THE INFLUENCE OF ANIMISM ON ISLAM
HAIR, FINGER-NAILS AND THE HAND
IT must not surprise us that a great deal of animism and old Arabian superstition persist in Islam. The words of
Frazer apply in this connection: 1 "As in Europe beneath a superficial layer of Christianity a faith in magic and witchcraft, in ghosts and goblins has always survived and even flourished among the weak and ignorant, so it has been and so it is in the East. Brahminism, Buddhism, Islam may come and go, but the belief in magic and demons remains unshaken through them all, and, if we may judge of the future from the past, is likely to survive the rise and fall of other
historical religions." He goes on to say, "With the common herd, who compose the great bulk of every people, the new
religion is accepted only in outward show, because it is impressed upon them by their natural leaders whom they can
not choose but follow. They yield a dull assent to it with their lips, but in their hearts they never really abandon their
old superstitions; in these they cherish a faith such as they cannot repose in the creed which they nominally profess;
and to these, in the trials and emergencies of life, they have recourse as to infallible remedies when the promises of the
higher faith have failed them, as indeed such promises are apt to do." 2
1 "The Scapegoat," pp. 89-90.
2 This is true, alas, even in Christendom. But outside its pale, "Superstition has sacrificed countless lives, wasted untold treasures, embroiled nations, severed friends, parted husbands and wives, parents and children, putting swords and worse than swords between them; it has filled jails and mad-houses with innocent or deluded victims; it
What is here written has reference to the popular customs observed by Moslems in all lands and connected with haircutting, nail-trimming, and the use of the hand as an amulet, the latter especially in lower Egypt and North Africa.
Cushas broken many hearts, embittered the whole of many a life, and not content with persecuting the living it has pursued the dead into the grave and beyond it, gloating over the horrors which its foul imagination has conjured up to appall and torture the survivors. How numerous its ramifications and products have been is merely hinted in the following list of subjects given as cross-references in a public library catalogue card: Alchemy, apparitions, astrology, charms, delusions, demonology, devil-worship, divination, evil eye, fetishism, folk-lore, legends, magic, mythology, oocult sciences, oracles, palmistry, relics, second sight, sorcery, spiritualism, supernatural, totems and uritchcraft.
This force has pervaded all provinces of life from the cradle to the grave, and, as Frazer says, beyond. It establishes customs as binding as taboo, dictates forms of worship and perpetuates them, obsesses the imagination and leads it to create a world of demons and hosts of lesser spirits and ghosts and ghouls, and inspires fear and even worship of them."
Professor F. B. Dresslar of the University of California prepared a list of those things with which superstition was connected in that State. He secured the list through questions to grown-up people in the present century. It was as follows: Salt, bread and butter, tea and coffee, plants and fruit; fire, lightning, rainbow, the moon, the stars; babies, birds, owls, peacocks and their feathers, chickens, cats, dogs, cows, swine, horses, rabbits, rats, frogs and toads, fish, sheep, crickets, snakes, lizards, turtles, wolves, bees, dragon flies; chairs and tables, clocks, mirrors, spoons, knives and forks, pointed instruments, pins, hairpins, combs, umbrellas (mostly unlucky), candles, matches, tea kettle, brooms, dishcloths, handkerchiefs, gardening tools, ladders, horseshoes, hay; days of the week and various festivals or fasts, especially Halloween, birthdays; various numbers, counting, laughing, singing, crying; starting on a journey and turning back, two persons simultaneously saying the same thing, passing in at one door and out at another, walking on opposite sides of a post, stepping on cracks, sneezing, crossing hands while shaking hands, use of windows as exits, stumbling; itching of palm, eye, nose, ear, or foot; warts, moles; various articles of dress, shoes, precious stones, amulets and charms, rings, money; wish-bones; death and funerals, dreams, spiritisms, weddings, and initials.
* "The New Schaff Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge," Vol. XI, p. 169.
Customs which have in many cases been approved and perpetu ated by the example of Mohammed himself.
