Hand of Fatima

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Hand of Fatima

The hand of Fatima (also Hamsa, Chamsa , Khamsa , Arabic خمسة, DMG ḫamsa  'five') is a cultural symbol in the Islamic folk beliefs of North Africa and the Middle East . It is considered to be universally protective and the most effective defense measure in the fight against the jinn and the evil eye .

About naming

The name goes back to Fatima (606-632), the youngest daughter of the Prophet Mohammed with his first wife Khadijah . She is revered as a sin-free virgin and, since her children were the only ones who remained alive into adulthood, she is at the same time mother of the Aliden and thus mother of all descendants of Muhammad and a role model for today's mothers. There are parallels in both of these with the Christian veneration of Mary , who is honored as the mother of Jesus. Fatima is referred to as al-Batul ("the virgin") and as the "queen of the women of paradise".

In North African popular Islam, pre-Islamic traditions and beliefs of Sufism have mixed. Sufi followers have a closer emotional relationship with the family of the Prophet ( Ahl al-bait ) and the descendants of Fatima ( Sayyid ), but without taking over the position of the Shiites on the question of the legal succession of Muhammad . The name and ancestry of Fatima was claimed by the Fatimid dynasty .


According to popular Islamic belief, the jinn must always be considered in everyday life . Djinn is a collective term for more or less good or bad spirits, which, although they cannot be defeated, can be banished using defensive spells. The origin of the belief in the jinn is sura 72 . In this sura the jinn are represented as real. You have heard God's word in the Koran and here expressly profess yourself to be believers.

Another danger is said to threaten the evil eye , the cause of which is envy ( hassad ), which the victim often conjures up through carelessness. Sura 113 mentions the negative effects of envy. He should be able to express himself through factual action or subtle- matter. In many cultures around the world, envy is perceived as a danger from which especially young children must be protected. You think you can avoid this threat by first giving the child an ugly name or by painting them with ugly symbols so that they are not noticed. Especially in Islamic folk culture, amulets with Koran suras, chains made of amber or the defensive hand of Fatima are also used to ward off the evil eye . Amulets containing quotations from the Koran are permissible in Islam (they are within the Tawheed denomination ). Reliance on lucky charms that contain magical symbols, on the other hand, is considered a superstition (attachment - Schirk ). Burning special fragrance woods (incense - bachûr ) is an old oriental custom and is also said to be helpful against envy. When mothers are reluctant to tell the number of their children, they are afraid of envy. Judging statements towards other people should be avoided, since they could take revenge as resentment and defamation ("bad tongue"). Even praise could be interpreted in the opposite way and cause harm.

Glass khamsa hangs in a car in Tunisia
Hand of Fatima with a blue eye. The glass amulet is supposed to protect a driver in Tunisia

The hand of Fatima is on the one hand as a gesture of distance a magical means of defense, on the other hand it is a blessing hand, a symbol of strength and luck. As a symbol of luck, the sign can be found in the coat of arms of Algeria and was depicted on the flags of the Turkish Janissary Corps. Khamsa necklaces are hung on the cattle to protect them from disease; the hand is painted on some drums used for obsession rituals. As a fashion accessory in Western countries, the hand of Fatima does not really mean anything.

The Arabic name comes from the five fingers shown on the open palm. The number five itself can have a protective function or be used as a threat, the curse chamsa fi aïnek ("five in your eye") can also avert the evil eye.

The number five has other symbolic meanings, none of which are explained in the Quran . In the Koran, the five appears simply in connection with large quantities. According to the Gabriel Hadith, the number stands in particular for the five basic duties of Islam. It can also stand for those five persons whom “God has taken under his cloak” (his special protection). In Turkey, the term pençe-i âl-i abâ , which comes from Persian-Turkish mysticism and is made up of pençe (from Indo-European penk- , “five”) and the Arabic āl al-ʿabā , a synonym for ahl, is used for this al-kisāʾ , the "people of the coat". These people were represented as a hand in Hurufism and Batiniyya . The five fingers represented the Prophet Mohammed and his closest relatives: Fatima, her husband Ali and his sons Hasan and Husain . The hand symbolized God. In various folk tales, the symbol of the hand is based on experiences with a terrible outcome for Fatima. The legend of the five obedient mares of Muhammad is known as Al Khamsa .

