As published in Stamp-Collector’s Magazine (Vol. V) August 1st, 1867
From Le Timbre Poste
To some of our readers the above title will probably seem an enigma. They may search, perhaps in vain, for the hand of which we speak. Yet it is there, though different in appearance from those we know. It is, in fact, the curious design occupying the centre of each of these stamps – its name ‘Thougra.’
The ‘Thougra’ is the signature of his majesty the Sultan, ordinarily written in black, sometimes in red, and frequently in letters of gold, and is found upon coins, passports, &c., as well as upon the stamps. The first sultans used to make rough impressions, with the five fingers of one hand, at the foot of their decrees, and Mahomet II placed his fingers, wet with blood on the columns of Saint Sophia, at the capture of Constantinople in 1453. Of these early finger seals, and of the impressions of the conqueror's fingers on the mosques, the arabesque pattern in the centre of the stamp is representative.
The hand has to Mussulmen three mystic significations: it denotes providence; it is the expression of law; and thirdly, of power; it restores the courage of the faithful, and strikes terror into the hearts of their enemies.
As an emblem of law, the Mussulman thus explains the meaning of the hand. It has five fingers, each, with the exception of the thumb, having three joints. All the fingers are subordinate to the unity of the hand, their common foundation. The five fundamental precepts of the law are: 1st. – Belief in God and in its prophet. 2nd. – Prayer. 3rd. – Giving alms. 4th. – Fasting during the sacred months, and at the appointed times. 5th. – Visiting the temples of Mecca and Medina. Each of these precepts admits of three divisions except the first, symbolised by the thumb, which has only two, heart and work. These dogmas and their modifications have for their source the central doctrine of the unity of God; and all the creed of Mahometanism is contained in the hand, – the five fingers, and their forty joints.
As to its magical influence, it not only preserves the Mussulman from the witchcraft practised by his enemies, but also works enchantments and prodigies.
Above the inscription placed, at the principal entrance to the Alhambra at Grenada, may be seen the key joint of the hand. The key joint is to the Mahometan what the cross is to the Christian. Catholics ascribe to the keys of St. Peter the faculty of binding and loosing, and of opening and shutting the doors of heaven; and the Koran also says that God gave not to his deputy upon earth the power over heaven which is above, or of the fire which is below; and he grants not the title, or the power, of porter at the gates of heaven, reserving that work for those who have been chosen.
The hand placed above the gates of the Alhambra, upon the sultan's seal, and upon the stamps, symbolises the spiritual and temporal power which protects the good and the faithful, and punishes their adversaries.
The symbolism of the hand, modified in divers manners, is not unknown to Christian people. The hand stands as the emblem of the government of society. The fingers, together with the thumb, bear the signification of power, knowledge, will, courage, and duty or force, intelligence, authority, love and obedience.
In like manner the superstitious idea of the mysterious power of the hand has been in part adopted by Christians. The necklaces made of rows of hands in silver wood ivory &c., which the careful [Belgian ?] mother places on the neck of her infant to guard him against the machinations of evil spirits are of Mahometan origin.