The Crescent Moon - the Islamic symbol?

You know, it's interesting how one symbol or icon is sufficient to represent one particular group. The Christians have the cross, the Jews have the Star of David and the Muslims have .... did you say the crescent moon and the star?

It is surprising that the crescent moon and the star have become the Muslims' symbol. I remembered being taught when I was young and even now to stay away from the use of religious symbols or items as this may lead to some form of idol worship that could compromise the belief of the one true God. And yet despite Muslims being taught that, surprisingly the crescent moon and star is being accepted as the symbol of Islam.

According to history, the early Muslim community did not have any symbol and the Muslim armies fighting under the leadership of Prophet Muhammad SAW, simply use solid coloured flags generally green, but also black for identifying themselves. There were many tales of the bravery of many brave soldiers who fought to keep the flag flying as letting the flag falls means that the army has fallen. There was this brave man who despite losing both hands held on to the flag with the stumps of his hands. Despite the tales, there was really no mention whether the flag had any symbols on them.

How did the crescent moon and star became the symbols of Islam? It was the Ottoman Empire which made the world associate that symbol with the Muslim world when they conquered Istanbul and adopted the city's existing flag and symbol which was the crescent moon and the star. This ancient city originally called Byzantium had much earlier adopted the crescent moon symbol said either to honour a pagan Greek goddes called Diana or to commemorate the first day of the lunar month in which the Romans defeated the Goths. The crescent moon was already on the city's flag even before the birth of Christ.

Then in 330 CE, Constantine refounded Byzantium and renamed it Constantinoupolis after himself or Constantinople in Greek. He rededicated the city to the virgin Mary, whose star symbol was added to the previous crescent. By the time, Sultan Mehmet II led the Turks to conquer Constantinople in 1453 and renamed it Istanbul, the city's flag was already the crescent moon and the star. As the Ottoman Empire grew and ruled over the Muslim world, the crescent moon and star symbol became synonymous as the Muslim symbol. In fact the star within a crescent was a badge of Richard I, and his army quit using it when it became the banner of the Muslims.

There have been intense debate on the internet about the suitability of using the crescent moon and the star as the Islamic symbol. Some argued that since Islam never had any symbol historically and that to use what is essentially a pagan symbol as an Islamic symbol is certainly not right. Until I came across several articles on the internet about this matter, I have never really thought about the suitability of using the symbol. In most cases, practically all our Brunei mosques used the crescent moon and star as part of their decorative motifs. The Brunei crest has the crescent moon as part of the crest. A number of Muslim countries also have it as part of their national flags including Turkey, Malaysia, Algeria, Pakistan and Tunisia and also not forgetting the international Red Cross and Red Crescent organisation. Something to think about during this holy month of Ramadhan.


Anonymous said…
That is interesting. I often wondered about how that came to be considering the fact, as you rightly point out, it's existence in terms of being such a symbol would be considered wrong. I never even thought about it being considered a symbol so much as it being part of typical arhictecture as might be prevalent in Muslim regions, hence 'Islamic' architecture. And now it's widely accepted as a 'symbol'.

Huh. Amazing how time and mass perception can create history!
Anonymous said…
Although its origins maybe of the pagan days, the use of those symbols may not lead to paganism itself. If intented to be used just as a symbol for identification purposes and nothing else then I guess is acceptable. I think it was acceptable for the ottomans to adopt the symbols of the moon and star as the culture of Islam revolves around the lunar months.
I could be mistaken though. >_<
Anyway Happy Fasting all!
lizzie said…
thanks for the info because having been raised a pagan, i always thought our religions had some historical ties. i used to ask my grandpa if we should go to the mosque since there was a moon on top of it... guess, it's time to do some research myself =)
Anonymous said…
hah. after posting in two of your blogs today, being the first time im here, id like to leave some comments here as well to serve as a form of reminder to the other readers here including the write to this article, :).

