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Islamic flags

Last modified: 2011-03-25 by rob raeside
Keywords: islam |
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Evolution of Islamic Flags

 

The history of Islamic flags dates back to pre-Islamic times (Al-Jahilya). There are two sources of Islamic flags:

The Flag of Quraish

[Quraish] by Syed Junaid Imam, 6 September 1999

When the democratic government was established in Makkah by Qusa bin Kalab [ancestor of Holy Prophet], he distributed different functions of government into different clans of Quraish. According to various sources these functions or ministries were between 10 to 17. There were two ministries of flag carrying; Al-Lawae (war standard) and Al-Uqaab (national flag).

There is no evidence in the recorded history about the war flag or Al-Lawae looked like and what was its color. Bani Abdul Al-Daar managed this function and it ceased its existence, when all of the 10 men capable to carry Al-Lawae were killed, in Battle of Uhad.

The national flag or Al-Uqaab was carried by Bani-Ummaiya. Its color was black and it probably had an eagle in its center. (Even today Egypt has the eagle on its flag, and during the 1960s Libya and Syria also had eagle symbol on their flags, as a sign of Arab nationality. Some other Arab countries also use eagle as their national symbol, e.g., U.A.E., and Iraq). The same name, i.e. Al-Uqaab, was used by Prophet for the Islamic Flag.
Syed Junaid Imam, 6 September 1999

The Flag of Constantinople

Constantinople or present Istanbul was the capital of Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire. Before Christ it was once sieged by Goths, when the Romans defeated the Goths, it was first of the lunar month. Therefore, to remember this occasion they added the new crescent on the city flag. Later, the direction of the crescent was inverted because the new crescent faces the pole side of the flag and looked odd. During the course of centuries, this crescent bearing flag spread all over Anatolia (Asian Turkey). Turkic tribes of Central Asia embraced Islam and their different tribes spread westward conquering heartlands of Asia Minor, including parts of Anatolia. Hence, when Ottomans became caliphs their flag was red colored with a green circle in the center and three yellow crescents all facing the right side. Then they altered the flag (this will be discussed in later part of this article).
Syed Junaid Imam, 6 September 1999

The Flags of the Islamic Era

The flags that were used by different caliphates were accepted as the Islamic flag during that time, because Islam has never associated itself with colors or symbols. Different caliphates which ruled Islamic world either the solely or partly were as follows:
Al-Rashida (including Hasan's era) 632-661 AD
Ummayyads (Ummayia) 661-750 AD
Caliphate of Abdullah Bin Zubair 683-692 AD
Caliphate of Ibn-Ashas of Iraq 701-702 AD
Abbasids (Abbasia) 749-1258 AD
Fatmids (Fatmia) of North Africa 909-1171 AD
Ummayads of Iberia 929-1031 AD
Hamoods of Iberia 1010-1055 AD
Almohades (Muhaddin) of North Africa       1130-1269 AD
Abbasids from Egypt 1260-1518 AD
Khiljis of India 1316-1321 AD
Ottomans (Usmania) 1518-1924 AD
Caliphate of Sharifs of Hijaz 1924-1925 AD

Now let's see which flags were used in different era:

Era of the Prophet

[Al-Uqaab] by Syed Junaid Imam, 6 September 1999

Islam has not symbolized itself with any particular object or symbol, but due to political reasons a flag was required to give a standard for Muslims, especially during the wars. The Prophet used flags of different colors in different Ghazwat (campaigns commanded by the Prophet) and Saraya (campaign commanded by any Sahabi). The major flag of the Prophet was known as "Al- Uqaab", it was pure black with and without symbol or marking. Its name and color was derived from Quraish's national flag.

