Black Standard

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"Ar-raya" redirects here. For other uses, see Arraya (disambiguation).
Solid black flag; flag of the Emirate of Afghanistan from 1880 to 1901.
The "black flag of jihad" as used by various Islamist organisations (since the late 1990s) consists of a white-on-black shahada
Flag used by Caucasian Mujahideen in 2002. The design shows the phrase al-jihad fi sabili llahi and the takbir rather than the 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 Syria) 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.

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, an eschatological symbol in Shi'a Islam (heralding the advent of the Mahdi),[1] and a symbol used in Islamism and Jihadism.


Before Islam, visible standards were used at least in the Roman army to identify the core of the legion – the Eagles. By the middle 600s CE, the Arabs were using standards for the same purpose. Among the Arabs the rāya was a square banner; not to be confused with the liwā' or `alam, an identifying mark like a red turban.[2]

Islamic tradition states that the Quraysh had a black liwā' and a white-and-black rāya.[3] It further states that Muhammad had an `alam in white, nicknamed "The Young Eagle (العقاب al-`uqāb)"; and (relevant here) a rāya in black, said to be made from his wife Aisha's head-cloth.[4] This larger flag was known as the Eagle.[5] The name may have referred to the Byzantine eagle.[citation needed]

The tradition reports Muhammad said that the advent of the Mahdi would be signaled by "Black Standards" proceeding from Khorasan.[6]

At Siffin it was said that `Ali used the liwā' of the Prophet, which as noted above was white;[2] but those who fought with him did use black banners as well.[7]

Historical use[edit]

Historically the Abbasid Revolution adopted black for its rāya; for which their partisans were called the musawwids.[8] Their rivals chose other colours in reaction; among these, forces loyal to Marwan II adopted red.[9]

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.[6] Anti-Abbasid circles cursed "the black banners from the East", "first and last".[10]

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.[11]

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]

A black flag with the shahada inscribed in white was spotted on Jihadist websites from at least 2001. Even though the historical black banner did not have any inscription, this variant is commonly known as al-rāya "the banner" or rayat al-`uqab "banner of the eagle" after the hadith tradition, and has been dubbed the black flag of jihad by western observers.[12] Islamic extremist organizations that used such a black flag include al‑Qaeda, al‑Shabaab, the Islamic Courts Union, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and Hizbul Islam (2009). Some variant designs depict the second phrase of the shahada in the form of the historical seal of Muhammad.[13]

In August 2014, British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that anybody displaying the black standard in the United Kingdom should be arrested.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David Cook (2002). Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic. Darwin Press. p. 197.  from Majlisi.
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ Hinds, 133
  4. ^ David Nicolle (1993). Armies of the Muslim Conquest. Osprey Publishing. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-85532-279-0. 
  5. ^ Hinds, 108
  6. ^ 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).
  7. ^ Hinds, 109
  8. ^ Tabari (1995), Jane McAuliffe, ed., Abbāsid Authority Affirmed 28, SUNY, p. 124 
  9. ^ 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).
  10. ^ Cook. p. 243.  Missing or empty |title= (help) from Haythami. Also Cook, 44 from Nu`aym.
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ 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]
  13. ^ 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]
  14. ^ "Iraq crisis: Cameron warns of possible IS threat to UK". BBC News. 16 August 2014. Retrieved 17 August 2014. 

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