First of all we must always and always remember that anything can be on the internet, may it be true or false. and the truth can always be skewed just as well as an information about something could be twisted articulately to 'prove' something else.

now as sensitive as your article is, id like to give my 2cents on what i know, i know that colors do play a role in the islamic religion. As for shapes and symbols, im sure uve read about the 'origin' of the crescent and star symbol on the internet posted by assumed muslims posted in an assumed islamic site (which may or may not have subtle difference in what the truth really is), as its from symbols of false gods and what not.

now though this might be true initially, However, why the crescent still remains may have other explainations as well which are very true to the islamic faith. things such as the importance of the sightings on the 'anak bulan' during ramadhan and syawal, and how the prophet always gives salam to the moon showing his special acknowledgement towards it as compared with other things.

as far as the star goes, other than as a recreational value, i have yet to think of any reasons for it to be there honestly lol.

k now lets examine the countries that do embrace the crescent and star as the Islamic symbol, Malaysia, Singapore, Pakistan, Comoros, Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania. all of which places the symbol on their flag. countries which made their flags well after the Othman's rule. How strong is Islam really practise in those countries during the flag was created?

I doubt anyone worships or is even close to idolising the crescent and moon symbol to a greater stature than it is than nothing more than just a form of connection, or common language amongst all muslims. If Othman favors the symbol and chose it to show strength of his reign, then is there anything wrong with other muslim countries adapting his 'ideas' in hope of achieving the heights he did? or is it even wrong to show forms of association with the ottoman goverment to pursuit political/social ties then?

Ive yet to see the crescent and moon symbol being waved around in any of those freedom fighter clips/pictures and i have yet to see Osama, or the ambiguous Abu Sayaf advertising it anywhere. So if those extremist didnt drag that symbol to label their 'Acts' then im sure its safe to say that the symbol is just there as a form os Association and not to affirm any faith towards any gods. though if they are some that do mistakenly, then once again u can just blame ignorance as not all muslims are 'good', and not all muslims practise everything they should.

lol. ive typed far too much for a blog comment.. i better stop. :)
Anonymous said…
oops. forgot to add.. its all in the Niat. if the Niat to use those symbols were to glorify the 'false gods' then yes, That is Wrong! , but if the Niat to use the symbols as a form of islamic association with one another then, im sure its safe to say that there is no harm in that. compare the same scenario with the origin of ka'bah and what it was used for and what its used for now. With Niat, the Ka'bah transformed from a placeholder for idols to one of the most Holy structure in the Islamic faith.

dont question the origin. but question the niat should be a more fitting answer to ure question on the article's title. :)
Hamakraminus II said…
We as Muslims are not subject to symbolism, but symbols are useful things. The white and black flags of the Salaf, for instance were battle standards during Badr and Uhud and are still held in high esteem tday.

Salah-ud-din was already using it on the buildings of Jerusalem , though not the churches and temples of other people.

Islamic architecture and design has always incorporated natural things like plants and stones; why not the stars and the moon?

If no one has noticed, Brunei's own flag has a crescent on it- it's tipped on its side with Jawi written on it.
Anonymous said…
Portsmouth City and its F.C. both have the moon and crescent as it's emblem... Islamic my a*%e...
Anonymous said…
Importance should be placed on what the symbol means to society today not in what it represented in the long forgotten past.
Perfect example of this is the Nazi swastika. I'm sure many people reading this know that the swastika has its origins from a similar-looking Hindu symbol. But do Hindu ideals come to mind when u see this symbol or does imagery of Nazi war atrocities dominate your thoughts?
My point is, the crescent & moon are symbols that in today's context represent Islam, in some way at least. Therefore, knowledge of their obscure origins, although important, should not in any way diminish their importance to current society.
Izzaldin said…
In response to a post by anonymous on tuesday, oct 3rd 2006 regarding the origin of the Ka'aba, it seems as if you are implying that the Ka'aba was originally built as a centre of idolatry, when in fact it was originally built by the Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.) as a place of worship to Allah. So really, its not as if Islam adopted into itself a seemingly idolatrous element, because it was always intended to be used as a place of worship to Allah. I apologize if I misunderstood your argument. Salam Alaykum
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