A quarterly specialized journal
The Message Of Folklore from Bahrain To The World

Prayer beads (Masbaha): From the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul to Al Shuq Palace in Cairo

Issue 33
Prayer beads (Masbaha): From the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul to Al Shuq Palace in Cairo

By Dr. Iman Mahran

People use prayer beads to keep count while they recite the Tasbih prayer. The beads are made of natural materials such as stones, wood, metal or bone, or of artificial materials.  

In the past, the beads were made of shell, red and white clay, ivory, seeds, bone, glass, precious stones, and fish bones.

Prayer beads are usually made of one material and coated with another raw material. The beads should be smooth and durable and connected by a strong string, because prayer beads travel with their owners.

The materials are turned based on a design created by a specialised designer. One well-known designer is Sami Lutfi, who graduated from the Academy of Arts in the 1990s.

The beads vary from country to country, with the people of each place having different preferences for the size, shape, weight, colour and texture of the beads. This diversity adds to the prayer beads’ beauty.

Traditionally, prayer beads end with a minaret, but nowadays, some chains end with a crescent or another Islamic symbol.

The tassel, a decorative addition, comes in various shapes and sizes, and they are usually found with chains made from local materials.

There are rules that govern the bead-making process. For instance, women are not allowed to make prayer beads, but they can design them.

Mecca and Medina are huge markets for prayer beads. In some cultures, prayers beads are also used:

  1. As amulets to protect against magic
  2. As protection from jealousy
  3. As a good luck charm
  4. As jewellery on the wrist or around the neck, with young people of all nationalities using the prayer beads for different purposes. Most women in the Arab world prefer the German Rosary.
  5. Amber beads that include fossilized insects are popular among young people.
  6. In Egypt, beads are associated with visiting graves and mausoleums.

For meditation, Hindus use Rudrashka beads and the Buddhists use Malas with between 32 and 108 beads. Some Jews and Christians use prayer beads or rosaries; the Jewish rosary has 45 beads.

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