According to Skeat there are certain portions of the human frame which are considered invested with a special sanctity,
and require special ceremonies among the pagans. These parts of the anatomy are the head, the hair, the teeth, the ears and the nails. He says in regard to hair and its sacred character:
"From the principle of the sanctity of the head flows, no doubt, the necessity of using the greatest circumspection during the process of cutting the hair. Sometimes throughout the whole life of the wearer, and frequently during special periods, the hair is left uncut. Thus I was told that in former days Malay men usually wore their hair long, and I myself have seen an instance of this at Jugra in Selangor in the person of a Malay of the old school, who was locally famous on this account. So, too, during the forty days which must elapse before the purification of a woman after the birth of her child, the father of the child is forbidden to cut his hair, and a similar abstention is said to have been formerly incumbent upon all persons either prosecuting a journey or engaging in war. Often a boy s head is entirely shaven shortly after birth with the exception of a single lock in the center of the head, and so maintained until the boy begins to grow up, but frequently the operation is postponed (generally, it is said, in consequence of a vow made by the child s parents) until the period of puberty or marriage.
Great care, too, must be exercised in disposing of the clippings of hair (more especially the first clippings), as the
Malay profoundly believes that " the sympathetic connection which exists between himself and every part of his body continues to exist even after the physical connection has been severed, and that therefore he will suffer from any harm that may befall the severed parts of his body, such as the clippings of his hair, or the parings of his nails. Accordingly he takes care that those severed portions of himself shall not be left in places where they might either be exposed to accidental injury, or fall into the hands of malicious persons who might work magic on them to his detriment or death." 3
According to animistic beliefs the soul of man rests not only in his heart but pervades special parts of his body, such as the head, the intestines, the blood, placenta, hair, teeth, saliva, sweat, tears, etc. The means by which this soul-stuff
is protracted or conveyed to others is through spitting, blowing, blood-wiping, or touch. In all of these particulars and
under all of these subjects we have superstitions in Islam that date back to pagan days but are approved in and by Moslem tradition and in some cases by the Koran itself.
In the disposal of hair-cuttings and nail-trimmings among Moslems to-day, and their magical use, there is clear evidence of animistic belief. People may be bewitched through the clippings of their hair and parings of their nails. This belief is world-wide, 4 " To preserve the cut hair and nails from injury," says Frazer, "and from the dangerous uses to which they may be put by sorcerers, it is necessary to deposit them in some safe place. In Morocco women often hang their cut hair on a tree that grows on or near the grave of a wonder working saint; for they think thus to rid themselves of headache or to guard against it. In Germany the clippings of hair used often to be buried under an elder-bush. In Oldenburg cut hair and nails are wrapped in a cloth which is deposited in a hole in an elder-tree three days before the new moon; the hole is then plugged up. In the west of Northumberland it is thought that if the first parings of a child s
nails are buried under an ash-tree, the child will turn out a fine singer. In Amboyna before a child may taste sago-pap
for the first time, the father cuts off a lock of the infant's
3 Skeat s " Malay Magic," pp. 43-45.
* " Taboo and the Perils of the Soul," pp. 274-275.
hair, which he huries under a sago-palm. In the Aru Islands when a child is able to run alone, a female relation shears a
lock of its hair and deposits it on a banana-tree. In the Island of Rotti it is thought that the first hair which a child gets is not his own, and that if it is not cut off it will make him weak and ill. Hence, when the child is about a month old, his hair is polled with ceremony. As each of the friends who are invited to the ceremony enters the house he goes up to the child, snips off a little of its hair and drops it into a cocoanut shell full of water. Afterwards the father or another relation takes the hair and packs it into a little bag made of leaves, which he fastens to the top of a palm tree.
Then he gives the leaves of the palm a good shaking, climbs down, and goes home without speaking to any one.
Indians of the Yukon territory, Alaska, do not throw away their cut hair and nails, but tie them up in little bundles and place them in the crotches of trees or wherever they are not likely to be disturbed by beasts. For they have a superstition that disease will follow the disturbance of such remains by animals. Often the clipped hair and nails are
stowed away in any secret place, not necessarily in a temple or cemetery or at a tree, as in the case already mentioned."
It is remarkable that in Arabia, Egypt and North Africa everywhere this custom of stowing away clippings of hair and nails is still common among Moslems and is sanctioned by the practice of the Prophet.
