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Like announced, I'll start a thread on the symbolism of the (in)famous black & white banner in #Islam. This comprehensive thread will explore its historical origins and cover a list of its contemporary users from a neutral #academic point of view. Not for the faint of heart. 😄
As a political leader & head of a growing religious community, the #prophet Muḥammad used to fly a banner (liwāʾ) and a flag (rāya). The difference? According to the #dictionary, a banner is "a long piece of cloth" while a flag is "a piece of cloth that represents a group."
The Companion Ibn al-ʿArabī was quoted in Fatḥ al-Bārī (6/147) as saying: "A banner is what is tied to the side of a spear to rally around, while a flag is that which is planted and left to be waved by the wind."
The banner (liwāʾ) of the #prophet was plain white. Al-Tirmidhī narrated in his Sunan - Book of Jihād on authority of Jābir that the prophet Muḥammad "entered Mekka with his white banner." The conquest of Mekka occurred in 630 AD and marked a decisive #Muslim victory.
Ibn Abī Shayba narrated in his Muṣnaf on authority of ʿAmra bint ʿAbd al-Raḥmān that she said: "The banner of God's Messenger ṣallā Allāh ʿaleyhi wa sallam was white." It should be mentioned that both this narration and the one mentioned above are regarded as authentic.
The flag of the prophet, and thus the earliest #Muslim community was a black square cloth. Al-Tirmidhī narrated in his Sunan - Book of Jihād on authority of Ibn ʿAbbās that he said: "The flag of #God's Messenger ṣallā Allāh ʿaleyhi wa sallam was black and his banner was white."
Al-Nasāʾī narrated in his Sunan al-Kubrā on the authority of Yūnus ibn ʿUbayd that he said: "Muḥammad ibn al-Qāsim sent me to al-Barāʾ ibn ʿĀzib to ask him about the flag of God's Messenger ṣallā Allāh ʿaleyhi wa sallam. He told me it was a black 'namira' square."
ʿAbd al-Ḥayy al-Kattānī mentions the term 'namira' in his book Niẓām al-ḥukūma al-nabawiyya (1/266), explaining it with regard to the flag as a black wool or velvet cloth with some white threads or white spots present.
We learn from the historical texts on the prophet's flag that this black, square flag was nicknamed "al-ʿUqāb", which can be translated as young eagle. Eagles native to the Ḥijāz region, like the Golden #Eagle or Verreaux's Eagle are indeed of a rather dark color.
In a narration with a strong chain but one weak narrator due to his old age, Ibn ʿAbbās said: "The flag of God's Messenger ṣallā Allāh ʿaleyhi wa sallam was black and his banner white, written on it: Lā Ilāha Illā Allāh”. This was mentioned by al-Ṭabarānī in his Awsaṭ.
It is important that we focus on a collection of narrations claimed to date back to the prophet Muḥammad on the black flags from Central-Asia (Khorāsān). These narrations are popularly iterated among certain #Muslim circles, and involve the return of the Mehdī.
These are several narrations, but they all report on black flags raised in the East, effectively heralding the arrival of the Mehdī and his army of faithful believers. It's safe to say that none of these narrations is authentic or trustworthy. They range from weak to very weak.
It's noteworthy that these narrations could've been further reinforced by #Abbasid propagandists. During the Abbasid Revolution of 747-750 AD, Abū Muslim al-Khorāsānī led thousands of soldiers from Central-Asia against the #Umayyads. These narrations could then come in handy.
This brings us seamlessly to the #Abbasids, who were famous for brandishing the black banner. According to Abbasid narrations, the black flag was given Abū al-‘Abbās in a dream by the prophet Muḥammad. Abū al-‘Abbās, nicknamed al-Saffāḥ, was the first Abbasid #caliph.
In their revolution against the #Umayyads, the Abbasids made grateful use of the above-mentioned messianic narration. With a few exceptions, the Abbasids kept using the black flag as their personal attribute. Above text: "The Shaping of 'Abbasid Rule" (1980) by Jacob Lassner.
After the Abbasids, the black flag generally fell into disuse. The #Mamluks used their yellow flags, and the #Ottomans used a myriad of flags with different symbols, as featured in my other threads. Only with the resurgence of Islamic activism in the 20th c., the flag reappeared.
One of the earliest examples is the flag of the Ikhwān, including the one used during their 1927-1929 revolt against 'Abd al-'Azīz Āl Sa'ūd and his #British allies. This was a black flag with a white shahāda and sword on it. This was a major symbol for their puritan intentions.
The Ikhwān served as a Bedouin army for the nascent Third #Saudi State, helping to establish it as a kingdom in the Peninsula. Influenced by the teachings of the 18th c. scholar Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb however, they turned against 'Abd al-'Azīz but were eventually defeated.
