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Explained: The crescent in ‘Islamic’ flags

The crescent, or ‘Hilaal’ in Arabic, is the curved shape of the waning moon, and is used by many Muslims as a means of cultural and political expression.

chandrayaan 2 launch harbhajan singh tweet, crescent moon tweet chandrayaan 2, flags with crescent moon, chandrayaan 2 launch The flags of Malaysia (left) and Pakistan (right)

On July 22, as India celebrated the successful launch of the Chandrayaan-2 mission, former India offspinner Harbhajan Singh posted on Twitter: “Some countries have moon on their flags… While some countries having their flags on moon”.

The tweet showed the flags of nine countries with the crescent-and-star and, in the next line, those of four nations with successful space programmes: the United States, Russia, India, and China.

Harbhajan’s tweet is now viral with nearly 41,000 retweets and 220,000 likes.

The tweet, which was criticised by many, came days after the Supreme Court sought the Centre’s response on a plea by the chairperson of the Shia Waqf Board seeking a ban on green flags with a crescent and star, which, the petition said, were “un-Islamic” and resembled the flag of a political party in an “enemy country”.

Crescent-and-star flag

It is a banner that is widely associated with Muslim communities across the world, just as the cross is seen to represent Christianity. The crescent, or ‘Hilaal’ in Arabic, is the curved shape of the waning moon, and is used by many Muslims as a means of cultural and political expression.

Apart from being featured on innumerable emblems and banners on a subnational level, the crescent and star appears on the national flags of Algeria, Azerbaijan, Comoros, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Tunisia, and Turkey.

The symbol is superimposed on different backgrounds in different flags, and is itself represented in varying colours. Therefore, in Pakistan’s flag, the crescent-and-star are in white on a green background, in the Algerian flag in red on a split green and white background, and in the Malaysian flag in yellow on a blue rectangle that sits next to horizontal red and white stripes.

Origin of the symbol

According to the 20th century historian and archaeologist William Ridgeway, the crescent moon held religious significance for West Asian peoples since pre-Islamic times, and was associated with the worship of the Moon Goddess, who was given the names Ishtar, Astarte, Alilat, or Mylitta.

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The Byzantine Empire is believed to have first used the symbol, which was adopted by the Ottoman Turks after they captured the Byzantine capital Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) in 1453. According to another version however, the Turks had begun to use the symbol more than a century earlier, during the reign of the Sultan Orhan (c.1324-60), and that it was fashioned after horns or tusks.

Both versions link the origin of the symbol’s use with the Ottoman Turks. With the rise of the Ottoman empire and through the Crusades, the crescent-and-star came to be associated with Islam generally. However, Islam does not, in principle, encourage the use of religious symbols, and historians have pointed out that the first Arab converts carried no badge or banner on their initial conquests.

 

Flag in Pakistan

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The All India Muslim League, which led the demand for a separate state for Muslims, adopted the banner which ultimately became the basis for the flag of Pakistan. Independent Pakistan, however, added the white stripe to the left of the dark green field to represent its religious minorities.

First published on: 24-07-2019 at 05:49:22 pm
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