Among the Malays hair offerings are made to-day in thoroughly pagan fashion, but it is interesting that the shorn locks
are not buried under the threshold as they were before Islam, but are now sent to Mecca. We quote from Skeat a description of the ceremony at a wedding when the bride's locks are cut:
"The cocoanut containing the severed tresses and rings is carried to the foot of a barren fruit-tree (e. g., a pomegranate tree), when the rings are extracted and the water (with the severed locks) poured out at the tree s foot, the belief being that this proceeding will make the tree as luxuriant as the hair of the person shorn, a very clear example of sympathetic magic. If the parents are poor, the cocoanut is generally turned upside down and left there; but if they are well to-do, the locks are usually sent to Mecca in charge of a pilgrim, who casts them on his arrival into the well Zemzem." 5
In North Africa a man will not have his hair shaved in the presence of any one who owes him a grudge. After his hair
has been cut, he will look around, and if there is no enemy about he will mix his cuttings with those of other men, and
leave them, but if he fears some one there he will collect the cuttings, and take them secretly to some place and bury them.
With a baby this is said to be unnecessary, as he has no enemies a surprising statement. Nails are cut with scissors and they are always buried in secret. One can see this superstition also in the account given of a charm described by
Captain Tremearne, 6 which consists of certain roots from trees mixed with a small lock of hair from the forehead and
the partings of all the nails, hands and feet, except those of the index fingers. The fact of this exception clearly shows
that we deal again with a superstition that has come from Arabian Animism, as we shall see later.
In Bahrein, East Arabia, they observe a special order in trimming the finger-nails and bury the discarded trimmings in a piece of white cloth saying Platha amana min andina yaIblis yashud lana al Rahman.7 They bury hair-combings in the same way expecting to receive them back on the day of resurrection. Concerning the thumb, they think it has no account with God because it can do no evil alone.
5 "Skeat's "Malay Magic," p. 355.
6 "The Ban of the Bori," p. 57.
7 "O Satan, this is a safe deposit from us as God is our witness."
The belief that cut hair and nails contain soul-stuff and therefore may be used for spiritual communion leads Moslems to hang their hair on the tombs of saints together with shreds of their garments, nails, teeth, etc. On the great gate of Old Cairo, called Bab-el-Mutawali, this also takes place and one may watch a constant procession of men, women and
children having communion with the saint who dwells behind or under this gateway and seeking through personal contact with the doorway by touching, breathing, etc., to carry away the blessing.
In connection with this superstition Rev. L. E. Hogberg, of Chinese Turkestan, 8 tells of the popular belief that " during the last days, Satan will appear on earth riding on a Merr dedjell (Satan s mule). Every hair on the mule s body is a tuned string or musical instrument. By the music furnished in this way all the people on earth are tempted to follow Satan. Great horns grow out on their heads, so that they can never return through their doors. The faithful Mohammedan has, however, a way. of salvation. He has carefully collected his cut-off nails, and placed them under the
threshold, where they have formed a hedge, blocking the door so as to prevent the household from running after Satan!
"Again the hair and nails have special power assigned to them as a protection for the soul against evil!
In many parts of the Moslem world such as in East Arabia, human hair is used by native doctors of medicine as a power
ful tonic. It is generally administered as tincture or decoction. In this respect the hair of saints has more value than
ordinary hair. I have known of a case where a learned kadi sent to the barbers to collect hair in order to prepare such a powerful tonic. Miss Fanny Lutton writes from Muscat, Arabia:
"Just in front of the Mission compound is a
8 Correspondence in a magazine called Central Asia for December, 1916.
Mosque, and in the compound of the Mosque is a saint's grave. I have witnessed some queer heathenish performances there. Only a short time ago a crowd of women, men and children were assembled. A woman brought her one year- old son to have his head shaved over the grave. A cloth was spread to receive the hair and it was afterwards tied to a small flagpole at the head of the grave, and then a new red flag was also attached which must be left there until it fades and wears out, when it must be replaced with a new one and with similar ceremonies. Refreshments were partaken of by the visitors sitting around the grave and much merriment was indulged in. Helwa (candy) was thrown over the grave and rose water was sprinkled all over the grave.
Then the company as well as the mother and child were marched three times around the grave and led out of the grounds walking backwards, for those who perform the vow must never turn their backs on the grave as they leave. This hair is very efficacious for various ills. Yesterday I saw the keeper, who is a very wicked woman, approach the grave.