The ancient goddess of fertility and protection of the eastern Mediterranean, with various names ( Astarte , Tanit , Aschtoret), was shown with a child in her left arm and a raised right hand. From there it reached North Africa with the Phoenicians and was used from the middle of the 1st millennium BC. BC as Tanit main goddess of Carthage . Showing the open hand has universal protective or blessing symbolic power, accordingly handprints can already be found in stone age caves. To derive the meaning dimension of the Fatima hand historically from the goddess Tanit is therefore only one possibility, but would at least offer an explanation for the geographical distribution.

Similarly, Christians know a blessing hand of Mary, also as a gesture of preaching. For Jews there is the hand of Miriam, named after Miriam , the older sister of Moses and Aaron . These three led the Israelites to the promised land of Canaan during the Exodus .

Fish symbols and, for women, henna tattoos are said to offer alternative protection . As a water element in the desert region, fish stands for life and fertility. Henna itself has a protective function; hands dipped in this color are still stamped over doorways today.


“Hand of Fatima”, silver alloy, Morocco, early 20th century

The representations are practically not subject to any formal restrictions, at most to the restrictions of the imagination. The basic shape is often symmetrical, with the thumb and little finger corresponding. The fingers of the hand can point up or down. A composite symbol is the defensive hand with a large eye in the middle ( eye of Fatima ) or with the lettering of Allah. The hand can be found painted large on house walls, as a book illustration, together with blessings in an amulet or as a small silver pendant with a blue eye in it in colorful jewelry chains. Silver appears to be the purest material. It is the color of the moon and is mentioned in the Koran as a suitable material for arm rings (Sura 76: 21). According to tradition , Mohammed wore a ring made of silver (as in Al-Buchārī , 5866). As a woman's jewelry, the hand is aesthetic, protective and valuable.

The blue eye alone fixes the evil eye , it is called Nazar (Arabic "look") and is worn as an amulet, especially in Turkey. The power of the magical eye has been derived over the millennia from the Horus eye of the Egyptian Old Kingdom , where it was already worn as an amulet and given to the dead as a protector for the world beyond. The historical dimension increases the importance of the combined sign.

There is a difference between magical signs, such as the hand of Fatima, and the written down of Koran suras, as they are offered by revered Koran scholars (generally Faki, different local names) for the same purposes. Both are mainly worn as amulets. The Arabic characters, which are contained as “letters” in the amulet ( hijāb ), only develop their intended effect if they are safely hidden. It would also be dangerous for the owner himself to see them. The hand of Fatima, on the other hand, since it is primarily intended to ward off external dangers, must also be visibly carried outwards.

Chomeissa among the Tuareg

For the Tuareg , spirits, which often have pre-Islamic origins, can be found everywhere in nature. In addition to the Evil Eye, which they call Togerschek , they know a similarly malicious force Etama, which means “punishment for greed ” and which is particularly available to the blacksmiths on the fringes of society. No request may be turned down; In order not to get into a precarious situation, extensive precautionary measures are required. Because of these fears, a special form of the Fatima hand, Chomeissa (from Chamsa, "five"), must be worn as an amulet. As an amulet jewelry on a necklace, the chomeissa is an indispensable part of their clothing for Tuareg women. The hand is abstracted into a geometric shape of equilateral triangles, five equal triangles form the fingers. A triangle on its side means eye. The material is also important: iron is considered unsuitable (it is the material of the forge), silver is also considered to have a positive magical effect here. Wood and goatskin are classified as neutral, whereas the skin of hyrax and hyena appears effective . Silver jewelry composed of triangles is also worn by the Berber women of southern Morocco. The color white is used in a meaning that corresponds to the triangular shape and the material silver. In general, white is rarely perceived as a neutral color in Africa: it stands for luck (for example among the Berti in Sudan) or death ( white ants ). In the south of the Tuareg region, the chomeissa consists of white mussels (mostly cowries ).

