The ‘Hamsa’, which literally means ‘five’, in Arabic, is a palm shaped charm with special designs and inscriptions on it, which is supposed to deflect evil. People who use it in their homes believe that it forms a sort of defensive shield around them and their loved ones. The origin of this powerful symbol can be traced back to well before the Islamic religion came in to existence.

The design of the Hamsa is quite interesting, and its meaning isn’t singular – some say it stands for the five prophets, while some associate the symbolism of five with the Torah. It is usually represented as a hand in which the thumbs which are arranged in a symmetric fashion, and the rest of the fingers appear to be lifted up.

It is a symbol that is restricted to a particular religion. However, it is popular with the Muslim and Jewish communities. The former refer to it as ‘The Hand of Fatima’, while the latter call it ‘The Hand of Miriam’. Whatever be the name that it is called by, its properties and purpose of use remain the same – to bring good luck. There has been some debate about placing faith in this symbol in the Muslim community because that would make it akin to idolatry worship, which is against Islam.

Besides being used as a wall hanging and an amulet that is worn around the neck, the Hamsa is also used in place of a more conventional ‘Stop’ sign on the road. The belief is that it would help in the prevention of accidents on the streets. Many people have door knockers in the shape of Hamsas as well.

People also habitually exclaim, ‘Hamsa! Hamsa!’ when somebody compliments them or says something appreciative. This is done so as to prevent their luck from getting cursed. It doesn’t matter how big or small a Hamsa is, what color it is, and whether it is made out of clay or expensive jewels and crystals. The faith of the user is what comes first.