Flight from Abuja to Kano -- I am seated same row with a beautiful hijabi. Her flowery patterned hijab first caught my attention, then a small barely noticeable device she clutched between two fingers.
From a distance, it looked like a small watch and reminded me -- for no reason -- of a pacemaker. Then I forgot the device.
Independence Road, Kano State -- The miniaturised watch thing appears again, this time openly displayed in traffic by street hawkers. Out of curiosity, I buy two for ₦600 ($1.65).
Alas, it is a Tally Counter or in this context, a mechanised ‘teched up’ version of the Islamic prayer beads or Tasbih/Tesbih as they are called.
I am to later learn that digital tally counters for religion have always existed but are not very popular in Islam so I set to find out how true this claim is.
Apart from some Arabic text, and an uppercase declaration of its Chinese manufacturing heritage, this mechanised tesbih does not come with any brand name or signature so I am calling it ‘The Techsbih’ for the purpose of this review.
Simply put, this is an innovative and non-intrusive way of praying. It is mostly important for Muslim professionals and those always on the move without a chance to pray after the 5 daily prayers.
It has two buttons; count and reset. One click of the count button represents one seed of the tesbih and the reset button refreshes to zero count to begin again.
The Techsbih is worn on the index finger of the left or right hand of the user, depending on their dominant hand. This position allows it sit comfortable facing the thumb and be manipulated at will.
- Band material: Rubber
- Case material: Plastic
- Pusher material: Metal
- Band width: 1 CM
- Case diameter: 3 CM
- Case thickness: 1 CM
- Battery: Inbuilt lithium coin-cell batteries
While marvelling at the ease and convenience of this device, I remembered the intricacies of religion and wondered if this Techsbih is haram.
Haram or halal?
I went visiting Alfa Ibrahim, a Muslim Cleric in Lagos state to clear up the ‘halal-haram’ debate raging in my uninformed head.
“I know the counter and no, it is not exactly haram to use it,” he responds.
“For clarity, is that a YES or NO,” I insist.
“It is not exactly black and white. In Islam, mubah is a word that means actions that are neither encouraged nor frowned upon but still permitted in the faith while wajib are actions that are encouraged. Between mubah and wajib, there is mandub/mustahabb.”
According to Wikipedia, Reuben Levy’s “The Social Structure of Islam” succinctly defines mustahab or mandub as the “"duties recommended, but not essential; fulfilment of which is rewarded, though they may be neglected without punishment.”
“The counter is essentially mandub,” Alfa Ibrahim concludes.
Aha! Everything was coming together, at least to a large extent.
Pros and Cons
Alfa Ibrahim and I were joined by Yusuf to discuss the Tecsbih.
Speed is evidently one of its strengths, or so I thought. But I was surprised to be proved wrong by an unenvisaged mastery problem.
“Most people are so used to the physical rosary and are faster on it. Some are even so proficient with rosaries that no matter how fast your counter is, they are ahead,” Alfa Ibrahim shocked me.
However, as Yusuf points out, with the counter, you can fall asleep and continue from where you stopped in prayer.
Then there is the price factor. Islamic prayer rosaries cost from between ₦200 for the very basic plastic beads to ₦40,000 for special perfumed beads. But with its price, Techsbih is as non-classist as can be.
Also Ibrahim says some people believe the tesbihs and rosaries can do miracles. And to these people, “my Techsbih” is automatically invalid.
Will you use the Techsbih?
On a hunch, I asked around;
“Sure, I can use the counter, but I personally prefer rosaries. Also, some prayers are usually faster on the rosary than the counter.” -- Alfa Ibraheem
“No be watch be dis? How dis wan take be tesbih? Abeg I no sabi use am, I no go even try am. (Isn’t this a watch? How is it a tesbih? Please, I do not know how to use it and do not want to know.) -- Baba Rasheed
“I have seen this counter a couple of times and it always makes me laugh, I am not sure why. Sure, I can use it. What’s the big deal? I am just not used to it.” -- Aisha
"I had one in the university. It's a counter. Like the rosary beads, or like our fingers. Like stones. Like matchsticks. People just count with it. None of the things I mentioned have any spiritual significance. It's using basic counting tools to solve a basic human weakness; forgetfulness." -- Fuad
“I can use the counter. But honestly for convenience and ease, I prefer something familiar; rosary." -- Yusuf
“Muslims have 3 to 3,000 specific prayers of dua. To keep count, different measures have been used over the years and the counter is the newest addition to this age-old practice. But I won't use it, I prefer my fingers, I'm old school like that.” -- Sodiq
“Wow. Honestly, I am just seeing this for the first time. There is something really interesting about this device, and I am open to trying it out.” -- Sade
I found tally counter apps in their hundreds on the Google and iOS stores that are modeled after the Islamic rosary. But somehow the Techsbih wins the day with its simplicity.
And I noticed that even though it is not exactly old, most people are unaware of its existence. The other lot were either wary and or skeptical. Or just plain old-school like Sodiq.