Regardless of religion or culture, people all over the world have superstitious beliefs. Egyptians are no exception. Superstitions in Egypt vary from place to place throughout the country and pertain to virtually all aspects of life. Many of them relate, for example, to pregnancy and children. Others are superstitions about everyday life. Below you will find some superstitions that are common across Egypt.
Many Egyptians believe in genies – supernatural beings akin to Western ghosts or fairies. This type of spirit is mentioned in Islamic literature dating as far back as the eighth century, including in the book One Thousand and One Nights and others. A special type of genie is the afarit – a powerful, malicious demon. Some people consider them to be the soul of a person who died suddenly and was not buried. They are often “seen” in mirages that manifest for a few seconds at the edge of the desert. Other types of genies have good temperaments and may even end up in paradise, just like humans.
The “evil eye” is described in the Koran, but the concept is common in many countries around the world. Many Egyptians believe that when something good happens to them, it is a result of good luck. However, bad luck is just as easy to come by if someone gives them the evil eye. For example, if an Egyptian buys a new car and it breaks down a few days later, it is thought to have been caused by the envy of someone such as a neighbor. If someone falls ill unexpectedly, Egyptians will often blame the evil eye. In fact, the evil eye is thought to be the reason for all kinds of misfortunes that befall Egyptians.
To ward off the power of the evil eye, women and children wear amulets of gold or silver, beautifully inscribed with the word “Allah” ("God" in Arabic), symbolizing that everything is in God's hands. Protection from the evil eye can also be found in the hamsa, also known as the hand of Fatima. It is a very popular symbol throughout the Middle East, North Africa and the Balkans. It can be found on all kinds of souvenirs, T-shirts and jewelry. Another popular symbol that protects against the evil eye is the blue eye of the prophet. You will often see one hanging from the driver's mirror in a taxi or bus.
Touching wood has a similar effect to the hand of Fatima and the eye of the prophet, protecting against human envy. When Egyptians tell others about their achievements, listeners will often tell them to touch something wooden to avoid the negative effects of the evil eye.
You might think this is an entirely modern superstition, but in fact, it’s as old as any other. Egyptians say that when flip-flops (or other shoes) are turned upside down, evil is brought home. Therefore, they make sure that they always put them down right side up and do not accidentally knock them over. That way, evil can’t enter their home and they can feel safe.
Superstitions about black cats are known around the world, and Egypt is no exception: Egyptians believe that a black cat running across your path is bad luck. If the cat stops and sits down in front of you, you will suffer a longer period of bad luck. According to Egyptian beliefs, the reason black cats are bad luck is that evil genies live inside them and bring misfortune.
In Egypt, it is considered unlucky to leave scissors open. Similarly, it is inadvisable to open and close scissors unnecessarily. Playing with scissors like this hurts the bad genies, and they later come to take their revenge, bringing bad luck. Many people in Egypt also say that leaving scissors open or playing with them heralds quarrels in the immediate vicinity, such as between spouses. Keeping scissors closed therefore prevents fighting.
Egyptians believe that when a bird dropping lands on you, you will be lucky and something good will happen to you.
Spilled coffee brings happiness in Egypt. Of course, spilling coffee on purpose doesn’t have the same result. But if somebody spills a little coffee from their cup, no one gets upset, and in fact, Egyptians will say it is fortunate.
There is a stereotype that Arabs and Muslims dream of having only sons. They don't want daughters, and if they do have them, they don't pay attention to them. In Egypt, having a son ensures the continuity of the surname and thus the family. Sons are responsible for the support of the family, including parents and sisters if necessary. However, according to the Koran, having daughters is what brings people happiness and prosperity.
In Egypt, happiness can be ensured by crossing the threshold with the right foot. The superstitious Egyptians believe that the left foot should never cross the threshold first. Why tempt fate if entering the house with your right foot can bring you a bit of luck?
Street vendors still practice the custom of kissing the money earned on the first sale of the day (istiftah in Arabic). Then they touch it to their forehead. It is a way of thanking God for the first money they earn and praying that God will allow them to earn more throughout the day.
Egyptians and Muslims in general avoid displaying pictures and photos of people and animals on the walls of their houses. The interior walls are usually decorated with still lifes, landscapes and verses from the Koran. They believe that angels do not stay in places where there are pictures of living creatures hanging, and if angels do not enter the house, there will be no joy, happiness or harmony.
Most Egyptians are raised believing these and other superstitions and will pass these beliefs on to their children.
What do you believe? Join one of our tours to get to know Egypt’s people and customs, past and present.