Other minor flags were known as Al-Raya, the most important flag between them was white, others were red, yellow, and perhaps green and zebra-striped.
Syed Junaid Imam, 6 September 1999

Al-Rashida

All four Rashida Caliphs and Hasan followed the path of the Prophet and did not symbolize Islam with a standard. However, Uqaab - the black flag continued to be used in campaigns and also as the national flag of newly born Islamic Empire.
Syed Junaid Imam, 6 September 1999

Ummayyads

[Ummayyad flag] by Syed Junaid Imam, 6 September 1999

An authentic statement about the Ummaya flag is not available, however perhaps they used a white flag because this was also used by Ummayads of Spain later, giving me the feeling that this flag may be a memory of their glorious empire.
Syed Junaid Imam, 6 September 1999

Caliphate of Abdullah Bin Zubair

Abdullah Bin Zubair established a caliphate parallel to Ummayads, trying to revive Al-Rashida. His Caliphate enjoyed the status of mainstream caliphate until he was martyred by Hajjaj bin Yousuf. There is no authentic statement about the flag used by him. Perhaps he also used Uqaab because his capital was Makkah.
Syed Junaid Imam, 6 September 1999

Abbasids

Abbasids' national color was black; hence the flag was also black. But it had no connection with Al-Uqaab. The reason for their black color was that during Hashmi Movement (the movement to kick out Ummayyads), the Abbassi leader Imam Ibrahim was killed by the Ummayad government. In his mourning Abbasis adopted black color, which later became their symbol when they came to power. However, during 7th Abbasi caliph Mamun Al-Rasheed's (813-833 AD) era for a period of one and a half years green became the state's color and flag. Because Mamun appointed Imam Ali Rada (a descendant of Ali) as his crown prince and the standard Ali's family was green. After Imam AliRada's death the Abbasid's color returned to black.
Syed Junaid Imam, 6 September 1999

Fatmids of North Africa

[Fatmids] by António Martins-Tuválkin, 28 August 2008

Fatmids ruled most of the North Africa and for some time parts of West Asia. Fatmids belonged to Ismaili sect of Shiites (Shias). They claimed to be descendant of Ali, which has never been accepted by authentic sources. They used a green colored flag as being part house of Ali.
Syed Junaid Imam, 6 September 1999

[Fatmids] image located by Jakub Grombiř, 24 February 2011

At Wikipedia is this flag of the Fatemid Caliphate, the Arabic state which existed in the 10th and 11th centuries. It was centered in Cairo and ruled by the Shiite dynasty of Tunisian origin. At its peak it consisted of Northern Africa, the Levant and the Hijaz with 5 million km2 and more than 60 million people it was one of greatest empires at peoples history. The flag is described as a green oblong with a black crescent and star. Indeed, I am not sure if we could speak about flags in contemporary meaning at the Middle Age.
Jakub Grombiř, 24 February 2011

Ummayads of Iberia

Ummayads of Iberia ruled Muslim Iberia and for sometime parts of North Africa. Their flag was white.
Syed Junaid Imam, 6 September 1999

Almohades of North Africa

Almohades ruled North Africa and for sometime Muslim Iberia. Their national flag's color was white.
Syed Junaid Imam, 6 September 1999

Abbasids from Egypt

Abbasids of Egypt used black flag as a connection with original Abbasid caliphate.
Syed Junaid Imam, 6 September 1999

Ottomans

[Red national Ottoman flag] by Željko Heimer

[Green religious Ottoman flag] by Željko Heimer

Ottomans being Turks were using a crescent bearing flag. When Saleem I resumed power as the caliph, the Ottoman flag was red with a green circle and three yellow crescents. Ottomans for the first time separate the religious flag and the national flag. The national flag was red with crescent facing right, while the religious flag green with crescent facing right. Later, a five-cornered star was added to symbolize the five pillars of Islam.

This green flag with crescent and star became a standard Islamic flag and is used till date, and it is very interesting that most of the people think that this flag has been used by Muslims since the beginning. This crescent bearing flag has been used by different Muslim empires and nations in the history especially those having Turkish origin. This crescent flag with some variations is still in use by different Muslim entities, e.g., Algeria, Azerbaijan, Comoros, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Uzbekistan, and Western Sahara.
Syed Junaid Imam, 6 September 1999

See further discussion on our pages about the Ottoman Empire.

Other Caliphates

We don't have any recorded evidence about how were the flags of other caliphates i.e. caliphate of ibn-Ashas, Hamoods, Khiljis, Sharifs of Makkah.
Syed Junaid Imam, 6 September 1999