Her first act was to stoop down and kiss the earth at the head of the grave. She then tore off some of the rag that was
wrapped around the hair and took a portion of the hair and tied it in a bundle and delivered it to the woman that had
come with her. No doubt the women had been sent to get this for some serious case that would not yield to other treatments, and so the Mullah (priest) or woman reader had been called to the case and had prescribed the hair which the patient must wear to keep off evil spirits."
Special chapters are found in the lives of Mohammed the prophet on the virtues of his fadhalat, spittle, urine, 9 blood,
9 There are traditions in Bukhari and Muslim to show the sacred power of Mohammed s blood, spittle, etc. It is also taught that even the excreta of the prophet of Arabia were free from all defilement. Cf. "Insan al Ayun al Halebi," Vol. II, p. 222.
etc., including his hair. We read, for example, in the life of Mohammed by Seyyid Ahmed Zaini Dahlan: 10 "When the
Prophet had his head shaved and his companions surrounded him they never suffered a single hair to fall to the ground but seized them as good omens or for blessing. And since His Excellency only had his hair cut at the times of the pilgrim
age this had become sunna, so it is related in the Mawcihib, and he who denies it should be severely punished." And Mohammed bin Dairain relates: "I said to Obeid al Suleimani, 1 have a few hairs of the Prophet which I took from Anas, and he replied, If I had a single hair it would be more to me than all the world. Because of this belief, hairs of the
Prophet s beard and in some cases of other saints in Islam are preserved as relics in the mosques throughout the world,
e. g., at Delhi, Aintab, Damascus, etc. To give a recent instance, the population of Safed in Palestine, according to a
missionary correspondent, "was all excitement in the early days of July, 1911, because a veritable hair from the beard
of the Prophet had been granted them as a gift by the Sultan.
A Christian builder was engaged to restore a mosque of the Binat Yacob, where the famous relic now finds shelter. The
mayor of the city took the journey to Acre in order to accompany the relic to its resting-place. The correspondent goes
on to relate some of the marvels that were told as to the virtues connected with the hair of the Prophet. Twenty soldiers, fully armed, escorted the relic." 11
This same relic was the object of the most energetic search among Moslems from the earliest period of Islam. According to Goldziher the hair was worn as an amulet, and men on their deathbeds directed by will that the precious pos-
10 Margin of Sirat al Ealabi, Cairo Edition, 1308 A.H., vol. iii, pp. 238-9.
11 Der Christliche Orient, Sept., 1911.
session should go down with them and mingle with the earth.
Jafar-ibn-Khinzabu, the vizier of an Egyptian prince, had three such hairs which at his death were put into his mouth,
and his remains, according to his last testament, were carried to Medina. Impostors and charlatans were not slow to turn to advantage the credulity of the devout. Let us listen to Abdul Jani ul-Nabulusi, the famous traveler. He met on
his pilgrimage to Medina a learned Mohammedan from India, Ghulam Mohammed by name. " He told me, "the
traveler narrates," that in the countries of India many people possess Mohammed s hair, many have but a single hair,
but others own more, up to twenty. These relics are shown to all those who would inspect them reverently. This Ghulam, Mohammed tells me that one of the saintly men of the lands of India annually exhibits such relics on the ninth day of Rabi-ul-Aval, that on those occasions many people gather round him, learned and pious, perform prayers to the
Prophet and go through divine service and mystic practices.
He further informs me that the hairs at times move of their own accord, and that they grow in length and increase in
number, so that a single hair is the propagator of a number of new ones. "All this," comments our traveler, "is no
wonder, for the blessed apostle of God has a prolonged divine existence which is manifested in all his noble limbs and
physical components. An historian relates that Prince Nurud-Din possessed a few of the Prophets s hairs in his treasury, and when he neared his dissolution he directed in his testament that the holy relics be deposited on his eyes, and there they remain in his grave to this day. He (the historian cited) goes on to inform us that every one who visits
the mausoleum of the prince combines with the intention of visiting the ruler s tomb the hope that the magical relics preserved therein would produce their blissful effect. The tomb could be seen in the academy at Damascus built by the
The statements made in books of Moslem law leave no doubt that hair is considered sacred and may not therefore be sold or in any way dishonored. We read in the Hedaya, 13 a great commentary on Moslem law, "The sale of human
hair is unlawful, in the same manner as is the use of it, because, being a part of the human body, it is necessary to
preserve it from the disgrace to which an exposure of it to sale necessarily subjects it. It is moreover recorded, in the
Hadith Sharif, that God denounced a curse upon a Wasila and a Mustawasila,. (The first of these is a woman whose
employment it is to unite the shorn hair of one woman to the head of another, to make her hair appear long; and the
second means the woman to whose head such hair is united).
