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Islamic flags

Last modified: 2011-03-25 by rob raeside
Keywords: islam | vexillology | crescent | star | moon | venus | tanit | green | turk | constantinople | religion |
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International flags for Islam

Unless one takes a plain green banner (similar to Libya's) as a broad representation of Islam (said to have been borne by the Prophet Muhammad PBUH), there is not an Islamic flag.
The best representative body here would be the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1990. Photos from that time show a green flag, edged all around with white (though this may simply be a fringe, the sort of wide fringe often seen on Saudi flags), with a large white circle in the center, upon which is a red crescent, points up, and within the crescent the name of the body in calligraphic Arabic.
Beyond this, there is of course the Arab League, but this is "Arab" and not "Islamic."
Ed Haynes 6 October 1995

The international Red Crescent flag (used in Moslem countries where a Red Cross would not accord with Community Standards) could be considered as "representing Islam".
Will Linden 6 October 1995


Crescent and star

Below are several explanations, myths and rumors about the origin of the crescent and star. According to the magisterial Encyclopaedia of Islam, the first recorded appearance of the crescent and star in an Islamic context is on coins of A.D. 695. The Turks were using these devices as tribal totems before they ever left Central Asia. They were used to decorate mosques and other buildings and appeared on military flags no later than the 15th century A.D.
Joe McMillan, 7 July 2003

It is of interest that the moon and star appear on many coats of arms in countries like Hungary, indicating service in crusades (probably against Turks). In fact, my guess is that the symbols came about with the Turks; the Arabs don't seem to have adopted them much (Tunisia and Algeria excepted).
Alex Justice 9 August 1995

Origin of the Crescent and Star: the attack by Philip on Constantinople?

The Origins of the Islamic Crescent and Star from http://www.gabn.net/hassan/crescent.htm

"The Star and Crescent signifies concentration, openness and victory, as well as sovereignty and divinity. According to tradition, in 339 BC a brilliant waxing moon save Byzantium (now Istanbul) from attack by Philip of Macedon. To mark their gratitude, the citizens adopted the Crescent of Diana as the city's emblem. When the city became the Christian Constantinople in 330 AD, its Crescent assumed the significance of an attribute of the Virgin Mary.

In 1299, conquering what is now Turkey, Sultan Osman had a vision of a crescent moon stretching over the world; it thus became a symbol of the Ottoman dynasty, and when Constantinople fell to Muhammad II in 1453, the crescent came to represent both Islam and the Turkish empire. The star was added by Sultan Selim III in 1793 (its five points being established in 1844)."

This information found in "Signs & Symbols, page 42, by Clare Gibson and is available from Barnes & Noble Books. The ISBN number is 0-7607-0217-9
Giuseppe Bottasini, 28 September 1998

Byzantium was saved from Macedonian troops (under Philip) trying to tunnel in at night during a siege because the crescent moon was shining. They thus erected a statue of Diana, goddess of the moon, whose statues frequently showed her with a crescent moon. This simply remained during the Christian era (as Constantinople) and Muslim (as Istanbul), and spread to the rest of the Ottoman/Muslim world. The legend that Suleiman saw the horns of the crescent moon encompassing the whole world is likewise post facto (or else the crescent would be open to the bottom).
Nathan Lamm, 21 December 2002

Origin of the Crescent and Star: a conjunction seen by Mohammed?

A commonly used symbol of Islam, the crescent and star, may represent a "conjunction of the moon and Venus [that] took place in the dawn sky of July 23, 610" according to Gerald S. Hawkins, author of Stonehenge Decoded (Ahmad 1992). Some believe this night exactly coincides with the night in which the Prophet [Muhammad] received his initial revelation from God. While it is true that this night is very close to the actual night of the first revelation, it is not certain that it is the exact one (Ahmad 1992). (Aggour 1995).
Aggour, Kareem S.1995 Creation, Cosmogony, and Astronomy in Islam.
Ahmad, I.D. 1992 Signs in the Heavens: A Muslim Astronomer's Perspective on Religion and Science. Write's Inc. - International, Maryland.
Kareem S Aggour 19 July 1995

This cannot be so. If you check the lunar calendar thoroughly, you will see that the conjunction happened on June 10 of the year 609. However, the influence of that was not related to the beginning of revelations. Muslims all around the world started using crescent after 1453. However, Ottomans were using the crescent even before that (Thomas W. Arnold, History of Islam, Sarajevo, 1989), simply because it was the symbol they inherited from previous tribal life in the early medieval period (1000-1100). The Byzantines started using the crescent around 610 on Tzar Heraklie's birthday. They saw the conjunction of Venus and Moon (Charles Dille, Pictures of Byzant, Sarajevo, 1927)...
Velidaga Jerlagic, 24 September 1998

From an article at a website called "At The Edge" is an article on The Black Stone, by Bob Trubshaw and he makes references to the possible origins of the Crescent moon and stars on many Muslim flag.

