Rock Art in Dampier, North Western Australia- featuring
the ancient cave paintings in India, to aboriginal art in
Australia, to folk art in Africa, to the most contemporary
artwork in the West, handprints have been widely used as a
medium of artistic expression. Being the most primitive form
of expressing one’s creativity, they’re still regarded
today as a powerful element in art and design.
Islamic art as well, this handprint has been one of the most
powerful and outstanding symbols, deeply rooted and
beautifully woven into the Islamic culture, faith, philosophy,
religion and psychology.
there are many reasons why the handprint remains so important
in our history, its predominant significance has come from the
fact that it is an essential part of the ‘alam’.
Makkassan Prau in Groot Eyland cave
painting, reflecting the handprint, Northern Territory,
The alam is a flag of Islam, outstandingly representing Imam
Hussain ('a)'s army in the battle of Karbala. For centuries, this alam has been one of the most sacred symbols signifying
faith, devotion, sacrifice and bravery.
handprint on the alam symbolizes the hand of Hazrat Abbas
('a), the brave and loyal brother of Imam Hussain ('a). This
valiant son of Imam Ali ('a) was the flag-bearer of Imam's
army at Karbala and is one of the most revered heroes known
for his undaunting bravery, devotion and loyalty. Popularly
known as the bright full moon in the star filled firmament of
the clan of Bani Hashim, he laid down his life upholding the
cause of Imam Hussain ('a) at Karbala. This mighty warrior
faced the onslaught of hundreds of soldiers from Yazeed’s
army with only a flag and a mashkeeza (water-flask) in one
hand, and the reins of his horse in the other.
Imam Hussain, alaihi
salam- Karbala- reflecting the handprint of Abbas,
His desire to
quench the thirst of the little children in Imam’s camp was
so great that without any weapons, he managed to tear through
the enemy’s army and reach the river Euphrates. He did not
drink a single drop of water himself, but quickly filled the
mashkeeza and began riding back towards the camp, when the
enemy surrounded him from all sides and began ruthlessly
slaughtering him. He lost both his hands in this onslaught,
but kept riding, till a soldier from the enemy’s army
finally struck the mashkeeza with an arrow. The water flowed
out and so did all the hopes of Hazrat Abbas ('a). The alam
and mashkeeza fell, and Abbas too fell from his horse,
terribly wounded and heart-broken at being unable to fulfil
the request of the little children, especially his most
favoured niece, the four-year-old Sakina. The handprint on the
alam signifies the great sacrifice of Hazrat Abbas ('a) and
the readiness of his followers in laying down their lives for
the cause of Imam Hussain ('a).
Zuljana- at the battle of
Karbala- reflecting the handprint of Abbas, alaihi salam.
handprint also represents the pure Ahlul Bayt ('a). The five
fingers in the handprint stand for the five holy personalities
extolled in the verse of the cloak, an important Islamic
hadeeth. The holy five are the Prophet Muhammad ('s), his
daughter Sayyida Fathima Zahra ('a), her husband and the
prophet’s cousin Imam Ali ('a), and her sons Imam Hassan
(as) and Imam Hussain ('a). It was through these holy
personalities that the foundation of Islam was laid. Thus, the
handprint symbolizing the purity and merit of these holy five
is an essential part of the Islamic faith.
handprint also symbolizes a bayyat, which is an
allegiance that every Muslim who follows the Holy Prophet
pays to his Imam. Traditionally, giving one’s hand in
Imam’s hand and promising Imam complete faith, loyalty and
fealty to him paid the bayyat. The handprint hence signifies
the believer’s continued loyalty to and complete faith in
the present Imam-e-Zamana (atf).
the reasons of the significance of the handprint in Islam
stated here are the few outstanding ones, one would need to
thoroughly and comprehensively study Islamic history to
completely grasp its importance.
following are a few couplets of Mir Anees in praise of this
grand living symbol of Islam. They are a part of his great
classic poem on the sacrifice of Karbala -
five-pronged emblem's radiance robbed the sight;
Its gleaming was reflected on the sand;
It lit the high empyrean with its light
A bridegroom's face veiled in a golden strand.
The emblem and the sun shone in both ways,
Entangling in the air their brilliant rays.
banner of Abbas goes forth unfurled.
The company of the Prophet rules the world”
Author: Siddiqua Shahnawaz
Chief Editor: Hj Nurzaynab El-Fatah
Production: Hj S. Abidin
23 Shawwal, 1424.
Modification Date: 12th
January 2009/ 15th Muharram, 1430
Handprint In Islamic Art
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