'Pure work of art': How UAE artisans turn stones into prayer beads that cost up to Dh100,000

Rosaries are crafted from various materials, including wood, precious stones, ivory, pearls and other natural materials

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SM Ayaz Zakir

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Photos: Shihab/Khaleej Times
Photos: Shihab/Khaleej Times

Published: Sat 9 Dec 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 11 Dec 2023, 2:28 PM

Only a few things are sold without fixed prices — in the UAE, misbaha (rosary) is one of them. You can get one for as low as Dh50, but if you're willing to shell out more, you can buy it for Dh100,000.

Rosaries — sets of prayer beads — come in various forms for different faiths. For Muslims, they are known as misbaha, subha, tusbah and tasbeeh and often used in the recitation of prayers, the dhikr, and to glorify Allah. In the Islamic tradition, a set of 99 beads symbolises the names of Allah.

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Misbaha, comprising three sections of 33 beads, is associated with a hadith advising Muslims to recite ‘Subhanallah’ (glorious is God) 33 times, ‘Alhamdulillah’ (all praise be to God) 33 times, and ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great) 34 times after daily prayers.

Khaleej Times explored shops at the Blue Market in Sharjah, where thousands of these rosaries can be found in different sizes and shapes, made out of different types of stones. Every prayer bead has a story behind it.

Towhid Chowdhury, owner of Al Murjaan Al Zahry Novelty and Gifts LLC, has been in this industry for the last 33 years. He is a craftsman and seller of rosaries.

“These rosaries are used by Emiratis in abundance. We can see many holding and doing dhikr, while they walk or work,” said Chowdhury.

Rosaries are crafted from various materials, including wood, precious stones, ivory, pearls and other natural materials. “However, the rosaries most in demand are the ones made of amber stones,” said Chowdhury.

Made of precious stones

For those seeking a more personal touch, many shops offer custom-made rosaries.

Craftsmen transform precious stones, corals, and wood into perfectly shaped beads, often circular or oval, with some featuring intricate carvings such as the 99 names of Allah, Ayat-ul-Kursi, and other prayers. “We had many clients coming to us with their specifications. Some prefer precious stones like emerald, turqouise, rubies, boliete, eudialyte, feldspar, agate and even diamonds,”

“But these rosaries made of stones are tailored on special request and customisation. The price of these can vary based on the stone, size, shape, carvings, which can go up to Dh100,000,” said Chowdhury.

From stones to beads

A normal rosary takes about two days to make. However, detailed ones take about two months. Once an order is placed, the makers have to source the stones from different parts of the world.

“Once we receive stones, they are then carved to the desired size and given a shape – either round or oval,” said Chowdhury adding that a few stones which are not rigid break, making them work repetitively.

“After shaping the beads to their precise sizes, they are then drilled and then polished. If a client wants detailing of craving, it takes a few days time,” said Chowdhury adding that a few clients also request for 99 names of Allah to be ingrained on the 99 beads.

“Some also prefer designs in gold writing, which further increases the price tag,” said Chowdhury.

Made of corals

Apart from stones and wood, rosaries are also made out of coral stones. Once that lied below the sea bed in the Arabian Gulf, is seen at many homes across the country. “Making a prayer beads out of corals is a very difficult task because the corals are not rigid and strong,” said Ismail Saleem, a craftsman at a store in Blue Market.

“Corals come in colours that sometimes people have not seen. And such corals are preferred for rosaries and ornaments,” said Saleem.

From handmade to automation

A few years back, these rosaries were rubbed by hand and the entire process used to be handmade. The stones and the wood were rubbed with sand paper and other materials to get in to shape.

“The beauty of a handmade rosaries are something that cannot be compared. It was a pure work of art, which is not done any more.”

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