A Saudi teenager masters an age-old craft: rosary making

A Saudi teenager masters an age-old craft: rosary making
The undated photo shows Saudi teenager Mohamad Alobaida working at his workshop. (AN photo)
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Updated 19 April 2023

A Saudi teenager masters an age-old craft: rosary making

A Saudi teenager masters an age-old craft: rosary making
  • Mohamad Alobaida, 17, is active in his family business since age nine, been creating his own designs for four years
  • Alobaida caught the creative bug at his family shop Sabhat Barzan which specializes in manufacturing and selling rosaries

RIYADH: He may be just 17 years old, but Mohamad Alobaida is making quite a name for himself as a rosary-maker.

Active in the family business since the age of nine, the teenager has been creating his own designs for the past four years.

“While making rosaries, I feel like I am traveling to the world of design where I see the arrangement with my own eyes, as it exists in my imagination, materializing in front of me. And I almost touch them,” he said.

“My work is inspired by the environment, terrain, architecture, as well as some events, people and topics of interest.”

The Alobaida family shop, Sabhat Barzan, specializes in manufacturing, maintaining and selling rosaries, and it was where the youngster was first bitten by the creative bug.

“I have had exactly four-and-a-half years in the field of rosary making. I started to love this profession when I was nine years old,” he said.

“I used to help my brother, Ibrahim, in the shop and workshop. He is my brother, father, teacher and guide. He started in the craft of rosary 20 years ago.

“Ibrahim was one of the first people in the craft of rosary in the Kingdom and he has a history of participating in local and international exhibitions.”

The rosary market in Saudi Arabia has been thriving for decades due to its cultural and religious significance.

In Islam, rosaries are called “misbaha” or “sibha.” They comprise a rope and prayer beads and are used to help memorize verses from the Qur’an or keep track of the recitation of the 99 names of God.

The history of using memorization aids dates back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad, whom it is said used simple date seeds to perform his prayer ritual.

These days, elaborate and ornate jewelry rosaries are made of precious stones, wood, bones, horn and ivory. One of the most expensive and popular stones used is amber, a honey-yellow gemstone made from fossilized tree resin.

“The most expensive rosary made in our workshop cost about 25,000 riyals ($6,665) from amber, and the most expensive rosary sold — I was a mediator — was about 70,000,” Alobaida said.

The finest pieces might be expensive to buy, but the art of making them is highly skilled, the teenager said.

“The profession requires extremely high accuracy, so not just anyone can work with the craft. It needs professional equipment and it has high risks.”

Once the rosary-maker decides what stone to use, the next step is choosing the string that holds the beads together, which can be made of cotton, silk or simple nylon.

“A single rosary takes from one day to a month (to make), according to the type of raw material used in the manufacture,” Alobaida said. “There are raw materials that need high precision, such as amber.”

Keen to show off his talents, the teenager recently had a stall at Ramadan District, one of the events under Ramadan Season, a series of cultural experiences organized by the Saudi Ministry of Culture across Riyadh, Jeddah and Makkah.

His creations went down well with visitors and Alobaida hopes he can one day take his talents to the world.

“This craft is a source of additional income from a hobby, and God willing, we aspire to establish a factory in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“Then we hope to start exporting and be an effective part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.”