The official flag of the Islamic State is called the rayah (الراية). It is a black rectangular flag with the words لَا إِلٰهَ إِلَّا ٱلله مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ ٱلله written on it in white. A full explanation of the ijtihad behind this is below. This is taken from the books ajhizat dowlatul-Khilafah and Shakhsiya Islamiyya volume 2.
Historically, flags were mainly used in warfare to identify the different armies on the battlefield. In modern times flags are used to identify different countries and are used as a symbol to unite the nation around. In America, there is a specific pledge for the flag and most public schools are required to schedule regular sessions for its recitation:
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
So what flag will a future Caliphate use to identify itself?
The Caliphate is an Islamic State and its structure must be derived from the Islamic texts (Qur’an and Sunnah). Therefore, when investigating the issue of what flag to use the starting point will be the Islamic texts. If no specific description is found for the flags used by the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and the companions then it will fall under the category of styles (usloob) and means (waseelah), as a subsidiary rule derived from the general obligation of ruling in the Qur’an:
إِنِ الحُكمُ إِلّا لِلَّهِ
“The rule is for none but Allah.”
(Surah Yusuf, 12: 67)
As with all Islamic rules related to state and government, the actual detail is contained in the sunnah (actions, sayings and silence) of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
If we look to the hadith then we find two types of flags used by the leader and commanders of the Islamic army. They are the liwaa’ (اللواء) and the rayah (الراية) which are translated as flags or banners.
عَنْ جَابِرٍ، رضى الله عنه أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم دَخَلَ مَكَّةَ وَلِوَاؤُهُ أَبْيَضُ
It is narrated from Jabir that the Prophet ﷺ entered Makkah with his white liwaa’ (Sunan an-Nasa’i 2866)
لأُعْطِيَنَّ الرَّايَةَ الْيَوْمَ رَجُلاً يُحِبُّ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ
The Prophet ﷺ said: “I will give the rayah today to a man (Imam Ali) who loves Allah and His Messenger.” (Ibn Majah)
Al-Qamus al-Muhit dictionary mentions the linguistic meaning of both liwaa’ and rayah as ‘alam (العلم) which means a sign or banner.
If no further description of the liwaa’ and rayah is found in the hadith then we could adopt any type of flag we wanted as long as it contained Islamic symbolism such as the crescent and star used by the Ottomans.
However, if we look to the hadith we find detailed descriptions of both the liwaa’ and the rayah which means these words transfer from their linguistic meaning of a general sign, to a sharia meaning with a specific description.
What is the difference between the liwaa’ and the rayah?
The liwaa’ is a specific flag used as a sign for the Corp Commanders (Lt. General), or commander in-chief (Caliph), whereas the rayah is used by the entire armed forces and by extension through qiyas, the entire population of the state. The rayah is flown during the battle, and if the commander in-chief (Caliph) is also fighting then the liwaa’ will be flown alongside the rayah. This is based on the battles led by the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ who was commander in chief, like Badr and Uhud. This can also be seen in the battles during the Khulufa’ Rashida (Rightly Guided Caliphs).
At the Battle of Siffin, the Caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib directly led the battle and so both the liwa’ and rayah were flown. Ali assigned Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah to carry the liwa’ and Hisham ibn ‘Utbah to carry the rayah. (Muhammad As-Sallabi, Ali, Volume 2, p.155)
Keeping the rayah or liwaa’ aloft during the battle is a sign of motivation for the soldiers. The companions used to take the duty of flag bearer incredibly seriously as shown by Musab ibn Umair when he continued to carry the liwaa’ at the Battle of Uhud until his martyrdom.
يقول ابن سعد: أخبرنا ابراهيم بن محمد بن شرحبيل العبدري، عن أبيه قال:
حمل مصعب بن عمير اللواء يوم أحد، فلما جال المسلمون ثبت به مصعب، فأقبل ابن قميئة وهو فارس، فضربه على يده اليمنى فقطعها، ومصعب يقول: وما محمد الا رسول قد خلت من قبله الرسل..
وأخذ اللواء بيده اليسرى وحنا عليه، فضرب يده اليسرى فقطعها، فحنا على اللواء وضمّه بعضديه الى صدره وهو يقول: وما محمد الا رسول قد خلت من قبله الرسل..
ثم حمل عليه الثالثة بالرمح فأنفذه وأندق الرمح، ووقع مصعب، وسقط اللواء
Ibn Sa`d said: Ibraahiim lbn Muhammad lbn Sharhabiil Al-‘Abdriy related from his father, who said: Musab ibn Umair carried the liwaa’ on the Day of Uhud. When the Muslims were scattered, he stood fast until he met lbn Qumaah who was a knight. He struck him on his right hand and cut it off, but Musab said, وما محمد الا رسول قد خلت من قبله الرسل “and Muhammad is but a Messenger. Messengers have passed away before him “ (Aal-Imran, 3:144).
