(Question # 259: Is the use of the masbahah (tasbih/ rosary /praying beads) for zikr (dhikr) of Allah acceptable?

Bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,

Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,

All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).

Dear questioner,

First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.

Shorter Answer: Some scholars say that although it is permissible to use masbahah (prayer beads), it is preferable to do tasbeeh (count praises) on one’s fingers; others say using masbahah is makrooh (disliked) while some others say it’s a bid’ah (reprehensible innovation) especially, when a Muslim believes that using masbahah has any special virtue or superiority. Nevertheless, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Count on your fingers, for they will be asked, and will be made to speak.”. Also, it is better to do tasbeeh preferably using the right hand because the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) used to count his tasbeeh on his right hand. Further, the scholars say that using masbahah may also be contaminated with some element of show off, because some people carrying masbahah move the beads through their fingers as if they are involved in dhikr of Allah, whilst their heart and tongue are distracted by worldly matters, talking or listening to others; they are absent-minded and not focused. In this context, according to Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah, it is acceptable to use masbahah as long as one’s intention is good, and it is not used to show off. 

Long Answer: Some scholars say that it is permissible to use the masbahah (prayer beads), but they say that it is preferable to do tasbeeh (count praises) on one’s fingers; others say that it is bid’ah (reprehensible innovation).

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said in al-Fatawa: “Some of them might show off by putting their prayer-mats over their shoulders and carrying their masbahahs in their hands, making them symbols of religion and prayer. It is known from the mutawatir reports (reports in such large numbers that they couldn’t be forged) that neither the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) nor his Companions used these as symbols. They used to recite tasbeeh and count on their fingers, as the hadith says: “Count on your fingers, for they will be asked, and will be made to speak.” Some of them may count their tasbeeh with pebbles or date stones. Some people say that doing tasbeeh with the masbahah is makrooh (disliked), and some allow it, but no one says that tasbeeh with the masbahah is better than tasbeeh with the fingers.” Then he (may Allah have mercy on him) goes on to discuss the issue of showing off with the masbahah, saying that it is showing off with regard to something that is not prescribed by Islam, which is worse than showing off with regard to something that is prescribed.

Al-Shaykh Muhammad ibn Salih al-‘Uthaymeen (al-Liqa al-Maftooh) was asked whether using the masbahah for tasbeeh is bid’ah, and his reply was: “It is better not to do tasbeeh with the masbahah, but it is not bid’ah, because there is a basis for it, which is the fact that some of the Sahabah (Companions) did tasbeeh with pebbles. But the Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) taught us that tasbeeh with the fingers is better, as he said, ‘Count with the fingertips, for they will be made to speak.’ Doing tasbeeh with the masbahah is not haram (impermissible) or bid’ah, but it is better not to do it, because the one who does tasbeeh with the masbahah has shunned something better. Using the masbahah may also be contaminated with some element of showing off, because we see some people carrying masbahahs that contain a thousand beads, as if they are telling people, ‘Look at me, I do a thousand tasbeehs!’ Secondly, those who use the masbahah for tasbeeh are usually absent-minded and not focused, so you see them doing tasbeeh with the beads, but their gaze is wandering all over the place, which indicates that they are not really concentrating. It is better to do tasbeeh with one’s fingers, preferably using the right hand rather than the left, because the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) used to count his tasbeeh on his right hand. If a person counts his tasbeeh using both hands, there is nothing wrong with that, but it is better to use the right hand only.”

Al-Shaykh Muhammad Nasir al-Deen al-Albani said in Al-Silsilat al-Da’eefah, where he quotes the (weak) hadith “What a good reminder is the subhah [masbahah],”

“In my view, the meaning of this hadith is invalid for a number of reasons:

Firstly, the subhah [masbahah] is bid’ah and was not known at the time of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم). It happened after that, so how could he (صلى الله عليه و سلم) have encouraged his Sahabah to do something that was unknown to them? The evidence for what I have said is the report narrated by Ibn Waddah in Al-Bid’ wa’l-Nahy ‘anha from al-Salt ibn Bahram, who said: ‘Ibn Mas’ood passed by a woman who had a [masbahah] with which she was making tasbeeh, and he broke it and threw it aside, then he passed by a man who was making tasbeeh with pebbles, and he kicked him then said, “You think you are better than the Sahabah, but you are following unjustified bid’ah! You think you have more knowledge than the Companions of Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم)!”’ Its isnad (chain of transmission) is sahih (authentic) to al-Salt, who is one of the trustworthy (thiqah) followers of the Tabi’een (Successors).

