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Banning ISIS flags or Muslim declaration of faith?

Banning the “ISIS flag” will outlaw the Muslim declaration of faith

In some parts of the world, there are few more divisive and contentious issues than the flying of flags. These are usually as a result of historic injustices and a lack of sense of identification with the geographical landscape or population represented by the dominant flag. The obvious examples that spring to mind are from Northern Ireland and the debate in the US surrounding the Confederate flag.

Recently David Cameron may have triggered a new flag debate in the UK that could result in another wave of anti-terror arrests and a consequential artificial inflation of the terror threat to the UK. Writing in the Daily Telegraph on 16 August, the Prime Minister confirmed that anyone walking around with “ISIS flags” would be arrested with their materials seized. In light of the tragic murder of US journalist James Foley by ISIS, such an order could lead to a disproportionate number of arrests due to an ignorance of the reality of the ISIS flag.

Cameron’s comments appear to be reflective of the current practices of police forces in the country. CAGE has received several reports of the police closely monitoring and intervening at demonstrations and rallies to seize flags accused of being those of ISIS. There have also been several media reports about the “ISIS flag” being carried at Gaza demonstrations and flown at the entrance to a housing estate in East London. In Sheffield, police had to intervene after a brawl broke out at a Gaza demonstration when members of the Kurdish community seized and desecrated what they believed to be an ISIS flag.

The problem is that in each case, the flag in question was not the ISIS flag but simply a black flag with an Arabic inscription on it, known as the shahada or the Islamic declaration of faith, translated as: ‘There is no deity worthy of worship except Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah’. Although the flags appear similar, they are not the same.

The ISIL/ISIS flag is black in colour with the shahadah divided into three parts. The top part contains the first half of the shahadah. Below this is an image of the seal of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that would be used for ambassadorial letters, treaties and contracts saying ‘Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah’. Finally and critically, the bottom of the flag contains a third Arabic inscription that translates as ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’, although there have been instances of ISIS members flying the generic shahadah flag without this last inscription. (Presumably these flags will be replaced with a new version to reflect ISIS’ official recent brand as ‘The Islamic State’ which incidentally is not a proscribed organisation under the Terrorism Act 2000.)

The shahadah flag, on the other hand, can come in different forms. One is identical to the ISIS flag save for the final inscription with the name of ISIS. Another form contains both parts of the shahadah in the one line using a more ornate calligraphy. The flag comes in different colours but its most common form is in white or black. Many of the groups fighting inside Syria including Jabhat al-Nusrah use the black shahadah flag. It is also used by al-Shabab in Somalia and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

The difficulties that Mr Cameron, the police and the media will have (and are already having) is that the shahadah flag is not the exclusive property of any single group or organisation but one that is representative of Islam and proudly displayed by Muslims of all sects and denominations. Not all groups who use it are proscribed; from Chechen rebel groups fighting Russian aggression in the 1990s to the Western-backed Free Syrian Army today. Non-violent groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir have also adopted the shahadah flag as their emblem. Moreover, the national flag of one of Mr Cameron’s most stalwart allies, Saudi Arabia, which is itself virulently opposed to ISIS, consists of the shahadah on a green flag with the image of a sword underneath it. ISIS is only the latest group to appropriate the flag for their own use.

A shahadah frame is a common feature in most Muslim households. It is a reminder of the most fundamental aspect of the Islamic faith, without which one cannot be a Muslim. The shahadah are the first words uttered into the ears of a newborn and the final statement of a Muslim before death. For that reason, it is often seen on t-shirts, bandanas, jewellery, decoration pieces and even draped over coffins being taken to the cemetery.

But Mr Cameron’s comments are just the latest in a number of unfounded claims made about the flag. The Guardian misreported that the black shahadah flag seen flying at the entrance of the east London housing estate was that of ISIS although it later amended this to ‘jihadist flag’. The story was repeated by Douglas Murray in the Spectator who rather bizarrely suggested that al-Qaeda, Hamas and even the shia militia Hezbollah were the “exact ideological soul-mates” of ISIS. In Sheffield, South Yorkshire Police clarified that the flag desecrated by Kurdish residents were not those of ISIS but “a black flag that bears the Islamic declaration of faith”. Across the pond, New Jersey resident Mark Dunaway received death threats and a visit from Homeland Security after a picture of his shahadah flag flown outside his home was tweeted and reported to the authorities. Mr Dunaway had flown the flag as a symbol of his Islamic faith for over ten years, far before the idea of ISIS was even conceived.

Mr Cameron’s calls to effectively criminalise the shahada flag are as unreasonable as any attempt by a Muslim nation to ban the Union Jack or St George’s Flag because of the actions of the BNP and EDL. The latter distinction has been noted by Warwickshire Police whose advice to someone who complained of her next door neighbour flying a St George’s Flag on his window and having Nazi memorabilia in his house was:

“If the man next door has extremist beliefs as long as the material is kept within his private dwelling then he commits no offence. Unfortunately the St George’s flag has become a symbol of right wing political parties but it does not automatically mean that a person who displays such a flag shares those views, they could be an avid football fan and/or very patriotic, which are two entirely different things.”

The prime minister would do well to remember the advice the father of celebrated Northern Ireland leader John Hume once gave him: “You can’t eat a flag“, meaning that real politics is about living standards and social and economic development, and not about waving flags at one another.