Besides, as it has been allowed to women to increase their locks by means of the wool of a camel, it may thence be inferred that the use of human hair is unlawful."
"In Tunis," writes Mr. E. E. Short, "nail parings are buried; hair trimmings the same or burnt. If the latter are carried away by the wind the person will suffer from giddiness of the head. One informant gave Friday as the day for trimming the hair and nails, another Saturday. The reason for the practice seems to be that the parings might be found again and then when questioned one could answer that they had been properly buried. (Does not this point to a very materialistic conception of the resurrection body?)"
In Algeria it is believed that if nail trimmings are thrown on the ground Satan makes use of them ; if trodden on, their
late owner might become very ill, and it is unlucky if water is poured on them. They are used in magic and if mixed with food cause illness or death.
12 "The Moslem World," Vol. I, p. 306.
13 Hamilton's "Hedaya," Vol. II, p. 439.
In Cape Town the same superstitions prevail among Indian Moslems with regard to hair and nail trimmings.
In Persia the hair and nail trimmings are sometimes preserved in bottles as part of the body, which will be needed by it at the resurrection. This was the practice of an old gatekeeper on the missionary premises at Urumia; the mischievous missionary's son took pleasure in hunting for his treasure and carrying it off, then witnessing his subsequent anger and grief. 14
"When a girl reaches what the Achenese regard as a marriageable age without having yet had a suitor for her hand, it is believed that there must be some supernatural agency at work. It is looked upon as certain that she must have in some part of her body something malang or unpropitious, which stands in the way of her success."
The numerical value of the initial letter of her name is assumed as the basis of a calculation for indicating the part of her body which is to blame. When this has been ascertained, the girl is placed on a heap of husked rice (breuch) and the spot indicated is slightly pricked with a golden needle, so as to draw a little blood. This blood is gathered up by means of a wad of tree cotton (gapeueli) which is then placed in an egg, part of the contents of which have been removed to make room for it. A little of the girl s hair and some parings of her nails are enclosed in a young cocoanut leaf, and finally all these things are thrown into the running water of the nearest river or stream." 15
In Java nails may not be cut on Fridays and never after dark. They are always wrapped up and buried and the following words repeated, "Abide here until I die and when I die follow me." Hair clippings must be put in a cool spot or the person will suffer. They must never be burned.
14 Letter from Miss S. Y. Holliday of Tabriz,
15 "The Achenese," p. 296.
Others say they must always be put into the river or flowing water. If left to fly about they will make the pathway to heaven difficult. A special order is observed in trimming the finger-nails. 16
Among the Malays special exposure to danger is believed to occur whenever portions of a man such as the hair or the nails are severed from the parent body, the theory being that injury to such discarded portions may in some way be used to affect the living body itself. A Malay husband, if he found his wife treasuring up a lock of his hair, would regard her conduct with extreme suspicion. 17
Sometimes by the use of a waxen or other image, or by the exhibition of a "sample" such as the parings of a man's
nails or the clippings of his hair, the wizard conveys to the world of ghosts a knowledge of the person he wishes them to
attack and the ghosts are ever ready to profit by the hint so kindly given. 18
That all this is really a piece of heathenism is clear to the student of comparative religion.
In Africa also the witch doctor or oganga makes special use of hair, teeth, nails, etc., just as in Islam. Nassau writes: 19 "If it be desired to obtain power over some one else, the oganga must be given by the applicant, to be mixed in the sacred compound, either crumbs from the food, or clippings of finger-nails or hair, or (most powerful!) even a drop of blood of the person over whom influence is sought.
These represent the life or body of that person. So fearful
16 Dr. B. J. Esser, Poerbolinggo, Java, in a letter.
17 "Malay Beliefs," p. 53.
