When the devout use digital rings to track praises to God

The ring is superior to prayer beads, she said, because it “is faster and it stays on your hand.”
When the devout use digital rings to track praises to God

Chennai: Walking through the courtyard of Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on a recent afternoon, Nisreen Biqwaidar wore a smart 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 be to God’ 1,000 times,” Nisreen, 13, said recently as she left afternoon prayers. The ring is superior to prayer beads, 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 tally on the digital monitor ticks up. At the end of the day, she presses a smaller reset button, clearing the ring for the next day’s remembrances. She has been using a digital counter since she was 10. Many Muslims around the world have long used prayer beads for religious recitations and praises. The practice, which is in addition to the five daily prayers most perform, 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.”

Shopkeepers in Jerusalem’s Old City say the counters first began appearing there some five or seven years ago, though their exact arrival time is unclear. Interest in them began after Palestinians returning from pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia brought them back. They became an instant hit. Now, at shops throughout the Old City, long strands of multicoloured prayer beads sit next to an array of prayer counters. The digital counters there tend to range from a little more than $1 to about $10 and are especially popular during the holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to end Sunday for most of the region.

The 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 they were not home.

While many Christians use rosary beads in a similar way, shopkeepers in the Old City’s Christian quarter said the digital counters had yet to catch on, primarily because Christians are likely to say dozens of Hail Marys or Our Fathers in a day, rather than hundreds or more. On that recent afternoon, Nisreen had forgotten to put on her prayer ring before she left her home in Beersheba, in southern Israel. But as she made her way through the Old City’s streets, a woman was handing out dates and prayer rings. Nisreen took one. “If I don’t have the ring, I use the prayer beads,” said Nisreen, who often keeps prayer beads in her backpack as a backup. “And if I don’t have the prayer beads, I just use my fingers.”

As children, many Muslims are taught to recite religious praises on their hands, using the creases on their fingers. Some still prefer that, to emulate the Prophet Muhammad, who is said to have used his fingers. Many Muslims still favour prayer beads — which are often about 100 beads long but can be even longer — and the older faithful often keep their beads constantly in hand. But it can be hard to remember the total. Enter the prayer counters.

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