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Shi'ite Religious Flags (Iraq)

Last modified: 2014-03-30 by zoltán horváth
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

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 NATO soldiers.

Bill Garrison, 23 Nov 2010

NATO is not present in Iraq.

Eugene Ipavec, 12 Dec 2010