Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Protection from the Evil Eye

In an amazing coincidence three of my Arab friends and co-workers announced the birth of a child, all three births occurring within a span of four days. All of the babies and mothers are doing well. Another friend announced the birth of his first child about two weeks ago. [Strange, I don’t recall a large power outage 9 months ago ;-) ]

The announcements were the first time I even knew that any of them were expecting a child. This may seem like an odd thing to Westerners, keeping the news of such a big event secret until after the birth, but I have become used to this as it is common practice in much of the Middle East.

In this part of the world belief is still strong in what we would call the “Evil Eye”, a belief that a person being envious or jealous of your good fortune can cause you harm. While this belief does occur in some non-Muslim countries (such as Greece and parts of Eastern Europe) in Muslim countries it is not considered merely a superstition, a least one hadith notes the Prophet Mohammed stating it exists, so it has religious acceptance.

This means that it is common for people here to not tell others of impending good fortune (a pregnancy, a marriage, a possible job offer) so that others cannot be envious and thus cause the Evil Eye to wreck the event. Some people can even take it a step further, years ago when one of my friends had his first child he didn’t announce it to everyone until a couple of days after the birth because newborns are so vulnerable. As for weddings, at least for the men’s party, you usually find out within a week of the party, maybe only days before. Bear in mind that the couple is already legally married, they would have previously signed a marriage contract maybe weeks or months ago, and that event is only announced after it happens. One day you meet your friend and he will tell you out of the blue he just signed a marriage contract -- you’d have no idea he and his family had even been meeting potential brides.

In Turkey belief in the Evil Eye is widespread, so much so that Turks use a charm, called a nazar, to protect against it. When you visit Turkey you’ll see nazar for sale everywhere in tourist markets but they are not just for tourists. I have yet to see a home in Turkey that didn’t have at least one displayed somewhere. I believe it was the Ottomans who spread this belief to areas of Europe they used to control.

While nazar are less common in the Middle East it is common to say “Mashallah” (God has willed it) whenever you look at a picture of a child or someone tells you about good fortune. The phrase is to help protect against the Evil Eye because you invoke the name of God, similar in some respects to saying “Bless you” when someone sneezes. This phrase is used in both Turkey and the Middle East and you’ll hear it often. Again some people take this seriously and I recall a few years ago a Qatari friend asked me to make sure I said it when I looked at a picture of his newborn. I pretty much say it automatically now when looking at a picture of a child or seeing a baby.

So if you know Arabs don't be too surprised or offended if they tell you about some happy event only shortly before or even after it has occurred. It's standard practice in Arabic culture.

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