by Brian Griffith.
One of the most prevalent “superstitions” in Iran and across the Middle East concerns the so-called “evil eye.” The evil eye is to blame for countless misfortunes, and many remedies are devised to ward it off. Naturally, people hope to protect their loved ones from the evil eye, as in the modern pop star Andy Madadian’s lines for a girlfriend:
May bad eyes be far from you,
May jealous eyes be blind.
Many people, especially children and women, wear talismans to ward off the evil eye. The talismans commonly show the image a hand, held up palm outward like a “stop” sign, with an eye in the center of the palm. For Jews it is the hand of Miriam, and for Muslims the hand of Fatima. These charms block the evil eye like a cross drives out vampires. Otherwise, special words can act like a charm: “I seek refuge in the perfect words of Allah from every devil and vermin and from every envious eye” (Hadith 3,191, Al-Bukhari).
According to Sahih Muslim, the Prophet himself confirmed it: “The influence of the evil eye is a fact” (Book 26, no. 5,427). It is less well attested that he added, “One third of those who are in the grave are there because of the evil eye” (Jabir). The evil eye has therefore ranked among the top ten fears of traditional Iran, among leading dangers such as highway robbers, tribal bandits, wild animals, jinn (or demons), drought, famine, and the plague.
Naturally, many modern educated people have argued that no evil eye actually exists, and the whole thing is just a matter of ignorance. But what do believers in the evil eye say it is? “The evil eye is like an arrow which comes from the soul of the one who envies … sometimes it hits him and sometimes it misses. If the target is exposed and unprotected, it will affect him, but if the target is cautious and armed, the arrow will have no effect and may even come back on the one who launched it” (Zaad al-Ma’aad). Concerning the effects on women, Ayatollah Ali Meshkini rather explicitly explained, “Looking is rape by means of the eyes … whether the vulva admits or rejects it, that is, whether actual sexual intercourse takes place or not.”
It may be false that the eye can emit evil rays that physically harm others, as Plutarch claimed it does. But the sense of harm people feel does not depend on any proof of physical causation. Women generally know the feeling of being defiled by a look, like the looks of lechers who follow them in the street. Traditional women in Iran have always known that the evil eye spells trouble, and not just the embarrassment of being followed and teased in public. Street lechers are usually powerless men, fairly easy to shun or evict. The eyes to be feared in the past were those of powerful men, who could carry off women with impunity. Those eyes belonged to the warlord ruler and his armed men.