July 27 (Thursday)

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Religious symbols are fairly common on flags, including Christian crosses and the Star of David on Israel’s flag. Symbols of Islam are also common features on flags.

Countries with major Muslim populations stretch in a vast arc from North Africa through the Middle East and into southern Asia. This region might be thought of as a Muslim arc, though I like to call it the Muslim crescent, for reasons that will soon become apparent.

Within this region, there are three or four distinctive “flag patterns.”

Pan-Arab Colors

The Pan-African colors (red, yellow, green) overlap what are known as the Pan-Arab colors – green, white, red and black – which are derived from the flag of the Great Arab Revolt. They virtually define the Arabian peninsula. Pictured below are the flags of Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Palestine, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Iraq Jordan Kuwait Libya Palestine Syria United Arab Emirates Yemen

Culturally, the Middle East extends into North Africa, as evidenced by the flags of (below, left to right) Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan and Western Sahara.

Egypt Sudan South Sudan Western Sahara

What other similarities do you see between these flags besides the colors? Notice the red triangles on the flags of Jordan, Palestine and Yemen, complemented by green and blue triangles on the flags of the United Arab Emirates and South Sudan and a black geometric shape on Kuwait’s flag.

And that’s not all. What do the flags of Libya and Yemen have in common?

A crescent, which is yet another flag pattern.

Crescents

Turkey

The crescent that represents Islam on a number of flags was inspired by the flag of Turkey (right), which is very similar to the last flag of the old Ottoman Empire. The crescent began to be associated with Islam during the time of the Ottomans.

The flags below represent the African nations of (left to right) Algeria, Libya, Mauritania and Tunisia, followed by the Indian Ocean island states of Comoros and Maldives.

Algeria Libya Mauritania TunisiaSpacerComoros Maldives

The flags below represent the Asian nations of (left to right) Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Malaysia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Azerbaijan Pakistan Malaysia Turkmenistan Uzbekistan

And here are the flags representing the Malaysian states of (left to right) Johor, Kuala Lumpur, Labuan, Melaka, Selangor and Terengganu.

Johor Kuala Lumpur Labuan Melaka Selangor Terengganu

Incidentally, the crescents appearing on the flags of (below, left to right) Nepal, Singapore and the U.S. state of South Carolina are not associated with Islam.

Nepal Singapore South carolina

Green

Green – the color of a desert oasis – appears to be especially common on flags representing countries in the Muslim Crescent. Take another look at the flags representing (below, left to right) Algeria, Mauritania, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Maldives. Notice, also, the prominent crescents on these flags.

Algeria Mauritania Pakistan Turkmenistan Maldives
Libya

Before it was invaded by NATO, Libya’s flag was entirely green (right). It was the only current national flag with a unicolor field, with no emblems or insignia.

Though a uniformly green flag might seem kind of boring, Libya’s former flag was viewed around the world as a symbol of hope under Muammar Gaddafi, one of the greatest leaders of our era.

We’ve learned about the Pan-Arab colors, the Muslim crescent and the color green, and we’re still not through with the Middle East!

Pan-Iranian Colors

Iran Tajikistan

Iran is a Muslim country and is often classified as part of the Middle East, though it’s located in southwestern Asia. The red, white and green colors on its flag (top right) have been referred to as the Pan-Iranian colors, said to have inspired a few other flags. Vexillologist Whitney Smith wrote that Tajikistan’s flag (bottom right) “was adopted in 1992 and the red, white and green stripes recall the flag of Iran, a nation which Tajikistan has close ethnic ties.”

More Muslim Flags

We’ve covered all but six countries in the Middle East proper, i.e. the Arabian Peninsula. Pictured below, left to right, are the flags representing five of them – Bahrain, Qatar, Lebanon, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

Bahrain Qatar Lebanon Oman Saudi Arabia

Bahrain and Qatar are relatively easy to remember because they are so similar to each other, yet completely unique from all other national flags. If you like memory aids, just remember that Qatar has one of the queerest flags (the field is white and maroon), and the words Qatar and queer both begin with the letter Q. Add the first letter of Bahrain, and you almost have a BBQ.

The flags of Lebanon and Oman both feature the colors red, white and green (similar to Iran’s flag), while Saudi Arabia’s flag has a green field.

Israel Morocco

The remaining Middle East flag represents Israel (left), a Jewish nation created by Western powers. On the right is the flag of Morocco, a Muslim nation in northwest Africa. The green star is a rendition of Solomon’s seal, from which the Star of David on Israel’s flag evolved.


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