In early January, I visited Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum to see their ‘Power and Protection: Islamic Art and the Supernatural’ exhibition. It was a crisp and sunny day, which I took as a good omen. As I stepped off the train and made my way to the exit, I spotted an image of the ‘Hand of Fatima’ pasted to the ticket barrier indicating the direction to the Museum. This image of the ‘hand’ has been the exhibition’s ‘frontispiece’, which is perhaps fitting as its most likely use dated eighteenth to early nineteenth century was as a finial. Made of gold on a lac core, it is encrusted with rubies, emeralds, diamonds and small pearls outlining the fingers. The ‘hand’ has throughout the centuries been seen as a representation of the Prophet Muhammad’s immediate family through his daughter Fatima through whom many believe his spiritual inheritance is continued. The ‘khamsa’, as it is also known, became one of the preferred shapes for battle and presentation standards under the Safavid Dynasty (1501–1736). As such it seemed a perfect introductory piece to the exhibition being a symbol of both power and protection.
I have always been drawn to the symbol of the ‘hand’ as a connection point to the Prophet’s family, and as a reminder of the qualities of ‘Fatima’. The Islamic spiritual tradition holds that ‘the name and the named are one’ the association with the Prophet’s daughter, therefore, carries its own treasure and protection for me on a personal level.