It's become a symbol that's hard to ignore: The black flag with white Arabic writing flown by ISIS, the militant terrorist group in Iraq and Syria that calls itself the Islamic State or ISIS. But what does it mean?
The flag has shown up everywhere — from images posted online by the militants to the cities and suburbs of Europe and even in the US. But just what are the origins of this flag?
The flag is often called the Black Standard or the Black Banner. “The black banner of Islam as an idea goes back to the 8th century, when the Second Dynasty of Islam came to power with black banners,” according to Jonathan Bloom, a professor of Islamic Art at Boston College.
The white writing that you see at the top of the flag is the first half of an Islamic phrase called the shahada, or declaration of faith, which reads: “There is no God but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”
The entire shahada is found on many different flags throughout the Islamic world, including the official state flag of Saudi Arabia.
Another appropriated symbol on the flag is the white circle at its center, which contains the second part of the shahada: "Muhammad is the Messenger of God (Allah)." It’s meant to represent the official seal of the Prophet Muhammad, but Blooms says scholars have long debated what that seal actually looked like.
The two Arabic phrases, the black color of the flag and even the ancient looking font of the Arabic all work to evoke an image of the historical Islamic caliphate, the massive state that ISIS claims to have resurrected.
“In effect," Bloom says," they’re saying we’re going back to this earlier time."
However, it's got nothing to do with Islam, according to President Barack Hussein Obama.
ISIS militants are also using a new hand gesture. Read our story explaining the meaning of the raised index finger.
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