Ismaili Flag – Islamic Period

“The Islamic state of Medina continued the old Arab custom. In this context, the sources mention two synonyms, i.e., liwa (flag) and rayah (standard). It was liwa (pl alwiyah), which was ordinarily used in all expeditions; but ruyat (pl. of rayah) were used in all the battles. The Islamic armies under the Prophet was drawn from various tribes. Each unit consisted of a tribe, usually fighting under its own chief. Each tribe had its own tribal banner borne aloft by its bravest champion.

This office or military post retained its tribal character through out the period of the Prophet. Nevertheless, the Prophet representing the central authority, had his own banner mostly green in colour. Reuben Levy writes in The Social Structure of Islam (Cambridge, 1962, pp. 434-5) that, “Flags had another significance in Muslim warfare. Each tribe had its own and regarded it as the ralling centre in battle, for near it was the commander.” When the Prophet ordered an expedition in Medina, no call was made aloud or any trumpet was blown, but he planted his green banner in the mosque to rally the Muslims under it.

Statistics show that the military organization in the period of the Prophet took its due course to develop. He appointed a number of military officers and functionaries as and when the strategic and military demands of the time required. With the passage of time, he appointed the officers and functionaries included the commanders of the expeditions (umara’ al-saraya), wing-officers (umara’ al-maimanah), scouts (tali’ah), spies (uyun), guides (dalil), officers to look after booty and the prisoners of war (ashab al-maghanim wa al-asara), officers for weapons and horses (ashab al-silah wa al-faras), body-guards (ashab al-haras), and the standard-bearers (sahib al-liwa wa al-rayah) etc. Ammar bin Yasir relates that the Prophet always liked that every person should fight under the banner of his own unit of forces.

Ibn Abbas narrates that the colour of the Prophet’s flag was green and of standard white. During the battle of Badr, three different banners however were used; the bigger one was in the hands of Ali bin Abu Talib, containing the symbol of an eagle (ukab), representing the force of the Muhajirin.

While the one leading the Ansar was assigned to Sa’d bin Mu’adh. Waqidi (d. 822) writes in Kitab al-Maghazi (London, 1966, p. 226) that the white banner was given to Musab bin Umayr of the clan of Abdul Dar. He carried the Prophet’s white banner in Badr and Uhud in memory of the old privilege of the clan of Abdul Dar. The Prophet however executed overall as a supreme commander in the battle. On the other hand, the Meccans likewise had three banners, one of which was born by Talha bin Abi Talha, the other by Abu Ghazyr bin Umayr, and the third by Nassar bin Harith, all of whom were the descendants of Abdul Dar.

In the battle of Uhud, the Meccans mobilized all their powers and resources and came out to avenge the deaths of their men fallen in the battle of Badr. The Meccans filled the battlefield with the victims of fighting and the banner of the Muslims fell from the hands of Musab bin Umayr when he died bravely. The Prophet called Ali to take over as a standard-bearer. In one hand, he held the banner, and in the other that favourite sword Zulfikar. Thus, Ali took over the banner, which went up unfurled in his hand during the fighting which had reached its climax by that time.

Tabari (d. 923) writes in Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Muluk (Cairo, 1960, 2:402) that when the Prophet sent his first expedition under the command of his uncle, Hamza towards Sif al-Bahr at the western coast in 629 with 30 soldiers, he also sent one standard-bearer with him. Tabari (2:402) further writes that, “The importance of the symbol may be gauged from the prominence given to the names of those who bore the Prophet’s banner and that of the Ansar at the battle of Badr, also simcity buildit cheat of the standard-bearers in other later engagements. The phrase used for sending out an expedition is to bind on a banner, and the granting of a banner was regarded as the sign of conferring command.”

In the battle of Khaibar in 629, the Prophet declared a day before an operation, “Tomorrow, I will hand over the banner of Islamic army to such a person who is an impetuous warrior and not an absconder; he befriends God and His Apostle and is also befriended by them. God is sure to grant victory on his hands.” Every one of the Prophet’s Companions was anxious to be signalized on the morrow as the friend of God and His Prophet. They passed the night in great anxiety as to which one would prove to be the blessed one. Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas narrates, “I knelt down opposite to the Prophet, and then rose, hoping to obtain the banner.” The Prophet however asked, “Where is Ali bin Abu Talib? Bring him here.” In short, Ali had been given the charge share this website to lead the assault. The green Islamic banner, which the Prophet had planted before his camp besides the tree where it laid through the night, heavy with dew, flew limpidly. The Prophet pulled the banner out from the ground, raised it, and after shaking it three times, he confided it into the right hand of Ali, saying, “Take this standard and march on with it until God grant you victory.” Hubab al-Munzir and Sa’d bin Ubaidah also followed Ali with another banners. For the first time, three distinct banners were used instead of the small pennants hitherto sported in battle.

