Throughout the history, people have used symbols to represent their spiritual beliefs.
Today, the star and crescent is commonly accepted as a symbol of Islam, and is used in national flags of many Islamic countries.
Many Muslim scholars consider that this symbol was not used by the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and therefore has no basis in Islam.
What does it symbolize or mean then? Is it a valid symbol for the faith?
What prompted me to look back into the Islamic history was, a tatoo,a crescent and star inscribed below the right index finger of a fellow devotee which diverted my attention in Tashahhud, during one of the Friday prayers in masjid nabawi.
At the end of prayers, before I could warn this brother about the permissibility of tattoos in Islam, the man disappeared in the crowd.
This incident reminded me of our school day habits, when we used to draw crescent and star with green ink on the dorsum of our hands, even some of my uncles had a crescent and star tattooed on their wrists.
Contrary to popular belief, the symbol is not Muslim in origin, historians say that they were the insignia of the Ottoman Empire, not of Islam as a whole, and its use today is sometimes controversial in the Muslim world, leaving a scope for further debate from Islamic scholars on this subject.
How and when did crescent moon and star become associated with the faith of Islam? Does it symbolize Islam? It’s somewhat cloudy even today.
If I ask believers, “What type of logo would they suggest for my forthcoming Islamic publication?”,
The majority choose the same, “The crescent moon and star”.
But, we as Muslims have to weigh the things in Islamic perspective. There are no crescent and stars on the doors or walls of the two holy mosques, except you see a crescent shape on the minarets.
The star and crescent was not known at the time of the Prophet (ﷺ), or at the time of the Khulafa’ al-Raashidoon (the first four leaders of Islam), after the departure of the Prophet (ﷺ) from this earthly world, or during the time of the Umawis (Umayyad dynasty).
It emerged some time after that, and historians differ as to when this symbol was first adopted and who was the first to adopt it. Some say it was the Persians, others say it was the Greeks, and that this symbol was somehow passed to the Muslims. (Al-Taraateeb al-Idaariyah by al-Kittaani).
The crescent moon and star symbol actually pre-dates Islam by several thousand years, most sources agree that these ancient celestial symbols were in use by the peoples of Central Asia and Siberia in their worship.
In fact, the star and crescent has actually acquired its association to the faith by association rather than intent, beginning/starting with the Ottoman Empire. Some historians, believe that the city of Byzantium (later known as Constantinople and Istanbul) adopted the crescent moon as its symbol.
The symbol remained in near constant use, it wasn’t until the Ottoman Turks took over Constantinople (Istanbul), and they adopted the city’s existing flag and the symbol.
Since the Ottomans were also ruling Dar al-Islam, (political head of the faith, the House of Islam, the community of believers) and for hundreds of years, the Ottoman Empire ruled over the Muslim world, people started adapting the crescent moon as a symbol for Islam in general, and began putting it on mosques, minarets, etc.
But they didn’t ever use it for decoration on the holy book Quran, since the Quran was “dictated by the Angel of God to the Messenger (ﷺ) of God” and so should not bear any symbol.
After centuries of battle with Christian Europe, it is understandable how the symbols of this empire became linked in people’s minds with the faith of Islam as a whole. Based on this history, many Muslim scholars reject using the crescent moon as a symbol of Islam.
The faith of Islam historically had no symbol, and many refuse to accept it. Christians, seeing the crescent moon displayed as a battle standard, assumed it was the symbol of Islam, analogous to the cross as the symbol of Christianity, but it’s not the first time that erroneous understandings have taken root.
There is some debate in the Muslim community even today about how the use of the crescent as a symbol helps to distinguish Muslim establishments from non-Muslim establishments (crescent and star emblem on meat shops or restaurants helps Muslims to identify a halal food outlet) in a non Islamic society.
Some scholars believe that since Islamic calendar is closely associated with the appearance of crescent, hence the attachment. Even in UN the Red Crescent is registered as an alternative logo to cross for international relief.
In light of Islamic teachings, also in Quran as such, there is no mention of symbols used in Islam or to represent Islam itself.
While reviewing the Islamic history, we understand that the Prophet (ﷺ) used flags of different colors in different Ghazwat (campaigns commanded by the Prophet (ﷺ) and Saraya (campaign commanded by any Sahabi)
Islamic armies and caravans flew simple solid-colored flags (generally black, green, or white) for identification purposes. The Prophet’s (ﷺ) favorite color was green.
However banners were used in the time of the Prophet (ﷺ)- White banner (plain)- (Al Raheeq alk Maktoom), Green banner (plain)- Black banner (plain and also with the Tawheed written on it, one flag black on white, and the other white on black), bearing an Arabic inscription inscribed ‘Nasr um min Allah’, with the help of Allah, or Shahadah, ‘La ilaha ila lalah Muhmamad u Rasulla Allah’, There is no God but Allah and Mohammad (saw) is the messenger of Allah (ﷺ).
In later generations, the Muslim leaders continued to use a simple black, white, or green flag with no markings, writing, or symbolism on it. Some writers have mentioned even using red color on the Muslim banners. (Evolution of the Arab Flag- Hadi).
Regardless of its origins, the color green has been firmly cemented in Islamic culture for centuries, the famous dome of our beloved Prophet’s resting place is green, along with crescent and star as logo.
This leads to the question, what other “symbol” represents the Islamic faith?
Is it necessary to even have a symbol?