Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Muslim Prayer Beads

Islamic Prayer Beads
Photo Credit: Patheos
It is said that the prophet Mohammed invoked the very presence of God (Allah) by reciting all 99 of His most beautiful names. Muslims believe that the recitation of Allah’s names will grant them entrance into paradise. {8}

Subhah Beads
Today, as an aid in the recitation of Allah praises, Muslims use a string of 100 or 34 prayer beads. These rosaries, called subhah or tesbih, are used most often to close out the five daily prayer times. Facing Mecca, a devout Muslim takes hold of his beads in his right hand. With his fingers, he touches the first bead and recites the first of God’s most beautiful names. Cycling through each round bead, he makes his way through the entire list of 99 names, ending with the essential name, Allah, on the final horn-shaped bead.

Though the number of beads on a subhah are crucial (33 or 99), the materials from which the beads are made can vary. In the time of Mohammed, Allah’s prophet (570-632 AD), beads were most often made of stones, pebbles, or date seeds. Much later, during the Ottoman Empire (1299-1922 AD), crystal beads were often accompanied by silver tassels. Though most commonly fashioned out of wood, more modern Muslim prayer beads have been made of amber, pearl, coral, ivory, jade, gold, silver, glass, and plastic.

On a strand of 99 beads, there is always one “leader” bead called imame, bringing the number of beads to 100 (or 34 for a smaller set of 33 beads). On a full strand, there are also two nisane discs between each set of 33 beads and one pul which marks the seventh position. On a strand of 33 beads, the nisane are placed after every 11th bead, and the pul is excluded.

Muslim Prayer Beads
Photo Credit: Abdur Rahman's Corner

A Variety of Prayers
Just as Muslims use various materials to make their prayer beads, there are also many variations in how they are used. One such variation is to use a string of 34 or 100 beads to recite three cycles of mantras. To practice this form of meditation, a supplicant will repeat three different phrases 33 times each:

"Allah is sublime.”
“All praise goes to Allah.”
"Allah is the greatest.”

On the 34th or 100th bead, the following prayer might be recited: “There is no God but Allah. He is One. He has no partner. To Him is the dominion of all praise, and He has power over all things.” {5}

Making Pilgrimage
Every able-bodied Muslim is required to make a pilgrimage (hajj) at least once in his or her lifetime to Mecca, a city in Saudi Arabia. During a hajj, a devotee might use his subhah to recite the 100 beautiful names of God, including “The Source of Peace,” “The Creator,” and “The Great Forgiver,” as he walks around the Ka’ba, a large, black cuboid building considered to be the sacred center, not only of Mecca, but of the entire universe.

Muslims, like Hindus and Buddhists, believe that reciting the sacred names of God in mantra-like fashion focuses the mind, drawing the supplicant beyond the physical into the metaphysical plane. It is in worship of the One True God, Allah, that Muslims find their center, their purpose of being. In order to keep worship of Allah as the primary center of their lives, Muslims halt all activities five times a day, turn toward Mecca, and recite their prayers on their prayer beads.

Read more about prayer beads: Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist.


1. Answering Islam. “Names of Allah, the 99 Beautiful.” Accessed October 26, 2012.
2. Encylopedia Britannica Online. “Rosary.” Accessed October 20, 2012.
3. Islam Tomorrow. “Purpose of Life.” Accessed October 27, 2012.
4. Museum of Anthropology. University of Missouri. “Prayer Beads: A Cultural Experience.” Copyright 2011. Last updated October 22, 2012.
5. Paul, LoriAnn V. “How to Pray With Muslim Prayer Beads: Thikr, Dhikr, Zikr, Tasbih, Tespihi, Subha, Misbaha.” Hearts to Heaven (website). Accessed October 26, 2012.
6. Prayer Beads World (website). “Prayer Beads in Islam.” Copyright 2008. Accessed October 22, 2012.
7. Wiley, Eleanor and Maggie Oman Shannon. A String and a Prayer: How to Make and Use Prayer Beads. Boston & York Beach: 2002.
8. Winston, Kimberly Bead One, Pray Too. New York: Moorehouse Publishing, 2008.
9. Adams, Tom. “Prayer Beads—Tibetan Mala.” Eastern Healing Arts (website). Copyright 2004-2010. Accessed October 26, 2012.
10. Khalsa, Dayakaur. “Mala Beads.” Mala-beads (website). Accessed October 29, 2012.
11. Rosary Workshop. “Journaling the Bead: A History of the Rosary.” Accessed October 20, 2012.
12. S, Anamika. “Hindu Prayer Beads for chanting Mantras.” HubPages. Last updated June 17, 2012.

*Clip-art courtesy of The Graphics Fairy


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