JERUSALEM — Walking through the courtyard of Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque on a recent afternoon, Nisreen Biqwaidar wore a pink Apple Watch on her wrist to count her steps and a green ring on her finger to count her religious recitations.
“Every day I say ‘God is great’ 1,000 times and ‘Glory to God’ 1,000 times,” Nisreen, 13, said recently as she emerged from afternoon prayers. The ring is superior to prayer beads, she said, because “it’s faster and stays in your hand.”
Throughout the day, each time she recites, she says, she presses a silver button on the ring and her count on the digital monitor ticks. At the end of the day, she hits a minor reset button, clearing the ring for the next day’s memories. She has been using a digital counter since the age of 10.
Many Muslims around the world have long used prayer beads for religious recitations and praises. The practice, which is added to the five most frequently performed daily prayers, is a way of infusing religious remembrance into your day. Increasingly, Palestinians like Nisreen turn to digital prayer counters to track their recitations, like a Fitbit for their Allahu akbars, Arabic for “God is great”.
Shopkeepers in Jerusalem’s Old City say counters started appearing there about five or seven years ago, although their exact arrival time is unclear. Interest in them began after Palestinians who had returned from pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia brought them back. They became an instant hit.
Now, in Old Town shops, long strands of multicolored prayer beads stand beside a series of prayer counters. Digital counters tend to range from just over $1 to around $10 and are especially popular during the holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to end on Sunday in most of the region.
Rings and other prayer counters can be found throughout much of the Muslim world. Those who wear them in Jerusalem vary in age, and some said they wore rings and beads but preferred the digital option when they weren’t at home.
While many Christians use rosary beads in a similar way, shopkeepers in the Christian Old Town neighborhood said that digital counters still haven’t caught on, mainly because Christians tend to pray dozens of Hail Marys or Our Fathers in a day instead. of hundreds or more.
That recent afternoon, Nisreen had forgotten to put on her prayer ring before leaving her home in Beersheba, southern Israel. But as she walked through the streets of the Old City, a woman was handing out dates and prayer rings. Nisreen took one.
“If I don’t have the ring, I use the prayer beads,” said Nisreen, who often keeps prayer beads in her backpack for support. “And if I don’t have the prayer beads, I just use my fingers.”
As children, many Muslims are taught to recite religious praises into their hands, using the creases in their fingers. Some still prefer this, to imitate Prophet Muhammad, who is said to have used his fingers.
Many Muslims still prefer prayer beads – which are usually around 100 beads in length but can be even longer – and older worshipers often keep their beads constantly on hand.
But it can be difficult to remember the total. Enter prayer counters.
“If you wanted to give 1,000 accolades, it’s hard to keep up,” said Ahmad Natsha, 35, who was working at his friend’s shop outside the Aqsa mosque recently. “Some would buy 10 prayer beads and use each one to keep track,” he said, but “it’s a lot easier with the counter.”
Ibtihal Ahmad, 60, agrees. “There is peace of mind,” she said. “I know at the end of the day how many compliments I said.”
Sitting with her back to the Dome of the Rock, she stared at the blue plastic counter on her ring finger, which was next to two gold rings nearly as large. The screen showed that she had already reached 755.
But she said she still had a lot of prayers that day.
“When people see a high number, they feel a sense of accomplishment,” said Sham Ibrahim, 16, who was sitting next to her.
Mrs. Ahmad says she gives prayer rings to her grandchildren when they get noisy and instructs them to recite a prayer 500 times – giving them a little time to reflect and a moment of silence.
Just as Fitbits and other wearable health trackers inspired competition or brag about the basic act of walking, prayer counters encouraged a sense of religious competition.
In a religious WhatsApp group in which she participates, Nadia Mohammad, 60, and Sham’s grandmother, said members regularly shared their daily prayer count. One of the oldest members often posts accounts in the thousands.
“It encourages the rest of us,” she said last week as she held up traditional prayer beads right after afternoon prayers.
Others publish their daily accounts on Facebook.
To add to the excitement, a new model and design is released each year, Old Town shopkeepers said.
The latest one looks like a fish and should be cradled in the palm of your hand. A splined wheel can be turned with the thumb – replicating the sensation of moving a finger across the beads.
Although Mr. Natsha was working in a shop that sold the beads and accountants, he was critical of what he considered new methods of worship. He doesn’t use either.
“In our religion, we shouldn’t wear this or that,” he said, pointing to the display of prayer beads hanging above boxes of prayer rings. “In our religion, we must only use our hands. This is just capitalism.”
For Akram, 66, who declined to give his last name because, like others interviewed, he felt that discussing his daily remembrance felt like religious braggadocio, the accountants are more than just a daily record of his prayers.
Three years ago, Akram, from the northern city of Acre, said he had started to maximize the rings. The screen on some of the rings, including his, can go up to 99,999 before resetting automatically. Now every time he hits 99,999 he puts the tape over the reset button so his record stays intact. Then he puts the ring in a box to keep it safe. So far, he has collected 30.
He instructed his family to tie all rings around his neck when he died – a final, digital testament to how much he praised God in life.
“With regular prayer beads, you can do this 100 times, but what proof is there that you did it 100 times? There isn’t,” he said. He pointed to a box of prayer rings very similar to the ones he kept. “This is forever.”