Five ways to avoid the “evil eye”

Five ways to avoid the "evil eye"

Five ways to avoid the “evil eye” in North Africa

Five ways to avoid the “evil eye”: It’s a scene familiar to many who have grown up in or around Middle Eastern and North African cultures, and one that can be a cause of anxiety for some.

“Oh, hasn’t he become a handsome boy,” a caring friend will say admiringly. The child’s mother will then wait impatiently for her compliment to be followed by the Arabic expression machallah – “God willed it so”.

After realizing that this will not be offered, the mother herself will say machallah and start muttering prayers in a low voice to protect her child, now suspecting that her friend may have cast the ayn, the evil eye, on her child, either unintentionally or on purpose.

The belief in the evil eye, which roughly corresponds to the concept of jealousy or the “green-eyed monster” of Western cultures, is widespread in the Middle East and North Africa. In Arabic, it’s known as ayn, meaning eye; in Turkish, it’s called nazar, meaning gaze; and in Persian, it’s called cheshm khordan.

Five ways to avoid the “evil eye”

The persistent glance of an envious eye, not immediately followed by a blessing, can lead to all kinds of affliction. Many people believe it to be responsible for the misfortunes they encounter, and go to great lengths to ward off its supposed powers through rituals rooted in both religious practice and cultural tradition.

A well-known local anecdote tells of an Iraqi woman whose mother-in-law advises her to tip over a plant pot in her home, so that the soil scattered on the floor will distract visitors from the beauty of the house.

The ancient Egyptians used kohl to blacken the rims of their eyes to protect them from evil spirits entering through the windows of the soul. A similar tradition is still practiced today in parts of South Asia. Eye-shaped pendants to protect against evil spiritual forces may have originated in Mesopotamia. The ancient Greeks used similar symbols to ward off evil.

Five ways to avoid the “evil eye”

A practice with its roots in Jewish tradition seems to defy logic: a thoughtful person says the opposite of what they mean to avoid attracting the evil eye.

“I remember one day waiting for my daughter to leave school; when I saw her, I said: ‘Hello my naughty girl'”, says a Turkish Cypriot. “Her instructor heard and was outraged that I would behave that way toward my own daughter. I had to explain to her that in my culture, we often say the opposite of what we mean to divert the attention of the evil eye.”

In some Bedouin communities, mothers don’t take care of their children’s appearance for fear that their beauty will arouse jealousy.

In stark contrast to the spirit of the social networking age, many Middle Eastern and North African traditions encourage those who enjoy wealth, happiness and beauty to avoid ostentatiously displaying their good fortune. This idea is reflected in a line by the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran: “Travel and tell no one, live a true love affair and tell no one, live happily and tell no one, people ruin beautiful things.”

“Evil spirits

Belief in the evil eye and the means to protect oneself against it have existed since the dawn of time: the first trace of it dates back to Sumerian times, 5,000 years ago. A popular Bedouin saying reflects the significance of the ayn: “The evil eye can drive a man into his grave and a camel into the pot”.

Professor Aref Abu-Rabia, an anthropologist at Ben Gurion University in the Negev who has studied the desert Bedouin of this region, explains that this community has always regarded the evil eye as a very real “dangerous force” with the power to impact lives.

“A person who possesses the evil eye is said to have impure spirits that convey an intense will and desire to cause harm, disorder and damage, whether by looking at the victim or through direct or indirect rites, such as prayers or curses,” he writes.

The evil eye can be blamed for everything from the failure of a marriage to the illness of a child or the loss of a job. Excessive sleepiness, yawning or lack of concentration are also sometimes explained as effects of the any.

Five ways to avoid the “evil eye”

In Bedouin folklore, there are three levels of evil eye: someone who unwittingly praises something without making the proper blessings; someone who is aware of their jealousy but avoids saying anything; and the aradh (from the Arabic word irdh – meaning “spirit”, “soul” or “self”), a person who deliberately seeks to do harm through their bitter gaze.

Those most vulnerable to the evil eye would be healthy, beautiful and wealthy people, as well as children and pregnant women.

