The star and the crescent as depicted in a few flags of Muslim countries do not have any significance in the Islamic faith. In other words, the reason for depicting these symbols on flags is not Islamic or religious. On the contrary, it is primarily a continuation of a tradition set by the vast Ottoman-empire (for a period of over half a millennium), which has prompted some of the modern Muslim states to depict these two symbols on their flags. One may, however, ask why did the Ottoman-empire opt for the star and the crescent on its flags. No specific answer can be given for this question. There could be a number of possible reasons.
The fact that there is a significant difference between ‘symbols of the Islamic faith’ and ‘symbols adopted by Muslims’. The symbols of the Islamic faith are only those, which have been declared as symbols by the Qur’an or the Sunnah of the Prophet (Peace be Upon him). These may include the Ka?bah, the black stone of the Ka?bah etc. All these things symbolize one or the other major reality ascribed to by the Islamic faith.
History of the origin in the usage of the Crescent and Star:
During the Byzantine Empire, the city of Byzantium (a.k.a. Constantinople and Istanbul) was Dedicated to Diana, goddess of the hunt. The crescent was the symbol of Diana. In 330 CE, Constantine rededicated the city to the virgin Mary, whose star symbol was added to the previous crescent. When the Turks took possession of Byzantium, they found lots of crescent flags and adopted it as a symbol of good omen. In 339 BC, Philip of Macedon (the father of Alexander the Great) was thwarted from overtaking the city of Byzantium because his army was spotted due to a bright crescent moon.
“The star and crescent” was first hoisted on behalf of the Muslims by Mahomet II after the capture of Constantinople in 1453 CE. Prior to that, it was common on the arm of knight and esquires. A star within a crescent was a badge of Richard I, 250 years before Constantinople fell. They quit using it when it became the banner of Muslims. It has been used more and more ever since by Muslims in a way to identify themselves. Sultan Othman, founder of the Ottoman empire, had a dream of crescent moon growing bigger and bigger until it reached East to West.
Banners or flags are what people customarily unite around or behind. It may or may not represent some characteristic about them. The twelve tribes of Israel, for example, each had it’s own banner or symbol, e.g. ‘The Lion of Judah,’ etc. An insignia could represent one’s cause, philosophy, belief or attitude; whether religious or secular. The color and the symbol’s use on national flags is also most interesting. Red is the Ottomon (Turkish) color and thus, a star and crescent on a field of red. In Mauritania, green stands for prosperity and hope. The star represents the people. On the Pakistani flag, the crescent is for progress and the star for enlightenment.
The Prophet(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam)’s Flag
As to what the actual Holy Prophet (sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) used, we find some very interesting information. It has been reported that the Holy Prophet(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam)’s first standard or flag was a black flag to contradict the white flag of the Quraish, who had a black eagle on it as well. The earliest such flag or banner used by the Prophet(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) was a sable curtain which hung in the chamber of his wife, Ayesha (R.A.) In the center, the Prophet(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) attached a white cloth which was a turban that he captured from the city of Boreide. On it was written the inscription, Nasr um min Allah, which meant “the help of Allah.” Most appropriate. One can see how powerful a symbol this was to be used as a banner or flag.
In modern times, some governments, like Saudi Arabia, prefer not to use the star and crescent of the Turkish government, but instead use a plain green field with the shaha’da on it in white. There is also a white sword underneath. Several modern day Muslims use the shaha’da in white on a green field as their way of showing they are Muslim.
Moonsighting: The Hilaal:
There is no symbolic significance of the Crescent in Islam. No special event of Islamic history or faith is associated with it. People of Arabia been had associated with many superstitions concerning different forms of crescent. The answer of Qur’an to them is the same: “They ask you concerning crescent. Say, they are but signs to mark fixed periods of time for men…” (2:189).
