Evil eye talismans are very prevalent throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. The evil eye is an envious or hateful look that is believed to cause harm on whomever meets its gaze. Certain people are thought to wield especially potent powers when it comes to inflicting the curse of the evil eye on others. This bad luck often stems from envy and the “overlooking” associated with a fixation on or the coveting of another person.
Belief in the evil eye is strongest in the Mediterranean region. Muslims often ward off the evil eye by answering any complements with “mashallah,” (God has willed it). In the Aegean region, where light-colored eyes are rare, those with green, and especially blue eyes, are thought to wield the power of the evil eye. This belief may have arisen after people from cultures not used to the evil eye unintentionally transgressed local customs by staring or offering praise. Thus, evil eye amulets in Greece and Turkey take the form of a blue eye. In Israel, observant Jews believe that the 10th commandment “thou shalt not covet” is a law against inflicting the evil eye on another person.
Apotropaic (protective) talismans have arisen in many cultures to ward off the evil eye. They take the form of hanging discs, or small beads, and are often found in cars, on doorways, and on people’s bodies.
This type of tile work is called “Zellij,” it is in the Moroccan style and is mainly found in Fez. Zellij is comprised of interlocked shapes, with the number 5 being very prevalent (pentagons, 5 and 10 point stars, 5 colors). The number 5 is a significant number in Islam, there are 5 pillars of faith, 5 prayer times each day, and the hamsa (the Arabic word for 5) is used as an amulet for protection from evil.
Properly executing zellij designs requires steadfast attention to detail and strict adherence to mathematical calculations. Thanks to measures taken by the Moroccan government, this technique has been preserved, and many capable Moroccan artisans remain to perpetuate the craft. In fact, Moroccan artisans, renowned for their skill, are often hired throughout the Middle East to undertake restoration projects.
Artisans from Fez were hired to recreate a traditional Moroccan court within the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York when it remodeled its Islamic Art wing in 2011. The result is an example of the highest level of Islamic craft possible today, created within the walls of a museum, and available for all to appreciate.