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Shi'ite Religious Flags (Iraq)

Last modified: 2021-08-13 by ian macdonald
Keywords: islam | shi'a | shi'ite | kerbala |
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Religious Flags at Karbala

Spanish Television mentioned yesterday that shortly before the outbreak of the war, a team of theirs working in Iraq had made a long report on the Shi'ite holy city of Kerbala (currently under siege), where the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Husayn is buried. The Shrine of Imam Husayn, a large and highly decorated mosque was shown, flying a large, plain red flag from the top of the highest dome. No other flags were visible over the Shrine. However, another page on Kerbala [no longer on-line] shows a white flag with a black inscription that appears to be a Shahada (Muslim creed), and the caption, "Long live the banner of Islam which was saved by the holy blood of the Martyrs in Kerbala."
Santiago Dotor
, 03 April 2003

Lots of green, red, black, blue and white flags on the Shi'ite march to Karbala.
Francisco Santos
, 21 April 2003

Holy Shrine of Imam Ali

[Holy Shrine of Imam Ali (Iraq)] image located by Bill Garrison, 25 November 2019

Caption: Atop Mt. Kilimanjaro (in Tanzania) a group of Shiite Muslim mountain climbers raise a flag honoring Shiite Imam Ali previously flown at the "Holy Shrine of Imam Ali" located in Najaf, Iraq; , c. July 2016
Bill Garrison, 25 November 2019

Eid al-Ghadir

[Eid al-Ghadir (Iraq)] image located by Bill Garrison, 25 November 2019

Caption: A flag is raised at Shiite Imam Ali's shrine in Najaf, Iraq, on the occasion of Eid-e-Ghadeer. Eid al-Ghadir is a Shia feast, and is considered to be among the "significant" feasts of Shia Islam. The Eid is held on 18 Dhu Al-Hijjah at the time when the Islamic prophet Muhammad was said to have appointed Ali ibn Abi Talib as his successor. [an annual event]
Bill Garrison, 25 November 2019

Imam Hussein's martyrdom

[Imam Hussein's martyrdom (Iraq)] image located by Bill Garrison, 25 November 2019

Caption: Shiite Muslims walking toward Shiite Imam Hussein's shrine on 40th day of his martyrdom (Arbaeen) from Najaf, Iraq to Karbala, Iraq. [an annual event]
Bill Garrison, 25 November 2019

Qamar Bani Hashim Flag

[Imam Hussein's martyrdom (Iraq)] image located by Bill Garrison, 27 February 2021


Caption: a red/white "Qamar Bani Hashim" flag; c. Sept. 2017. A Shiite-Muslim flag with the slogan: "Ya Qamar Bani Hashim", which implores that the spirit of "Qamar Bani Hashim" hear the pleas of oppressed Shiite Muslims and ask Allah for his support in their defense. "Qamar Bani Hashim" is also known as "Al-Abbas ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib" and "Abu al-Fadhl", and was a son of Ali (who was the first Shia Imam and the fourth Caliph of Sunni Muslims). Abbas/Qamar was killed c. Oct. 680 CE at the Battle of Karbala where he served as the flag carrier for Imam Hussain. He is buried in Karbala, Iraq. In Dec. 2020 it was revealed that Iran had established a new Popular Mobilization Force (Arabic: الحشد الشعبي‎ ... al-Ḥashd ash-Shaʿbī) militia called "Qamar Bani Hashim" in the village of Hatla in eastern Syria; the militia is comprised mainly of Iranian and Afghani fighters and Syrian residents who have adopted Shi'ism.
Bill Garrison, 27 February 2021

Other Shi'ite Religious Flags

An incident in Baghdad reported in the Washington Post of August 14, 2003, ("Flag Is Flash Point In A Baghdad Slum: Perceived Insult Ignites Anti-U.S. Unrest," by Anthony Shadid, p. 11) has some interesting information on religious flags displayed by Iraqi Shi'ites. The August 13 incident arose when a U.S. military helicopter knocked down a flag that Shi'ites had placed on a transmission tower in Sadr City (formerly Saddam City), the huge, Shi'ite populated slum in Baghdad. US commanders have apologized for the incident, which led to the killing of one Iraqi. The article mentions the following flags:

  • "... black flag that fluttered atop the tower, inscribed in white letters with the name of one of Shiite Islam's most revered figures."
  • "... this is our faith. This flag, it represents our faith."
  • "Footage of the incident aired by the satellite news channel Al- Arabiya clearly showed a helicopter hovering for several seconds near the flag, which bore an inscription of a 9th Century descendant of the prophet Muhammad known as the Mahdi."
  • "Within hours, youths had climbed the transmission tower, bedecking it in red, green, white and black flags, colors symbolic of suffering and martyrdom and resonant in Shiite Islam. Most bore the inscription of the Mahdi, and youths waved the flags past sunset."
Comment: The Mahdi ("guided one") in this context is Muhammad al- Muntazar (meaning "the Expected One"), the 12th and last of the imams recognized by mainstream Shi'a Islam. He is also referred to the "hidden imam" and the "lord of the age." An eleventh generation descendant of the prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima and her husband Ali, Muhammad al-Muntazar is said to have disappeared in A.D. 878 into the cave above which the great mosque of Samarra now stands. Shi'a faithful believe he is still hiding in the cave and will return in the final days to restore true Islam and spread the faith to the entire world. It is not clear from the news report exactly what the inscription on the flag said, whether just the name or one or more of the Mahdi's titles as well.
Joseph McMillan, 15 August 2003

Shia Battle Flags

[Shia Battle Flag (Iraq)] image by Eugene Ipavec, 23 Nov 2010

A flag sold on Ebay. The seller claims that his army team discovered that this fabric-banner was used as a 'battle flag' by the Iraqi-Shia-cleric 'Sadr Army' uprising against the U.S.-led military occupation forces in Iraq. True, M. Sadr (a young Shia religious-political leader friendly with the Iranian fundamentalist government) was also rebelling against the Shia-lead government of Iraq.