In no way was (and is) the black and white flag limited to Islamic revival activism, with which it is currently mainly associated. Beautiful pictures of a 1900 Nebī Mūsā ceremony in #Palestine show #Muslims brandishing ("holy") black and white flags during the procession.
The Nebī Mūsā ceremony was a pilgrimage to the supposed grave of the #prophet Moses, said to been buried there. This was accompanied by celebration and a procession. The black and white flags were seen as the colors of the prophet Muḥammad, and thus played an important role.
The black & white flag is also adopted by the Aḥmadiyya community, who attach great importance to its eschatological meaning with regard to the return of the Mehdī, as mentioned above. Indeed, they believe their founder, Ghulām Aḥmad was appointed by God as Mehdī and #Messiah.
One of the major proponents of the black and white banner on a global scale is Ḥizb al-Taḥrīr, a non-violent political organization calling for the establishment of an #Islamic caliphate. Found in 1953 by the Palestinian Taqī al-Dīn al-Nabahānī, it has spread over the world.
The flag the organization & its adherents among others use is black with a white, stylized shahāda or its inverted version. For the movement, the colors black and white unequivocally represent the #Islamic state & the rule of sharīʿa, a goal they invest all their energy in.
I recreated the flag used by Doku Umarov and his militia during the North Caucasus Insurgency. Although other flags are used, this one stands out as it doesn't feature the shahāda but rather the takbīr. Umarov (d. 2014) led the Caucasus Emirate against #Russia and its proxies.
This flag might be a remnant of a previously used banner by the Caucasian Front (dissolved in 2007). That flag featured the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria flag with a black & white takbīr added in the center. This takbīr & sword combo became characteristic for the Chechen jihād.
Just like al-Ṭabarānī in his Awsaṭ, Ibn Ḥajar comments in his Fatḥ al-Bārī on the above mentioned narration of Ibn 'Abbās. And just like al-Ṭabarānī he mentions that it is said that something in black might've been written on the prophet's white banner.
The fact that this is mentioned by two well-known Muslim scholars and connects to an existing narration, leads me to belief that, although not necessarily standardized, there were instances of writing appearing on the earliest #Muslim banners (and flags).
From the ashes of the #Iraqi Insurgency against the US-led coalition, a new flag design appeared. It proved to be so popular that it soon spread across the entire #Muslim world. This flag design combined a black banner with a white shahāda and Seal of Muḥammad.
In 2005, Muslim militants calling themselves the Sarāyā al-Mujāhidīn fī al-ʿIrāq published a picture of a supposed US soldier taken hostage. The group was a rather small one with limited operations, but its banner, which I recreated, was to become the precursor of another flag...
The Jamāʿa al-Tawḥīd wal-Jihād (led by al-Zarqāwī) was very active during the 2003-2004 #Iraq insurgency stage, taking several hostages. They posed in front of a black banner with a white disc and shahāda, the disc surrounded by the group's name. Below picture date from 2004.
Both these flags feature an empty, white disc, representing the Seal of Muḥammad (check out my thread on that symbol). This was to remain a popular design in #Iraq, be it in white or in yellow, until 2007-2008, when "Muḥammad Rasūl Allāh" was written on the white disc.
Indeed, a flag was found by a #US officer in #Iraq's Diyala Province in 2008, said to belong to the Islamic State of Iraq, a local branch of al-Qāʿida originated from the above mentioned JTJ. Their flag differed barely from the previous ones, being made out of existing elements.
This flag also appears on some of their videos, but not before 2008. This flag would be used by many militant #Muslim groups, from AQAP, AQIM and al-Shabāb to smaller groups like Jund Anṣār Allāh and Jund al-Shām. Subsequently, it was adopted by IS(IS) in 2014.
Anṣār al-Islām is an #Iraqi insurgency group established in Iraqi #Kurdistan in 2001 and active during the war in Iraq against the American-led forces. They also took part in the #Syrian Civil War. Though many announced allegiance to ISIS in 2014, a part remained independent.
*Sees black and white banner*
"This is an ISIS DAESH flag!"

Hey. This is Steve. Steve thinks all black and white banners are Daesh. Don't be like Steve. Read below post.

So @CalibreObscura posted some pictures of the #Gaza-based militant group Jaysh al-Islām. They interestingly enough use vertically hoisted flags, effectively rotating the shahāda so it's still being read horizontally. I recreated their flag, which consists of several symbols.
Their flag shows an open muṣḥaf (Quran book) flanked by a scimitar with a world globe on the background. The white banner of the prophet Muḥammad flies above it all. The group was formed in 2006 and strives to fight their #Zionist enemies and to establish sharīʿa rule.
The Assembly of Islamic Clerics (جمیعت علمائے اسلام) is a political party in #Pakistan of #Sunni Deobandi orientation. Established in 1945, it strives for the establishment of sharīʿa and has a long history of madrasa education. Their banner is alternately black & white stripes.
