What is the ruling concerning prayer beads [subha]?
Invocation with prayer beads or any other device used to count is an act that is religiously sanctioned and confirmed by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). It is also an act that occurred among the Pious Predecessors [al-salaf] without any condemnation.
Hadiths demonstrating permissibility
- On the authority of Safiyya bint Hayy, who said:
The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) entered upon me one day and between my hands were four thousand date seed which I was using to invoke God. I said, "I have been using these to invoke God."
He replied, "Shall I teach you something greater than this which you can use?"
"Yes," she I replied.
He said, "Say 'praise be to God the number of His creation" [Reported by al-Tirmidhi and graded rigorously authentic by al-Hakim and confirmed by al-Dhahabi).
- On the authority of Sa'd ibn abu Waqqas (may God be pleased with him) who said:
I visited a woman with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) who had in her hands pebbles or date seeds which she was using to invoke God. So the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "Shall I inform you of that which is easier and better than this? Say, 'praise be to God the number of His creation in the heavens, praise be to God the number of His creation on earth, praise be to God the number of His creation that He has created; God is the Greatest in the same amount, all thanks is due to God the same amount, there is no deity but God the same amount, and there is no power nor strength except by God the same amount" (Reported by abu Dawud and al-Tirmidhi, graded authentic by al-Nasa`i and ibn Majah, and graded rigorously authentic by ibn Habban and al-Hakim).
- On the authority of al-Qasim ibn abd al-Rahman who said:
"Abu al-Darda` kept date seeds in a bag. When he would pray the Dawn Prayer he would take them out and invoke with them until they finished" (Reported by Ahmed in al-Zuhd and graded rigorously authentic).
- On the authority of abu Nadra al-Ghaffari who said:
An old man from Tufawa informed me: "Abu Hurairah settled in Madina and I have never seen anyone more diligent than him nor more honorable towards his guests. One day I was with him and he was on a bed with a bag of pebbles or date seeds which he was using to invoke" [Reported by abu Dawud and al-Tirmidhi and graded authentic by al-Nasa`i).
- On the authority of Na'im ibn Muharar ibn Hurayra who narrated that his grandfather, Abu Hurairah, said that he had a rope with one thousand knots and he never slept without invoking with it (Reported by Abdullah ibn al-Imam Ahmed in al-Zawa`id al-Zuhd and by abu Na'im in his Hilyat al-Awliya).
The same has been narrated by our master Sa'id al-Khudri (may God be pleased with him), Abu Safyya, the Prophet's servant, Fatima, the daughter of al-Hussayn who is the son of Ali ibn abu Talib and others from among the companions and their successors.
Many scholars have composed works demonstrating that the use of prayer beads is religiously sanctioned. Among the well known works are the following:
- The treatise by Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti Al-Munha fi al-Subha;
- Sheikh Muhammad ibn 'Allan al-Sidiqi's Iyqad al-Masabih Limashru'iyat al-Masabih;
- Abu Hasanat al-Laknawi's treatise Nuzhat al-Fikr fi Subhat al-Dhikr.
Imam al-Suyuti (may Allah have mercy on him) said after mentioning the above Prophetic texts concerning the issue of taking prayer beads for invocation that, "were the only reason for taking prayer beads for invocation to be in accordance with these masters (the ones mentioned in the proof texts), to follow their way and be granted some of their Divine Grace [baraka], then it would become by this virtue one of the most important and sound acts. It is even more so when one considers that prayer beads are used to invoke God since it is seldom that one sees them and does not invoke Him and this is one of their greatest merits. It has not been narrated to us that any of the Pious Predecessors or the Pious Successors prohibited making invocation with prayer beads; rather, most of them used them and never saw in this any dislike."
God Almighty knows best.