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Black Standard

This article is about the black flag banner standard of Muhammad. For other black flags, see Black Flag (disambiguation). For other black banners, see Black Banner (disambiguation).
"Ar-raya" redirects here. For other uses, see Arraya (disambiguation).

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 tradition. It was historically used by Abu Muslim in his uprising leading to the Abbasid Revolution in 747 and is therefore associated with the Abbasid Caliphate in particular. It is also a symbol in Islamic eschatology (heralding the advent of the Mahdi),[1] and it has been used in contemporary Islamism and jihadism since the late 1990s.[2]


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.[3]

Islamic tradition states that the Quraysh had a black liwā' and a white-and-black rāya.[4] 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.[5] This larger flag was known as the Eagle.[6] 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.[7]

At Siffin it was said that[according to whom?]`Ali used the liwā' of the Prophet, which as noted above was white;[3] but those who fought with him did use black banners as well.[8]

Historical use

The Abbasid Revolution against the Umayyad Caliphate adopted black for its rāya; for which their partisans were called the musawwids.[9] Their rivals chose other colours in reaction; among these, forces loyal to Marwan II adopted red.[10] The choice of black as the colour of the Abbasid Revolution was already motivated by the "black standards out of Khorasan" tradition associated with the Mahdi. The contrast of white vs. black as the Fatimid vs. Abbasid dynastic colour over time developed in white as the colour of Shia Islam and black as the colour of Sunni Islam. [11]

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.[7] Anti-Abbasid circles cursed "the black banners from the East", "first and last".[12]

A black flag was used by the Hotaki Empire in the early 18th century, following Mir Wais Hotak's Sunnite rebellion against Shi'ite Safavid rule, and later by the Emirate of Afghanistan under Abdur Rahman Khan (1880–1901).

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. It is reported the Black Standard flew above the Bábí fortress Shaykh Tabarsi.[13][clarification needed]

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

File:Flag of Jihad.svg
The Black Standard as used by various Islamist organisations (since the late 1990s) consists of a white-on-black shahada.
File:Flag of JTJ.svg
Flag of Jama'at at-Tawhid wa'l-Jihad, used in their beheading videos

The Pashtun tradition of using a black flag with a white shahada inscription as a military ensign, harking back to the 18th-century Hotaki Empire, were adopted by the Taliban, and thence by Al-Qaeda in the 1990s. This usage was adopted by the global jihadism movement in the early 2000s, and in the 2010s by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.[14]

A black flag with the shahada inscribed in white appeared on jihadist websites from at least 2001. (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.")[15]

Even though the historical black banner did not have any inscription, this variant is commonly known as al-rāya (the banner) or as rayat al-ʻuqab (banner of the eagle) after the hadith tradition, and some western observers have dubbed it the black flag of jihad.[16][17] Islamic extremist organizations which have used such a black flag include:

In the last decade of the South Thailand insurgency, the al-Raya flag has largely replaced the colourful secessionist flags formerly used by the different groups involved in violent actions against the government of Thailand.[18][19]

Some variant designs depict the second phrase of the shahada in the form of the historical seal of Muhammad.[20]


The holding of the flag is often accompanied by a single raised index finger. The symbolism behind this hand gesture alludes to their fundamentalist interpretation of the tawhid—"the belief in the oneness of God and a key component of the Muslim religion."[21]

Bans and proposed bans

In August 2014, British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that anybody displaying the black standard in the United Kingdom should be arrested.[22]

It has also been banned from a public demonstration in the Netherlands in August 2014.[23]

The use of the image or the ISIL/ISIS/IS flag (but not other versions of the black standard) for non-educational purposes has been forbidden in Germany by the Federal Ministry of the Interior since September 2014.[24] Neighbouring Austria proposed a ban in the same month.[25]