Secondly, it goes against the guidance of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم). ‘Abd-Allah ibn ‘Amr (رضي الله عنه) said, ‘I saw the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) counting the tasbeeh on his right hand.’”

He also said: “If there is only one bad thing about the masbahah, which is that it takes the place of the Sunnah of counting on the fingers, even though all are agreed that counting on the fingers is preferable, then that is bad enough. How rarely I see people counting their tasbeeh on their fingers!

Moreover, people have invented so many sophisticated ways of following this bid’ah, so you see the followers of one of the [Sufi] tareeqahs (orders) wearing the masbahah around their necks! Or some of them counting with the beads whilst talking or listening to you! Or another one – the like of whom I have not seen for some time – riding his bicycle through a street crowded with people, with the masbahah in one of his hands! They are showing the people that they are not distracted from the remembrance of Allah for even an instant, but in many cases this bid’ah is a cause of their neglecting what is obligatory (wajib)…”

What there should be no dispute about is the following:

  1. That counting tasbeeh on the fingers is better, because it is what the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) taught us.

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) said:  Counting tasbeeh on the fingers is Sunnah, as the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said to the women: “Glorify Allah (by saying Subhaan-Allah) and count on your fingers, for they will be questioned and will speak.” (Majmoo‘ al-Fataawa)

Shaykh Muhammad ibn Saalih al-‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “But better than that [i.e., better than the masbahah] is for a person to count the tasbeeh on his fingers, because they will speak, as the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) taught.” (Fataawa ash-Shaykh al-‘Uthaymeen)

  1. Counting tasbeeh openly with the masbahah in order to show off is forbidden

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “With regard to adopting that – i.e., counting tasbeeh with the masbahah – unnecessarily or in order to show off to people, such as hanging it around one’s neck or wearing it like a bracelet on the arm, and so on, that is either showing off to people or is likely to be thought to be showing off and imitating those who show off unnecessarily. The former is haraam and the latter is, at the very least, makrooh, because showing off to people in doing private acts of worship such as prayer, fasting, dhikr and reading Qur’an, is one of the gravest of sins.” (Majmoo‘ al-Fataawa)

  1. Tasbeeh with the fingers when there is no focus of the heart or tongue on dhikr is invalid tasbeeh, which brings no reward to the one who does it.

Al-Mannaawi (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “As for what heedless people used to do, of holding a masbahah which is very ornate and costly, and carrying it without any presence of mind or thought, and talking or listening to people, or talking to them whilst moving its beads through his fingers, when his heart and tongue are distracted by worldly matters, this is blameworthy and is makrooh, and it is one of the worst of reprehensible deeds.” (Fayd al-Qadeer)

Ibn al-Haaj al-‘Abdari (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “Some of them hold the masbahah in their hands, so that people can see it, and they move the beads one by one, as if they are counting their dhikr, and in fact they are talking and gossiping with people about what happened to this one and that one. Obviously, a person has only one tongue, so his counting on the masbahah in this manner is worthless, because he does not have another tongue so that he could be reciting dhikr with one tongue and talking about whatever he wants to do with the other. So, he can only be using the masbahah in this manner for the purpose of showing off and as an innovation.” (Al-Madkhal)

According to Dr. Salih Al-Fawzan, “…if a Muslim believes that a rosary used for counting the times of the … dhikr has any special virtue or superiority, it becomes an innovation in religion, as is the case with the Sufis who wear rosaries as necklaces or make them like bracelets in their hands…” (AI-Mulakhkhas AI-Fiqhi)

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “With regard to counting it with date stones and pebbles and the like, that is fine and some of the Sahaabah (رضي الله عنهم) used to do that. The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) saw the Mother of the Believers counting tasbeeh with pebbles and he approved of her doing that; it was also narrated that Abu Hurayrah counted tasbeeh with pebbles.

With regard to (counting tasbeeh) with beads put together on a string, some of the scholars regarded it as makrooh and some of them did not. If the intention behind it is good, then it is good and is not makrooh.

But as for using it when there is no need to do so, or making it visible to people, such as hanging it around the neck or wearing it like a bracelet on the wrist, and the like, this is either showing off to people or gives rise to suspicion that one is showing off, and is resembling the show-offs unnecessarily. The former is haraam and the least that can be said about the latter is that it is makrooh.” (Majmoo‘ al-Fataawa)

(Unless stated otherwise, most part of the above reply is based on various answers provided by Islamqa.info on the topic)

Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.

Wassalaam