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The Evil Eye in Arab Culture: “Al-’Ayn”

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MSU chapter.

When I was a child, I always recalled a gigantic blue eye glaring at me whenever I walked toward the kitchen. Later, I found out this unfamiliar decoration was called an Evil Eye in English, or “Al-’Ayn,” which translates to “the eye” in Arabic. The concept of ‘The Eye’ is that when someone is envious of you, they can give you an “evil glare” and send you bad luck, which is discussed in the Bible, Quran, and Rome/Greek texts. Once the amulet breaks, it is said that ‘The Eye’ has done its job and gathered as much bad luck as it could handle. The amulet and ideology is more prevalent in areas of Asia and the Mediterranean region. 

Many Middle Eastern countries utilize these amulets by wearing them as jewelry and by hanging decorations around the house with the eye symbol which is said to ward off jealousy and evil spirits. The symbol typically takes the shape of a circular blue eye in the shape of a larger circle, a hand, or other animals. Many of my family members have them placed in their cars and all over their house which is meant to protect their valuables and home from evil energy. While popular in Arab culture, the belief of the evil eye amulet might not be prevalent in some Arab households as, “Islamic tradition also holds that Muslims should rely on God alone to keep them safe from sorcery and malicious spirits rather than resorting to talismans, which are charms or amulets bearing symbols or precious stones believed to have magical powers, or other means of protection” (PewResearch). 

“Hamsa,” a palm shaped amulet with an eye used for protection from Evil Eye, is also a popular symbol used in jewelry or wall decoration in Middle Eastern and North African countries. The word “Hamsa,” also called “Khamsa,” means “five” in Arabic and refers to the five fingers of a hand. In some Christian cultures in the Middle East, the amulet is believed to be the “Hand of Mary,” and in some Muslim and Balkan cultures, it’s known as the “Hand of Fatima.” While some might consider the symbol to be a symbol used for protection, many simply use it as a decoration or an accessory, simply due to belief. 

Through my personal experience, I leave an Evil Eye in my bedroom and wear accessories of it due to the belief that it provides me protection and brings me closer to my culture. The entire ideology of the Evil Eye is intriguing and holds a plethora of stories and history. Therefore, whenever I have the chance, I will always accessorize myself with an Evil Eye or Hamsa because I feel closer to home. 

Julius Patto attends Michigan State University, double-majoring in Professional and Public Writing and User Experience (UX/UI) Architecture within MSU's College of Arts. He strives to showcase his creativity and inspire others in the world, while also working towards prioritizing mental health and representation for immigrants and marginalized communities. Outside of his studies, he enjoys writing poetry and fiction stories, reading, being adventurous, traveling, and skateboarding.