He carried the liwaa’ with his left hand and leaned on it. He struck his left hand and cut it off, and so he leaned on the liwaa’ and held it with his upper arms to his chest, all the while saying, وما محمد الا رسول قد خلت من قبله الرسل “And Muhammad is but a Messenger. Messengers have passed away before him”. Then a third one struck him with his spear, and the spear went through him. Musab fell and then the liwaa’. (Men Around the Messenger)
What is the colour of the flag?
The rayah is black and the liwaa’ is white so we cant use a red or green flag for example.
أخرج الترمذي وابن ماجه عَنْ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ قَالَ: كَانَتْ رَايَةُ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ سَوْدَاءَ، وَلِوَاؤُهُ أَبْيَضَ
At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah have narrated on authority of Ibn Abbas who said: “The rayah of Prophet Mohammad ﷺ was black, and his liwaa’ was white.”
What is the shape of the flag?
The rayah has four corners so we can’t use a triangular flag. Through qiyas this also applies to the liwaa’.
أخرج أحمد، وأبو داود، والنسائي في سننه الكبرى عن يُونُسُ بْنُ عُبَيْدٍ مَوْلَى مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ الْقَاسِمِ، قَالَ: بَعَثَنِي مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ الْقَاسِمِ إِلَى الْبَرَاءِ بْنِ عَازِبٍ يَسْأَلُهُ عَنْ رَايَةِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ مَاهى؟ فَقَالَ: كَانَتْ سَوْدَاءَ مُرَبَّعَةً مِنْ نَمِرَةٍ
Ahmad, Abu Dawud, and an-Nasa’i in his book al-Sunan al-Kubra have narrated on authority of Younus bin Obeid, the slave of Mohammad Bin al-Qassem that he said: Mohammad Bin al-Qassem sent me to al-Baraa bin Azeb to ask him about the rayah of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ what is it? He said: “it was a black quadrangle (مُرَبَّعَةً) made from namira”.
What is the material of the flag?
The hadith above specifies the material used for the rayah was namira (wool). However, using this material is not a hukm but rather falls under the category of means (waseelah). You may ask why the material is considered means but the shape is considered a hukm. The answer is because the companions were limited to the cloth of their time which was mainly wool and they didn’t have a choice in this, whereas for the shape, colour and symbols they had a choice in these but chose a specific design.
Therefore, we can use any material for the flag such as nylon or cotton.
What is the size of the flag?
The size of the flag is not specified in the text therefore we can have any size of flag we wish.
Shakhsiya Islamiyya mentions “Close scrutiny of the texts clarifies that the rayah is smaller than the liwaa’” but goes on to say “It is allowed to use rayah and liwaa’ of greater or lesser measurement.”
The book also specifies a size for the flag but this is up to the Caliph to make an adoption on in the future.
liwaa’ = 120cm x 80cm
rayah = 90cm x 60cm
What is the aspect ratio?
The aspect ratio of the flag is not specified so we can use any ratio we want, but Shakhsiya Islamiyya mentions a 2/3 ratio in line with the majority of flags today. The Ottoman flag for example used a 2/3 ratio.
What symbol is on the flag?
There is ikhtilaaf (difference of opinion) on what is represented on the rayah and the liwaa’. This difference occurs due to differences on the strength of the hadith which specifies particular words on the rayah and the liwaa’. If a scholar views this hadith as weak then it means any symbol or writing on the rayah and the liwaa’ will become a style and we can chose any Islamic symbolism we want. If however, a scholar views the hadith as good then the wording becomes a hukm (rule) and there is no choice in the matter. The hadith in question is below.
فقد أخرج الطبراني في الأوسط قال: حَدَّثَنَا أَحْمَدُ بْنُ رِشْدِينَ قَالَ: نا عَبْدُ الْغَفَّارِ بْنُ دَاوُدَ أَبُو صَالِحٍ الْحَرَّانِيُّ قَالَ: نا حَيَّانُ بْنُ عُبَيْدِ اللَّهِ قَالَ: نا أَبُو مِجْلَزٍ لَاحِقُ بْنُ حُمَيْدٍ، عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ قَالَ: «كَانَتْ رَايَةُ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ سَوْدَاءَ وَلِوَاؤُهُ أَبْيَضُ، مَكْتُوبٌ عَلَيْهِ: لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ». لَا يُرْوَى هَذَا الْحَدِيثُ عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ إِلَّا بِهَذَا الْإِسْنَادِ، تَفَرَّدَ بِهِ: حَيَّانُ بْنُ عُبَيْدِ اللَّهِ
It was extracted by at-Tabarani in al-Awsat: (Ahmad bin Rashdin narrated that Abdul Ghaffar bin Dawud Abu Saleh al-Harrani said: Hayyan bin Obeidillah told us that Abu Mijlaz Laheq bin Humeid narrated on authority of Ibn Abbas who said: “The rayah of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ was black and his banner white written on it: لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ”.
