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Home Practices Additional prayers Evidence about prayer-beads in Islam

Evidence about prayer-beads in Islam

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Arabic: masbaha, subha, tasbih

It has been suggested by orientalists and by some Muslims reiterating their arguments that the use of prayer beads started in Hinduism and was carried over into Buddhism.

At the time of the Arab expansion, Afghanistan and western Persia were primarily Buddhist.  The mystics of Islam and the mystics of Buddhism of course recognized each other, and thus the notion of counting prayers on a string of beads made its way westwards.  The Christians got them from the "Saracens" (Turks, mostly) during the Crusades.  However this view of the origin of the tasbih is incorrect:


Allah says in His Holy Book to His Holy Prophet, "Remind people, for reminding benefits them." The reminder of Muslims has various forms, public and private.  A public form of this reminder is the adhan. The masbaha or subha or tasbih, or rosary, or prayer-beads, has had since the earliest companions the function of a private reminder.  It is for that reason that the tasbih was called by them mudhakkira, "reminder."

The statement, often heard today, that counting dhikr on beads is an innovation, is mistaken.  The use of beads for counting dhikr is a sunna attested by the sahih hadith of Saad ibn Abi Waqqas, who related that the Prophet, Peace be upon him, once saw a woman using some date stones or pebbles (nawan aw hasan), and did not prohibit her to use them. This hadith is found in Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Nisa'i, Ibn Maja, Ibn Hibban, and Hakim. Dhahabi declared it sahih.  Another sahih hadith to that effect was related by Safiyya, who was seen by the Prophet, Peace be upon him, counting "Subhan Allah" on four thousand date stones.  This hadith is found in Tirmidhi, Hakim, and Tabarani, and was confirmed by Suyuti.

The Indian hadith scholar Zakariyya al-Khandlawi relates in his book "Stories of the Sahaba" that Abu Hurayrah said: "I recite istighfar (formula of asking forgiveness) 12,000 times daily" and that, according to his grandson, he had a piece of thread with 1,000 knots (or 2,000) and would not go to sleep until he had said Subhan Allah (Glory to God)on all of these knots. According to her granddaughter through Imam Hussayn, Sittna Fatima also used to count her dhikr on a thread with knots.

Mawlana Zakariyya continues, "It is well-known that many other companions of the Prophet, Peace be upon him, used beads in their private devotions, such as Saad ibn Abi Waqqas himself, Abu Safiah the slave of the Prophet, Abu Sa`d, Abu Darda', and Sittna Fatima, May Allah be pleased with them all.  Stringing or not stringing the beads together does not make any difference."

It is also well-established that counting dhikr is a sunna of the Prophet, Peace be upon him.  He himself advised his wives, Sayyidna cAli, and Sittna Fatima to count tasbih (subhan Allah), tahmid (al-hamdu lillah), and takbir (Allahu akbar) thirty-three times each before going to bed at night.  Ibn `Amr relates that he saw the Prophet, Peace be upon him, count the times he said "Subhan Allah" on his hand.

Imam Suyuti recounted in one of his fatwas entitled "al-minha fi al-sibha" (The Profit Derived From Using a Rosary) the story of Ikrima, who asked his teacher `Umar al-Maliki about the rosary.  `Umar answered him that he had also asked his teacher Hasan al-Basri about it and was told: "Something we have used at the beginning we are not desirous to leave at the end.  I love to remember Allah with my heart, my hand, and my tongue."  Suyuti comments: "And how should it be otherwise, when the rosary reminds one of Allah Most High, and a person seldom sees a rosary except he remembers Allah, which is among the greatest of its benefits. “The idea that the sibha comes from Buddhism or Christianity was one of the Hungarian scholar Ignaz Goldziher's  (fl. 1897) legacies to orientalism.

Blessings and Peace on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions

Fouad Haddad, Naqshbandi-Haqqani Foundation of Ahl al-Sunna wal-Jama`a.



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