Every religion on earth has its own symbols, which over time became its talismans—objects that have extraordinary powers. Everyone knows about the Christian holy water and icons or the Hindu yantras, as well as the two most common Islamic talismans: the hand of Fatima and the nazar (blue eye). But in the western world, too little is known for the notorious Islamic talismans—the taweez. Contrary to Nazar or the hand of Fatima, the taweez are not only made for protection against evil forces but for almost every aspect of life—love, health, wealth, success, etc.
The origins of taweez can be traced back to pre-Islamic times in the Arabic peninsula, where different tribes exchanged their cultural features. This was done in the cities—the crosspoints of the trade routes. Evidence of this is the presence of huge quantities of talismans associated with various gods, piled up in polytheistic temples in these cities. Every trading caravan from near and far comes to these cities carrying their cultural differences, gods, and talismans. An example of this is Mecca, where the Prophet Muhammad himself destroyed hundreds of statues and talismans.
It can be said with great certainty that the taweez themselves originate from another Semitic people who inhabited this part of the world - the Jews. Muslim taweez bear striking similarities to Jewish talismans. And since the Jewish religion began its formation much earlier than Islam, it is very likely that these talismans were distributed in the area during the already mentioned trade exchange. According to another theory, the taweez are even older and came from the traditions of the Chaldean magi, but there is not enough evidence for this except for a set of signs used in them known as the secret name of Allah and used by the Chaldeans as symbols of the seven known stars in the sky at that time.
Of course, as the Islamic religion evolved, so did its non-canonical forms, including the Sufis. They represent a large group of religious scholars who try to understand the deep and mystical meaning behind the dogmatism of the official religion. In these endeavors, they developed the knowledge of mystical taweez into a science. To this day, ancient Sufi texts by various authors continue to be discovered, giving guidance on the making and workings of Muslim talismans. As a fundamental principle in Sufi philosophy, dhikr—the repetition of a certain word or phrase a certain number of times—is laid down. They believe that in a similar way, by entering a trance-like state, they come as close as possible to God, and the objects on which this dhikr is recited exhibit supernatural properties. This is inherent in the making of the taweez. Sufis believe that by reading dhikr over them, they become energized.
Which are some of the greatest sufis who worked in the field of taweez science? At first place: the great Al-Buni with his major text work, "Shams ul-Maarif," Ibn Al-Hajj al-Tilimsani with his book, "Shummus al-anwar," Al-Suyuti with his book, "Kitab al-rahma fi al-tibb wa-l-hikma," and Maslama al-Qurtubi with the book, "Ghayat al-Hakim" These are the primary books that every sufi involved in taweez science should read in order to comprehend the philosophy.
A big boom in the spread of Islamic talismans was during the Ottoman Empire, when every wealthy person or person in power had a collection of talismans. Sultans and warlords even went to extremes and owned clothes—shirts and waistcoats in the form of taweez—mainly for the purpose of protection, due to the fact that both military campaigns and power struggles in the Sultan's court were extremely violent. Such objects—talismans—are kept to this day in Turkish museums, and in some parts of the world, they continue to be used.
As Islam spread across the world, so did the taweez. They came with different names in different countries: vefq, muska, naqsh, naqoosh, wafaq, awfaq, azimat, ajimat, gris-gris, and so on. Some Muslim countries have banned them (Saudi Arabia), while others have hundreds of sufi schools where hundreds of students study the taweez science (Indonesia).
Talismans are most often made on paper, and in ancient times on parchment from the skin of a deer, roe deer, or gazelle. In these days, it is very rare to find taweez made from parchment. Signs and symbols that appear strange at first glance are written on them with special saffron ink. Less often, they are made of metal, and there are also those that are written with saffron ink on clay or porcelain plates and bowls. They are mainly used in treatment.
Usually, to protect the paper from getting wet or mechanical impact and destruction, the taweez are folded and placed in a small leather case or metal box (most often made of silver). Other people prefer to wrap the talisman in duct tape. It should be noted here that in these cases, although the talisman is protected, its effect on its owner is significantly limited. We need to clarify that most of the taweez are folded, but some of them can be rolled on a scroll or put in glass frames and put on walls. Usually, when the sufis are preparing the taweez, which will be folded, they make a dhikr on them, so if they get unfolded by curious hands, they will lose their effect and stop working. Because of this, it is very important to follow exactly the rules given by the sufi.
