Using Misbahah (Beads): Is It Bid`ah?

First of all, the incident that mentions that Ibn Mas`ood, may Allah be please with him, ejected a group of people from the masjid because they were using stones in making tasbih was reported by Ad-Darimi in his Sunan. It could be interpreted in many ways. As the late great scholar, Sa`eed Hawwa, may Allah bless his soul, stated, it could mean that those people did so from their own minds without having any evidence and Ibn Mas`ood forbade them; it could also mean that they went to the extreme in worship, so he prohibited them from doing so; it could also mean that they were gathering to make dhikr (remembering Allah) in a group, which Ibn Mas`ood thought was bid`ah (innovation), as it was not practiced by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Anyway, if making dhikr in a group was an innovation in the view of Ibn Mas`ood, which is the most correct view, it could be justified nowadays, especially if we take into consideration the benefits of making dhikr in a group, such as the spiritual elevation resulting from it, forgiveness of sins, and moving peoples’ hearts towards faith.”
Thus, it has nothing to do with the means they used for making dhikr, nor is it taken as evidence to forbid using misbahah (beads) in making dhikr of Almighty Allah.
Using misbahah is a new means of making mention of Allah Most High. It didn’t exist at the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) but it is not condemned. However, using one’s fingertips is preferable as it is closer to the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
Sheikh `Atiyyah Saqr, former head of Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee, states:
“At the advent of Islam, people were commanded to frequently remember Allah the Almighty in the same way they were ordered to observe all other rituals and acts of worship. Remembering Allah (dhikr) is mentioned in many places in the Glorious Qur’an, such as the verse that reads: “Such as remember Allah, standing, sitting, and reclining, and consider the creation of the heavens and the earth, (and say): Our Lord! Thou createdst not this in vain. Glory be to Thee! Preserve us from the doom of Fire.” (Al `Imran: 191). And the other verse that states: “O ye who believe! Remember Allah with much remembrance. And glorify Him early and late.” (Al-Ahzab: 41- 42)
Many Hadiths have defined the number and the time of remembering Almighty Allah. This is the case with saying “Subhan Allah” (Glory to Allah) 33 times, “Al-Hamdulillah” (Praise to Allah) 33 times, “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is Greatest) 33 times, and saying “La illaha illa Allah” (There is no god but Allah), which completes the hundred words of Allah’s remembrance. This is the act a Muslim is urged to do right after prayer. As we know, in the course of this act of remembering Allah, a person may need something to help him count the number of utterances he has made.
It is well known that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to count the utterances on his fingertips. This is reported by Abu Dawood, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasa’i and Al-Hakim on the authority of Busrah, who was one of the female Muhajiroon (migrants). She narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “You are to stick to praising Allah, glorifying and exalting Him. Never relapse into heedlessness, lest you deviate from the true creed of monotheism. Use your fingertips (to count the utterances of remembering Allah) for they well be witness for you (on the Day of Resurrection).”
The Prophet’s Companions also directed us to use the fingertips for counting the number of utterances.
However, this command does not make it the only way for counting. It is a fact that using the fingertips gives the sense of following the Prophet’s example. Using any other way is not, however, condemned; rather, it was approved by the Prophet himself in a number of Hadith.
1. At-Tirmidhi, Al-Hakim and At-Tabarani reported that Saffiyah (may Allah be pleased with her) said: “Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) entered my room while I was making tasbih (glorifying Allah) using four thousand small stones. He asked: “What is this, daughter of Huyayy?” “I use them for remembering Almighty Allah,” I replied. He commented: “Since I have entered your room, I have made tasbih greater than this.” I said: “Teach me, Messenger of Allah!” He said: “Say, ‘Subhan Allahi `adada ma ghalaqa min kuli shai’ (Glory be to Allah equal to the number of every thing He created).”
2. In his book Al-Musnad, “Kitab Az-Zuhd” (chapter on asceticism), Imam Ahmad (may Allah bless his soul) reported that Abu Ad-Dardaa’ had a number of date stones in a sack. After performing Morning Prayer, he would take them out to use them for making tasbih.
Therefore, since the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Use your fingertips (to count the utterances of remembering Allah) for they will be witness for you (on the Day of Resurrection)”, and normally a person uses his fingertips to move the stones used for making tasbih in this way, the fingertips witness the deed and will act as such on the Day of Resurrection.
In conclusion, I would like to say that it is not permissible at all to brand any act as bid`ah (innovation) just because it did not exist during the Prophet’s lifetime. Disagreement over misbahah (beads) should not also be a cause of conflict among us. What is more important is to have sincerity while remembering Allah the Almighty, regardless of the means, as Allah Almighty will only look at what is inside our hearts.”
Sheikh Hamed Al-Ali, instructor of Islamic Heritage at the Faculty of Education, Kuwait and Imam of Dahiat As-Sabahiyya Mosque, adds:
“Using beads for making dhikr of Allah is a new method that helps in counting the number of tasbih or supplications a Muslim is saying. We should not think it is a Sunnah because the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) never used anything but his fingertips in counting the tasbih, and he said about the hands: “They will be witnesses for one who makes tasbih on the Day of Judgment.”
However, if someone needs to use it to be able to count the tasbih, there is nothing wrong with this, because it is a helping means of doing something good and there is no restriction to doing it. It is similar to learning the Qur’an from the computer instead of the book, going for Hajj by plane instead of walking, giving da`wah by distributing tapes and videos and the like. Therefore, there is nothing wrong in using beads for making dhikr, but using one’s fingertips is better.”