This page is part of © FOTW Flags Of The World website

Islamic flags

Last modified: 2003-12-27 by rob raeside
Keywords: islam | vexillology | crescent | star | moon | venus | tanit | green | turk | constantinople | religion |
Links: FOTW homepage | search | disclaimer and copyright | write us | mirrors



See also:

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


Evolution of Islamic Flags

by Syed Junaid Imam, 6 September 1999

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.

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Fatmids of North Africa

[Fatmids] by Syed Junaid Imam, 6 September 1999

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.

Ummayads of Iberia

Ummayads of Iberia ruled Muslim Iberia and for sometime parts of North Africa. Their flag was white.

Almohades of North Africa

Almohades ruled North Africa and for sometime Muslim Iberia. Their national flag's color was white.

Abbasids from Egypt

Abbasids of Egypt used black flag as a connection with original Abbasid caliphate.

Ottomans

[Red national Ottoman flag] by Zeljko Heimer

[Green religious Ottoman flag] 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.

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.

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 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 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.
Zeljko Heimer 24 July 1996

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 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

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 seme 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

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

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

Fahnen / Flaggen