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Flag of the Islamic Khilafah

Black Standard

Last modified: 2014-07-17 by rob raeside
Keywords: islam | khilafah | shahada |
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[Al-Qaeda Flags (Afghanistan)]

image by Juan Manuel Gabino

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Flag of the Islamic Khilafah

[Islamic Khilafah] by Glenn Stevens, 15 November 2000

Here is an image of the flags (there are two) of the Islamic Khilafah (state). One is the flag of jihad, and the other is the flag of the state.
Glenn Stevens, 15 November 2000

The image shows two flags bearing an Arabic inscription (which I believe is the Shahada), on one flag black on white, on the other white on black. What is the "Islamic Khilafah (state)" supposed to be? By saying "One is the flag of jihad, and the other is the flag of the state" he appears to identify one as the war flag and the other as state flag.
Santiago Dotor, 15 November 2000

Yes it contains the shehadeh (creed of Islam). The Islamic Khilafah was the state which existed from the time of prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) until 1924, when it was dismantled by Mustafa Kemal. It is more well known in English texts as "Caliphate", but the actual Arabic term is Khilafah. One was carried into battle, and the other was reserved for state purposes.
Glenn Stevens, 16 November 2000

Hitti (History of the Arabs, 1943) writes: 'Succession to Muhammad (khilafah) meant succession to the sovereignty of the state.'

The concise encyclopaedia of Arabic civilization, by Ronart, 1959: 'Abu-Bakr, Uthman and Ali, the so-called Khulafa'al-Rashidun (The well-directed Caliphs, 632-661) conceived the caliphate (al-khilafah) as a spiritual, political and military leadership.'

What does the flag of the caliphate mean today? It is probably connected with the Khilafat-movement, which wanted to restore the Ottoman Empire after the first world war (1919-1924).
Jarig Bakker, 16 November 2000

The "khalifate" refers to the succession of temporal rulers after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him), and is associated with the "Sunni" Islamic community. The khalif was technically the ruler of the Islamic world, and all other Islamic governments were supposed to be beholden unto his position. This is not how it worked out in real life, however, and the khalifs were often puppets of other regimes, especially once the invasions from central Asia began in earnest. The Shi'i have followed different successions of authority called Imamates, who (in brief) derive their power from a religious context, namely that they are direct descendants of 'Ali. The "true" khalifate lasted through the end of the Abbassid Empire when (in the 1270's, Gregorian, I believe) Hulegu Khan levelled Baghdad and had the last khalif rolled in a rug and trampled to death by honored mounted cavalrymen. The Ottomans originally referred to themselves as "sultans" and only a few hundred years into their dynastic succession did they begin also to call themselves khalifs.
So, it is unlikely those flags were "ottoman revivalist." More likely, they were flags possibly flown by the Abbasid (or previous) khalifate. The Prophet (pbuh) himself was said to have carried a black flag into battle, perhaps with the Shahaddah on it (as seen still on the Saudi, Iraqi, Iranian, and other flags), and to have flown a green standard at other times (per: for instance, Libyan and Saudi flags). I believe that the Abbassids were said to have similarly flown a black flag with a white Shahadda, as depicted.
As for the flag of "jihad," I am not certain what this could really mean beyond the obvious; but I'm unaware of any staple flag for the Holy War!
Osman Malik Khan, 22 January 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.
Santiago Tazon, 17 November 2001

This black flag with the Shahada in white on it is the RAYAH, the flag of the Jihad in Islam. Not the banner of single group claiming for Jihad but the banner of the Jihad. The flag is Black and the Shahada always remains in white. Every Muslim fighting in Jihad will hold this flag. You can find the Rayah over the shoulders of Muslim fighters in Chechnya, sometimes in the street of Palestine, in Bosnia was very used by the "Black Swans" group of the Muslim Bosnian Army.
Gontzal Royo, 8 April 2003


Osman Malik Khan noted "the Ottomans originally referred to themselves as "sultans" and only a few hundred years into their dynastic succession did they begin also to call themselves khalifs."
The term "Sultan" is also an Arabic word (not Turkish as many people think) and is used interchangeably in the Hadith with Khaleefah (and also with Imam), to mean leader of the worldwide Islamic community. Linguistically, "Sultan" is the Arabic word for "Authority", so it can mean any general authority, or specifically, the authority in charge of the Muslim community.
The Uthmaniyya (Ottomans) were given the bay'ah (pledge of allegiance) by the Muslim community in 1520 C.E when they finally conquered the Hejaz (Makkah and Madinah) and took custody of the two holy Mosques.
Glenn Stevens
, 22 January 2002

The Black Standard

From Wikipedia:

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 the historical flag flown by Muhammad in Islamic tradition, an eschatological symbol in Shi'a Islam (heralding the advent of the Mahdi), and a symbol used in Islamism and Jihadism.
Bill Garrison, 26 June 2013


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.

Islamic tradition states that the Quraysh had a black liwā' and a white-and-black rāya. 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. This larger flag was known as the Eagle. The name may have referred to the Byzantine eagle. The tradition reports Muhammad said that the advent of the Mahdi would be signaled by "Black Standards" proceeding from Khorasan.

At Siffin it was said that `Ali used the liwā' of the Prophet, which as noted above was white; but those who fought with him did use black banners as well.
Bill Garrison, 26 June 2013

Historical use

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

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. Anti-Abbasid circles cursed "the black banners from the East", "first and last". 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. 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 colors 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.
Bill Garrison, 26 June 2013

Jihadist black flag

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 Hizbul Islam (2009). Some variant designs depict the second phrase of the shahada in the form of the historical seal of Muhammad.
Bill Garrison, 26 June 2013

The recurrent appearance of black flags related to the installation of Islamic fundamentalist regimes in different countries, has led me to the conclusion that even though some of them are coordinated and strictly related armed proscribed movements, not all of them act as one umbrella organization, but rather share common objectives, such as the installation of Sharia law, among other concepts.

This use of black flags with a Shahada inscription on them and with the motto "There's no God but Allah" as representing a global jihad, was first pointed out when discussing the black flag with white disk. Now after several years of seeing these flags with minor variations (ISIS in Iraq, ICU 8 in Sudan, and even flags of the same sort spotted in Palestine), one can also see these flags appear in Syria, Chechnya, Afghanistan, etc., where local (and even international Islamic fundamentalist groups) promote such armed actions. The flag that most of these movements use and its inspiration refers to "the Mahdi, a long-since disappeared Imam who is believed by Shi'a Muslims to be due to reappear when the end of time approaches. The tradition mentions that prophet Muhammad said that the advent of the Mahdi would be signaled by "Black Standards" proceeding from Khorasan. Hence the use of black flags referring to Jihadists movements".
Esteban Rivera, 17 June 2014