Decorative fringes on leather sacks for the Bidhan

Bidhan is the name given to the Moors living in the western Sahara , they form the largest ethnic group in Mauritania . To their traditional nomadic way of life belonged as an indispensable piece of furniture in the black tents ( Haima ) the Tazāye ( Pl . Tiziyāten ), a large, stitched together from three parts bag of solid camel leather for women, for storage of valuable items such as clothing or food ( Sugar, tea). On one side, five approximately 70 centimeters long and differently wide strips of finer sheepskin or goatskin are attached for decoration. The middle one is widest at typically 24 centimeters, the next stripes on the side measure about 6 centimeters, the two outer stripes are again slightly wider (by 10 centimeters). The fringes (Pl. Gsas ) are decorated with leather patterns and painting with geometric ornaments. The Fatima hand is absorbed with the outer form. The fixed rules of the design include symmetry and the repeated reference to the number five. The middle of the five fringes is particularly richly decorated, it is divided in length into five sections, with two middle square fields. The interior decor emphasizes the number five, for example by grouping four squares around a central field. Lines within these fields can theoretically drive the structural principle derived from the number five into invisibility. These design rules apply in principle to almost all of the Moorish ornamentation. The five can also be found as a pattern on the Surmije armrest cushions .

From the middle of the 20th century, along with other forms of cultural tradition, the use of the tiziyāten began to decline, the five fringes were cut off and have been used mainly as wall decorations ever since. Many of the precious fringes on the leather sacks, which are traditionally also used by the Saharauis , found their way onto the Moroccan markets and into the art trade at the end of the 1970s during the struggle for independence for the Western Sahara area .

Handprint in Sudan

The use of henna is of particular importance in Sudan as a magical defense against the evil eye and other calamities. This can best be illustrated by the strictly ritualized wedding ceremonies lasting several days, in which henna has to be used on several occasions. The groom honors the bride by pressing her henna into her palms, a sign of the blessing power ( baraka ) given to the dye . The first highlight is the “Henna Night”, during which the soles of the groom's feet and palms are dyed with henna, at a later point in time the bride performs a dance, before which she has to be adorned as artistically as possible with henna patterns. In any case, it is important to use the henna to ward off the periodically recurring danger of Mushāhara . (Wearing white clothing is also considered protective, in accordance with the meaning of this color already mentioned.)

Enlarged representation of the Fatima hand with eye, surrounded by ears of wheat that generally symbolize fertility. Used by the Ministry of the Interior and its subordinate regular police in Sudan.

A defensive sign in the Muslim north of Sudan that was often attached to the outside of the entrance door of the homesteads from rammed earth walls was the handprint made with henna paint, which is called hamsa like the painted hand and symbolizes the five basic duties of Islam. This construction method has also been largely replaced in villages by the use of fired bricks with cement plaster, which means that, with the traditional painting of the outer walls, hand images have practically disappeared. Handprints, on the other hand, are applied to the inner walls of the women's area ( hosh harīm ), which is subject to an increased need for protection. In the strictly secluded sacrosanct room of the women, a central post supporting the roof beams also has magical power thanks to the amulets attached to it. Leaning against this post, the woman is supposed to bear children.

The hand of Fatima is widespread in Sudan as a graphic symbol in everyday life. It can be found in the title of official forms from administrative authorities and police.

According to ancient Arabic practice, the eyes of newborns are rimmed with black antimony for the first 40 days before the evil eye . The fear of the evil eye is omnipresent in Sudan and is by no means limited to popular Islamic beliefs. Rudolf Slatin , for example , who was captured by the Mahdi as the Anglo-Egyptian governor of Darfur and who lived in the vicinity of his successor Abdallahi ibn Muhammad until 1895 , wrote of this devout man's fear of the evil eye. In addition to the hand symbol, there are numerous other means of defense and rituals in Sudan against the evil eye, envy, mushāhara, jinn and the possessive spirits that fall under the heading of tsar .