Anyway, this fabric item isn't so much of a 'flag' as it is a portion cut from a long bolt of cloth with a repeating religious design. While I don't read Arabic, from my other insights, this design appears to honor the tomb-shrine of the major Shia 'saint': Imam Hussain/Husayin -- who was killed at the battle of Kerbala/Karbala about 730 C.E. Perhaps this American soldier/unit tore it off of some makeshift flagpole, or perhaps merely ripped it down off some wall (because there appear to be tear marks in the upper left & right corners of this item). Anyway, some Shia militiaman might have just grabbed this (or any) religious fabric and made an impromptu "flag."
Bill Garrison
, 23 Nov 2010

[Shia Battle Flag (Iraq)] image by Eugene Ipavec, 12 Dec 2010

A flag sold on Ebay. The seller claims his U.S. Army unit captured it during some battle/raid involving Shia militants who were opposing the U.S.-led military 'occupation' of Iraq. As I mentioned in an earlier email, this piece of fabric contains some slogans honoring (most likely) some Shia religious figure (saint), such as their Imam Hussain/Husyain (depending upon your preferred spelling of Arabic words). Interesting, this fabric/flag uses 3 different styles or script of Arabic. Normally, this fabric comes from a bolt of cloth (as in making a dress, etc.), from which you cut off the portion you want -- to hang in a mosque or at home. I'm not too sure how 'picky' you want to be in defining what a 'flag' is; if a piece of design-cloth is carried/waved by a militiaman does it make the fabric a 'flag'? I suppose some enthusiastic militant could have torn this down off a wall and tacked it to some makeshift flag-pole to taunt the soldiers.
Bill Garrison, 23 Nov 2010

Popular Mobilization Militia Unit

[Shia Battle Flag (Iraq)] image located by Bill Garrison, 18 October 2017

Flag, Iraq, Shia Muslim, Popular Mobilization Militia Unit, outside Kirkuk, c. Oct. 2017. Several different flags are shown. I believe that neither white flag refers to a specific militia unit, but is a generic Shiite Muslim flag that can be used in many different Shia religious parades. In general, these religious-oriented flags are beseeching Shia martyr Imam Husain/Hussein (killed at "Battle of Karbala/Kerbala") to help some Shiite cause in overcoming some adversary.
Bill Garrison, 18 October 2017

Imam Hussain/Hussein, Ashura memorial ceremony

[Ashura memorial ceremony Flag (Iraq)] image located by Bill Garrison, 11 November 2019

Caption: BAGHDAD, IRAQ: An Iraqi Shiite Muslim fixes a huge black flag beside colorful ones in a street of Baghdad's Shiite neighborhood of Kazemiya 22 February 2004. Muslim Shiites in Iraq started preparations to mark Ashura, the day when Imam al-Hussein, grandson of Prophet Mohammed was killed in Karbala, 100 kms south of Baghdad, in 680 AD. The Shiites will freely mark Ashura 02 March 2004 for the first time since the ouster of Saddam Hussein. AFP PHOTO/Marwan NAAMANI (Photo credit should read MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP via Getty Images)

The middle line reads: "Ya, Hussain" or "Oh, Hussain", which is an appeal to Shia religious martyr Imam Hussain (sometimes spelled "al-Hussein" depending upon Arabic or Farsi) to come to the assistance of oppressed Shiite Muslims.


Bill Garrison,, 11 November 2019

Twelver Shiites

[Twelver Shiites Flag (Iraq)] image located by Bill Garrison, 16 November 2019

Flag, Iraq, Shia Muslim militia. A Shia flag atop an Iraq army MRAP vehicle on Tel Keppe frontline; Oct. 30, 2016.
Bill Garrison, 16 November 2019

[Twelver Shiites Flag (Iraq)] image located by Bill Garrison, 16 November 2019

Similar poster showing the 12 imams of the "Twelver Shiites" in a V-shape row.
Bill Garrison, 16 November 2019

Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary militia force

[Shia Battle Flag (Iraq)] image located by Bill Garrison, 27 July 2021

From, caption: white-field flag with orange trim and slogan with "bleeding sword" image --- usually associated with Shia-Muslims. Seen in Baghdad, Iraq; 4 Jan. 2020 during funeral procession for assassinated Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani. Possibly affiliated with Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary militia force.
Bill Garrison, 27 July 2021

Miscellaneous unidentified Shia flags

An article in the Independent contains a slide show with several flags with Shia connections:
David Phillips, 11 June 2016

The images below were seen at the attack on Mosul:

[Shia Battle Flag (Iraq)] image located by Esteban Rivera, 8 November 2016

[Shia Battle Flag (Iraq)] image located by Esteban Rivera, 8 November 2016

[Shia Battle Flag (Iraq)] image located by Esteban Rivera, 8 November 2016

[Shia Battle Flag (Iraq)] image located by Esteban Rivera, 8 November 2016

[Shia Battle Flag (Iraq)] image located by Esteban Rivera, 8 November 2016

This set of pictures takes place during the Battle of Mosul (2016), which was preceded by the Mosul Offensive (2016) in which multiple parties take place (Sunni, Shiite, Kurds, Turkmen and Christians) as well as a multi national coalition (
Esteban Rivera, 8 November 2016