Jabir bin Abdullah narrates that the Prophet entered in Mecca with white flags at the head of the army. Islamic Shi’ite Encyclopaedia (Beirut, 1970, 2:127) writes that on that memorable day, the banner of Islam was carried by the Ansar leader, Sa’d bin Abadah at the head of the army. No sooner did he see the outskirts of Mecca than his mind was flooded with the memories of the Qoraish hostility towards the Prophet and his followers. He cried out in emotion, “This day is the day of massacre. Today it is permitted to kill in the Kaba.” When the Companions heard this cry, they became terrified and hurried to the Prophet and related to him the words of Sa’d. The Prophet called Ali and said, “Go to Sa’d immediately and take the banner from him. You should be the first one to enter Mecca.” Tabari (2: 445) writes that, “The utterance of Sa’d bin Abadah was defeating the objective of the Prophet, who intended to hoist Islamic banner in Mecca without bloodshed, therefore, he immediately removed Sa’d and designated Ali as his standard-bearer.” This errand was the entry of Mecca with modesty, peace and humble attitude of the Muslims without massacre.

In 629, the Prophet mustered a force of 3000 men at the command of Zaid bin Harith for the Mauta expedition against Shurahbil bin Amir, the Ghassanid governor in Syria. During the thick of the battle, the Muslims found themselves in presence of a force several times more numerous than themselves. Zaid bin Harith seizing the banner, led the charge of the Muslims, plunging into the midst of the enemy ranks until he fell transfixed by their spears. Seeing him fall from his horse, Jafar Taiyar rushed timely to grab the banner from the dying Zaid, and raised it aloft to command the Muslim force. The enemies closed in on the heroic Jafar, who was soon covered with wounds. Fighting at close quarters, Jafar was struck from the side at first on his right hand by the enemies. As the bleeding hand, hung to the flimsy muscles, he took the sword in his left hand, pressing the banner to the saddle. Then the left hand was cut off and as his sword fell, Jafar took the banner from the saddle with the stumps of his bleeding hands. When both his hands were cut off gripping the banner, he still stood firm holding the staff between his two stumps, until the enemies struck him a mortal blow. As Jafar fell from the horse in that blood soaked field of Mauta, Abdullah bin Rawaha immediately took the banner from the slain man. Abdullah bin Rawaha also met death in the encounter. Khalid more information bin Walid assumed control on that juncture. He took the banner and methodically withdrew from the field with the Muslim force and returned to Medina.

It was the common practice that the signal for the attack was given by the waving of the flags or by trumpet blast or both. Baladhuri writes in Futuh al-Buldan (ed. M.J. de Goeje, Leyden, 1866, p. 303) that during the battle of Nihawand, Noman bin Muqaran, the amil said, “I noticed that when the Prophet failed to give battle in the morning he would wait until the sun set and the wind blew.” He added: “I shall now shake the banner I carry three times. At the first shake let each man perform his ablutions and satisfy his natural wants; at the second each attend to his sword and prepare himself. When the third shake comes, charge; and let no man heed his neighbour.”

In sum, during the eight years of fighting, there had been almost 101 expeditions (sariyah, pl. sarayah) and battles (ghazwah, pl. ghazawat), in which 27 were commanded himself by the Prophet, and remaining 74 were led by other persons he nominated. The Prophet is reported to have appointed about 86 standard-bearers (sahib al-liwa wal-rayah) in Medina from among 9 Arabian tribes during the expeditions and battles. The most important from among the Qoraish was Ali, who was assigned the banners as many as ten times. The other standard-bearers were Zubayr bin Awwam of Asad, Hamza bin Abd al-Muttalib of Hashim, Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas of Zuhrarh, Musab bin Umayr of Abdul Dar, Abu Bakr of Taym and Umar bin Khattab of Adi. From among the Khazraj tribe, the famous standard- bearers were Sa’d bin Ubaidah, Hubab al-Munzir, Zaid bin Thabit and Umarah bin Hazm. Among the Aws tribe were Sa’d bin Mu’az and Usayd bin al-Huzayr, etc.

According to The Social Structure of Islam (London, 1957, p. 3), “Before his death in A.D. 632, Muhammad had gathered to his banner most of the inhabitants of Arabia. The exceptions were Jews and a few Christians and Magians, whom he permitted to remain in their own faith provided they recognized his political overlordship by the payment of a poll-tax.”

One rare banner preserved in the Topkapi Saray Museum at Istanbul, called as-Sinjaqu

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