Leave the flag alone Mr Cameron as it will only antagonise 3 million of your citizens. Focus on the real issues and reasons for the rise of ISIS.

Source: www.islam21c.com

About Fahad Ansari

Fahad Ansari is an Immigration and Human Rights Solicitor, Writer, Activist. He has also authored a number of articles and reports on international human rights, social discrimination and anti-terrorism legislation to mainstream papers and policy makers.


  1. Let me remind u about Palestine Before u talk about Isis first open ur eyes and have a look at wat Israel is doing? Open ur eyes why aren’t anybody stopping Israel get the main issue sorted first. Then think about Isis.

  2. I live in the uk and I am proud of my religion I do not beleive it is an Isis flag. It’s the banner of Islam I will choose to hae it as it my religious right to support my religion. If Cameron has a problem let him try and ban the flag we are ready to be arrested because for us the flag meant a lot.

  3. Carry your flag in Saudi Arabia, the ISIS’s supporter, you will also be arrested or tortured to death in prison,. This is UK ruled by UK’s laws. You are not happy then leave. 6 billion people in the worlc are too sick and tired of your threatnening their countries with your Islam , islam… this and that.
    Remember Freedom has limited, when you and yours pose threat to their national security, they must arrest you or else. If you and yours resist, there will be a military army take over the streets.
    You know ISIS is being supported by Saudi, Qatar and Kuwait? Now these Arab nations washing their hands and will arrest anyone who carries that flag.

  4. What happens to Freedom of speech? I walk with the flag of the Caliphate because I support it, am I terrorist? What does the Flag of US, Germany or France represent but also injustice and imperialism. I find these flags more offensive then the flag of the Caliphate! Banning the flag of the Caliphate is yet an other attack on Islam that will only result more Muslims to rise up.

  5. Shelly Belaribi

    There are other ways to write this declaration does not had to be how it is in this evil group’s flag. I wish the intelligence of superpower would find out who is financing these devil’s pawns so that their purses can be dried.

    • Agree with Shelly and would like to make the point that the islamic declaration of faith exists and belongs in the heart not on some piece of cloth, so it can never be banned by anyone. What should be banned are these evil groups that are monopolising Islam and making a mockery of it.

      • Samy Merchant

        Best to write it in English so as not to scare the Western people:

        There is no true God except Allah.


        Better also to use more pleasant colors, like white on green.

        • Dear Samy. I don’t believe the west are scared. They are civilized nations and civilized people and their societies are democratic societies. They accepted us in their lands out of love and compassion that’s all.
          Be honest I was Buddhist, but after my whole family members were all killed and dead by starvation in my very poor homeland, I became an orphan. Before that I dreamed saw God whom I never knew healed my disease. Then I had a vision saw Him again He sat tall in white judging people on earth. I saw Him again, a few months ago, and He revealed Himself, He was Jesus Christ. I am Christian now. Not because the Christians were kind and helped me, but I followed what God revealed to me.
          I just want to share with you to have an open heart. Speak to Allah or God, the Father of Abraham to guide or reveal Himself directly to you, He will if you are sincere and truly trust and love Him.

          Peace be with you

          • Samy Merchant

            Dear VD,
            Sorry to hear all your family members passed away. May Allah comfort you.

            I believe the Western people are scared or at least wary of Islam. Maybe this is because of the incorrect information they have of our REAL religion, or maybe its because terrorists like ISIS give Islam a bad name.

            By the way, I do speak to Allah when I pray five times a day. But Islam teaches me that I can’t see Allah directly in THIS life (His Glory will be too much for me to bear), but that I can see Him directly in the NEXT life. So I think I’ll wait!

            But the good news is that Allah reveals Himself to me INDIRECTLY many, many times a day. In Islam, Allah has told us over a 100 of His Names. One of them is “Ar-Rahman,” which means Allah shows His mercy through His creation, suddenly and quite unexpectedly.

            Like I was driving today, and the people in my city are known to be impolite and uncourteous. But then this guy suddenly stops his car just to give me way! Or the other day, when I ordered a cappacino at Starbucks only to find out from the cashier that it had just been paid for by someone. When I turned around, I saw no one! So Allah revealed Himself indirectly to me through His name “Ar-Rahman.”

            This is why I love Islam so much. Allah is constantly revealing Himself to me through His over a hundred Names (which I have memorized), and when I am AWAKE, not dreaming!

            Thanks and Peace be with you

    • It’s easy to find out who are financing those devils.
      ISIS does not create its own weapons and arms.
      But too much digging would expose that they are funded by the West.

  6. It is simply wrong to exploit the islamic declaration of faith by any self professed islamic saviour group trying to impose their distorted and stifling version of Islam on any other human being, muslim or non muslim.
    None of the groups are representative of the Prophet’s (pbuh) Islam and what he preached. Stop using the declaration of faith to confuse people and mock Islam, can’t they find their own symbol without tarnishing Islam! The imams have a role to play here in taming excitable youths and preventing further divisions amongst muslims themselves.
    I agree there is blatant double standards when it comes to extremists in the West; I for one associate the British flag with the extreme racist bnp party before anything else.

    • U keep being a bum chum Allah is the greatest not no man made law as being a Muslim u shud know Islam will fall but will rise again I see the ummah rising and nobody at all can stop that. If you want peace then leave us the **** alone and we will leave u

      • Iftikar Ahmad

        Asim better still why don’t you **** off to Saudi or Pakistan where you can live oppressed under sharia and be happy in the ummah

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