The Hamsa: Symbolism

The Hamsa, is a symbol found throughout the Middle East and northern Africa. I found it everywhere in marrakech: adorning doors, defining jewellery accessories, decorating all of the stalls at the souks (the marrocan markets) and in the traditional art of the Berbers. I bought one in silver, hand crafted by the local artisans, and now that I am home, I was curious as to the origin of its symbolism.

I have found that the first known use of the symbol can be traced to the Phoenician (1550 – 330 BCE), and it was then adopted by the ancient Sephardic Jewish community of the Iberian Peninsular. In this way, the Hamsa became associated both to the Jewish community and to the Islamic one. In the Jewish community it is called the Hamsa Hand or the Hand of Miriam (Miriam was the sister of Moses and the legend has it that it was due to Miriam’s virtues that the Israelites always found water during the forty years they wondered through the desert on their way towards the Promised land.). Where as in Muslim communities it is called the Hand of Fatima or the Khamsa (after Fatima Zahra, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad).

In both religions it is an amulet shaped like a hand (with three extended fingers and a curved  thumb or pinky finger on either side) that holds the same symbolism: a protection against the ‘evil eye’ (jealousy or malice), bringing its owner happiness, luck, health, and good fortune. The evil eye was also considered to be one of the oldest manifestations of human fear. The holder of the Hamsa, thus, expects to be protected from all negative energies. Because it is a symbol of such good fortune, it can also symbolise the Hand of God. In general, in our modern world, the Hamsa has become a symbol of hope and peace.

My modern day Hamsa


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