Today if you see the eye in hand amulet, you may be looking at the Jewish or Arabic symbol called the hamsa. The symbol is actually much older than Judaism, and you’ll find representations of it in numerous cultures, often as a piece of jewelry worn for protection. Instead of an amulet, the symbol could be woven into decorative art in murals or plaques.
The first use of the eye in hand is tied to various groups of people. Some say the symbol was worn by the Phoenicians and was a symbol of the goddess Tanit. Others suggest that the symbol may have originated in India, in honor of one of the Hindu religion’s gods or goddesses.
There are several different types of the eye in hand amulet designs. In some, the eye sits in the center of a clearly defined hand with four fingers and the thumb to the side. In others, only the fingers are represented. A common symmetrical presentation is a three-fingered hand with thumbs on both sides. The amulet can be jeweled, made of various metals, and very artsy depending upon where you purchase it. The fingers may point up or down.
In Judaism, the hamsa is a symbol that protects the wearer from the evil eye. It can be called the Hand of Miriam, after the sister of Moses, or be a symbol representing the five books of the Torah. The amulet may be worn, used on keychains, or make up a decorative wall plaque, and larger ones may feature special prayers.
Islamic people tend not to wear the eye in hand amulet, since most sects of Islam strictly forbid the wearing of any type of protective jewelry. The name, hamsa, though, is Islamic. Instead, the symbol may be depicted on a wall plaque, and can feature prayers in Arabic. Islamic people can call the hamsa the Eye of Fatima, who was a daughter of Muhammad. In Sunni Islam, the five fingers of the hand may represent the Five Pillars of Islam.
You might also see the eye in hand amulet worn as a specifically protective symbol by people with pagan beliefs. Again, the idea of repelling evil or an evil glance may be the predominant symbolic connection. In Sicily, Catholics may also wear the amulet, since folk legend in that area has created the belief in some that people really can give the “evil eye” with a glance.
You might see both Jewish and Arabic people wearing the hamsa not as good luck, but as a hope for peace. Since the symbol is present in both belief systems, some younger Arabs and Jews have taken to wearing it as a peace sign between these two religious groups. It may thus be not so much a charm, but a means of expressing the desire that warring between Islam and Judaism will come to an end.