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Holy Counting Beads

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Islam adopted the idea of saying pieties while counting with beads. The usual subha or tasbih (from sabbah "to praise") has 99 beads on which the devote say the 99 names (attributes) of Allah found in the Qoran (the 100th is known only to camels). This may be abbreviated to 33 and cycled three times. Some have mistakenly linked these to the 33 years of Jesus' life.

Doner: Jürgen Busch

A frenzied crowd ripping the body of Ayatollah Khomeini to gather relics before its burial. Later they pressed prayer beads and pieces of cloth to the makeshift shrine of cargo containers above his grave to make relics of the second degree.

AP photo, The New York Times 20 June 1989, p. 1.

In many Muslim countries men carry short bead strings to fiddle with. They are commonly called "worry beads." They have no purpose other than keeping the hands occupied rather than twiddling thumbs (fine strands also bestow bragging rights). Most Western commentators on these beads have missed the mark, identifying pray strands as worry beads. They are not. Worry beads never have 33 beads. Left plastic, strand from Turkey. Right, some sort of local resin and wood from Iran.

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