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index finger islam

The index finger in Islam – what does it symbolize?

The index finger, when a Muslim makes a sign with it (by raising it), symbolizes the unity of Allah.

Last updated: May 2, 2021

You may have seen Salafists – especially in the West – posing on pictures and raising the index finger. In the sad events of terrorist attacks, people who claim to be Muslims also used the index finger as a gesture. So, what is the intended meaning of this gesture? Let’s see what it is all about.

What does index finger mean in Arabic?

In Arabic, the index or fore finger is called Musabbiha (مُسَبِّحة), mostly used with the definite article: al-Musabbiha (الْمُسَبِّحة). You may encounter the following word too: al-Sabbāha (السَّبّاحة).

When a Muslim raises the index finger, it is nothing but a code – a symbol: the unity of Allah.

Let’s dig deeper.

Derived words from the Arabic root of index finger

Subhana

You might know the Arabic word Subhāna (سُبْحانَ).

The expres­sion “Subhana Allah” (سُبْحانَ الله) expresses a Muslim’s admira­tion as an exclama­tion of surprise. It is used a lot in the daily life of Muslims. We could translate it as: Praise Allah! Or: Allah be praised!

Let’s have a look at another Arabic word derived from the same root.

Misbaha or Subha

A rosary is called Misbaha (مِسْبَحة) or Subha (سُبْحة). It con­sists of beads on a string, 99 in number, and having a mark after each 33 – with which a Muslim performs the act called al-Tasbih (التَّسْبِيح) meaning the repetition of the praises of Allah.

Usually Muslims repeat the expressions Subhana Allah and Allāhu ’akbar.

Other gestures by the index finger

The index finger usually has a negative connotation in other cultures.

The dog call

When you curl your index finger, you want to call a person towards you – it is also called the “dog call”. It may denote that a woman wants to tempt a man.

In the Philippines, this is one of the most insulting hand gestures which is only used for dogs. The same is true for Japan, where it is also seen as rude. In some Asian countries, it may be a sign of death.

Pointing – selecting

In Europe (and in the US as well I guess), it is not nice to point with your index finger at others. People may use it to choose people and single out a person from a group.


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picture credit:Image by Reimund Bertrams from Pixabay

4 comments
  1. Isn’t there also a significant to pointing to Mecca (not sure if thats correct) if a Muslim believes they are about to die?

    1. Oh, I know what you mean. When someone is in hospital or in danger and he thinks he’s about to die, he raises his index finger upward (to heaven not Mecca) and says the shahadah (the testimony: there’s no god, but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah)

      Though, a Muslim isn’t required to do it.

  2. assalamwalekum brother,jazakallahu khairan for doing such a wonderful job mashallah.
    A request to please teach the words of Adhan esp Hayya in Arabic grammar point of view,is it imperative?

    also Iqamah too.

    thanks

    1. I just wrote some stuff on حي. Let me know if you have questions.

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