18 Regarding the hair of Mohammed, a legend is told among the Malays that on his journey to heaven on the monster Al-burak, they cleft the moon and when Mohammed was shaved by Gabriel the houris of heaven fought for the falling locks so that not a single hair was allowed to reach the ground. "Malay Beliefs," p. 43.
19 "Fetishism in West Africa," p. 83. "Malay Beliefs," p. 72.
are natives of power being thus obtained over them, that they have their hair cut only by a friend ; and even then they carefully burn it or cast into a river. If one accidentally cuts himself, he stamps out what blood has dropped on the ground, or cuts out from wood the part saturated with blood."
Superstitions in regard to finger-nails are common throughout the whole world and are undoubtedly animistic in their
origin. Dresslar mentions a number as current in Christendom: 20
"Cut your nails on Monday, cut them for health;
Cut them on Tuesday, cut them for wealth;
Cut them on Wednesday, cut them for news;
Cut them on Thursday, a pair of new shoes;
Cut them on Friday, cut them for woe;
Cut them on Saturday, a journey to go;
Cut them on Sunday, you cut them for evil
And all the week you ll be ruled by the devil."
We are not surprised therefore, to find in Islam so many superstitions mentioned in connection with the paring of the nails, some of which doubtless came through Judaism, others directly from Arab paganism. According to the Haggadah,
21 "every pious Jew must purify himself and honor the coming holy day by trimming and cleaning the nails beforehand. The Rabbis are not agreed as to when they should be pared; some prefer Thursday, for if cut on Friday they begin to grow on the Sabbath; others prefer Friday, as it will then appear that it is done in honor of the Sabbath. It has, however, become the practice to cut them on Friday and certain poskim even prohibit the paring of the nails on Thursday." Moslems also have special days for this purpose. The Jews believe that the parings should not be thrown away. The Rabbis declare that he who burns them
20 "Superstition and Education,"; p. 72.
21 "Jewish Encyclopedia," Art. Nails.
is a pious man (Hasid), he who buries them is a righteous one (zaddik), and he who throws them away is a wicked one.
The reason for this is that if a pregnant woman steps on them the impurity attached to them will cause a premature birth. 22
In the order of cutting the nails the Jews have borrowed from the Zoroastrians while the Mohammedans seem to have
borrowed from the Jews. According to Mohammed the order of procedure is remembered by the word Khawabis which
indicates the initials of the names of the five fingers of the hand. First one is to attend to the Khansar (little finger), then the Wasti (middle finger), then the Abham (thumb), then the Binsar (ring finger), and last of all to the Sababa (index finger). The Sababa means the "finger of cursing" derived from the root sabba to curse. Moslems generally follow this practice without knowing the reason of what they do. The cuttings of the finger-nails are never thrown away but are either wrapped in a paper, buried under the door-mat or carefully put into a chink of the wall. Similar superstitions exist among the animistic tribes of the South Seas. "In Morocco," says Mr. Haldane, "they begin at the small finger on the right hand, finishing with the thumb, and then commencing with the small finger on the left hand.
Some, however, hold that the little and middle finger with the thumb must be done first and then the two remaining ones
afterwards. Friday is the best day for this work. Nailparings must be carefully buried. They are not so particular about hair and beard trimmings, but still they ought to be put in some out-of-the-way place where they will not be trod upon. "Why these things are so no one can tell ; it s the custom." In Yemen the following customs are observed.
While many Arabs hold that there is no particular order of paring the nails nor any reason for keeping and burying the
21 "Jewish Encyclopedia," Art. Nails.
parings, others are very particular to begin with the little finger and to collect every scrap of the paring in a piece of
cloth or cotton-wool and then to bury the lot, saying that this was their prophet s custom. Others who also bury the parings say that one ought always to begin with the fore-finger of the right hand, as it is the most honorable of all the digits.
As a rule the hair is not buried; although in very exceptional cases it is.
