http://www.sunnah.org/ibadaat/dhikr.htm

Here are some relevant quotes to this topic Insha’Allah from the link given above:

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Use of prayer-beads (masbaha, sibha, tasbih)

Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas reported that once the Prophet saw a woman who had some date-stones or pebbles which she was using as beads to glorify Allah. The Prophet said to her, “Let me tell you something which would be easier or more excellent for you than that.” So he told her to say instead:

subhan allahi `adada ma khalaqa fi s-sama’,
subhan allahi `adada ma khalaqa fi al-ard,
subhan allahi `adada ma khalaqa bayna dhalik,
subhan allahi `adada ma huwa khaliq,
Allahu akbaru ‘adada ma khalaqa fi al-sama’,
Allahu akbaru ‘adada ma khalaqa fi l-’ard,
Allahu akbaru ‘adada ma khalaqa bayna dhalik,
Allahu akbaru ‘adada ma huwa khaliq,
al-hamdu lillahi `adada ma khalaqa fi al-sama’,
al-hamdu lillahi `adada ma khalaqa fi l-’ard,
al-hamdu lillahi `adada ma khalaqa bayna dhalik,
al-hamdu lillahi `adada ma huwa khaliq,
la ilaha illallahu `adada ma khalaqa fi al-sama’,
la ilaha illallahu `adada ma khalaqa fi al-ard,
la ilaha illallahu `adada ma khalaqa bayna dhalik,
la ilaha illallahu `adada ma huwa khaliq,
la hawla wa la quwwata illa billahi `adada ma khalaqa fi al-sama’,
la hawla wa la quwwata illa billahi `adada ma khalaqa fi al-ard,
la hawla wa la quwwata illa billahi `adada ma khalaqa bayna dhalik,
la hawla wa la quwwata illa billahi `adada ma huwa khaliq.
“Glory be to Allah as many times as the number of what He has created in Heaven,
Glory be to Allah as many times as the number of what He has created on Earth,
Glory be to Allah as many times as the number of what He has created between them,
Glory be to Allah as many times as the number of that which He is creating.”
and then repeat all of the above four times but substituting “Glory be to Allah” by:
– “Allah is the most great” in the first repetition,
– “Praise be to Allah” in the second repetition,
– “There is no god but Allah” in the third repetition, and
– “There is no change and no power except with Allah” in the fourth repetition. (Narrated by Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi who said it is hasan, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban in his Sahih, al-Nasa’i, and al-Hakim, who said it is sahih according to the criterion of Muslim. Dhahabi concurred.)

Safiyya bint Huyayy the Prophet’s wife said: The Prophet came in to see me and in front of me there were four thousand date-stones with which I was making tasbih [counting subhan Allah]. He said: “You make tasbih with so many! Shall I teach you what surpasses your number of tasbih?” She said: “Teach me!” He said: “Say: Subhan Allah `adada khalqihi — Glory to Allah the number of His creation.” Narrated by Tirmidhi who said it is gharib, and both al-Hakim and Suyuti declared it sahih.

Allah says in His Holy Book to His Holy Prophet, “Remind people, for reminding benefits them.” The reminder of Muslims has various forms, public and private. A public form of this reminder is the adhan. The masbaha or sibha or tasbih, or prayer-beads, has had since the earliest Companions the function of a private reminder. It is for that reason that the tasbih was called by them mudhakkir or mudhakkira — “reminder,” and there is a narration traced to the Prophet whereby he said: ni`ma al-mudhakkir al-sibha: “What a good reminder are the prayer-beads!” Shawkani narrates it from `Ali ibn Abi Talib as evidence for the usefulness of prayer-beads in Nayl al-awtar (2:317) from Daylami’s narration in Musnad al-firdaws with his chain, and Suyuti cites it in his fatwa on prayer-beads in al-Hawi li al-fatawi (2:38).

The statement propagated nowadays by “Salafis” whereby counting dhikr on beads is an innovation, is undoubtedly false. The use of beads for counting dhikr is definitely established as a practice allowed by the Prophet and a Sunna of the Companions. This is proven by the sahih hadith of Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas, who related that the Prophet once saw a woman using some datestones or pebbles (nawan aw hasan), and did not prohibit her to use them. This hadith is found in Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Nisa’i, Ibn Maja, Ibn Hibban, and Hakim. Dhahabi declared it sahih. Another sahih hadith to that effect was related by Safiyya, who was seen by the Prophet, Peace be upon him, counting “Subhan Allah” on four thousand date stones. This hadith is found in Tirmidhi, Hakim, and Tabarani, and was confirmed as sahih by Suyuti. It is also related from the Prophet’s freedman, Abu Safiyya, that a mat would be spread for him and a basket made of palm leaves brought which was filled with pebbles with which he would make tasbih until mid-day. Then it would be taken away, and then brought back after he had prayed, and he would make tasbih again until evening. This is narrated in Ibn Hajar’s Isaba (7:106 #652) with his chain, who says that Bukhari narrates it [in his Tarikh], as well as al-Baghawi through two chains. Shawkani cites it, as seen below.

