The index finger in Islam and Arabic
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). Sometimes also this word is used: al-Sabbāha (السَّبّاحة).
This finger, when a Muslim makes a sign with it (by raising it), symbolizes the unity of Allah.
Let’s dig deeper.
Derived words from the Arabic root of index finger
You might know the Arabic word Subhāna (سُبْحانَ).
The expression “Subhāna 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-Tasbīh (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. In Japan, 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.