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Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

It is also pronounced as sebha, means rosary. The English word rosary is derived from the Latin, rosarium, meaning rose garden. In Persia and India, the rosary is known among the Muslims as tasbih, in Egypt, subha, meaning to praise or exalt. Among the Indians, it is called japa-mala, meaning muttering chaplet, or samarani, meaning remembrance. It is a string of beads or knotted cord, designed as an aid to the memory, providing convenient method for counting the recitation of the attributes of God.

The use of the rosary or tasbih seems to have been taken from the Koran: "O'believers! remember God, remember Him frequently" (33:41). Hence, there are certain traditions, mentioning the use of small stones, date-kernels etc. for counting eulogies, such as takbir, tahlil (pronouncing la ilaha illallah and tasbih). It is related by the women of Medina that the Prophet said to them: "Practice tasbih, tahlil and takdir, and count these eulogies on your fingers, for these will have to give you account" (Abu Daud, witr, bab 24). Ibn Sa'd (8:348) quotes that Fatima bint Hussain used to say eulogies aided by threads in which she made knots (bi-khuyut ma'kud fiha). Abu Daud quotes on the authority of Sa'd b. Abi Wakkas that he accompanied the Prophet who went to visit a woman, who counted her eulogies by means of kernels or small stones lying before her. The Prophet said to her: Shall I tell you what is easier and more profitable? "Glory to God" according to the number of what He has created in the earth; "glory to God" according to what He has created in the heavens; "glory to God" according to the number of what is between these; "glory to God" according to what He will create. And in the same way, Allah Akbar, al-Hamdu lillahi. (Ibid.)

Sufiya said: the Prophet entered while there were before me four thousand kernels which I used in reciting eulogies. I said: I use them in reciting eulogies. He answered: I will teach you a still larger number. Say "glory to God" according to the number of what He has created (Tirmizi, bab 103). To a different practice points the tradition according to which the Prophet counted the tasbih (Nasai, bab 97). The verb used her is akada, its being translated by "to count" is based upon the fact that the lexicons give it among others this meaning.

Later on, the above practice gave rise to the tradition of rosary among the Muslims. The date of the introduction of the rosary among the Muslims is uncertain. It has been however often assumed that it was borrowed in a fully developed form from India. Goldziher thinks it certain that the rosary came from India to western Asia. The use of the rosary is very widely spread, but its earliest home seems to be in India. There is however evidence for its having been used at first in Sufic circles.

The rosary consists of three groups of beads made of wood, bone, mother of pearls, etc. The groups are separated by two transversal beads of a large size (imam), or a terminal bead, while a much larger piece serves as a kind of handle (yad). The number of beads within each group varies (e.g. 33+33+34 or 33+33+31); in the latter case the imams and the yad are reckoned as beads. The sum total of a hundred is in accordance with the number of Allah and His 99 attributes being invoked by the believers. Thus, the rosary serves for the enumeration of these names; but it is also used for the counting of eulogies.

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