See also

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  1. ^ David Cook (2002). Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic. Darwin Press. p. 197.  from Majlisi,
  2. ^ David Wroe; James Massola (December 16, 2014). "Flag being held by Lindt Chocolat Cafe hostages is not an Islamic State flag". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved March 3, 2015. the black banner which was used in the 1990s 
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ Hinds, 133
  5. ^ David Nicolle (1993). Armies of the Muslim Conquest. Osprey Publishing. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-85532-279-0. 
  6. ^ Hinds, 108
  7. ^ 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).
  8. ^ Hinds, 109
  9. ^ Tabari (1995), Jane McAuliffe, ed., Abbāsid Authority Affirmed 28, SUNY, p. 124 
  10. ^ Patricia Crone (2012). The Nativist Prophets of Early Islam. p. 122. . As remembered in pro-Umayyad apocalyptic: page 125}
  11. ^ "The proselytes of the ʿAbbasid revolution took full advantage of the eschatological expectations raised by black banners in their campaign to undermine the Umayyad dynasty from within. Even after the ʿAbbasids had triumphed over the Umayyads in 750, they contiued to deploy black as their dynastic colour; not only the banners but the headdresses and garments of the ʿAbbasid caliphs were black [...] The ubiquitous black created a striking contrast with the banners and dynastic color of the Umayyads, which had been white [...] The Ismaili Shiʿite counter-caliphate founded by the Fatimids took white as its dynastic color, creating a visual contrast to the ʿAbbasid enemy [...] white became the Shiʿite color, in deliberate opposition ot the black of the ʿAbbasid 'establishment'." Jane Hathaway, A Tale of Two Factions: Myth, Memory, and Identity in Ottoman Egypt and Yemen, 2012, p. 97f.
  12. ^ Patricia Crone (2012). The Nativist Prophets of Early Islam. p. 243.  from Haythami. Also Cook, 44 from Nu`aym.
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ "Very interestingly, the Taliban hail from the Pashtun ethnicity and have traditionally used two flags, a white flag with a black Shahada (Kalma) embossed for their government and diplomatic purposes and a reversal of this i.e. a black flag with a white Shahada embossed for their military. These types of black flags are also vividly seen across the tribal Pashtun areas that are now reportedly under the control of Pakistani Taliban." Bilal Khan, Black Banners From Khurasan: The Bilad-e-Khurasan in Making, 2008 ( "Usama bin Ladin often signed his name with the location, 'Khurasan, Afghanistan' at the end of his messages whilst a guest of the Taliban. His organisation, Al-Qa’ida, also specifically adopted black flags from the 1990s. Reading between the lines, it is obvious that Bin Ladin saw Al-Qa’ida as fulfilling a sacred prophecy, bringing armies led by black flags towards Damascus and Jerusalem, in preparation for the coming of the messianic figure, the Mahdi." (The Black Flags of Khurasan)
  15. ^ "Flag of the Islamic Khilafah". 
  16. ^ The Economist, Extremist ideology: Jail, jihad and exploding kittens, 2014-11-01
  17. ^ For example: Perlmutter, Dawn (2014-08-19). "Black Flag in Jersey: A Jihadist Identifier Camouflaged". Frontpage Mag. Retrieved 2014-12-15. [...] an obvious terrorist identifier, the ‘Black Flag of Jihad’, has been successfully camouflaged as a benign symbol of faith, protected in the media by political correctness and Muslim apologetics. 
  18. ^ Neojihadism and YouTube: Patani militant propaganda dissemination and radicalization
  19. ^ "Bomb blast in Pattani misses Aree". 
  20. ^ 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.[1]
  21. ^ Skoler, Michael (5 September 2014). "ISIS has a new hand sign—and it means far more than ‘We’re #1’". Public Radio International. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  22. ^ "Iraq crisis: Cameron warns of possible IS threat to UK". BBC News. 16 August 2014. Retrieved 17 August 2014. 
  23. ^ Cluskey, Peter (2 August 2014). "Dutch ban display of Isis flag in advance Amsterdam march". Irish Times. Retrieved 19 November 2014. 
  24. ^ Eddy, Melissa (12 September 2014). "Germany Bans Support for ISIS". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 November 2014. 
  25. ^ "Austria bans Isis terror symbols". The Local. 12 September 2014. Retrieved 19 November 2014. 

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