Ordinary Muslims recognize the power of the evil eye. Its force can devastate their lives – so much so that a humorous proverb from Palestine asserts that two-thirds of humanity die from the attacking influence of the evil eye upon them; the remaining third dies because it is careless in protecting itself against the evil eye! The evil eye touches all.
The fundamental concept of the evil eye is that precious persons or things are constantly vulnerable to hurt or destruction caused by other people’s envy. The eye projects envy or jealousy.
Envy (hasad) is almost as a tangible force. The opposite, baraka, compromises the blessing or boon driving, ultimately, from God. But since baraka is nearly always obtained or conveyed by a touch, the evil eye transfers its effect by non-tactile communication.
The kinds of eye counted as evil vary, as this example from Iran will show. The rarest and most powerful genus of evil eye known in Iran – ‘the salty eye’. This eye has permanent effect. Such a condition is incurable and a person diagnosed as possessing a ‘salty eye’ is carefully guarded.
The commonest Iranian expression of the evil eye is known as ‘the bad eye’. Usually this kind of eye is cast unintentionally, so its effects need be only minor or temporary. They combat or ‘untie’ by occult activity.
A third kind of evil eye in Iran is that labelled ‘the unclean eye’. Death is most likely if the victim of this eye already has an illness or injury.
There are other varieties of evil eye, identified in other cultures, include ‘the eye that wounds’, ‘the narrow eye’, and ‘the hot eye’.
Consideration of the concept of the evil eye projects us directly into the ordinary Muslim’s ideas about causality. Often the Muslim sees himself as the victim of hostile activity by external beings and forces. Therefore he seeks – how can success in the future be guaranteed? What will make sure that a proposed marriage is happy and fruitful? Which business venture will bring the greatest benefit to the family? Frequently, the ordinary Muslim finds himself swallowed up in crises, and then it is especially important to have quick and correct diagnoses of causes.
Diagnosis is often made by a mixture of case history and simple divination. When the injury has not been fatal, the burning of incense, incantation, Qur’an reading and visits to the tombs of local Muslim saints to get baraka may all be employed as part of the cure.
Then came designs to give protective measures as insurance against the evil eye. One of the most common kinds of charm is a glazed ceramic bead of bright turquoise colour as pictured above.
A phrase of protection against the evil eye, frequent in everyday speech, is ma shaallah, meaning literally, ‘what God has willed’. It draws attention away from the child to God, who was responsible for the child’s birth.
The central place that the evil eye concept has in most Muslims’ lives might suggest that it is an accepted part of the formal faith of Islam. Surprisingly, the Qur’an makes no direct mention of the evil eye. It makes implicit reference to human envy only twice, in suras 113:5 and 2:109. The hadith, however, give strong license for including the evil eye as a potent element in the Muslim’s view of the world. Consequently, they bend aspects of the formal religion to serve in the folk-Islamic world. From the perspective of the ordinary Muslim, the evil eye of envy is a proven, authorized, potent contributor to his life disintegrating.