Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Reaching across the World: The Hand of Fatima

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Reaching across the World: The Hand of Fatima

Article excerpt

Reaching Across the World: The Hand of Fatima

Dagmar Painter, curator of Gallery al-Quds at the Jerusalem Fund in Washington, DC, opened the exhibition, "Reaching Across the World: The Hand of Fatima," with a fascinating talk on Jan. 15 about the human hand symbol she has studied and collected since the 1980s. Painter's exhibition explores the origins, symbolism and interpretations of this potent design with objects from many cultures.

"Images of the human hand have had powerful appeal throughout the ages," Painter said. Cave paintings of horses silhouetted with human hands, circa 20,000 BC, were found in Peche-Merle, France, she noted. In Catal Huyuk, Turkey, excavations have revealed frescoed walls with rows of hands from 7,000 BC. Similar prehistoric hand imagery has been found in Libya and Zimbabwe, and cave paintings and carvings of hands dating from 3,000 BC have been found in Algeria.

In ancient Egypt, the hand was the symbol of fortitude and power in tomb paintings, and the hieroglyphic alphabet features hand imagery as well, Painter continued. The hand appears on mosaics during the Roman period, she added, sometimes abstracted as a triangle, Roman numeral V, and also written as IIIII to symbolize the five fingers.

The symbolic khamsa (Arabic for five) is associated with the five fingers of the hand, the five tenets of Islam (shahada, salat, hajj, saum and zakat), and the five letters of the name of God. "Later, the hand itself took on the symbolic meaning," Painter explained, "and became an amulet known as the Hand of Fatima, after the daughter of the Prophet Muhammed by his first wife, Kadijah, esteemed for her virtues. …

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