"Returning to the geometric significance of the Ka'bah, Professor Hawkins has argued that it is exceedingly accurately aligned on two heavenly phenomena. These are the cycles of the moon and the rising of Canopus, the brightest star after Sirius. In a thirteenth-century Arabic manuscript by Mohammed ibn Abi Bakr Al Farisi it is stated that the alignment is set up for the setting crescent moon - an ancient symbol of the virgin-goddess which still appears in the national flags of many Islamic nations. In some flags - Algeria, Mauritania, Tunisia and Turkey - the crescent is accompanied by a star, perhaps representing Canopus."

T Funari, 12 May 1997

Origin of the Crescent and Star: a Babylonian symbol?

As far as I'm aware the crescent and star combination has a heritage directly linked to the Babylonian cult of Inana (who if I'm not mistaken was usually depicted as crowned with the crescent and star combination) - and with the numerous other equivalent female fertility cults of near eastern antiquity (e.g., the cult of Isis). Its subsequent adoption as an Islamic symbol is similar to the Christian appropriation of pagan symbolism elsewhere (e.g., the various European "Black Madonnas"), and is testament to the persistence of ancient systems of belief into late antiquity and early modern times.
George Cruickshank, 11 April 2001

The Astronomical Impossibility

The thing that always gets me about the crescent and star is that the way it is usually depicted is astronomically impossible, in that the star is in front of the disc of the moon.
James Dignan 23 July 1996

I believe that this is, sometimes oversimplified, an image of the planet Venus coming from behind the dark side of the moon. Of course, the star cannot be visible though the dark part of the moon's disc, at least until we (or someone else :-) make some big towns up there.
Željko Heimer 24 July 1996

A Decorative Design

I've never understood this problem. It's a decorative design, not a scientific depiction of an astronomical event. You never see the stars aligning themselves in eleven straight, staggered horizontal lines, either, but no one faults the arrangement of stars in the stars and stripes on that account.
Joe McMillan, 7 July 2003

Terminology for different orientations of crescents

This is an old thread on the different types of crescents. I found just recently in Smith (1975) this explanation on the pages of Mauritania:

"Heraldry recognizes different kinds of crescents, depending upon the direction in which the horns face. The decrescent or moon on the wane has horns to the sinister; the increscent's waxing moon faces to the dexter. 'Crescent' refers to one of the Mauritanian type with its horns upwards; the opposite is called a crescent reversed. These distinctions are never used in vexillology and even in heraldry are largely theoretical."

So that is what Whitney Smith says. I quite agree that it would not be much sense to use special terminology for different crescents - it is much easier to say where the horns are pointing. The upper division wouldn't give the description of Pakistani (pointing up toward fly) or Johor (Malaysia, pointing down toward fly), anyway. However this is the confirmation of my 'decrescent' term, that I couldn't find in any dictionary that I have.
Željko Heimer 10 August 1996

Legends arising from geographic crescents

The crescent and star in Islam comes from the Arabs (although the Turks also claim it) and their geography. The "Fertile Crescent" includes modern day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt. If you look at a map, these countries form a crescent shape the opposite of the Turkish Flag's crescent. The star comes from Cyprus, the Island near Syria and Lebanon. Some also say that pagan Turks brought the symbol into the Ummayed Empire when they were conscripted as soldiers.
Moustafa, 11 April 2001

Growing up in Lebanon the banner was regarded as a political symbol of the Islamic geography under the Ottoman state. Starting at the top in Europe and looping around the Mediterranean through North Africa/Western Arabia, then crossing to Andalusia (Spain). The Star in the middle is a representation of the islands that were under Ottoman influence. I believe that the number of islands changed over the era of the Ottoman state and so did the number of stars. The star and crescent banner around the Muslim countries is a leftover and a remake of the mother state, the Ottoman Empire. The Egyptian royal government had a similar flag with three stars.
Mouhamad Naboulsi, 21 December 2002

I feel this story to be post facto and rather stretched. What are the islands mentioned in the story anyway? Cyprus would be one, certainly, but all others seem of minor importance. Possibly Crete might be included, but after that all the islands in Eastern Mediterranean are "just islets" in comparison. And once Ottomans
reached the Aegean Sea the stars would have to be very densely semée on the flag for the theory to hold. Unless some other details are forthcoming, I would discard this as a "serious" story, but and I would include it as "flag legend".
Željko Heimer, 22 December 2002

The Crescent and Star used by King Richard I

It seems that in the 12th century the arms of the crescent were open to the top. King Richard I of England adopted the star and crescent as a royal badge, from the Emperor's standard of Governor Isaac Comnenus, after capturing Cyprus. Back in England, 'a crescent of gold on a shield of azure, with a blazing star of eight points, or rays of silver, between the horns', was granted to Portsmouth as the heraldic crest of the newly incorporated Royal borough. The English Admiralty took it as their emblem until the 16th century, when perhaps as a result of the fall of Constantinople, it was replaced by another emblem of Richard I, the Anchor of Hope. Rear-Admiral R.M. Blomfield writing in about 1900 pointed out in 'Origin and History of Admiralty Badges', that "Had the old badge been retained, the Admiralty and Ottoman flags would now be identical." The star and crescent is still on the arms of Portsmouth and between 1936 and 1939 appeared on the Blue Ensign of the Portsmouth Yacht Club.
David Prothero, 22 December 2002