Islamic Festival of Sacrifice. Sheep's blood handprints in Cairo 's business center .

Handprint as a symbol of luck at the Festival of Sacrifice in Egypt

During the Islamic Festival of Sacrifice ( Īd ul-Adha ), the use of the lucky sacrificial blood is seen as a reinforcing effect of the handprint. In Egypt , the private ritual sacrificial ceremony takes place in front of or in the entrance area of ​​the houses. Immediately after the throat of the sacrificial animal - mostly sheep or cattle - has been cut, the hands are held in the blood and the right hand print is left on the walls of the house as a visible sign after the ritual has ended. The paper ornaments or fairy lights hanging on the streets during the days of the Feast of Sacrifice can also take on the shape of Fatima hands.

Similar practices at the Festival of Sacrifice also exist in other countries in the Middle East. In Syria , Sunni pilgrims perform sacrifices in some remote sacred places, mainly on Friday, the weekly rest day, and press their hands dipped in blood on the walls. The most famous pilgrimage destination in the region is the Nebi Huri mausoleum in northwest Syria .


Web links

Commons : Khamsa  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Ernst Petrasch: National emblem. Flags and horse tails. ( Memento of the original from February 6, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (PDF; 101 kB) From: The Karlsruhe Turkish Booty. Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe 1991 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.tuerkenbeute.de
  2. Seligmann, p. 178
  3. ^ Andrew Rippin: Numbers and Enumeration. In: Jane Dammen McAuliffe (Ed.): Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. Volume 3 , Brill, Leiden / Boston 2003, pp. 551f
  4. İslâm Ansiklopedisi , vol. 2, pp. 306f. sv ÂL-i ABÂ
  5. ^ Medieval Islamic Cultures. Part V: Jewelry. ( Memento from March 28, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Fatima story from Turkey
  6. Ahmed Achrati: Hand and Foot Symbolism: From Rock Art to the Qur'an. In: Arabica, Vol. 50 (4), 2003, pp. 463–500, here: p. 477 ( Memento of the original from November 15, 2017 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (PDF; 280 kB) @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / faculty.ksu.edu.sa
  7. Boubker Belkadi: Hand of Fatima, is it protective? ( Memento of the original from December 24, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Middle East Online, December 23, 2003 Discusses the protective effect and political significance of the Khamsa necklace in Algeria @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.middle-east-online.com
  8. ^ Ute Wittich: Bridal money and depot jewelry. In: Kissipenny and Manilla. Money and Commerce in Ancient Africa. Exhibition catalog, Duisburg 1995, pp. 81–98
  9. Nazar Boncugu. The blue glass eye - to ward off the evil eye. ( Memento of the original from August 28, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.nazarboncugu.com
  10. ^ Travis Fox: Putting the Mysteries of Islam and Numerology to Work. Washington Post, Feb. 13, 2007 (Describes the magical offers of help a Faki made in Chad)
  11. Gerhard Göttler: Faith and "Superstition" - the Tuareg and Islam. In: Hermann Forkl, Johannes Kalter u. a. (Ed.): The Gardens of Islam. Stuttgart 1993, pp. 271-280
  12. ^ Wolfgang Creyaufmüller: Nomad culture in the Western Sahara. The material culture of the Moors, their handicraft techniques and basic ornamental structures. Burgfried-Verlag, Hallein (Austria) 1983, pp. 233–446
  13. ^ Republic of Sudan. Ministry of Interior. Sudan Police Force ( Memento from January 15, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  14. Georg Gerster : Nubia. Goldland on the Nile. Zurich 1964, pp. 193, 194, 199, 208 shows paintings that no longer exist. Handprints on outside walls are mentioned in Boehringer-Abdalla 1987, p. 31.
  15. ^ Gabriele Boehringer-Abdalla: Woman culture in Sudan. Athenäum Verlag, Frankfurt 1987, pp. 94-105
  16. Rudolf Slatin: Fire and Sword in Sudan. My fights with the dervishes, my imprisonment and flight. Edition Erdmann, Stuttgart 1997, p. 226