This Hadith is not narrated by Ibn Abbas except by this isnad (chain), and it is exclusive to Hayyan bin Obeidillah).
The dispute concerns the hadith narrator Hayyan bin Obeidillah. Sheikh Ata Abu Al-Rashta discusses this:
1- Ibn Hibban mentioned it in al-Thiqat, and this is in his book al-Thiqat Volume 6/230:
(7491 – Hayyan bin Obeidillah Abu Zuhair the slave of Bani Odai narrating from Abu Mijlaz and his father, and Muslim bin Ibrahim and Musa bin Ismail have narrated from him)
2- al-Thahabi mentioned it in his book Mizan al-I’tidal (623/1):
(2388 – Hayyan bin Obeidillah, Abu Zuhair, sheikh from Busra on authority of Abi Mijlaz. Al-Bukhari reported: al-Salt had mentioned his mix up).
3- Al-Salt is bin Mohammad Abu Hammam, and Abu al-Hajjaj mentioned him in his book, Tahtheeb al-Kamal fi Asmaa al-Rijal 79/2. He said: Abu Hammam al-Salt bin Mohammad al-Kharki is from Kharek, an island in the gulf area close to Oman, and al-Bukhri had narrated for him in al-Saheeh.
4- Due to his mix-up in ahadith due to his old age, al-Uqeili had considered him from the weak narrators in his book, al-Dho’afa’ al-Kabir 319/1 where he said: Hayyan bin Oeidillah Abu Zuhair is from Busra… And Adam bin Musa narrated that he heard al-Bukhari said: Hayyan bin Obeidillah Abu Zuhair was mentioned by al-Salt to be mixing up (jumbling) ahadith…
5- Al-Thahabi said about him in his book al-Mughni fi ad-Do’afaa 198/1 “Hayyan bin Obeidillah Abu Zuhair al-Basri on authority of Abu Mijlaz is not reliable.”
Therefore he is disputed as there are people who make him reliable, and others who consider him from those who are weak because he mixed up when he became old. It seems that when he became old, he started to jumble. However, the issue is the writing of “La Illaha illa Allah Mohammad Rasool Allah” on the rayah and the liwaa’, and jumbling ahadith does not affect this writing, especially since there are two reliable narrators in the sanad between him and the Prophet ﷺ i.e. Abu Mijlaz Laheq bin Hameed and Ibn Abbas. So we adopted the writing of the two shahadahs on the rayah and the liwaa’.
What is the Arabic font?
The Arabic font is not specified so we can use any Arabic font or calligraphy. This falls under the category of styles (usloob).
Are there any other flags?
The different army corps, divisions and regiments can use their own flags alongside the rayah as we find in any army today. The is derived from the hadith where different units or tribes used their own banners in the battle alongside the official rayah.
وقد ورد عند الطبراني في الكبير عن مَزِيدَةَ الْعَبْدِيَّ، يَقُولُ: إِنَّ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ عَقَدَ رَايَاتِ الْأَنْصَارِ فَجَعَلَهُنَّ صُفَرًا
It was narrated in at-Tabarani in al-Kabeer on authority of Mazeeda al-Abdi’ saying: “The Prophet ﷺ has knotted the flags of al-Ansar and made them yellow.”
وكذلك ورد عند ابن أبي عاصم في الآحاد والمثاني عَنْ كُرْزِ بْنِ سَامَةَ قَالَ: …وَإِنَّ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ عَقَدَ رَايَةَ بَنِي سُلَيْمٍ حَمْرَاءَ
And it was narrated from Ibn Abi Asem in al-Aahad and al-Mathani on the authority of Kurz bin Sama who said: “… And the Prophet ﷺ knotted the flag of Bani Suleim red”.
The Ottoman 136th Infantry flag
The official flag of the Caliphate is the rayah. It is known metaphorically as “The mother of war” (umm ul-Harb), and will be flown on top of all government buildings within the state including the Caliph’s residence. The population will unite around this flag and will display it in their homes, mosques and businesses. The armed forces will also display it alongside their regimental banners to identify them as the official armed forces of the Caliphate.
The liwaa’ is a special flag which will be flown alongside the rayah above the Caliph’s residence only.