With a crescent, starts a new month of Islamic calendar and it is religiously important for the Muslims to keep track of moon cycles as fixed dates of the year are set for rituals like fasting and Hajj. Qur’an has recognized the importance of both solar and lunar systems of reckoning of time. “The sun and the moon follow courses (exactly) computed (55:5) and “(God has created) the sun and moon for the reckoning (of time). Such is the ordinance of the Exalted in power, the Omniscient” (6:96). The length of a day is to be counted on the basis of earth’s revolution around its axis. Each new date starts with the sunset. The months are to be reckoned on the basis of cycles of moon, so the Islamic rituals gradually rotate in all the seasons of the year for the people of northern and southern hemispheres. A lunar year as you know is about 10 days shorter than the solar year. The length of the fasting time (from dawn to sunset) in a day in the fasting month of Ramadhan when drinking water is also prohibited during fasting, also gradually varies, with each year, for all the people of the earth. If the fasting was observed in a solar month, say January, then the length of fasting time in a day for the people of the northern hemisphere would always be shorter than for the people of the other half. The thirst of water will be no problem for northern people while their counterparts will always observe fasts in longer days of fierce summers. Keeping track of a crescent is more important for Muslims than any other religious community who follow the lunar calendar for their religious occasions. Fasting for consecutive 29 or 30 days is compulsory for all Muslims in the 9th month of Islamic Calendar. The first date of the month starts with the sunset and Taraweeh (Additional long prayers in the 9th month named Ramadhan) have to be started a short while after the start of the date. It is important that the starting of the month is known precisely. The crescent is visible only for a short duration after the sunset on the first date of the new lunar month. On its first date, the moon sets only a little after the sunset. Sometimes because of its faint light and sometimes because of clouds or dust it cannot be seen. The occurrence of crescent may not necessarily be announced on the basis of news from other places, as for people on eastern longitudes it might not have occurred before the moonset time while those in west had witnessed it. By traditions the Muslims have been relying on actual sighting of the moon for starting their month of Ramadhan. Similarly the first date of the 10th month is their festival of ‘Eid’. It is obligatory that nobody keep fast on the day of Eid. The Muslims all over the world anxiously try to see the moon on the evening of the 29th day of fasting in Ramadhan. Where it is not visible, the month of Ramadhan is taken as of 30 days for that place.
The significance of tracking the crescent for observing the religious rituals and feasts in Islam has been explained above. It does not assume any symbolic significance of any kind whatsoever. There are no such symbols representing Islam like in almost all other religions. When the seat of power of the Islamic world shifted to Turks from Arabs, and Muslim dynasties spread in Central Asia and other parts of the world, many people under the cultural influence of other religions, felt the need of a distinct symbol. They started using crescent as their distinct mark. The use of crescent as a mark by some people is a gradual innovation instead of being associated with any tenet or historical event of Islam.
Now, as Muslims, why should we be so concerned about all this? Well, for one thing we should never want to look to any person, nation, government or anything as a source of guidance or direction over Allah. To do so would be shirk. No one is worthy of that honor except Allah, the Almighty.
There are several Muslim countries that currently feature the crescent moon and star symbol on their national flag. Even more have used the symbol previously in history, but the color, size, orientation, and design features continue to vary widely from country to country. It is also interesting to note the diversity of the countries represented. The majority of these countries are not Arabic-speaking, but rather are part of the greater Muslim World. Some Countries that use the crescent and the star are: Algeria, Azerbaijan, Comoros, Malaysia,Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
What does all this have to do with the symbol of the ‘star and the crescent’? Well, for one thing, both symbols, the star and the crescent, come from the false worship or adoration for someone other than Allah. In the case of the crescent, it was the goddess Diana and with the star it was Mary (Peace be upon her), the mother of Jesus (Peace be upon him). As much as we love and respect Mary(Maryam- Peace be upon her), the mother of Jesus, peace and blessings be on her, she is not worthy of worship and she would be the first to tell you so. For that matter neither is Musa (Moses) or ‘Isa (Jesus) or even our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be on all of them . Nor is the Qur’an worthy of worship or the entire record of ahadith or the two Holy Mosques or the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs (R.A.) or anything in this universe, past, present or future. Only Allah stands alone as worthy of worship. Yet some of us carry these symbols around as an expression of identity with those very beings and are proud to associate ourselves as Muslims by them.
Proper attention should be given, however, to the use of a symbol or icon that at one time represented the worship of a goddess or to one that symbolizes our ‘godly’ adoration for a righteous person whom some may place on the same plane of reverence reserved only for Allah. May Allah guide us as we search to perfect our worship of Him as He has perfected our religion. In the end we all return to Him and He will teach us what was best; for He is the best to decide (10:108-109).
Therefore, in Conclusion, due to the history of the CRESCENT and STAR, one should be cautious in it’s usage on letterheads, minarets, flags, masjids etc. as a symbol that represents ISLAM.
Compiled by AL-ISLAAH PUBLICATIONS from Sources: islamicvoice ; islam.about ; ameen/crescent