The custom connected with hair cutting or shaving and the trimming of the nails during the pilgrimage ceremony at
Mecca is well know. As soon as the pilgrim assumes the Ihram or pilgrim dress he must abstain from cutting his hair or nails. This command is observed most scrupulously. We read in a celebrated book of law 23 that "The expiatory fine of
three modd of foodstuffs is only incurred in full when at least three hairs or three nails have been cut ; one modd only being due for a single hair or a single nail, and two modd for two hairs or two nails. A person who is unable to observe this abstinence, should have his whole beard shaved and pay the expiatory fine. "When the pilgrimage is terminated and the ceremony completed, the head is shaved, the nails are cut and the following prayer is offered: "I purpose loosening my Ihram according to the Practice of the Prophet, Whom may Allah bless and preserve! O Allah, make unto me every hair, a Light, a Purity, and a generous Reward! In the name of Allah, and Allah is Almigh!"
After this prayer strict Moslems carefully bury their hair and nail-trimmings in sacred soil. 24
We pass on to superstitions connected with the human hand. Mr. Eugene Lefebure writes: 25 "There never was
23 Minhaj et Talibin Nawawi, p. 120.
24 Burton's "Pilgrimage," Vol. II, p. 205.
25 "Bulletin de la Societe" de Geographic d Alger et de l'Afrique du Nord," 1907, No. 4.
a country where the representation of the human hand has not served as an amulet. In Egypt as in Ireland, with the Hebrews as with the Etruscans, they attribute to this figure a mysterious power." Our illustrations show different forms
of this superstition. The use of the hand in this connection is very ancient, perhaps it has some connection with the laying on of hands. The laying of hands on the head as a sign of dedication is found in the Bible, where one gives up one's own right to something and transfers it to God. (Ex. XXIX : 15, 19 ; II. Chron. XXIX : 23.) Again, the hands are placed on the head of the animal whose blood is to be used for the consecration of priests or for the atonement of the sins of the people. The same ceremony was used in transferring the sins of the people to the scapegoat and with all burnt offerings except the sin-offerings. The laying of hands on the head of a blasphemer should also be noted here. Jacob, on his death-bed, placed his right hand on the head of Ephraim. The Levites were consecrated through the laying
on of hands by the heads of the tribes. The time-honored prototype of ordination through laying on of hands is the
consecration of Joshua as successor to Moses. This rite is found in the New Testament and in the Talmud and was
observed at the appointment of members of the Sanhedrin.
It was gradually discontinued in practice, however, although it was preserved nominally. Islam makes a religious and ritual distinction between the right and left hand. Many dark and uncanny interpretations and suggestions are connected with matters referring to the left side of the body, the left hand, the left foot, etc. These go back to great antiquity and are well-nigh universal. In Islam the left hand is never used for eating; Tradition tells us that the devil eats with the left hand; the Moslem must never spit to the right or in front of him but to the left. Whether the origin of this superstition is due to physical causes or to ritual practice, such as ablution, cannot be easily decided. 26
In Judaism a priest s hands, represented as in benediction, on a tombstone indicate that the deceased was descended from the family of Aaron; on the title-page of a book they indicate that the printer was descended from the family of Aaron.
The hand is also represented on the walls of synagogues and on mirrors. A hand is generally used as a pointer for the
Torah. A hand with two ears of grain and two poppyheads is seen on coins. Two hands joined together are often
represented on "ketubah" blanks and on the so-called "siflones-tefillah" there is a hand hewing a tree or mowing down flowers. A hand either inscribed or cast in metal, was often used as an amulet.
28 Dresslar remarks concerning similar beliefs in the United States, "Experiments upon school children show that there is more disparity between the right and left sides of the body of the brighter pupils than there is between the right and left of the duller ones. Doubtless this same augmented difference holds throughout life, or at least to the period of senescence. It is nothing more nor less than the result of specialization which increases as growing thought-life calls upon the right members of the body for finer adjustment and more varied and perfect execution. Hence, the right members become more the special organs of the will than the left, induce a greater proportion of emotional reaction, and altogether become more closely bound up with the mental life. That this specialization gives an advantage in accuracy, strength, control, and endurance of the right side there can be no doubt. But it seems equally certain that it introduces mental partialities not at all times consistent with well-balanced judgment, or the most trustworthy emotional promptings. Indeed this difference is recorded in the meaning and use of the two words, dextrous and sinister. The thought that relates itself to the stronger side is more rational than that which deals with the weaker and less easily controlled half."