Shawkani said in Nayl al-awtar (2:316-317):

The Prophet justified the counting of dhikr on the fingers by the fact that the fingers will be questioned and will speak, that is, they will witness to that effect. It follows that counting tasbih on them, because of this aspect, is better than using dhikr-beads or pebbles. But the two other hadiths [of Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas and Safiyya bint Huyayy] indicate the permissibility of counting tasbih with date-stones and pebbles, and similarly with dhikr-beads because there is no distinguishing factor between them in the Prophet’s stipulation to the two women concerning it, and no disapproval of it. As for directing to what is better: this does not negate permissibility (la yunafi al-jawaz). There are reports to that effect.

It is related in Hilal al-Haffar’s monograph through Mu`tamar ibn Sulayman from Abu Safiyya the Prophet’s freedman that a mat would be spread for him and a basket made of palm leaves brought which was filled with pebbles with which he would make tasbih until mid-day. Then it would be taken away, and then brought back after he had prayed, and he would make tasbih again until evening. Imam Ahmad narrates it in Kitab al-zuhd [with his chain].

Ahmad also narrates from al-Qasim ibn `Abd al-Rahman that Abu al-Darda’ had a bag filled with date-stones and that whenever he prayed the noon prayer he would bring them out one by one and make tasbih on them until they were finished.

Ibn Sa`d in his Tabaqat narrates [with his chains] that Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas used to count tasbih on pebbles, and that Fatima bint al-Husayn ibn `Ali ibn Abi Talib used to make tasbih with a thread stringed with knots, and that Abu Hurayra made tasbih with a string of pebbles (al-nawa al-majmu`).

`Abd Allah the son of Imam Ahmad narrated in Zawa’id al-zuhd that Abu Hurayra had a thread stringed with one thousand knots and that he would not sleep until he had counted tasbih on them.

al-Daylami narrates in Musnad al-firdaws through Zaynab bint Sulayman ibn `Ali, and from Umm al-Hasan bint Ja`far from her father from her grandfather from `Ali, and it is traced back to the Prophet: “What a good reminder are the prayer-beads!”

Suyuti related reports with their chains in his monograph on the subject entitled al-Minha min al-sibha and it is part of his collected fatwas. He says towards the end of it: “It is not related from any one of the Salaf nor the Khalaf that it is forbidden to count tasbih on the sibha (dhikr-beads). On the contrary, most of them used to count tasbih on it, and they did not consider it disliked.”

The Indian hadith scholar Zakariyya al-Khandlawi similarly relates in his book Hayat al-sahaba that Abu Hurayra said: “I recite istighfar (formula of asking forgiveness) 12,000 times daily” and that, according to his grandson, he had a piece of thread with 1,000 knots and would not go to sleep until he had said subhan allah (Glory to Allah) on all of these knots. According to her grand-daughter through Imam al-Husayn, Fatima also used to count her dhikr on a thread with knots.

Mawlana Zakariyya continues, “It is well-known that many other Companions of the Prophet, Peace be upon him, used beads in their private devotions, such as Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas himself, Abu Safiyya the slave of the Prophet, Abu Sa`d, Abu Darda’, and Fatima, May Allah be pleased with them all. Stringing or not stringing the beads together does not make any difference.”

It is well-established that counting dhikr is a Sunna of the Prophet, Peace be upon him. He himself advised his wives, `Ali, and Fatima to count tasbih (subhan allah), tahmid (al-hamdu lillah), and takbir (allahu akbar) thirthy-three times each before going to bed at night. Ibn `Amr relates that he saw the Prophet, count the times he said subhan allah on his right hand. This does not mean that it is not allowed to use the left also, as the Prophet simply said: “Count [the dhikr] on your fingers.”

Imam Suyuti recounted in one of his fatwas entitled al-Minha fi al-sibha (The profit derived from using dhikr-beads) the story of `Ikrima, who asked his teacher `Umar al-Maliki about dhikr-beads. `Umar answered him that he had also asked his teacher Hasan al-Basri about it and was told: “Something we have used at the beginning of the road we are not desirous to leave at the end. I love to remember Allah with my heart, my hand, and my tongue.” Suyuti comments: “And how should it be otherwise, when the prayer-beads remind one of Allah Most High, and a person seldom sees prayer-beads except he remembers Allah, which is among the greatest of its benefits.”

As for Albani’s statements against the prayer-beads, his rejection of the hadith ni`ma al-mudhakkir al-sibha (see his Silsila da`ifa #83), and his astounding claim that whoever carries dhikr-beads in his hand to remember Allah is misguided and innovating, then we direct the reader to their refutation in Mahmud Sa`id’s Wusul al-tahani bi ithbat sunniyyat al-sibha wa al-radd `ala al-albani (The alighting of mutual benefit and the confirmation that the dhikr-beads are a Sunna, and the refutation of Albani).

As for the idea that the prayer-beads come from Buddhism or Christianity, it was one of the Hungarian scholar Ignaz Goldziher’s (fl. 1897 CE) legacies to orientalism.

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