The Hamsa, also called the Hand of Fatima, is a culturally fascinating phenomenon. In the simplest explanation it is a hand shaped charm used to ward off the evil eye, bad luck and sorcery. But this simple explanation underscores the cultural significance of this symbol.
The Hamsa has not only survived its parent civilization but its gained continued popularity in several cultures afterwards, most notably in the two religions that officially renounce the practice of wearing or displaying this and all magical charms, Judaism and Islam. According to archaeological evidence this charm actually predates both religions, and may in fact, even be a holdover from the Phoenicians. Never the less, it continues to have strong social significance to the people in the Middle East, even it lacks official religious support.
There are some slight differences between the Jewish and Islamic Hamasas. Jewish myth holds that it is either the hand of god, or the hand of Miriam, the sister of Moses who hid him in the reeds to protect him from the Pharaoh's wraith. It is often combined with the Chai or the Magem David as pictured in the second and forth images above. More complex charms will even include torah verses.
The Islamic Hand of Fatima however, will of course never feature any Jewish symbolism such as the Star of David or other Hebraic inscriptions. It is named after the daughter of Mohammad, who is thought to be an example of Islamic virtue. In its purest form it will be primarily scrollwork, like the one pictured to the far right, although both groups hold the eye within the hamsa, as pictured center, sacred. Both variations have gained popularity with proponents of peace between these two peoples in the Middle East. This is because it is believed this symbol above all others shows a common thread between the cultures.
The hamsa can be worn both with the fingers pointing up or down. Since it has enjoyed such a long use as a talisman, there several variants that have arisen which more closely resemble a flower than a hand, like the second and forth examples above. All hamsas will be constructed of five parts originating from a common center. Though there exist a few modern symbols, such as the spiral within the hand, that are sometimes described as a hamsa, these symbols though similar, are not the same.