CAIRO: As the sale of prayer beads – known in Egypt as ‘sibha’ – reaches its first, albeit lesser, peak in the holy fasting month of Ramadan, dealers prepare for their big boom season in three months during the Hajj.
The sibha, like the Christian rosary beads, helps worshippers keep count of the number the repetitions of prayers and supplication or praise of God or Prophet Mohamed called “dhikr or “tasbih.
The average sibha is made up of 33 beads, but longer ones may add up to 66 or 99 pieces. The number 99 derives its significance from the attributes of God, which also add up to 99.
Historically the use of sibhas was introduced by devout Sufis in the 13th century. The use of the sibhas (also referred to as a misbaha) to count prayers and recitations is an evolution of Prophet Mohamed’s practice of using the fingers of his right hand to keep track.
While in pretty wide use today, some hard-line Muslim scholars shun the sibha as an intolerable innovation (or bida’a in Arabic), preferring to stick to the exact method believed to have been practiced by Prophet Mohamed.
In Khan El Khalili the variety of bead strings on offer is stunning. Some of the most popular exclusive stores have been in business for over 120 years in.
With varying colors and sizes, prayer beads are also used at home as decorative items, especially the bigger ones, created specifically for that purpose.
Sibhas range in price from LE 1, mainly for the low-cost Chinese-made ones, to LE 300 for those made of semi-precious stones.
Sibhas made of plastic Chinese beads are the cheapest, while the glass ones sell for between LE 10 and LE 20. Ones made of sard beads cost about LE 40 and those made of yusr (black coral beads) could make a major dent in your wallet with a 33-piece sibha going for no less than LE120.
The price of an amber bead sibha can easily hit LE 300.
“All of our sibhas are locally made; it’s a traditional art that started in Cairo centuries ago, said Mohamed Qutb, a salesman at the Qutb and Sobhi Shop at the Khan.
“The art of sibha-making is exclusive to Egypt and a few other countries in the Middle East. Each of the owners of these outlets has a factory where sibhas are made of local or imported material, he added.
“We only import cheap Chinese sibhas because they are affordable to low-income groups, said Qutb.
Adel Hamdy, a souvenir shop owner at the Khan, exhibits a different collection of scented wooden sibhas.
“If you rub your favorite essential oil onto any of those, the sent will stick for a long time, he told Daily News Egypt.
“While the price of the average wooden sibha ranges between LE 30 and LE 40, the price would shoot up to LE 300 or LE 400 if the beads are inlaid with silver, he said as he flashed one sibha with each bead shining with one of God’s attributes written in silver.
According to Qutb and other sibha merchants, pilgrims getting ready for the Hajj buy sibhas before and after they go to Mecca.
But it isn t a matter of price that compels some of the pilgrims to buy sibhas from Cairo not Mecca, one assistant at the Kahraman Bank told Daily News Egypt.
The prices of sibhas in both Egypt and Saudi Arabia are identical, but people prefer to buy them here to avoid paying for excess baggage and customs duties, he said.
“Few people realize that sibhas sold in Saudi Arabia are actually made in Egypt.