Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Hand of Fatima

Hand of Fatima - Bought in Istanbul 7/9/13
Yesterday, I bought a necklace with the Hand of Fatima on it.  I have seen the emblem numerous times, but I've never been exactly sure of its meaning.  Today, I asked one of the instructors on the trip to take a look at my necklace and help me out.   

The Hand of Fatima is ancient symbol that seems to reach as far back as ancient Mesopotamia.  Three of the world's largest religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all have a version of it.  For the Jews, it is the Hand of Miriam.  For the Christians, the Hand of Mary.  Islam reveres it as the Hand of Fatima, daughter of the prophet Mohammed.  It is most widely used in Islam, and I have seen a million of these since I got here.  They're on everything...soap tins, necklaces, key chains, stickers, wallets.  It is hard to look around you very long without finding a Hamsa staring back.

Its purpose is very straight-forward.  It is an apotropaic charm, or magic to keep away the dreaded "evil eye."  (And for at least one of you who might be reading this, a song just started up in your head.  You know who you are. Go ahead.  Sing it.  You know you want to....)  There are various configurations of the charm.  If the fingers are open, then its purpose is to ward off evil.  If the fingers are closed, it is to hold in the good luck.  There is almost always an eye in the middle, although this, too, can vary.  For more on the symbolism and meaning of the Hamsa, please refer to this article from Wikipedia.  

Added to the hamsa aspect are other good luck and protective elements.  The eye in the center is made of turquoise, which, after a quick search online, has turned out to be a stone associated from ancient times with protection and connection to the spiritual.  The copper chain is designed to enhance this, too.  The other element added to this piece is a small amulet that has the most famous verse in the entire Quran, the throne verse, on it.  

The throne verse looks like this:

للَّهُ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ الْحَيُّ الْقَيُّومُ لاَ تَأْخُذُهُ سِنَةٌ وَلاَ نَوْمٌ لَهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الأَرْضِ مَنْ ذَا الَّذِي يَشْفَعُ عِنْدَهُ إِلاَّ بِإِذْنِهِ يَعْلَمُ مَا بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمَا خَلْفَهُمْ وَلاَ يُحِيطُونَ بِشَيْءٍ مِنْ عِلْمِهِ إِلاَّ بِمَا شَاءَ وَسِعَ كُرْسِيُّهُ السَّمَاو ;َاتِ وَالأَرْضَ وَلاَ يَئُودُهُ حِفْظُهُمَا وَهُوَ الْعَلِيُّ الْعَظِيمُ

and looks like this in Roman script:

Allahu la ilaha illa Huwa, Al-Haiyul-Qaiyum La ta'khudhuhu sinatun wa la nawm, lahu ma fis-samawati wa ma fil-'ard Man dhal-ladhi yashfa'u 'indahu illa bi-idhnihi Ya'lamu ma baina aidihim wa ma khalfahum, wa la yuhituna bi shai'im-min 'ilmihi illa bima sha'a Wasi'a kursiyuhus-samawati wal ard, wa la ya'uduhu hifdhuhuma Wa Huwal 'Aliyul-Adheem

and means this:

"Allah! There is no god but He - the Living, The Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him Nor Sleep. His are all things In the heavens and on earth. Who is there can intercede In His presence except As he permitteth? He knoweth What (appeareth to His creatures As) Before or After or Behind them. Nor shall they compass Aught of his knowledge Except as He willeth. His throne doth extend Over the heavens And on earth, and He feeleth No fatigue in guarding And preserving them, For He is the Most High. The Supreme (in glory)."
[Surah al-Baqarah 2: 255]

This verse, then, shows the power of God to protect, to preserve, to conquer all evil.  The words make the third part of the connection.  

I am fascinated by good luck charms from all over the world, but there is just something special about the ones here, the big blue eye disk and the hand of Fatima.  I think one of the things that draws me to them is that they are found all over the world.  In fact, something very like the hand appears in the pottery and artifacts of the Mississippian culture of Native American groups living all over the Southeast.  Some of the most famous examples of this have been dug up at Moundville, the archaeological site administered by the University of Alabama. It was not so much a protective symbol for them as it was a gate to the Underworld, their interpretation of the constellation we call Orion.  For more on the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex that Moundville is a part of, click here.

This motif, then, is ancient and pervasive.  Although the window dressing changes, the meaning has been around and around and around for millennia.  That's hard to wrap my mind around, but there is also something tremendously important here.  Cultures so far apart and that we think of as such separate and isolated little bundles share this symbol.  My friend Takashi would probably laugh at how much this amazes me and tell me that it is simply because we are all human.  It's a piece of the common bedrock we all somehow share no matter how often we forget that connection.  Every time I put on my very Muslim hamsa, I am going to feel that bond.  It makes an already special piece of jewelry even more meaningful, a reminder of the tie that stretches across time and culture.

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