What is the ruling on using the subha (prayer beads)?
What is the ruling on using the subha (prayer beads)?
The subha is made of beads threaded together on a string and is used to keep count of the number of tasbih (glorification of God) a person makes. The subha is a new word introduced into Islamic discourse and is a means to righteous action. Therefore, since means take the same ruling as their desired goals, it is recommended to use the subha as it aids in making tasbih.
It is permissible to use the subha instead of counting on fingers or digits during wird (regimen). It is better because the person saying it is safe from making mistakes [in counting] and it allows him to concentrate. The proof text for its permissibility is the hadith narrated by Sa‘ad ibn Abi Waqqas who said that he accompanied the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) on a visit to a woman who had in her hands pebbles or date seeds which she was using to make tasbih. So the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) told her: “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 between the two, praise be to God the number of everything He has created, ‘God is the greatest’ in the same number, ‘all praise is due to God’ in the same number, ‘there is no deity but God’ in the same number, and ‘there is no power nor strength except by God’ in the same number.’ ” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did not prohibit her from her action but guided her what was easier and better. If her action were reprehensible or detestable, he would have pointed it out to her.
Jurists have understood this text to indicate the permissibility of making tasbih with either the hands or subha outside of prayers and is similar to keeping count with the heart or finger tips. However, using the subha during prayers is considered a reprehensible act as it is not from the actions of prayer. Abu Yusuf and Muhammad, from the Hanafi school, maintained that there is nothing wrong with using the subha after canonical or supererogatory prayers.
There are many ahadith on this issue and these include:
1. Al-Qasim ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman said, “Abu Darda` kept date stones in a bag and whenever he prayed the Dawn prayer, he would take them out and make tasbih with them until they had finished.”
2. Abu Nadra al-Ghaffari said, “An old man from Tufawah informed me, ‘Abu Hurayrah settled in Madina and I have never seen anyone more diligent than him or more honorable towards his guests. One day I was with him and he was sitting on a mat with a bag of pebbles or date stones which he was using to make tasbih. Below him was a black slave girl who would collect them once he had finished and return them to the bag.’”
3. Na‘im ibn Muharar ibn Abi Hurayrah narrated that his grandfather Abu Hurayrah said that he had a string with one thousand knots in it and he never slept without making tasbih with it. This hadith was narrated by Abdullah the son of Imam Ahmad in Zawa`id Al-Zuhd and by Abu Na‘im in his Hilyat Al-Awliya. The same hadith was narrated by Sa‘ad ibn Abu Waqqas, Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri, Abu Safyyah, the Prophet’s servant, and Lady Fatima, the daughter of al-Hussayn, ‘Ali ibn Abu Talib’s son.
Many scholars have composed works demonstrating that using the subha is religiously sanctioned. Among the well-known works are: Imam Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti’s treatise “Al-Munha fi Al-Subha”, Sheikh Muhammad ibn ‘Allan al-Sidiqi’s “Iyqad Al-Masabih Limashru‘iyat Itikadh Al-Masabih”, and Abu Hasan Al-Laknawi’s “Nuzhat Al-Fikr fi Subhat Al-Dhikr”.
We will also quote the relied upon jurists from the various schools of jurisprudence to further clarify this issue.
1. The Shafi‘i school
Ibn Hajar al-Haythami was once asked, “Is there a basis for the subha in the sunna?” He replied, “Yes, and many scholars such as Imam al-Suyuti penned works on this matter.”
From the sunna, we have the following hadith narrated by Ibn ‘Umar who said, “I saw the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) using his hands to make tasbih.” Also Safiyyah is reported to have said, “The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) entered the room where I sat with four thousand date stones which I was using to make tasbih and he asked me, “What is this, O daughter of Huyay?” I said, ‘I make tasbih with them.” He replied, “I have made tasbih more times than this since you have begun.’ I said, ‘Teach me how, O Messenger of God.’ He said, ‘Say, “ ‘Glory be to God the number of everything He has created. ‘ ”
Ibn Abu Shaybah, Abu Dawud, and al-Tirmidhi recorded the following: “Praise God, proclaim His Oneness and sanctify Him, and do not be forgetful so that you would forget monotheism. Count with your fingertips as they will be asked to speak and will testify [on the Day of Judgment].” Making tasbih with stones, seeds, and knotted strings has also been reported by many from the companions and those who came after them. Al- Daylami recorded a marfu’ hadith (one with a raised chain of transmission) which says: “What a great device for invoking is the subha!” Some scholars have opined that making tasbih with the fingertips is superior to doing so with the subha based on the hadith of Ibn ‘Umar while others preferred the use of the subha. Still others have maintained that if a person is safe from making mistakes in counting, the fingertips are better. If not, the prayer bead is more suitable.
