A couple of days ago at the the office (I sound like a middle-aged man – may God help me), a Catholic co-worker of mine, an older gentlemen from up state New York, and I were discussing the beautification and canonization of Pope John Paul II when he, somewhat out of the blue, commented on the presence of my prayer rug in my cubicle and of my tasbih dhikr (“remembrance”) beads. I usually keep a set of the 99-bead tasbih wrapped around my right wrist so that I have easy access to them whenever I feel like doing dhikr and also so people will know that I’m Muslim since I don’t ever wear “traditional Islamic” clothing and since I can’t quite yet grow a decent beard. He said they reminded him of the rosary, and he commended me for being so open with my faith.
“That’s why I like you, because you believe. I can talk to you about this type of stuff and you won’t get offended,” he said after our discussion about Pope John Paul.
He then said, pointing at my prayer beads, “And seeing your beads makes me want to pray the rosary. I should pray the rosary more often than I do.”
Even to this day, I can still recall the supplications of the rosary.
full of grace
the Lord is with thee,
blessed art thou among women
and blessed in the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
Glory be to Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning
is now, and ever shall be, world without end.
As a Muslim, I can’t endorse the idea of God having a mother in the biological sense or a Mother in any abstract metaphysical or theological sense. I also can’t endorse the idea of the Trinity existing since time immemorial – I can’t endorse the Trinity period – but I can assent to the power of repetitive du’a (supplications) and to the serenity I acquired performing those prayers in my adolescence.
There’s a Muslim tradition which says that the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم would repeat three sets of thirty-three supplications after every salah, and in trying to follow the Prophet, I usually try to repeat this practice after every salah. It goes like this:
Astagfirullah – “I seek God’s forgiveness” – thirty-three times
Al-hamdu’ilah – “Thanks be to God”, similar to Hallelujah in Hebrew – thirty-three times
Subhan’Allah – (roughly) “Glory or praise be to God” – thirty-three times
For a total of nintey-nine, hence the nine-beads of the tasbih.
I suppose I’ve latched onto the tasbih with such ease because I grew up praying the rosary. I swear much of my Catholic upbringing prepared me for my life as a Muslim.
And I likewise swear there’s something meditative, therapeutic, and nepenthean about the sensation of beads running your fingers, a feeling, which I can’t quite describe. The beads themselves are not essential for dhikr. Some people, for example, use the segments of their fingers, but for some reason, the beads help. Maybe that’s why some of the other religions – Islam, Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism to name a few – employ beads as a means of counting prayers.
But seriously, isn’t this how it should be, the faithful inspiring one another towards righteousness? Allah says the following in the Qur’an:
Unto every one of you have We appointed a (different) law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works! Unto God you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ. ~al-Qur’an, Surah al-Ma’idah (The Repast), [5:48]
Who cares if my co-worker is Catholic and I’m Muslim? We both recognize the importance of belief, and something as simple and humble as a set of prayer beads provided a link between our great faiths. People are less divided, less different than it would appear at first glance. Our commonalities trump our differences, and our similarities are the ones worth stressing, not our differences.
Say: “O followers of earlier revelation! Come unto that tenet which we and you hold in common: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall not ascribe divinity to aught beside Him, and that we shall not take human beings for our lords beside God.” And if they turn away, then say: “Bear witness that it is we who have surrendered ourselves unto Him.” ~al-Qur’an, Surah al-Imran (the House of Imran), [3:64]
Connect, don’t collide.