"In addition to this fundamental basis for psychic differentiation with respect to the left and right, it is probable that the beating of the heart, strange and wonderful to the primitive mind, had some influence in connecting the left side with the awful and mysterious."
("Superstition and Education," pp. 206-207.)
We now turn to Moslem superstitions of this character.
A missionary in Morocco writes:
"Of all the talismans by which Moorish women ward off the evil eye with all its danger, none possesses so much magic power as a silver ornament worn on the breast and called Khoumsa. Its virtue lies in its five points, that number, in whatever form presented, being the most potent of protective agencies. In Moorish folk-beliefs it means the dispersion to the four corners of the earth, of any malign influence which has been directed against the life of the wearer." In Palestine this goes by the name of Kef Miryam; in Algeria the Moslems very appropriately named these talismans La Main de Fatima, and from this source another superstition has been developed: the mystic virtue of the number five, because of the five fingers of the hand or its sinister power. 27
"The hand of Fatima," says Tremearne, 28 "is a great favorite in Tunis, and one sees it above the great majorities of doorways; in Tripoli there is hardly one, and this is only to be expected, since the sign is an old Carthaginian one,
representing not the hand of Fatima at all, but that of Tanith.
It has been thought, however, that the amulet is so curiously similar to the thunderbolt of Adad, worn in the necklet of the Assyrian kings along with emblems for the sun, the moon, and Venus, that it may be a survival of that." 28
The hand is often painted upon the drum used in the bori (devil) dances in Tunis. It is held up, fingers outstretched and pointing towards the evil-wisher, and this, in Egypt, North Africa and Nigeria, has now become a gesture of abuse. In Egypt the outstretched hand pointed at some one is used to invoke a curse. They say yukhammisuna, or "He throws his five at us," i.e. he curses. Not only the hand but
27 Mr. Lefebure in his short work, " La Main de Fatima," has gathered all that is known on the subject.
28 "The Ban of the Bori," p. 174.
the forefinger is used for this purpose. It is therefore called, as we have seen, the Sababa. Goldziher gives many examples of how the fore-finger was used in magical ways long before its present use in testifying to God s unity. A controversy arose in Islam very early about the raising of the hands in prayer. It is regarding the position of the hands that the four sects have special teaching and can be distinguished.
Perhaps this also indicates a magical use of the hand. In Egypt the hand is generally used as an amulet against the
evil eye. It is made of silver or gold in jewelry, or made of tin in natural size, and is then suspended over the door of a house. The top of a Moslem banner is often of this shape.
It is used on the harness of horses, mules, etc., and on every cart used in Alexandria we see either a brass hand or one
painted in various colors. The following points are to be noted. It is unlucky to count five on the fingers. All Egyptians of the Delta when they count say: "One, two, three, four, in-the-eye-of-your-enemy." Children, when at play, show their displeasure with each other by touching the little finger of their two hands together, which signifies separation, enmity, hatred. The same sign is used by grown-up people also to close a discussion.
The origin of the stretching out of the hand with the palm exposed toward the person was explained by my sheikh in this
way: Tradition says that at one time a woman who saw Mohammed became very much enamored with his handsome
presence, and Mohammed fearing she would work some power over him, raised his hand (said to be the right one) and
stretched it out to one side in front of him with the palm exposed toward the woman, and at the same time he repeated
Sura 113. When he did this the covetous glance passed between his two fingers and struck a nail in a tree near by and
broke it in pieces!
Finally we may add the curious custom also common in Egypt, of dipping the hand in the blood of a sacrifice and leaving its mark upon doors, foundations of buildings, animals, etc., in order to consecrate them or protect them from evil influences. In the next chapter on the Aqiqa sacrifice we will refer to the prevalence of blood sacrifice in early Islam, and its significance. The practice of dipping the hand in blood and putting marks on the door-post may go back to the story of Israel in Egypt, but the present use of the hand in this way is mixed with all manner of superstition. Who can unravel the threads in the tangled skein of Moslem beliefs and practices ? There is much Judaism, as Rabbi Geiger has shown; more perhaps even of Christian ideas prevalent in Arabia at the time of the Prophet; but most of all Islam in its popular forms is full of animism and of practices which can only be described as pagan in origin and in tendency.