2. The Hanafi school
Imam Ibn ‘Abdin, a prominent Hanafi scholar, stated that “There is nothing wrong with using the subha” which is a device used for making tasbih…the proof of its permissibility is the aforementioned hadith narrated by Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Nisa`i, Ibn Hibban, and Hakim (who graded it rigorously authentic) on the authority of Sa‘ad ibn Abi Waqqas. The Messenger of God (peace and blessing be upon him) did not forbid the woman [mentioned in the hadith] from using pebbles or date stones but guided her to what was easier and better. If her action were reprehensible, he would have indicated this. It has been related that many of the elect Sufis used the subha to keep count of the number of tasbih they made as well as other devices. The aforementioned hadith also attests to the superiority of the tasbih mentioned in it over others which are freely composed even if this specific tasbih is recited but little.
3. Al-Shawkani has also written brilliantly:
The two previously mentioned ahadith indicate the permissibility of counting the number of tasbih made with date stones and stones. The same goes for the subha as there is no difference in the Prophet’s affirmation of the two women’s actions. The fact that he did not reject their action and guided them to what was better does not negate the permissibility of the act.
This same meaning is found in a hadith recorded in a book titled the Juz’of Hilal al-Haffar on the authority of Mutamir ibn Sulayman on the authority of Abu Safiyah the Prophet’s servant, that a leather mat would be placed for Abu Safiya and a basket made of palm leaves filled with stones to make tasbeeh with would be brought to him. He would make tasbeeh until midday and after the [Noon] prayer, he would resume making tasbeeh until late afternoon. This hadith was also narrated by Ahmad in his book Al-Zuhd on the authority of ‘Affan, on the authority of Abd al-Wahid ibn Ziyad, on the authority of Yunus ibn ‘Abid, on the authority of his mother who said, “I saw Abu Safiyyah, a companion of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), and he was a servant….he used to make tasbih with stones.”
Ibn Sa‘ad also narrated on the authority of Hakim ibn al-Daylami that Sa‘ad ibn Abu Waqqas used to make tasbih with stones. Ibn Sa‘ad mentioned in his Tabaqat that, “We were told by ‘Abdallah ibn Musa, on the authority of Isra’il, on the authority of Jabir, on the authority of a women who used to serve him, on the authority of Fatima the daughter of al-Husayn, Ali ibn Abi Talib’s son that she used to make tasbih with a knotted string. Abdallah the son of Imam Ahmad narrated in Zawaid Al-Zuhd on the authority of Abu Hurayrah that he had a string with one thousand knots in it, and he did not use to go to sleep before [making tasbih with all of them].
Imam Ahmad in his book Al-Zuhd narrated on the authority of al-Qasim ibn Abd al-Rahman who said, “Abu Darda` kept date stones in a bag. When he would pray the Dawn Prayer, he would take them out and make tasbih with them until they had finished.” Ibn Sa‘ad also narrated on the authority of Abu Hurayrah that he used to invoke with date stones grouped together. Al-Daylami narrated from the Musnad of al-Firdous from the chain of Zaynab bint Sulayman ibn ‘Ali, on the authority of Um al-Hazan bint Jafar, on the authority of her father, on the authority of her grandfather, on the authority of ‘Ali with a raised chain who said, “How great a device for making tasbih is the subha!” Imam al-Suyuti compiled these traditions in a treatise entitled “Al-Munha fi Al-Subha” which is a portion of a larger work Al-Majmu fi Al- Fatawi. [Imam al-Suyuti] stated at the end of this treatise, “It has not been reported that any one from the pious ancestors or later scholars prohibited the use of the subha for counting the number of tasbih made. Rather, most of them used the subha and found nothing reprehensible in its use.”
From the above we can see that not only is making tasbih with the subha a recommended act, but it is better if a person feels he will make a mistake in counting without them. Using the subha aids a person to remember God with his heart and helps him focus during this act of worship. And God is most High and Knowledgeable.