Prayer beads have a long history: initially beads were strung and used as ornaments. The first that is heard of beads being used as a prayer tool was in India, in the Hindu faith.
Today, prayer beads are used in many different faiths:
- and Islam
What they all have in common is their purpose:
- to help count the number of prayer recitations
- to aid concentration during personal prayers
- as a source of comfort: fingering the beads during times of stress or anxiety. This is the reason they are often referred to as “worry” beads!
Each faith has a slightly different number of beads and they have different patterns of usage.
ISLAMIC PRAYER BEADS:
Some Muslims believe that prayer beads in the Islamic faith are an “unwelcome innovation”, and propose that all Muslims use the “finger joint” counting method (as the Prophet Mohammed did) as being the only way to tally prayers.
However, 600 years ago use of prayer beads in the Islamic faith became popular and widespread. The words used to name this practice are:
- Misbaha (the prayer beads)
- Tasbih (the counting of praises)
In the Islamic prayer beads, there are 99 beads in a full set, divided into 3 sets of 33, but a small disc, and ending in a tassel, so that the user can “feel” where they are in the prayers. These 99 beads are to represent the 99 names of God. But the more popular beads are the smaller ones with 33 beads on them, again often divided into sets of 3.
It is recommended to recite these praise prayers after each of the 5 daily ritual prayers:
Subnah Allah (Glory be to God)
Al-hamdu lilah (Praise be to God)
Allah Akbar (God is the greatest)
You would say 33 of each of these, and then end with a final prayer, the total being 100.
But you can also pray these voluntary prayers on the go: any place, any time. As a friend said to me: “It helps pass the time when you are stuck in a traffic jam!” (which here in Egypt can be a lot of the time!). Basically any free time you have in a day can be used to make these repetitions.
THE USE OF THE BEADS:
Beads are moved through the fingers, using the thumb, reciting one of the phrases above, 33 times. This “fingering” allows the user to keep track of how many prayers have been said, with a minimal amount of conscious effort. This is turn allows greater attention to be paid to the prayers themselves.
TYPES OF BEADS:
You can get many and varied prayer beads: whatever your pocket can afford! Beads can range from the mass produced plastic variety, to the hand-made ones of pure gold, so I am told! And in between you will find them made from:
- fragrant wood
- coconut shells
- mother of pearl shells
They can vary (usually) from 5 mm in diameter, to 20 mm.
MODERN PRAYER COUNTERS:
Recently here in Egypt, I have seen the rise in popularity of the prayer counters. These are hand held, strapped onto the wrist or arm, or worn as a ring. They can be manual, mechanical, digital, with LED lights, electronic, mini tally counters and now come in a variety of colors and can be ordered on line. You click every time you pray, and it keeps a progressive total for you.
This is met with mixed feelings, as it is a new invention, and also the danger is that you begin to “show off” or compete with others, losing the key focus of the prayers. Also the total of your prayers becomes more visible for others to see, and can then be worn as a “trophy”.
But many find that it is easy, modern, simple and reliable, and enjoy the new way of keeping track of the prayers they have said.