Black Standard

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This article is about the black flag banner standard of Muhammad. For other black flags, see Black Flag (disambiguation). For other black banners, see Black Banner (disambiguation).
"Ar-raya" redirects here. For other uses, see Arraya (disambiguation).
Solid black flag

The Black Banner or Black Standard (راية السوداء rāyat al-sawdā' , also known as راية العقاب rāyat al-`uqāb "banner of the eagle" or simply as الراية al-rāya "the banner") is one of the flags flown by Muhammad in Islamic religion, a symbol in Islamic eschatology (heralding the advent of the Mahdi),[1] and also a symbol used in Islamism and jihadism.


First flag of Islam[edit]

Main article: Al-Is Caravan Raid

The first flag of Islam was used during the Al-Is Caravan Raid. According to Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar), a modern Islamic hagiography of Muhammad written by the Indian Muslim author Safi ur-Rahman Mubarakpuri, Muhammad ordered the first caravan raid led by Hamza ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib (Muhammad's uncle) seven to nine months after the Hijra, the migration of Muhammad and his followers to the city of Medina in 622 CE. A party of thirty to forty men assembled at the seacoast near al-Is, between Mecca and Medina, where Amr ibn Hishām (Abu Jahl), the leader of the caravan was camping with three hundred Meccan riders.[2][3][4][5]

Hamza met Abu Jahl there with a view to attack the caravan, but Majdi bin Amr al-Juhani, a Quraysh who was friendly to both the parties intervened between them; so, both parties separated without fighting. Hamza returned to Medina and Abu Jahl proceeded towards Mecca. Muhmmad also entrusted the first flag of Islam to Kinaz bin Husain an Ghanawi.[2][3][4][5][6]


Before Islam, visible standards were used at least in the Roman army to identify the core of the Roman legionsthe Eagles. By the middle 600s AD, the Arabs were using standards for the same purpose. Among the Arabs the rāya was a square banner; not to be confused with the liwāʼ or ʻalam, an identifying mark like a red turban.[7]

Islamic tradition states that the Quraysh tribe had a black liwāʼ and a white-and-black rāya.[8] It further states that Muhammad had an ʻalam in white, nicknamed "The Young Eagle (العقاب, al-ʻuqāb)"; and a rāya in black, said to be made from his wife Aisha's head-cloth.[9]

This larger flag was known as the Eagle.[10] The name may have referred to the Byzantine eagle.[citation needed]

The tradition reports Muhammad said that the advent of the Mahdi would be signalled by "Black Standards" proceeding from Khurasan.[11]

At the Battle of Siffin it was said that ʻAli used the liwāʼ of the Prophet, which as noted above was white;[7] but those who fought with him did use black banners as well.[12]

Flag of Afghanistan (1880–1901)[edit]

Solid black flag; flag of the Emirate of Afghanistan from 1880 to 1901

Ahmadiyya Black Flag[edit]

Flag of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, first designed in the 1930s. For Ahmadi Muslims, it symbolizes the descent of the Mahdi.

A symbol in Ahmadiyya eschatology (heralding the advent of the Mahdi, for example, the black flag of the reformist Ahmadiyya movement.

Historical use[edit]

The Abbasid Revolution against the Umayyad Caliphate adopted black for its rāya; for which their partisans were called the musawwids.[13] Their rivals chose other colours in reaction; among these, forces loyal to Marwan II adopted red.[14]

After the revolution, Islamic apocalyptic circles admitted that the Abbasid banners would be black but asserted that the Mahdi's standard would be black and larger.[11] Anti-Abbasid circles cursed "the black banners from the East", "first and last".[15]

The Bábí leader Mullá Husayn-i-Bushru'i raised the Black Standard in his westward march from Mashhad starting 21 July 1848, to proclaim the Báb's message. The people of Barfurush confronted the march and a series of battles ensued. The Bábís stopped and built the fort Shaykh Tabarsi which developed into one of the most significant battles of the Bábí religion. It is reported the Black Standard flew above the fortress.[16]

The flag flown by the Emirate of Afghanistan under Abdur Rahman Khan (1880–1901) was also solid black.

As Arab nationalism developed in the early 20th century, the black within the Pan-Arab colours was chosen to represent the black banner of Muhammad, while the name of "The Eagle" gave rise to the eagle depicted in the flag of the Federation of Arab Republics (1972), which survives as the modern flag of Egypt.

Jihadist black flag[edit]

The Black Standard as used by various Islamist organisations (since the late 1990s) consists of a white-on-black shahada.
The shahada placed above a rendition of the historical seal of Muhammad, in use by Al-Shabaab and Islamic State of Iraq (later Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) since 2006.
The beheading of Jack Hensley in September 2004. The flag shows the shahada in white, above a white circle surrounded by the name jamaa'tul tawhid wal jihad in yellow script.

