Sanan Faeq Mohammed has made a lot of prayer beads in his time. The 35-year-old, a local of Hanati Den village in the Halabja province in Iraqi Kurdistan, is well known for his skill at making the prayer beads that many Muslim men carry entwined around their wrists here. But his favourite project recently was something a little larger.
Mohammed, who works mostly as an upholsterer, spent two years creating an 18.5-meter rosary to honour the memories of those killed in the chemical weapons attack on Halabja in March 1988. This was when Saddam Hussein’s air force bombed the area with chemical weapons killing approximately 5,000 and injuring many more.
The rosary-maker has relatives who died in the attack and like many others here, wanted to memorialize the tragedy. “So I made a rosary of 5,000 beads, with each one symbolizing one of the dead,” he explained.
The beads are even sized according to the ages of the deceased, with smaller ones for children. The prayer beads end in two tassels, made out of fabric with a 5,000 thread count and coloured red, yellow, green and white for the colours of the flag of the semi-autonomous northern region.
The beads of the rosary are made out of the fruit of the Mt Atlas mastic tree, a deciduous tree native to Iraq. There is even a reason for this, as Mohammed explains. The fruit symbolizes local production and the prayer beads made out of them are very durable.
“We choose the best fruit that has no seed. Then we peel it and put it in the sun to dry for about ten days,” Mohammed explains. “Then it is ready to be threaded. We put holes in the dried fruit and put them on a string.”
The costs of prayer beads made from the fruit can go from anywhere around US$100 for a good example to up to US$1,000 for the very best.
Mohammed’s oversized prayer beads are now on display for all to see at the Halabja Monument, which is located at the entrance to the city. The monument holds documents and property of the victims of the chemical attack. This includes clothing, and pots and pans as well as sculptures and other artworks that commemorate the event. The names of all the victims are inscribed on the walls.
Mohammed’s long prayer beads will join the other artefacts in here. But Mohammed thinks it is not just the association with Halabja that makes his creation special. He thinks that the prayer beads are the longest in Iraq, possibly even in the world and he’s hoping that one day, an organization like the Guinness World Records will take note of them too.