Chain with antique prayer beads made of amber (Tasbih)

  • Description

This prayer chain (Tasbih) with very old amber beads (Birmite) was purchased 30 years ago in Nizwa, at that time new 6 golden granulated beads from the Muttrah souq were added (to make it a fine necklace) . Four beads including two finial beads have not been included but are kept separately with the chain.  We do not know if these beads were made in Oman, India or Persia. The amber beads are probably over 200 years old.  Length 57,5 cm . Diameter largest bead 1,1 cm. 

While we are not sure if these amber beads were made in Oman, we do know that in 1672 very fine chains with prayer beads (of glazed pottery) were made in Muscat.  The Dutchman Padtbrugge who visited Muscat on 1672 writes"They can also turn clay quite well, because the beads of their rosaries (in reality the Arabian praying-string) which the Roman Catholics call paternosters, all must be turned, and those things are a prestige-object. The potters are very handy in glazing" 

Antique Omani Tasbih made of amber birmiteAntique Omani Tasbih

A very old Omani prayer chain made of amber converted into a fine necklace

The chain is made of amber from Birma, this is called Birmite.  When held against the light you can see with a magnifying glass many small cracks (a feature of Birmite). Again when we hold a bead against the light or using flash photography the beads look more reddish (cherry colour) The colour of Birmite is influenced by temperature, humity, air and age. These beads are probably over 200 years old.  Birmite mines were closed between 1936 and 1999, when they reopened again. In Asia and in partiuclar in China there has been a lot of interest in in Birmate. 

Antique amber prayer beads birmite

 Notice the small internal cracks in all the amber (birmite) prayer beads

In Islam, prayer beads are referred to as Misbaha (Arabic: مسبحة mas'baha ), Tasbih or Sibha and contain 99 beads, corresponding to the Names of God in Islam. Sometimes only 33 beads are used, in which case one would cycle through them three times. The beads are traditionally used to keep count while saying the prayer known as the "Tasbih of Fatimah", which was a form of prayer offered as a gift by Muhammad to his daughter, which is recited as follows: 33 times "Subhan Allah" (Glory be to God), 33 times "Al-hamdu lilah" (Praise be to God), and 33 times "Allahu Akbar" (God is the greatest) which equals 99, the number of beads in the misbaha. It is highly recommended to recite this prayer after the daily five ritual prayers.
Use of the misbaha to count prayers and recitations is considered an acceptable practice within mainstream Islam.While they are widely used today in Sunni and Shia Islam, adherents of the Ahmadiyya and Salafi sects shun them as an intolerable innovation. According to Mirza Tahir Ahmad of the ahmadiyya community, the use of prayers beads is a form of innovation which was not practised by the early Muslim community. Antique prayer-bead chains made of Birmite are very collectible and valuable. 

The finials of the rosary that were not included in the necklace, but kept separate.

References:
  1. Wikipedia
  2. The History of beads by Lois Sherr Dubin (bead 906 on the beadchart after page 112)
  3. Feedback British Museum (Jill Cook) The ideal environment  for amber is around 18 Celsius and 55% humidity. The heat prevalent in the climate of Muscat and high temperature differences between day and night may have may have played a role in the crazing on the surface of the beads. Crazing is a network of fine cracks on the surface of a material. (however we did not find this effect on some other old amber beads purchased in Oman)