What is a Hamsa?
Hamsa is a hand-shaped charm. It commonly has three extended fingers in the middle and two shorter fingers on either side. It is well-recognized in the Middle East and North Africa. It is a shape often incorporated into jewelry and wall-hangings. It is believed to ward off the evil eye.
What is the source of the name Hamsa?
Hamsa is the Arabic word for five, in reference to the five fingers. The word Hamsa is closely related to the Hebrew word for five, Hamesh. Some Jewish people believe that the five represents the five books of the Pentateuch.
Alternative names for Hamsa are the hand of Fatima, in reference to Fatima the daughter of the prophet Mohammed and the hand of Miriam, referring to the sister of Moses.
Why is the Hamsa also called the hand of Fatima?
The story is told that Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed was stirring a pot when her husband entered with a new wife (Muslim men are allowed to marry up to four women). Fatima was overcome with sorrow and as a result did not notice that the ladle she had been using to stir the soup had slipped from her hand and she was using her own hand. Due to her intense grief she didn’t notice the pain. Ever since then Fatima’s hand has become a symbol for patience and faith.
What is the origin of the Hamsa?
Hands are a universal symbol of protection. Evidence of such can be seen in Mesopotamian artifacts, in teachings of Buddha and Christianity. Some claim that the Hamsa is connected to an ancient Egyptian two-fingered amulet that represented the protection of parents over a child.
The Hamsa is very strong in the Islamic world, believed to ward of the evil eye. It seemed to have made its way into Jewish culture via the Jewish communities who lived in Islamic countries.
Why is the Hamsa a popular item?
Due to the belief that it wards off the evil eye, the Hamsa made it into main-stream Israeli culture. Hamsa shapes are often hung from walls and worn on necklaces or bracelets. Judaism has its own signs of protection which are much more solidly based in valid Jewish sources such as the Mezuzah so the adoption of the Hamsa is somewhat strange. Having said that, the beautiful shape of the charm and the common incorporation of fish, a Jewish sign for good luck, in Hamsa-shaped pendants have made these items increasingly popular.