Why do we say tasbihat 33 times? What are the narrations regarding the issue?

The Details of the Question

Why do we say tasbihat 33 times? What are the narrations regarding the issue?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

There are keys that fit material locks; some secrets that are like spiritual locks have some appropriate keys that fit them. 

If you do not use the key that fits the lock, you cannot be successful. For instance, your email account has a password.If you type in a wrong password, you cannot access your mailbox. A certain number of tasbihat or salawat needs to be said for some divine secrets to be revealed. If this number is ignored deliberately, it is impossible to attain that divine secret. However, if someone says tasbihat a wrong number of times by mistake, the mercy of Allah Almighty will accept it. It is something different. 

How to do tasbihat and what duas (supplications) and tasbihat to read were determined by the Prophet (pbuh) himself. According to a narration from Thawban, when the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) finished a prayer (salah), he would ask for forgiveness (istighfar) by saying , “Astaghfirullah”.1 It is possible to say this istighfar as follows: “Astaghfirullaha’l-azima’l-karima’lladhi la ilaha illa hu, al-hayya’l-qayyuma wa atubu ilayh”.

After fard and sunnah prayers are performed, first ayat al-kursiyy, the chapters of al-Ikhlas, al-Falaq and an-Nas are read; after that, “Subhanallah” is said 33 times, “Alhamdulillah” 33 times and “Allahu Akbar” 33 times. Then, “La ilaha illallahu wahdahu...” is read and dua (prayer) is done.  

In hadith and fiqh books, blowing onto the prayer beads or one's body after reading ayat al-kursiyy is not mentioned. However, before the Messenger of Allah went to bed, he would read the chapters mentioned above and blow into his palms. Then, he would wipe the parts of the body that he could reach with his palms. However, something like that is not in question while saying tasbihat.   

As it is known, tasbihat after prayers are usually counted by prayer beads. Thus, the probability of saying more or fewer words of dhikr is eliminated. However, prayer beads were not used during the Era of Bliss. The Prophet (pbuh) counted dhikr words by using the knuckles of his right hand. 2 He did not prohibit those who used pebbles and date seeds to count dhikr words from using them.

Hz. Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas, who is one of the ten Companions who were given the glad tiding of being a person of Paradise, said he went together with the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) to a woman. They saw the women making dhikr using the date seeds or pebbles in front of her but the Messenger of Allah did not interfere.3

This attitude of the Prophet (pbuh) is included in "sunnah taqriri", which is a type of sunnah. It shows that he regarded this deed appropriate. On the other hand, it is narrated that Hz. Abu Hurayra made knots on a string and used it (Abu Nuaym, Hilya I/383) that Abu Safiyya, who was a muhajir, used seeds (Isaba IV/109; Ibn Sa’d VII/60) and that Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas used pebbles to make dhikr  (Ibn Sa’d III/143)

The prayer beads used today became common only in the fifth century of the Migration.

Abdullah bin Amr said,

“I saw the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) count dhikr words by using the knuckles of his right hand.”4

It is more virtuous to count dhikr words by using the hands if one can count them correctly. However, those who wish may use 33 or 99 prayer beads. There is no difference between holding the prayer beads above or below the level of the navel.

As for the number of the dhikr words to be said, there are various narrations regarding the issue. Some of them say the number of times dhikr words are to be said is 11 while others say it is 25; yet others say it is 10. 5 However, the hadiths stating that the number of the dhikr words to be said is 33 are more than the others. Hadith and fiqh scholars like Qadi Iyad preferred these narrations and regarded it appropriate to act accordingly.

In the explanations of the hadiths regarding the issue, some information is given about the wisdom behind those numbers. For instance, Imam Ayni states the following regarding the issue:

“The reason why the number of dhikr is advised to be 33 is this: When it is multiplied by three, the product is ninety-nine. When a person makes dhikr 99 times, he is regarded to have mentioned Allah with His ninety-nine names.”

As for the issue whether those who glorified or praised Allah more or fewer times than the numbers stated in the hadiths will gain the rewards promised there, some scholars say the extra numbers will not eliminate the rewards while others say, “if dhikr is deliberately made more or fewer times than the number stated in the hadiths, the promised rewards will not be obtained. For, these numbers have a wisdom and particularity; if the number is decreased or increased, the wisdom and particularity will disappear.

Therefore, it is necessary to try to say tasbihat no fewer than 33 times; if a person says them more than 33 times, he does not have to worry that the reward and wisdom will disappear. For, it is mustahab to utter tasbihat in ruku' and sajdah from 3 to 7 times. What is meant to say and advise here is to say 3 times but it is mustahab and permissible to say 5 and 7 times, too.

It is possible to perform tasbihat after prayers alone or in congregation.

After the prayers performed in congregation, these tasbihat and duas are done together in congregation with the participation of the muezzin, which is better in terms of virtue and more appropriate.

As for the issue whether it exists in sunnah to do tasbihat in congregation, the Messenger of Allah always encouraged dhikr, dua and worshipping in congregation; when he saw his Companions talking, making dhikr and worshipping in congregation, he would be pleased and sometimes give them glad tidings. 

According to the narration of Hz. Muawiya,

The Prophet (pbuh) once saw some of his Companions sitting in the form of a circle. He approached them and asked,

“Why did you come here and sit like this?”

They said, “We sat here in order to mention Allah, who granted us a religion like Islam and who tested us through this way, and to praise Him.”

The Prophet asked them again. After receiving an answer with a vow from them, the Prophet said,

“Do not think that I made you vow to blame you. However, Jibril came to me and told me that Allah, who is Mighty and Glorious, was proud of you in the presence of the angels.”6

As it is seen, the Prophet praised the believers who came together and made dhikr and tasbih in an occasion though it was not after a prayer. Tasbihat after prayer was not made in congregation during the time of the Prophet (pbuh) but beginning from the time of mujtahid imams, it was accepted in principle that it would be better to do tasbihat in congregation so that everybody who prayed would do it easily and that they would not be deprived of the reward of dhikr.  

After the prayers performed in congregation, it is mustahab for the congregation to change their places and perform the sunnah prayer and do tasbihat in a different place in the mosque. According to a narration mentioned in Ibn Abidin, it is said to be sunnah to do so. Breaking the ranks after the prayers is in question for all five daily prayers. No difference is in question for the morning and afternoon prayers.

The reason why the ranks are broken after the fard prayer is not to cause the people who came to mosque late to think that the fard prayer is still being performed. It is mustahab to perform sunnah prayers by changing one's place after the prayers that are performed in congregation. It is narrated that the prayer rugs and the ground will witness for those who perform prayers. Therefore, the more a person prostrates, the more places will witness for him. For, in the hereafter, all of the beings are conscious and they will speak when Allah wishes.

If it is not possible to perform the sunnah prayer and dua in a different place, there are also views stating that it is permissible to complete them in the same place. 7


1. Muslim, Musafirin: 135.
2. Tirmidhi, Daawat: 25.
3. Abu Dawud, Witr; 24.
4. Tirmidhi, Daawat: 24.

5. Nasai, Sahw:91-96.
6. Muslim, Dhikr: 40.
7. al-Imam Alauddin al-Qasani. Badaiu’s-Sanai. (Beirut: Daru’l-Kitabi’l-Arabi, 1402-1982), 1:160; Ibni Abidin, 1:356.

(see Mehmed PAKSU, İbadet Hayatımız)

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