Some Muslims use number rings to count recitations

JERUSALEM — Walking in the courtyard of Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on a recent afternoon, Nisreen Biqwaidar wore a pink Apple Watch on ...


JERUSALEM — Walking in the courtyard of Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on a recent afternoon, Nisreen Biqwaidar wore a pink Apple Watch on her wrist to count her steps and a green ring on her finger to count her religious recitations.

“Every day I say ‘God is great’ 1,000 times and ‘Glory to God’ 1,000 times,” 13-year-old Nisreen said recently as she left afternoon prayers. The ring is superior to the rosary, she said, because it “is faster and it stays on your hand.”

Throughout the day, each time she recites, she says, she presses a silver button on the ring and her count on the digital screen increases. At the end of the day, she presses a small reset button, erasing the ring for memories of the next day. She has been using a digital meter since she was 10 years old.

Many Muslims around the world have long used the rosary for religious recitations and praise. The practice, which is in addition to the five most performed daily prayers, is a way to infuse religious remembrance into their day. Increasingly, Palestinians like Nisreen have turned to digital prayer counters to track their recitations, like a Fitbit for their Allahu akbars, Arabic for “God is great.”

Merchants in Jerusalem’s Old City say the meters began appearing five or seven years ago, though their exact time of arrival is unclear. Interest in them began after Palestinians returned from pilgrimages to saudi arabia brought them back. They became an instant hit.

Today, in shops in the Old City, long strands of multicolored prayer beads sit alongside an array of prayer counters. Digital meters there typically range from just over $1 to around $10 and are particularly popular during the holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to end on Sunday in most of the region.

Rings and other prayer counters can be found throughout much of the Muslim world. Those who use them in Jerusalem vary in age, and some said they used both rings and beads, but preferred the digital option when away from home.

While many Christians use rosaries in the same way, shopkeepers in the Christian Quarter of the Old City said digital counters had yet to catch on, mainly because Christians are likely to say dozens of Je Hail Mary or Our Father in one day, rather than hundreds or Suite.

That afternoon, Nisreen forgot to put on her prayer ring before leaving her home in Beersheba, southern Israel. But as she made her way through the streets of the old city, a woman was handing out dates and prayer rings. Nisreen took one.

“If I don’t have the ring, I use the rosary,” said Nisreen, who often keeps the rosary in her backpack as a backup. “And if I don’t have the rosary, I just use my fingers.”

As children, many Muslims learn to recite religious praise on their hands, using the creases of their fingers. Some still prefer this, to imitate the Prophet Muhammad, who would have used his fingers.

Many Muslims still prefer the rosary – which is often around 100 beads long but can be even longer – and older worshipers often keep their rosary constantly in hand.

But it can be hard to remember the total. Enter the prayer counters.

“If you wanted to say 1,000 praises, it’s hard to keep track,” said Ahmad Natsha, 35, who recently worked at his friend’s shop on the edge of the Aqsa Mosque compound. “Some would buy 10 rosaries and use each to keep track,” he said, but “it’s a lot easier with the counter.”

Ibtihal Ahmad, 60, agrees. “There is peace of mind,” she said. “I know at the end of the day how many praises I’ve said.”

Sitting with her back to the Dome of the Rock, she stared at the blue plastic counter on her ring finger, which was next to two nearly equally large gold rings. The screen showed that it had already reached 755.

But she said she had many more prayers left that day.

“When people see a high number, they feel a sense of accomplishment,” said Sham Ibrahim, 16, who sat next to her.

Ms Ahmad says she gives her young grandchildren prayer rings when they get rowdy and asks them to say a prayer 500 times, which gives them some time to think and gives her some peace.

Much like how Fitbits and other wearable health trackers have inspired competition or bragging about the basic act of walking, prayer counters have encouraged a sense of religious competition.

In a religious WhatsApp group she is in, Nadia Mohammad, 60, and Sham’s grandmother, said members regularly share their daily prayer count. One of the oldest members usually posts thousands of messages.

“It encourages us all,” she said last week, as she held the traditional rosary shortly after afternoon prayers.

Others publish their daily counts on Facebook.

To add to the excitement, a new model and design comes out every year or so, Old Town traders said.

The last one looks like a fish and is meant to be cradled in the palm of the hand. A ridged wheel can be turned with a thumb – replicating the feeling of moving a finger through beads.

Although Mr. Natsha worked in a shop selling the beads and counters, he was critical of what he saw as new methods of worship. He doesn’t use either.

“In our religion, we shouldn’t use this or that,” he said, pointing to the display of prayer beads hanging above the boxes of prayer rings. “In our religion, we should only use our hands. It’s just capitalism.

For Akram, 66, who didn’t want to give his last name because, like others interviewed, he felt discussing his daily recollection was religious bragging, the meters are more than just a daily record of his prayers.

Three years ago, Akram from the northern city of Acre said he had started getting the most out of the rings. The screen of some rings, including his, can reach 99,999 before automatically resetting to zero. Now every time he hits 99,999 he puts tape over the reset button so his record stays intact. Then he puts the ring in a box to keep it safe. So far he has collected 30.

He asked his family to put all the rings around his neck when he died – a final digital testimony to how much he praised God in life.

“With the regular rosary you can do it 100 times, but what evidence is there that you’ve done it 100 times? There isn’t,” he said. He gestured to a box of prayer rings just like the ones he stored. “This is forever.”

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