In 1980, the party split over internal differences towards president Muḥammad Ḍiyā al-Ḥaqq's policies, forming two separate factions. The factions are largely pro-peace, investing in the establishment of 1000's of schools & mosques and opposing US drone-strikes within Pakistan
There exists a theory among scholars of late-#Medieval history and the so-called Golden Age of #Piracy (17th century) that the (in)famous Jolly Roger flag actually originated from the extensive interaction between European and #Muslim Barbary corsairs.
Between the 11th and 17th century, the Mediterranean became the scene for the North #African corsairs' hegemony of slave-taking, piracy, ransoming and plundering, often at the expense of #Christian vessels and coastal towns.
In "The Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow and North Africa's One Million European Slaves" (2004), Milton describes the arrival of a pirate fleet off the coast of #Cornwall in the SW of #England: "The flags on their mainmasts depicted a human skull on a dark green background."
Except for this account, based on the Domestic Series, 1625-6, John Bruce (ed) 1858, there's little evidence to link the #Muslim black banner with the Jolly Roger. Despite the lack of more information, some interesting points could be made with regard to a possible origin story.
Dhū al-Faqqār was most commonly featured on Barbary pirates' flags, most notably the banner of Pasha Barbaros Hayrettin. However, Dhū al-Faqqār flags were commonly misinterpreted by medieval #European painters (and flag authorities) as flags showing scissors/crossing sabers.
A perfect example is the maritime flag of Morocco as seen on "Flaggen aller seefahrenden Potenzen und Nationen der gantzen Weldt" (1730 - Nuremberg). But the flag of the 17th c. pirate Republic of Salé featured in Bowles's 1783 chart of naval flags makes it really interesting.
The republic of Salé was (in)famous for its corsairs, most famously #Dutch convert to Islam Jan Janszoon. It was to Salé that the above mentioned Thomas Pellow was taken after his enslavement in 1625. The two blades of the sword resemble two crossed swords.
The Barbary corsairs were no strangers to brandishing the black and white banner as well, which may also have influenced the colors of the Jolly Roger. According to the Catalan Atlas (1375), the coastal town of Annaba (#Algeria) had a white flag with black crescent.
According to the 14th century Castilian "Book of All Kingdoms", the flag of #Tunis was as well white with a black crescent and the flag of Brischan, a town located on the Mediterranean coast near Bejaia, white with a black hexagram.
The prevalence of black and white banners, the two blades of Dhū al-Faqqār, possibly skulls and the reputation of the Barbary corsairs must have made this symbolism into a terrifying new image, the Jolly Roger, a generic name for the pirate flags first attested in the 18th c.
The #Barbary corsairs didn't only exercise influence on their European enemies, but also on European pirates. The Englishman Jack Ward, Dutchmen Jan Janszoon, Ivan de Veenboer and Simon de Danser were all Europeans affiliated with Barbary piracy and fought under their banners.
Jaysh al-ʿAdl was founded in 2012 as the offshoot of ʿAbd al-Mālik Rīgī's Jund Allāh, Iranian #Sunni militants based in Sistan & Baluchistan. The group is active in the SE of #Iran. Their black banner features the shahāda and a scimitar with "Jaysh al-ʿAdl Iran" written under.
A variant is a black flag with a white triangle issuing from the hoist. In the triangle, the takbīr (Allāhu Akbar). Under the triangle: "Jaysh al-ʿAdl Iran". The group's most notable attack was in 02/2019, when a bomber targeted an #IRGC bus killing 27. (Flags recreated by me.)
The national banner of the Islamic Emirate of #Afghanistan (1996-2001), since then commonly known as the #Taliban Movement, is a white banner with a black shahāda. The ratio is 1:2 and it was re-used as a political flag after the opening of their #Qatar embassy (4th image).
The flag of the Kingdom of #Afghanistan (1926-1973) was a black & white banner featuring the well-known Afghan national seal within a wreath. This design was used by king Amānullāh Khān until 1928, and was the last in a long line of black & white banners used by #Pashtun emirs.
The use of black banners with white imprint was popular among the Muslim emigrants collectively known as the Bosnian Mujahideen. They were organized into the Mujahideen Battalion (Odred El Mudžahidin) in cooperation with the #Bosnian army. Check out their banner below.
Although the volunteers of the Odred El Mudžahidin incidentally recruited local Muslims, the Bosnian Army officially formed the 7th Muslim Brigade in the winter of 1992 to accomodate local Bosniak #Muslim mountain infantry. Their banner was green with a black or white shahāda.
The black and white standard of Muḥammad Aḥmed (1844-1885), a #Sudanese Muslim cleric who proclaimed himself the eschatological Mahdī and led an uprising against the Egyptians, culminating in the #Mahdist War. This flag was captured at Omdurman in 1898 - National Army Museum.
