Last modified: 2003-12-27 by rob raeside
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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
The history of Islamic flags dates back to pre-Islamic times (Al-Jahilya). There are two sources of Islamic flags:
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.
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).
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:
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.
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.
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.
by Zeljko 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 countries, e.g., Algeria, Azerbaijan, Comoros, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Uzbekistan, and Western Sahara.
See further discussion on our pages about the Ottoman Empire.
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
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 BC, 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
Nathan Lamm, 21 December 2002
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
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 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
Zeljko Heimer 24 July 1996
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 woudn'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.
Zeljko Heimer 10 August 1996
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".
Zeljko Heimer, 22 December 2002
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
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