DOʿĀ-NEVĪSĪ, the act of writing charms against various evils. Doʿā in this sense refers to spoken or written words assumed to have properties that can either avert harm, cure physical or mental sickness, or bring about a desired effect. A person who makes a living from writing doʿās is called doʿānevīs. A variety of doʿā called taʿwīdò (amulet) has been common for many centuries (see CHARM). Taʿwīḏ involves suras or verses from the Koran, often the two last suras, which begin with qol aʿūḏo (Say: I seek refuge), and for this reason these two suras are called moʿawweḏatayn. It is believed that carrying, reciting, and blowing (fūt kardan) of certain verses from the Koran may avoid calamity, sickness, or the effects of the evil eye. It is important to note that, although the word doʿā may mean the religiously sanctioned prayers recited during worship to attain pious goals, in its special meaning of an incantation it is in no way related to the canonical form, even when words or passages from the canonical prayers are borrowed and used in it. The practice of wearing the doʿā on one’s person is well attested among the pre-Islamic Arabs, who called such things tamīma (pl. tamāʾem). Ordinarily these tamīmaswere made of either beads of baked clay or of small pebbles with natural designs on them. These were made into a necklace and worn around the neck of the individual who sought to partake of their magical property. Infants were especially adorned with these charms, which, however, would be removed after the infant had grown into a child. Similar necklaces are also used in Persia. They are made of copper, silver, or gold, depending on the means of the family. Sometimes these charms are made of forty small silver plates, on each of which the koranic verse besmellāh al-raḥmān al-raḥīm, is carved. This variety of charm is called čehel besmellāh (forty besmellāhs; Dehḵodā, s.v.). In a photograph of Moḥammad-Reżā Shah as a child, in which he is sitting on his father’s lap, one of these charms can be seen around his neck (Wilber, pl. 12). Either Sura112 or the last four suras of the Koran, which begin with the word qol (čahār qol) could be carved on the forty plates of the necklace or written on a piece of gazelle skin and carried as a charm. Sometimes seven verses from Sura 36 that end in the word mobīn (haft mobīn) were used instead. Another variety of these charms is called ḥerz, whichmay be made of a thin piece of leather (preferably gazelle skin) on which verses from the Koran or religious prayers are written in saffron (cf. Ḵāqānī, p. 203). This piece of leather is placed in a small metal container, made of gold for women and silver for men, and tied around the arm or worn around the neck (cf. Neẓāmī, 1363 Š./1984b, p. 701; idem, 1984a, p. 5; cf. Dehḵodā, s.v. taʿwīḏ). Once the doʿā is written and placed in its container, it should not be taken out, nor should it be unrolled and read. The containers for ḥerz are usually cylindrical. Some of the most famous kinds of these charms are ḥerz-e yamānī, ḥerz-e Fāṭema-ye zahrā, ḥerz-e roqʿat al-jayb (attributed to Imam ʿAlī al-Reżā), and the very popular ḥerz-e Jawād (attributed to Imam Moḥammad al-Taqī).
According to the 1301 Š./1922 census of Tehran, there were twenty-five doʿānevīses in the city (Šahrī, I, p. 84). Traditionally they may be divided into two groups. One group consists of those who use established religious texts in the preparation of their charms. They usually have some sort of authorization (ejāza) from their master who sometimes is their father. Some of them may be associated with a Sufi sect, and some claim to have studied the supernatural sciences under Indian or Arab masters. They may sometimes teach a certain magical formula to their customers, which the latter are supposed to recite at specific times. These doʿānevīses are objects of reverence and are believed to possess blessing (baraka) in their breath or pens. Sometimes one of them attempts to cure various maladies by writing a charm on a piece of paper, which is then washed in water; the sick person is made to drink that water. The second group of doʿānevīses consists of those who do not use religious texts in their charms. Instead they employ certain magical forms, geometric or otherwise; numbers; and sentences formed of Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian words. Furthermore, they engage in a variety of other activities like fortune telling, palm reading, and using a child to reconstruct crime scenes for the discovery of the guilty party. These individuals are usually active in poorer quarters of large cities in Persia. Many of their customers are uneducated women who consult them for various problems (e.g., help in begetting male children, winning their husbands’ love, getting rid of rival wives). Some do not even have specific places of business and walk around in certain quarters of the city hawking their skills to potential customers. The tools of the trade are usually a brass bowl with incised designs, an object similar to an astrolabe, several mirrors, colorful crystal balls, and pieces of string with knots tied in them.
(For cited works not found in this bibliography see “Short References.”) Dāʾūd Anṭākī, Taḏkarat ūli’l-albāb wa jāmeʿ le’l-ʿajab al-ʿojāb II, Beirut, n.d., s.vv. “Ramal,” pp. 147 ff., “Roqya,” pp. 166 ff.
A. Enjavī Šīrāzī, Jašnhā wa ādāb wa moʿtaqedāt-e zemestān II, Tehran, 1354 Š./1975, pp. 58, 191.
Ṣ. Homāyūnī, “Doʿāhā dar Šīrāz,” Kāva 12/2-3, 1353 Š./1974, pp. 74-77.
Ḵāqānī Šervānī, Dīvān, ed. ʿA. ʿAbd-al-Rasūlī, Tehran, 1316 Š./1937.
Neẓāmī Ganjavī, Leylī o Majnūn, ed. Ḥ Waḥīd Dastgerdī, Tehran, 1363 Š./1984a.
Idem, Šaraf-nāma, ed. Ḥ Waḥīd Dastgerdī, Tehran, 1363 Š./1984b.
J. Šahrī, Tārīḵ-e ejtemāʿī-e Tehrān dar qarn-e sīzdahom V,Tehran, 1368 Š./1989, pp. 252-68.
E. Šakūrzāda, ʿAqāyed wa rosūm-e mardom-e Ḵorāsān, 2nd. ed., Tehran, 1363 Š./1984, pp. 272-73, 299-303.
D. Wilber, Reza Shah Pahlavi. The Resurrection and Reconstructioon, 1878-1944, Hicksville, N.Y., 1975.
(Aḥmad Mahdawī Dāmḡānī)
Originally Published: December 15, 1995
Last Updated: November 29, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. VII, Fasc. 5, pp. 456-457