worry Beads: http://greece.greekreporter.com/2012/12/05/the-history-and-how-to-of-komboloi-aka-greek-worry-beads/
- Hazrat Aisha (r.a): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aisha
- Prayer Beads: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_beads