222. A Talisman of Jade

Probably Herat, Afghanistan, late 15th century
Size: 10.5 cm diameter

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This talisman is most unusual, and in the course of a lifetime’s interest in such things, I have not come across another one like it. Moreover, it just arrived one day as a present, quite unexpectedly, perhaps because I was in need of whatever it provides.

Its shape, the twelve-pointed star, is associated with the Bektashi dervishes of Turkey, usually made from a mottled green and brown stone known as shahmaksud. These Bektashi stars are much thicker because the stone is much softer, and they are rarely engraved. Hajji Bektash’s own star kept at his shrine, made of rock crystal and of similar size to this, is an exception, but the inscription on it is simple by comparison.

Here the outer ring contains the Fatihah, the opening chapter of the Qur’an. The inner ring is engraved with Surat al-Ikhlas, one of the shortest chapters of the Qur’an, in larger letters because it is shorter than the first chapter. This circle frames a six-pointed star, inscribed within its central hexagon with Mahdi Mu’awad Ajel-Allah Ta’ala Farajaha (the one who was appointed by Allah to come to give relief to humanity); and in its six points with Allah, Ali, Hussein, Fatima, Hassan, Muhammad. Between the points are: Adam Safi-Allah (Adam the purity of Allah); Nuh Najji-Allah (Noah who escaped with the help of Allah); Ibrahim Khalil-Allah (Abraham the Beloved of Allah); Musa Kalim-Allah (Moses who spoke to Allah); Isa Ruh-Allah (Jesus the Breath of Allah); Muhammad Rasul-Allah (Muhammad the Prophet of Allah). So it is a heavy duty crowd that are being invoked.

The only bit of interpretation I can offer is that the six-pointed star represents the numerical equivalent of Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim, the opening phrase of the Qur’an, calculated by the abjad system. The letters of the phrase add up to 786. The star is made up of V (Arabic 7), with A superimposed (Arabic 8), and the six points of the star once the lines are drawn. 

I take the view that there is no point in trying to figure out what it all ‘means’. That is the equivalent of the academic investigation of Sufism, which is a relatively futile exercise. It is impossible to investigate something that operates beyond the scope of the intellect using the intellect. Like trying to track the Universe with a pair of binoculars. The alternative is to develop the perceptive capacity, the ‘telescopes’, that is the aim of all spiritual endeavours. The important question is, does it work, does it function? We don’t need to understand the workings of the internal combustion engine to get in a car and go somewhere. We just have to know how to drive. And have the key, of course.