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A Chinese Muslim flag with the Zulfiqar, and Ali represented as a lion (dated to the late 18th or the 19th century)
An early 19th-century Ottoman Zulfiqar flag

Zulfiqar (Arabic: ذُو ٱلْفَقَار, romanizedḎū-l-Faqār, IPA: [ðuː‿l.faˈqaːr]), also spelled Zu al-Faqar, Zulfikar, Dhu al-Faqar, Dhulfaqar or Dhulfiqar, is the sword of Ali ibn Abi Talib.

Middle Eastern weapons are commonly inscribed with a quote mentioning Zulfiqar,[1] and Middle Eastern swords are at times made with a split tip in reference to the weapon.[2]


The meaning of the name is uncertain. The word ḏhu (ذُو) means "possessor, master", and the idafa construction "possessor of..." is common in Arabic phraseology, such as in Dhu al-Qarnayn, Dhu al-Kifl, Dhu al-Qadah and Dhu al-Hijjah.

The meaning of faqār (فَقَار), means "splitter, differentiatior". It is often vocalized as fiqār instead of faqār; Lane cites authorities preferring faqār however the vocalization fiqār still sees more widespread use. The word faqār has the meaning of "the vertebrae of the back, the bones of the spine, which are set in regular order, one upon another", but may also refer to other instances of regularly spaced rows, specifically it is a name of the stars of the belt of Orion.

Interpretations of the sword's name as found in Islamic theological writings or popular piety fall into four categories:[3]

  • reference to the stars of the belt of Orion, emphasizing the celestial provenance of the sword
  • interpretation of faqār as an unfamiliar plural of fuqrah "notch, groove, indentation", interpreted as a reference to a kind of decoration of regularly spaced notches or dents on the sword
  • reference to a "notch" formed by the sword's supposed termination in two points
  • reference to the literal vertebrae of the spine, yielding an interpretation in the sense of "the severer of the vertebrae; the spine-splitter"

The latter interpretation gives rise to the popular depiction of the sword as a double-pointed scimitar in modern Shia iconography. Heger (2008) considers two additional possibilities:

  • the name in origin referred simply to a double-edged sword (i.e. an actual sword rather than a sabre or scimitar), the μάχαιρα δίστομη of the New Testament.[citation needed]
  • fiqār is a corruption of firāq "distinction, division", and the name originally referred to the metaphorical sword discerning between right and wrong.[citation needed]

Invocation and depiction[edit]

Calligraphic panel in praise of Ali. The large inscription at the top reads lā fatā ʾilā ʿAlī lā sayf ʾilā Ḏū l-Faqār meaning "There is no Hero but Ali, [and] there is no sword but Dhu-l-Faqar.
A stamped amulet, presumably made in India in the 19th century for a Shia patron. The amulet comprises gnostic squares, Qur'anic verses (including ayat al-kursi (2:255) running around the frame), divine or holy names, besides a depiction of Zulfiqar at the center.

Zulfiqar was frequently depicted on Ottoman flags, especially as used by Janissaries cavalry, in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Zulfiqar is also frequently invoked in talismans. A common talismanic inscription or invocation is the double statement:

لَا سَيْفَ إِلَّا ذُو ٱلْفَقَارِ وَلَا فَتَىٰ إِلَّا عَلِيٌّ
lā sayfa ʾillā ḏū l-faqāri wa-lā fatā ʾillā ʿalīyun
"There is no sword but the Zulfiqar, and there is no Hero but Ali"

The order of the two-part phrase is sometimes reversed, instead saying "there is no Hero but Ali, and there is no sword but the Zulfiqar". A record of this statement as part of a longer talismanic inscription was published by Tewfik Canaan in The Decipherment of Arabic Talismans (1938). Heger (2008) speculates that the talismanic formula may be old and may have originated as a Christian invocation.[4]

Legendary background[edit]

In legend, the exclamation lā sayfa ʾillā Ḏū l-Faqāri wa-lā fatā ʾillā ʿAlīyun was given after Muhammad asked God to give him a sword. The sword appears in Muhammad's hands and then Muhammad throws the sword to Ali to replace his old broken sword.[5]

Al-Tirmidhi attributes to Ibn Abbas the tradition that Muhammad acquired the sword on the day of Badr, after he had seen it in a dream concerning the day of Uhud.[6]

Modern references[edit]

In Qajar Iran, actual swords were produced based on the legendary double-pointed design. Thus, the Higgins Collection holds a ceremonial sabre with a wootz steel blade, dated to the late 19th century, with a cleft tip. The curator comments that "fractures in the tip were not uncommon in early wootz blades from Arabia" suggesting that the legendary double-pointed design is based on a common type of damage incurred by blades in battle. The tip of this specimen is split in the blade plane, i.e. "For about 8" of its length from the point the blade is vertically divided along its axis, producing side-by-side blades, each of which is finished in itself", in the curator's opinion "a virtuoso achievement by a master craftsman".[7] Another 19th-century blade in the same collection features a split blade as well as saw-tooths along the edge, combining two possible interpretations of the name Dhu-l-Faqar. This blade is likely of Indian workmanship, and it was combined with an older (Mughal era) Indian hilt.[8]

"Zulfiqar" and its phonetic variations has come into use as given name, as with former Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.[citation needed]

In Iran, the name of the sword has been used as an eponym in military contexts; thus, Reza Shah Pahlavi renamed the military order Portrait of the Commander of Faithful to Order of Zolfaghar in 1925.[9] The 58th Takavar Division of Shahroud is also named after the sword.[citation needed]

An Iranian main battle tank is also named after the sword, Zulfiqar.[10]



  1. ^ Gauding, Madonna (October 2009). The Signs and Symbols Bible:The Definitive Guide to Mysterious Markings. Sterling Publishing Company. p. 105. ISBN 9781402770043.
  2. ^ Sothebys, none (January 1985). Islamic Works of Art, Carpets and Textiles. Sotheby's, London. p. 438.
  3. ^ Christoph Heger in: Markus Groß and Karl-Heinz Ohlig (eds.), Schlaglichter: Die beiden ersten islamischen Jahrhunderte, 2008, pp. 278–290.
  4. ^ reprinted 2004 in Magic and Divination in Early Islam, pp. 125–177, cited after Heger (2008) p. 283.
  5. ^ Heger (2008), p. 286.
  6. ^ at-Tirmidhi, Abu `Isa Muhammad. The Book on Military Expeditions: Hadith 1561(Dha'if Hadith- weak Narration).
  7. ^ Higgins Collection, Accession Number 321.a.
  8. ^ Higgins Collection, Accession Number 2240.
  9. ^ "Order Of Zolfaghar". Iran Collection. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
  10. ^ "The Iranian Zulfiqar Main Battle Tank". The Armour Essentials. Retrieved 22 December 2022.