Anyone who visits Fethiye, and spends time wandering the more authentic parts of town, will see that Turkish men are likely to be holding one or more of the following objects in his hand: a mobile phone, a cigarette or a tesbih.

This last object, better known to the western world as ‘prayer’ or ‘worry beads’, has a long and interesting history.

large tesbih
Tesbih come all shapes and sizes

For prayer

For religious Turks, the tesbih still plays an important part in rituals of faith. Women as well as men use them to pray but usually only men are seen with them in public.

Scholars suggest that Islam adopted prayer beads through contact with Buddhism and Hinduism, but no one knows exactly when or how prayer beads entered into Islamic ritual.

Muslims use strings of 33 or 99 beads with one “leader” bead, which represent the 99 names of Allah found in the Koran and the one essential name.

When Tesbih with only 33 beads are used, the prayer cycle is repeated 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 34 times “Allahu Akbar” (God is the greatest).

Using only the right hand, touching the Tesbih beads help the user to keep track of how many prayers have been said with a minimal amount of conscious effort.

This means that attention is focused on the prayers themselves.

man with beads
Man praying with tesbih

Beads around the world

Prayer beads are still used by various cultures around the globe.

Each religion attaches different significance to their prayer beads, which are in different forms and structure.

Research suggests that up to 70% of the world’s population still use some kind of beads as part of their religious rites; assisting with concentration whilst praying.

Prayer beads as said to have originated with Hindu religious practices in India, possibly around the 8th century B.C.E.

Buddhism, which developed from a sect of Hinduism, retained the use of prayer beads as it became established in China, Korea, Japan, and Tibet.

Ayurvedic Buddhist prayer beads
Ayurvedic Buddhist prayer beads


The Catholic rosary,  became a ritual of prayer for Catholics from the late Middle Ages.

A rosary

Nowadays Catholicism remains the only branch of Christianity that regularly use prayer beads in religious practices.

Status or distraction?

Many secular men in Turkey also use tesbih as worry beads and even a distraction when trying to stop smoking.

for some, having an expensive tesbih made from semi-precious stones like amber and intricate silver work, is said to add to their status.

tesbih 2
Amber tesbih

But prayer beads are mostly made from more simple materials and over the centuries various cultures have used everything from stone, seeds, nuts, shells or clay.

One of the most traditional and simple beads is made from melia.


tesbih made from melia seeds
tesbih made from melia seeds

If you want to buy a tesbih, it is worth shopping around as there are many shops selling them in Fethiye.