A black flag with the shahada inscribed in white appeared on jihadist websites from at least 2001.[17] Even though the historical black banner did not have any inscription, this variant is commonly known[by whom?] as al-rāya (the banner) or as rayat al-ʻuqab (banner of the eagle) after the hadith tradition, and some western observers[who?] have dubbed it the black flag of jihad.[18][19] Islamic extremist organizations which have used such a black flag include:

In the last decade of the South Thailand insurgency, the al-Raya flag has largely replaced the colourful secessionist flags formerly used by the different groups involved in violent actions against the government of Thailand.[20][21]

Some variant designs depict the second phrase of the shahada in the form of the historical seal of Muhammad.[22]


The holding of the flag is often accompanied by a single raised index finger. The symbolism behind this hand gesture alludes to their fundamentalist interpretation of the tawhid—"the belief in the oneness of God and a key component of the Muslim religion."[23]

Bans and proposed bans[edit]

In August 2014, British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that anybody displaying the black standard in the United Kingdom should be arrested.[24]

It is also banned from public demonstration in the Netherlands, since August 2014.[25]

The use of the image or the flag for non-educational purposes has been forbidden in Germany by the Federal Ministry of the Interior since September 2014.[26] Neighbouring Austria proposed a ban in the same month.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David Cook (2002). Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic. Darwin Press. p. 197.  from Majlisi,
  2. ^ a b Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar (Free Version), p. 127.
  3. ^ a b Mubarakpuri, When the Moon Split, p. 147.
  4. ^ a b Haykal, Husayn (1976), The Life of Muhammad, Islamic Book Trust, pp. 217–218, ISBN 978-983-9154-17-7 
  5. ^ a b Hawarey, Dr. Mosab (2010). The Journey of Prophecy; Days of Peace and War (Arabic). Islamic Book Trust. ISBN 9789957051648. Note: Book contains a list of battles of Muhammad in Arabic, English translation available here
  6. ^ Muḥammad Ibn ʻAbd al-Wahhāb, Mukhtaṣar zād al-maʻād, p. 345.
  7. ^ a b Martin Hinds, "The Banners and Battle Cries at Siffin" as published in Studies in Early Islamic History 4 (Darwin, 1996), 97-142; 104-6
  8. ^ Hinds, 133
  9. ^ David Nicolle (1993). Armies of the Muslim Conquest. Osprey Publishing. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-85532-279-0. 
  10. ^ Hinds, 108
  11. ^ a b David Cook (2002). Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic. Darwin Press. p. 153.  from the Fitan of Nu`aym and the Ahwal of Safarini. Also Cook, 125 and 206. Note that this particular tradition is ambiguous about whether the Mahdi himself would choose the black banner. Other traditions will be less circumspect (see below).
  12. ^ Hinds, 109
  13. ^ Tabari (1995), Jane McAuliffe, ed., Abbāsid Authority Affirmed 28, SUNY, p. 124 
  14. ^ Patricia Crone (2012). The Nativist Prophets of Early Islam.  p. 122. As remembered in pro-Umayyad apocalyptic: Cook. p. 125.  Missing or empty |title= (help).
  15. ^ Cook. p. 243.  Missing or empty |title= (help) from Haythami. Also Cook, 44 from Nu`aym.
  16. ^ Smith, Peter (2000). A Concise Encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oneworld Publications, (Sales and Editorial), 185 Banbury Road, Oxford, OX2 7AR. ISBN 1-85168-184-1. 
  17. ^ Reported on Flags of the World by Santiago Tazon on 17 November 2001: "I have found in several 'hard Islamic' websites the symbol of a white Taliban flag crossed with its inverted colour version (probably identified as Al‑Qaeda flag): black background with shahada in white. I do not know if this flag is recognised by Al‑Qaeda; but it is normally flying in pro-Al-Qaeda sites."[1]
  18. ^ The Economist, Extremist ideology: Jail, jihad and exploding kittens, 2014-11-01
  19. ^ For example: Perlmutter, Dawn (2014-08-19). "Black Flag in Jersey: A Jihadist Identifier Camouflaged". Frontpage Mag. Retrieved 2014-12-15. [...] an obvious terrorist identifier, the ‘Black Flag of Jihad’, has been successfully camouflaged as a benign symbol of faith, protected in the media by political correctness and Muslim apologetics. 
  20. ^ Neojihadism and YouTube: Patani militant propaganda dissemination and radicalization
  21. ^ Bomb blast in Pattani misses Aree
  22. ^ The SITE (Search for International Terrorist Entities) website on 23 January 2007 stated: "The Islamic State of Iraq issued a document titled: 'The Legality of the Flag in Islam,' which contains the image of its flag and information to its symbolism, today, Tuesday, January 23, 2007. Text on the flag reading, 'No God, but Allah, and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger,' are the words contained on the flag of the Prophet Muhammad that he carried into battle and handed to generations of bearers. The Islamic State provides evidence and legitimacy for this banner from Islamic scholars, and goes into detail regarding opinions of the flag’s material, title, and significance. According to the group the circular shape matches the ring stamp of the Prophet found on many scripts, and the order of the words are to indicate the supremacy of Allah over the Messenger." Cited by Ivan Sache at Flags of the World on 18 February 2007.[2]
  23. ^ Skoler, Michael (5 September 2014). "ISIS has a new hand sign—and it means far more than ‘We’re #1’". Public Radio International. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  24. ^ "Iraq crisis: Cameron warns of possible IS threat to UK". BBC News. 16 August 2014. Retrieved 17 August 2014. 
  25. ^ Cluskey, Peter (2 August 2014). "Dutch ban display of Isis flag in advance Amsterdam march". Irish Times. Retrieved 19 November 2014. 
  26. ^ Eddy, Melissa (12 September 2014). "Germany Bans Support for ISIS". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 November 2014. 
  27. ^ "Austria bans Isis terror symbols". The Local. 12 September 2014. Retrieved 19 November 2014. 

External links[edit]