Last modified: 2013-03-27 by peter hans van den muijzenberg
Keywords: shahada | wahhabi | sword | swords: 2 | nejd | mecca | arabia | text: arabic (golden) | ) |
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The "base flag" of Saudi Arabia, the shahada or Islamic profession of faith ("There is no god but God and Muhammad is the Prophet of God") on solid green was an old flag, connected to the Wahhabi reformist movement of the late 18th century, with whose religious drive the Al Saud family first rose to power. The sword was added in 1902, when Abdul Aziz ibn Abdul Rahman Al Saud ("Ibn Saud" to the British) established himself as Sultan of the Nejd.
In 1925, Abdulaziz established himself as King of the Nejd and Hejaz, with unknown flag alterations. (The King of Hejaz, Hussein, had used the Arab Revolt Flag).
When the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was established in 1932, the earlier Nejdi flag continued, though variants are shown with two swords, with a white stripe toward the hoist, etc.
Ed Haynes, 14 March 1996
In [The International Flag Book, Christian Fogd Pedersen gives the date 1946 for the adoption of the national flag (with the older pattern of sword).
Christopher Southworth, 14 April 2003
The national flag of Saudi Arabia has maintained its basic characteristics -- the Shahada (or Testimony) written in white Arabic script over a white sword against a green background -- for many decades(1)
There seem to have been three major design variations over the years. The earliest flag had a very simplified version of the inscription on a rather square field with a very white heading at the hoist.(2)
The next stage may have been introduced at the time of the unification of the
country, under the name Kingdom of the Hijaz and of Nejd and its Dependencies'
in February 1927. The inscription in this case was in the complicated thuluth
script and filled nearly the entire field of the flag.(3)
In 1973, a Royal decree established a precise design(4) in which the inscription was condensed to one-eighth the flag's area and the weapon was changed from a curved saber to a straight Arab sword. Recently (1984) a further modification has been introduced in the national flag: the hilt in the previous design has been replaced by a simpler form. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to obtain a Royal decree or other legal instrument establishing this design as the exclusive one for the national flag.(4)
(1) Its exact age is not clear. E.H. Baxter, National Flags (London: Warne, 1934) stated that "This flag is said to have been designed about 100 years ago by the Grandfather of the present King." That it was in use in 1911 is evident from the contemporary photograph reproduced between pp. 190 and 191 in Robert Lacey's The Kingdom (London: Hutchinson, 1981). The interesting article by Oleg Tarnovsky, "The Flag History of Saudi Arabia" (Flagmaster, No. 41) is, unfortunately, misleading in its documentation and presents factual claims with a degree of certainty not justified by available evidence.
(2) The heading -- a piece of material attached to the flag which forms a sleeve through which the pole passes does not figure in the symbolic meaning of the flag as it varies in width and is sometimes completely absent, e.g. in table flags and in a flag whose heading has grommets or a rope. It would seem, therefore, that the white stripe in the Saudi flag should not be considered as an inherent part of the flag, but as an accessory to it (like fringe, pole, finial, cravate, etc.)
(3) Illustrations of this flag can be found on plate 14 of the Flaggenbuch of the high command of the German Naval War Ministry (Berlin: Reichsdruckerei, 1939; on p. 344 of "Flags of the World" by Gilbert Grosvenor and William J. Showalter, the The National Geographic Magazine, LXVI:3 (September 1934) ; and in various flag charts produced by the United Nations.
(4) see the FLAG BULLETIN, Volume XIV, No. 2, pp 44-45.
Source: [The Flag Bulletin
Martin Grieve, 27 October 2006
I have found a picture of a flag of Saudi Arabia. On it, under the shahada, are two swords crossed, both pointing downwards. On today's flag of Saudi Arabia, there is only one sword, horizontal, and pointing upwards.
Goren M. Shaked, 25 April 1996
image by Martin Grieve, 26 October 2006
after photo in [National Geographic (1934)
The September 1934 National Geographic [gsh34] includes a black and white photograph of the Saudi Arabian flag with one sword. The caption under the picture reads:
King Ibn Saud's army carried this flag in its desert conquests...When the powerful King of Saudi Arabia visited Germany two years ago [i.e., 1932], this flag was [used] in his honor by the officials of Tempelhof, Berlin's huge airport."There are several possible explanations for the one and two sword flags. The caption under the picture makes it sound like Ibn Saud's Army carried the flag during their conquests, therefore it may be that this is a military flag, not a national one. This would also account for its apparent use before 1932.
Unfortunately the new kingdom was proclaimed after the plates for this issue went to press, so there is no color plate or explanation about the dates of adoption, etc. There is a note in the text that also mentions that the flag was supposedly designed by Ibn Saud's grandfather, a century earlier.
Nathan Augustine, 13 March 1996
Carr [car61] shows the two sword version, but the text notes that there is also a one-sword version. Crampton [cra90] says that the sword was added to the traditional Wahhabite green banner in 1902, but that there have been many variants. I suspect that the flag was never rigidly defined in the past, and whether to use one sword or two was left to the taste of the king at the time. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia's national emblem remains two swords crossed under a palm tree.
Roy Stilling, 25 April 1996
The crossed-sword version referred to here would appear to be in doubt, despite the fact that it has appeared in several publications, and I have two of them on my bookshelf at home. In [Flaggenbuch (1939), there is the version with one sword shown and this flag I would suggest is the same flag as the flag in the photograph in a 1934 National Geographic magazine [gsh34] which I have seen. As Saudi Arabia came into existence in 1932 (?) I would think this to be its very first flag, although there have been quite a few variants of the one sword version through the years. But this could simply be due to the flag not being specified "precisely." I think that these flags are a continuation (with different Shahada and swords) of the original Flaggenbuch version and so feel that the two sword version was erroneously reported and repeated.