The inscription translates as: "O God, O Most Merciful, O Most Pitiful, O Eternal, O Everlasting, O you owner of glory and bounty. There is no god but God. Muḥammad is the prophet of #God. Muḥammad the Mahdī the caliph of God's Messenger". Image: #Battle of Abu Klea (1885)
The amazing @FoxXudosi posted recently some pictures of an emigrant fighter somewhere in northwestern #Syria. I noticed that he wore a special patch, featuring the Islamic shahāda in a unique calligraphy. Below it, the name "Tanẓīm Qāʿida al-Jihād ʿalā Arḍ al-Shām"
We looked around for more info on this patch. It features the full name of the former Jabhat al-Nuṣra, as transliterated above, and his origin can be traced back to a former #Soviet Central Asian country, possibly #Uzbekistan. This might indicate membership to a subunit of HTS.
It turned out to be different. @FoxXudosi remembered these pictures of the emigrant fighter and some former JN militants of Ḥurrās al-Dīn with the exact same calligraphy style as the patch. That the former title of #JN is reused indicates a claim of legitimacy and legacy.
A clearer view of the patch, thanks to @FoxXudosi and @CalibreObscura. The sentence Tanẓīm Qāʿidat al-Jihād ʿalā Arḍ al-Shām below the shahāda is actually an interesting choice of words. It uses the word ʿalā (على) instead of fī (في), which was mostly used by Jabhat al-Nuṣra.
ʿAlā (على) grammatically indicates superimposition of an object on another, separate object. Fi (في) indicates a locality of an object within another separate object, becoming part of it. That's an interesting linguistic approach with a deeper ideological meaning. #Syria #JN #HuD
Fatḥ al-Islām was a #Lebanese militant group based in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bārid as of 2006. Founded by #Palestinian veteran Shākir al-ʿAbsī (with grey beard), the group independently led an armed insurgency against Lebanese and #Syrian security forces.
Their banner features the Islamic shahāda in a distinctive #Arabic calligraphy, a modern rendition of foliate #kufic with very pronounced tashkīl diacritics. As of 2012, the group ceased to actively exist due to the death of many key figures of the relatively small organization.
I received some EXCLUSIVE images as part of a private collection in Belgium of a black/white standard of Muḥammad Aḥmed (1844-1885), a #Sudanese cleric who proclaimed himself the eschatological Mahdī and led an uprising against the Egyptians, culminating in the #Mahdist War.
It looks like tar on burlap. The owner purchased the banner in the 1970's from an #English family with a long-standing history in the #British army. Although obviously damaged, the banner's text matches with the National Army Museum's complete version I posted earlier.
Militants of Ḥurrās al-Dīn finishing their training today at the Ibrāhīm al-Rubaysh (high-ranking #AQAP member killed in 2015) training camp. Several different black and white flags/patches are featured, including the group's personal banner (with scimitar and buckler).
Because some people keep talking about "the IS flag", I'll make a list of some groups unrelated to #IS using the black banner with white kufic tawḥīd and Seal of Muḥammad pre-2013. I talked about this banner earlier, this flag design appearing in #Iraq from 2005 onward.
Al-Shabāb (#Somalia) - Earliest picture I could find featuring this banner was August 2009. This flag became their main banner in the years to come, despite having started with the thuluth flag of the complete shahāda.
Flags with thuluth calligraphy used by al-Shabāb earlier on. Both picture date from 2009, respectively December and May.
A member of Jund Anṣār Allāh (#Palestine) shrouded in the banner. This picture was taken in August 2009 as well, after fierce fighting had taken place between the group and Ḥamās, centered at the Ibn Taymiyya Mosque in #Gaza.
Syrian opposition fighters somewhere around #Aleppo. The photo is dated September 2012.
The leadership of al-Qāʿida in the Arabian Peninsula (#AQAP), in front of the black banner with white Seal of Muḥammad. From left to right: Qāsim al-Raymī, Saʿīd al-Shihrī, Nāṣir al-Wuḥayshī and Muḥammad al-ʿAwfī. Photo is still from a January 2009 video.
The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa and their allies from Anṣār al-Dīn were Fulani and Tuareg militants involved in the Northern #Mali conflict. Both photo's date from 2012 and this banner was widely used as road sign in the groups' conquered territories.
Fighters from the Tawhid and Jihad Group in the Land of the #Philippines of Pride posing for a photo taken somewhere in October 2012. The group was led by Abū ʿAtīqa al-Muhājir, and operated largely around the southern island #Mindanao.
IS militants somewhere in the Yarmouk Camp in #Damascus. Between April 2015-April 2018, the district was part of the Islamic State group's territories as an enclave. The flag shown here differs from their usual banner,as the Seal of Muḥammad isn't whitened. Thx @p_vanostaeyen
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