The main motif in making taweez is the square, divided into cells filled with numbers, letters, whole phrases, or symbols. These squares are usually called wafiq. The numbers in the cells themselves derive from a complex alphanumeric system called abjad, according to which each letter of the alphabet corresponds to a certain number. This is known as Ilm al-huruf, or "the science of the letters." and is one of the main proofs of the connection with the Jewish talismans about which we already spoke, where this science is called Temurah. There are Islamic talismans in which entire surahs from the Quran are encoded. And again - in some of them are find quotes from the psalms - jewish religious prayers dated back to the period of 9-th to 5-th century BC.
Usually the talismans are small in size—no more than 5 by 5 cm—but depending on the purpose, they can reach impressive sizes, and the squares in them can be divided into hundreds or thousands of cells. There is a known case from the time of the Iran-Iraq war (1980–88) in which Iranian Sufis created a talisman measuring 2 by 2 meters and containing 10,000 cells.
Usually, in practice, in order to charge the talisman, one must recite the dhikr as many times as the sum of the numbers in the square. Sometimes, this means thousands of repetitions. And this, in turn, means maximum concentration for the reader and solitude. There are reports that when reading a prolonged dhikr on a taweez, some Sufis experience auditory and visual hallucinations, the result of the monotonous repetition of words and the use of various types of incense. Depending on the purpose of taweez different frankincenses are used, and sometimes a combination of several resins is used.
If the words and numbers in Islamic talismans have an explanation, the strange symbols drawn do not. They are believed to be the fruit of revelation in the mystical meditations and dreams of Sufi hermits. Some of these symbols are signs of planets, angels, jinn, or other spiritual beings. But there are also those that represent letters from strange, unknown alphabets, such as with Al-Buni (Shamsul Maarif). Precisely because of the ignorance of these symbols in taweez, they are denounced by the official religion as shirk. Now comes the great debate over whether it is moral for orthodox Muslims to use talismans if they are not the result of witchcraft.
In fact, nowhere in the Muslim holy book, the Quran, is there any prohibition against the use of talismans of any kind. And all restrictions and rules for their use come much later. Here we will present more evidence in defense of wearing taweez. Words of the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad.
1. One of the youngest companions of the prophet and author of more than 1600 hadiths - Abdullah ibn Abbas, told us a story in which an extremely poor man asked the prophet on the street for some money to buy food for his family. The prophet told him to write a dua to Allah for prosperity and wear it on his neck as a talisman.
2. Again, Ibn Abbas narrates that there is no problem with using talismans as long as they don`t include any animal parts in them because this is shirk. (Kitab Al-Iman, h.124)
3. Al-Nawawi, in his book "Al-minhaj bi sharh sahih muslim," made a comment on a hadith from Umar in which the prophet spoke of using taweez from the people in need for the glorification of Allah S.A.T. (page 56).
4. In his tafsir, Ibn Masud, the great mufassir of the Quran, explains how the taweez is a materialistic expression of Allah's will on earth.
5. Once, a barren woman approached the messenger S.A.W. and asked for assistance in becoming pregnant. He told her to write a verse from the Quran in the form of a talisman and put it under her pillow in her matrimonial bed. Soon the woman got pregnant. (Jamiya Tirmidhi, Hadith 3102, vol. 5, book 44)
6. In Sahih Bukhari, book 61, hadith 3802, Abdullah bin Amr reports that the messenger once told a personal gathering of the closest companions that it is permissible to wear talismans in the name of Allah and that they are used for good reasons.
7. One of the companions of the messenger, ibn Awf, was a merchant, but there were no deals, so he asked Muhammad for advice. The messenger told him to write a dua on a camel skin, dissolve it in zam-zam water, and sprinkle it everywhere in the place of trade. (Jamiya At-tirmidhi)
8. According to Ammar ibn Yasir, Abu Dharr al-Ghifari once complained to the prophet that his house had been robbed. The prophet got angry and told Abu Dharr to write a special talisman and hang it in his house. Soon the thieves appear and return the stolen goods. (Kitab Al-Muthaniya, vol. 2, p. 144)
Additional information is located on the main taweez page