Martin Grieve, 26 October 2006
Having a look at Gresham Carr's 1961 Flags of the World [car61], I learnt about the existence of a 1937 piece of legislation regulating Saudi Arabian flags, including at least the national flag, royal standard, war ensign and civil ensign, all of which were described (maybe also illustrated) with two crossed swords. Carr gives the Islamic calendar date 18/1/1356 A.H., i.e. 18th Muharram 1356 A.H., which is about 31 March 1937 A.D. Carr's text says:
The National Flag is green and bears the great Arabic inscription, La illaha illa Allah wa Muhammad ur-rusul Ullah, – "There is no god but God, and Mohammed is the Prophet of God." The inscription, in accordance with the Arab custom, reads from the observer's right towards the left. In order that it shall appear correctly on the reverse side of the flag, it is necessary for the manufacturer to print it in duplicate and sew the two back to back before fixing the canvas "heading". Under the inscription, which is in white, there are two white swords in saltire. In accordance with decree 18/1/1356 A.H., the National Flag is 150 by 100 centimetres (see Plate XXXI, 4); In passing, it should perhaps be recorded that Saudi Arabian flags sometimes have one white sword instead of two in saltire.The swords illustrated on Carr's plate appear to be Western sabers (slightly curved and with guard) rather than Arab scimitars (very curved, no guard, as in the former Yemeni flag) or the elaborate version of the Abd al Aziz sword (no guard, decorated hilt and pommel) shown in early Saudi flags.
As noted above, National Geographic 1934 [gsh34] does not include the Saudi Arabian flag in its plates but it does show an excellent photograph of the flag being hoisted at Tempelhof airport when the Saudi king visited Germany in 1932. The flag in the picture looks exactly the same as that in Flaggenbuch 1939 [ neu39] – which is not especially relevant since it was probably German-manufactured, very possibly under Neubecker's specifications.
Several questions remain unclear:
The change was gradual and never quite official due to the fact that the flag was not officially described until recently (if recently is the right word for 1973). However, 15 March 1973 is the date of adoption of the one-sword flag.
Željko Heimer, 26 September 1996
The history of the 1945 Saudi flag needs more research. It seems certain that a flag very similar to the current one was adopted on 30 March 1938. In this flag, the shahada was larger than at present. On 15 March 1973, the size of the shahada was changed to occupy one-eighth of the total area of the flag. Another small modification was made on 19 November 1980, changing the sword slightly. But there's this question with the 1945 flag: circa 1950, several charts show two crossed swords on Saudi flags. Neubecker [ [neu39] reported this pattern in use in 1939, but other vexillologists believe that it was used from 1945, after Saudi Arabia's declaration of war against the Axis, and disappeared in 1956. Smith says that the two-sword pattern was only a misunderstanding: a plate issued in 1950 by the Saudi embassies in London and Washington mislabelled the royal standard as the national flag. A original document from Neubecker shows the two flags (national and royal) with writing in Neubecker's own hand stating that the English version had the captions of both flags reversed while the original Arabic version was correct.
Jaume Ollé 14 April 2003
Are sure about the 1938 date? It looks very similar, but not the same, as the one given in Carr (discussed above. As I said before, Carr gives "18/1/1356 A.H." which is 31st March 1937 – almost exactly a year before your date. (It could even be exactly a year, since most Hijri-Gregorian converters give the possibility of a one-day error.)
Santiago Dotor, 15 April 2003
There was a variant with two swords. It was the royal flag. I own a photocopy of a flag plate which shows both flags crossed, the captions above the two-sword flag read "National flag", and the caption above the other flag reads "Royal flag". The plate was published in 1948 by the Royal Saudi embassy in London. In 1961 the same plate was published by the Royal Saudi embassy in New York. Dr. Neubecker had sent me the London photocopy years ago with the explanation: "the English captions were interchanged, the original Arab captions below the English words tell it vice versa, and that is correct." The plate published in New York had the correct captions. So the flag was not described for the first time in 1973 but much earlier.
By the way: King Saud had received the sword from his father [King Abdul Aziz, also known as Ibn Saud – Ed.]. It is the family sword, and Saud decided to put it on his flag. The whole story is written in Dagobert von Mikusch, Ibn Saud, (Leipzig: List-Verlag), 1942. Maybe there is a reason for changing the design of the sword in the flag: King Abdul Aziz's sword was curved...but that is only speculation.
Ralf Stelter, 21 December 2003
image by Martin Grieve and Eugene Ipavec, 24 Feb 2012
At a business ceremony in Tokyo on Apr 2 1980, they still used acurved sword.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 27 October 2006
image by Eugene Ipavec, 09 Feb 2010
The 82nd flag mentioned and illustrated in the Book of All Kingdoms [f0fXX] is attributed to Mecca (or to Arabia in general, depending on the interpretation). This as depicted in the 2005 Spanish illustrated transcription [f0f05], a red flag yellow Arabic letters, in the ogival default shape of this source. The exact shape of the letters, as depicted in [f0f05], seems to be bogus, or at least severely misshapen. (This flag differs in detail from both #83 (Socotra) and #23 (Granada), though they all are red with yellow Arabic letters.)
The anonymous author of [f0fXX] describes the flag thusly:
«sus señales son un pendón bermejo e en medio letras de oro aravigas.»
"Its device is a red flag and on it Arabic letters in gold."
According to the Hakluyt Society 1912 illustrated transcription in English [f0f12] (#72 on plate 16 between p.40-41), the manuscript "S" [f0fXXs] shows this flag just like [f0f05].
António Martins-Tuválkin, 08 Dec 2007