Eyes and hands

Plastic prayer beads in the shape of the Eye, Iraq

The most common amulet in the Middle East is used to ward off the evil eye or ‘ain al-hasad, as it is known in Arabic. The evil eye may manifest when jealousy or envy arises in humans and demons; perhaps in the face of another’s beauty, wealth, perfection or fortune. Blue glass beads with white, blue and black dots invoking eyes are still available from every market from Istanbul to Fez. Examples and a description can be found on the website Wearable Heritage by Jolanda Bos.

Amulets against the evil eye can take many forms and are not at all limited to jewelry. In Syria, Jordan and Palestine, a blue or greenish faience disk, pierced in several places, is a common amulet against the evil eye and is usually referred to by the German word Lochscheibe: a disk with holes in it. Its history is uncertain, but may derive from the Late Egyptian form of the Eye of Horus-amulet. See this page for more information.

Hands make powerful amulets for several reasons and their use predates Islam. In Muslim countries today, they are said to represent the hand of Fatima, daughter of the prophet, and the hand’s five fingers symbolize the five pillars of Islam or the five daily prayers. The hand can be depicted in either much detail, such as in the Moroccan Hands of Fatima, in an extremely schematic form such as in Oman, and everything in between. There is also a difference in the way the hand is positioned: the hand with the fingers turned upward is a symbol of defense against evil, whereas the hand with the fingers turned downward is said to be the hand bestowing blessings from above on the wearer.

Click on the examples below to see their explanations.