Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow Museums
Hegira, late 13th century / AD late 19th century
Length 3 cm, width 2 cm
A small brass amulet used as a protective charm, and designed in the shape of a hand. Embossed on the back is a six-pointed star with a dot in its centre, and a crescent below it. Above the star, written in Arabic is the word: 'mabruk' (congratulations). The palm is symmetrical with two thumbs and two index fingers, and one middle finger in the centre. The fingernails are clearly defined. The reverse of the hand is flat with no features. This amulet would have been fixed on to an object, such as clothing, furniture, or a gift.
The palm of the hand, the 'keff', is a common charm used to ward off the 'evil eye', which represents the potential harm evil thoughts and deeds can do. The palm mainly appears in the form of jewellery worn on the person, but also on architectural decoration and other ornaments.
The six-pointed star in the Islamic Middle East is a symbol of the ring or seal of the Prophet Sulayman (the Biblical King Solomon). And, according to Islamic tradition, he was famous for his wisdom and supernatural abilities. His ring, with its six-pointed-star seal, empowered him to command the 'jinn' demons, and speak to animals. The image of the seal in this amulet is used to empower the beholder. The presence of both the crescent and the Arabic congratulations phrase confirm that this amulet is Islamic.
The palm of the hand is a common protective shape against potential harm, evil thoughts and deeds. The six-pointed star with a dot in its centre is a symbol of the ring or seal of Prophet Sulayman (the Biblical King Solomon), which is used here to empower the beholder.
Stylistic analysis: the use of the six-pointed star by Muslims stopped when European Jewish communities started to use it as a symbol for Judaism in the late 13th / 19th century, indicating that this hand could not have been made in Palestine beyond that date.
Purchased in 1912.
Bearman, P., et. al., The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Leiden, 1965.
Singer, I., Jewish Encyclopaedia, Pennsylvania, 1906.
Noorah Al-Gailani "Hand-palm amulet" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;uk;Mus04;40;en
Prepared by: Noorah Al-GailaniNoorah Al-Gailani
Noorah Al-Gailani is Curator for Islamic Civilisations at Glasgow Museums, Scotland. With a BA in Interior Design from the College of Fine Arts, Baghdad University and three years' experience in design and folk art preservation, she moved to the UK in 1992. On completing her MA in Museum Studies at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London in 1994, she worked as Project Officer at the Grange Museum of Community History documenting the presence of Muslim communities in the London Borough of Brent. In 1995 she was Assistant Curator, Ancient Monuments Laboratory, English Heritage, and in 1996 became Curator for John Wesley's House and the Museum of Methodism in London. She co-authored The Islamic Year: Surahs, Stories and Celebrations (Stroud: Hawthorn Press, 2002) for non-Muslim children. Since 2003 she has been based at The Burrell Collection in Glasgow, working across the city's museums to interpret Islamic art and culture, ancient and modern, through research, exhibitions and educational activities.
Copyedited by: Mandi GomezMandi Gomez
Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.
True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.
MWNF Working Number: UK4 45
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Women | Muslim Women’s Costume and Jewellery
Virtual Visit Exhibition Trail
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