First Arab Flag (1909)
      

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The First Arab Flag
The Flag of Arab Independence



"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past."

George Orwell, 1984

The flag shown above was designed by Arab students who were members of the Arab Literary Forum in Istanbul in 1909 AD. It initially included four colors:

  • The White band represented the flag of the Umayyad Dynasty (661 - 750 AD). In turn the Umayyads had chosen white because it was the flag that prophet Muhammad's army had carried in their first battle of Badr.
  • The Black band represented the flag of the Abbasid Dynasty (750 - 1258 AD). The Abbasids had chosen black because it was the flag that the Prophet and his first successors - the four wise caliphs - had adopted.
  • The Green represented the flag of the Fatimid Dynasty (909 - 1171 AD) that ruled over North Africa. The Fatimids chose green as an homage to Ali bin abi Talib (the prophet's cousin and son-in-law), because it was said that he was sleeping under Muhammad's green cloak to make the assassins believe that Muhammad was still asleep in his bed, risking his life to protect the prophet.
  • The Red band represented the flag of several Andalusian dynasties (756 - 1355 AD) in the Iberian Peninsula under Arab rule.

Shortly after, however, they decided to remove the red band because it also symbolized the Ottoman Turks whom they were trying to become independent of, and rearranged the remaining three rectangles with green on top, white in the middle, and black at the bottom, adopted officially in Beirut by the underground organization known as the Young Arab Society (الجمعية العربية الفتاة) in March, 1914.
 


The Arab Flag designed by the Young Arab Society, adopted in 1914.
 

This Arab flag of green, white, and black was adopted among many secret Arab organizations throughout Ottoman-ruled Syria, and on a visit to Damascus in 1915, the 33-year-old Abdullah bin Hussein (who would later become the first king of Jordan) met with the Young Arab Society, joined them as a member, and asked to have one of their flags to take back home, to Hejaz (the western region in today's Saudi Arabia which includes Mecca and Medina). The flag of Hejaz was similar to the flag of all Arab emirates at the time: plain red.
 


The Hashemite/Hejazi Flag before 1917.06.10
 

The story continues[1]; that in 1917 (the Arab Revolt had already begun on June 10, 1916), Hussein bin Ali and his sons, Abdullah and Faysal, decided to add their flag to the borrowed flag, as a triangle attached on the left, to finally look like this:
 


The Arab Revolt Flag (1917.06.10 - 1920.03.08)
 

In another story[2], the flag that Abdullah had brought back with him from Damascus already had not one but two red triangles on either side of the flag, with a verse from an Iraqi poet called Safee al-Deen al-Hilli (1276 - 1349 AD), which read: "White are our deeds, Black are our battles. Green are our lands, Red are our blades."

بِيضٌ صَنائِعُنا سُودٌ وَقائِعُنا *** خُضْرٌ مَرابِعُنا حُمْرٌ مَواضِينا

Then the Hashemites removed that verse and one of the red triangles (on the right side), which gave us the Arab Revolt flag shown above.

But unfortunately, neither of these two stories can be confirmed with reliable evidence. There is a third story, however, which seems to be the official story among scholars, an embarrassing story, about the British diplomat who had divided the Arab countries into what they look like today; "Sir Mark Sykes had been the one who designed the flag under which the Arab Army under Faysal and Lawrence marched on Damascus during World War I...[3]."

Official British documents had preserved a letter written in February 22, 1917 by Mark Sykes to Reginald Wingate in which he enclosed several drawings of what he proposed to be the Arab flag, one of which was ultimately chosen to be the Arab Revolt flag. He wrote that some combination of the four colors should be present in the flag (as he explained the meaning of those colors to Arabs) so as to clarify that it is a pan-Arab revolt and not just a Hashemite or Hejazi revolt.

One fact is agreed upon in all three stories: the Arab Revolt flag was adopted officially on June 10, 1917, replacing the plain red Hejazi/Hashemite flag. This was announced in Al-Qiblah newspaper (issued in Mecca) on that day, commemorating the one year anniversary of the Arab Revolt.
 


Notes:
  1. ^ According to Dr. Khayriyah Kassimiyah (1970), al-Alam al-Filastini, pp. 13-14; and Dr. Mahdi Abdul-Hadi (1986), Tatawwur al-Alam al-Arabi. pp 10.
  2. ^ According to Muhsin al-Jabiri, (1990), The Flag of the Arab Revolt. Baghdad: the Small Encyclopedia.
  3. ^ Massad, J. (2001). Colonial Effects, pp 159.

 


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