Mirayla Hylbom

Currently, a number of exquisite pieces of Islamic art are on display in Oberlin’s own Rice Hall. While all the pieces were beautiful and fascinating, what struck my attention the most were the Islamic prayer beads made here in Oberlin. I was not aware that prayer beads were a custom in Islam, but as a Catholic I’m no stranger to the practice.

In the Catholic faith, believers pray to the Virgin Mary by reciting the Hail Mary with a rosary – one recitation per bead. Ten times is standard, but some people may do up to one hundred recitations. When I was younger, I always found this practice quite odd. In no other ritual I was familiar with did Catholics repeat the same prayer over and over. Always the impatient child, I was happy that my parents rarely got the rosary out.

Now, after learning that Muslims also use prayer beads, I’m intrigued by the apparent connection between the Muslim and Catholic prayer bead rituals. Perhaps the Muslim use of prayer beads can shed some light on the repetitive nature of the devotion, which seems much more out of place in Catholicism than in Islam. Thus far in class, we’ve learned many Islamic rituals that involve repeating a certain behavior. For example, we learned that Muslims pray five times daily and repeat certain motions during each prayer. This repetition is extremely important in Islam; as an orthopraxy, it’s what you do and not just what you believe that makes you a Muslim.

My theory is that the prayer bead ritual in both faiths comes from a common source. Both Catholicism and Islam are Abrahamic faiths, so it seems quite likely that they would share many traditions from the earliest days of the religion. It’s intriguing to think that these two faiths share so much. Most Catholics I know would not think of themselves as very similar to Muslims. Yet, maybe one day when they’ re praying their rosary , their Muslim neighbor will be praying with his prayer beads. Two faiths, so many differences and conflicts and yet, so many similarities.