Five ways to avoid the “evil eye”

The concept of the evil eye is present in the Abrahamic religions. In particular, the prophet of Islam Mohammed is reported to have said, “The evil eye is truth, and if there were anything beyond predestination, it would be the evil eye.”

Observant Jews often say kina hora, a contraction of the words kein eina hara, meaning “without evil eye”. And Kabbalists, a mystical movement that has become popular among Jews, their left wrist with a red thread to ward off the eye.

Here, the Middle East Eye summarizes five symbols and traditions that are still used today to protect against the evil eye.

1. Amulets

These are commonplace in many households, and can even be seen hanging from car mirrors, or worn around the neck or wrist like jewelry.

Blue glass beads, embellished with a white spot and a small black dot in the middle, are called nazar in Turkish and are said to have been used as a means of protection by peoples as diverse as the Assyrians, Phoenicians, Romans, Ottomans and Greeks.

The eye-shaped pearl is said to cast its evil gaze upon the evil-eyed.

Another popular talisman is the Hand of Fatima, named after the Prophet Mohammed’s daughter, known in Jewish tradition as the Hand of Miriam. An eye is often depicted in the center of the palm to protect against misfortune and the powers of the evil eye.

2. Koranic recitations

Despite the great popularity of amulets in the Islamic world, many Muslims believe that they are not authorized in their religion and are strongly opposed to their use. Believing that only God can protect a person from evil spirits, their practices against the evil eye are rooted in the words of prayer.

Several Koranic verses and suras (chapters) are generally considered effective against the forces associated with the ayn. The most common are two short suras that begin with the word Qul (the Arabic invocation “dis”). These are the suras al-Falaq (the dawning dawn) and an-Nas (humanity), collectively known as al-Mu’awwidhatayn (“the verses of refuge”).

Other verses in the Koran are said to be effective against the evil eye; most of them involve direct invocations of God’s power to overcome evil.

Islamic tradition is rich in anecdotes about the effectiveness of using the Koran against evil spirits and jealousy. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, a 14th-century Syrian Islamic jurist, wrote by example of a Bedouin who, after discovering the person who had sickened his camel with the ayn, recited a few verses of the Qur’an which enabled him to heal the animal and chase away the person who had cast the evil eye.

3. Burning incense

Five ways to avoid the “evil eye”: Burning incense to ward off evil spirits is a common practice in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and East Asia.

Bedouins burn agarwood or incense around those who have been cursed, to cleanse the negative energy projected by the evil eye. In Egypt, black seed (habbat al-baraka) or thyme is preferred.

In Iran, those who believe in the evil eye use esfand seed, also known as Syrian Rutaceae. Iranian homes, incense is heated until the seeds burst, to protect against cheshm khordan. The practice is thought to date back to the time when Zoroastrianism was the main Persian cult, and to be effective in eliminating negative energy. Traders often burn it around their stores in the hope of better sales, and it is also used to purify energy in new homes.

4. Spit three times

The ritual of pretending to spit three times, without saliva actually leaving the mouth, seems to have been practiced in many cultures, notably Greek and Roman (“despuere malum” in Latin means to spit on evil).

Long practiced by Jews, it is seen as an easy way to protect oneself from the evil eye, and goes hand in hand with prayers, such as kina hora.

Among some Bedouins, healers don’t just pretend, but use their saliva to heal those who have fallen victim to the tragedies of the Evil Eye – it is believed that a man’s saliva will heal a man, and a woman’s will heal a woman.

5. Scratching or pinching your posterior

Five ways to avoid the “evil eye”: Iranians do it, Lebanese Armenians do it, as do Assyrians, although each has slightly different approaches and expressions to accompany this act.

Armenians quickly scratch their behinds with the expression char atchk to prevent a compliment from turning into a curse.

Assyrians, on the other hand, prefer to pinch rather than scratch, following their act with the words theesa moocha (“to pinch one’s behind”) and a generous mashallah.

Theoretically, the pain of the slight pinch should ensure that the evil eye is no longer envious of your success, since now you’re suffering.

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