Still Do You Want to Keep Your Hands Aside?

When my friend Al Ameen from UK had visited Kerala for the last time we had talked of a lot of things. Among that he remembered an incident of Shaikh Ibrahim Osi Efa, a UK based scholar using his prayer bead, while taking a class, within his pocket while his fingers moved them slowly.

Ashraf Nurani, another friend of mine, had also recollected such an incident when he met Syed Farid Al Attas, a well-renowned academician and author, at an academic conference. He was busy writing with one hand and the other hand was moving the rosary beads along.

The two instances I mentioned here prove us how popular these prayer beads have become in the daily life of common person, ranging from scholars to academicians to traders.

Used by some, when
praying and person influenced by religion in their design,
for many, the beads are a way to relax,
to switch off from this world to transcend to the outer world.

Search through the crowd and you will see them;
poking out of a pocket or wrapped loosely around a hand,
their owner absent-mindedly moving each bead with their thumb.

Search, and you will find them
dangling from the rear-view mirror of a vehicle.

While used in many religions-Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Christianity – prayer beads in Islam are known by different names – misbaha, sub’ha, dhikr beads or simply tasbih. They come in different materials, shapes, sizes and textures, and usually have 33,99 or 100 round beads separated by flat or bigger beads into three groups. There’s often a large elongated bead named Imam, shawahid to mark in between and a tassel or knotted threads at one end to mark the start point of Adkar.

During the messenger’s time, people mostly used their hands to recite the phrases and this practice is still common today among believers. Pebbles and some seeds were also used to count prayers, usually when there were extended counts of Adkar.

Carved out of too many materials like coquille nut, wood, ivory, camel bone and even of stones like Carnalian Agate (Aqeeq), amethyst and Turquoise (Fayruz) they are fascinated by young and old alike.

Often carved with tiny geometric or floral designs, wood is symbolic of humbleness and simplicity. Light to carry, they’re often used when travelling and to finish off Riyadhas (tremendous spiritual practice of performing rituals as prescribed by a Shaikh or a spiritual mentor). Some people even dip wooden prayer beads in the holy water of Zamzam, olive oil or rose water to keep up their reverence and to preserve them for a longer term.

From sentimental value to helping people relax, prayer beads are a comfort to thousands.

People like them because they help them concentrate. Others like them because of their sound. Some people believe that they help them reach a spiritual state of mind.

As the Misbaha is a personal item it reflects the individual’s taste and character. “In general, the most popular choices are made of black coral (yusr), amber (kahruba), Coquille nut (seed of Bahia Piassava tree). Yusr exists in abundance in the Red Sea. It is a hard, black material, yet soft to touch. One way of verifying its authenticity is exposing it to a bright light and checking if it has a brownish glow, Interestingly, elements such as silver are often used to add extra flair to the beads, making them somewhat of a fashion accessory. It is one reason why many people around the world began collecting misbaha, elevating its status to a precious belonging and souvenir.

The second most popular choice is amber, which is priced according to its age, oxidation and weight. Indeed, a single gram can cost as much as 150 USD. This substance is mainly found around the Baltic Sea. The resin, which later transforms into amber, comes from the different pine trees that used to grow there.

The third type of misbaha popular is made of Coquille nut (coke as used by Arabs) and is primarily priced depending on how light or dark its colour is and various designs.

Subha bead is the most beautiful accessory that a Muslim carries, they are by one’s side like a spouse in happy, angry and sad times.

Now are you ready to give your fingers a reason to move?

Hashim Jilani is a prolific writer in both English and Malayalam. He has a keen interest in writing hagiographies. Currently, he works as a research officer at Malaibar Foundation for Research and Development (MFRD).

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