The Ottoman Tales III: The Banner Named Barack

This continues a series inspired (somewhat) by Noel Barber’s The Sultans.  The previous instalment is here.

When Benito Mussolini broke with the Socialists and began his journey towards Fascism and taking over Italy, his newspaper, The People of Italy, screamed with this headline for its first issue in 1914:

The Banner of the Prophet in the Wind: All of Islam in Arms!

The Ottoman Empire was the last great Islāmic state lead by a Caliph, something we will discuss in due course.  But the immediate question is this: what was this “Banner of the Prophet”?

The answer to that can be found in the following dispatch from the Daily Telegraph, probably posted by Drew Gay, the Telegraph’s man in Constantinople at the time.  It has a decidedly contemporary feel to it, but since both Ottoman Turkish and Arabic have variable spellings in English, I have clarified these and other things in parentheses, along with the citations of the Qur’an.  It appeared in–of all places–the July-December 1877 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book, which happens to be the last issue under Godey’s direction.

On April 25 (1877), the Sultan Abdul Hamid (II), addressing the Turkish army, said: ‘The fatherland is in danger. It is my duty to take in my hand the banner of the Caliphate and go into the midst of my soldiers—to sacrifice, if necessary, my life for the independence of the Empire, and the honor and life of our women and children.’ Many of the readers of the Daily Telegraph would like, perhaps, to know some details of this banner, and of its wonderful influence upon the mind of those who believe in Mohammed and his ‘Koran.’ It might interest them, therefore, if I give here some observations on the subject.

The banner of the Caliphate, to which the Sultan alludes in his speech, is that which the Turks call ‘the Heavenly Standard,’ and, in their language, ‘Bairack.’ (Barack) Its color is green, and they believe it to have been the banner of the Prophet Mohammed, delivered to him by the angel Gabriel, through the medium of Ayesha, as an indubitable token of victory over their enemies. This standard was formerly laid up in the Treasury of the Sultan of Constantinople, but Is now kept in the Mosque at Eyoob (Eyub), where the new Sultans on the day of their coronation gird on the sabre of the Caliphate. In case of any serious struggle, a religious duty compels the Sultan to give orders to the ‘Mullas,’ (Mullahs) or Mohammedan clergy, to display the Prophet’s standard before the people and army, and proclaim ‘Al Jehad,’ (Jihad) or the holy war, by exhorting the Moslems to be faithful to their religion and defend their Kingdom. ‘This is the Prophet’s banner,’ the Sheikh-al-Islam exclaims: ‘This is the standard of the Caliphate: it is set up before you, and displayed over your heads, oh, true believers, to announce to you that your religion is threatened, your Caliphate in danger, and your life, wives, children, and property exposed to be the prey of your cruel enemies! Any Moslem, therefore, who refuses to take his arms and follow this holy Bairack, Is an infidel, and must, therefore, suffer ‘condemnation.’ Such an expedient has always produced wonderful effects among those who profess the Mohammedan religion. All good Moslems are considered as being divorced from their wives, ipso facto, if they refuse to make haste, take up their arms, follow the banner of the Caliphate, and light against the enemy of their religion and Kingdom. It is confirmed by trustworthy historians that the standard of the Caliphate has been always kept with extraordinary care and reverence—that even the Janissaries, who were often disrespectful to the Sultans, trembled at the sight of this holy ensign. Only one instance of disrespect to the heavenly standard Is related in the Turkish annals. This happened in 1658, when Hassan Pasha, at the head of a seditious faction, waged war with his legitimate sovereign. The Sultan gave orders, as usual, to display the banner of the Caliphate, with a view to induce Hassan Pasha and his parties to obey and respect the Head of Islam. Hassan Pasha seems to have been of little faith, inasmuch as when he saw the sacred banner displayed he turned his back to It and to the exhorting Mullas, and gave orders to his soldiers to light fiercely and carry on the war to the end.

I will not encroach upon your time with tiresome discussions on the genuineness of this green banner of the Caliphate. I only observe that, in the first place, all the biographers of Mohammed, and also the reliable historians of Islamism, both Orientals and Occidentals, make no allusion, whatever, to a green banner used by Mohammed in his military engagements. Elmacin mentions only two flags, which were constantly carried before Mohammed in the 25 campaigns in which he was personally engaged. One was black, and was called ‘ Al ‘Okab,’ i. e., the Eagle ; the other was white, and was called ‘ Al-Lewa,’ i. e., the standard par excellence In the second place, the banners used In former times during the Sultans wars as the standard of the Caliphate were of different colors, and had different mottoes inscribed on them. Several banners of the Caliphate have been also taken in different wars by the Christians. One of these was captured by the King of Poland in the year 1683, and sent to Rome to be presented to the Pope. The centre-piece was of gold brocade upon a red ground, and its borders were of silver brocade upon a green ground. Upon one side was embroidered in Arabic the Mohammedan formula, ‘There is but one God, and Mohammed is his apostle.’ On the other side was the following motto In Arabic, ‘Have confidence in God, oh faithful, and strengthen your faith.’ Another standard of the Caliphate was captured by the Venetians in the year 1685, with 17 other banners, 300 horses, 28 guns, and other spoil. This standard was, by the order of the Venetian Senate, exposed in the church of the Theatin Monks at Venice. On one side of it the following words were inscribed in Arabic: ‘In the name of God, the Most High and Almighty, God the Lord of all things, and the honorable prophets and saints, Mohammed. Abu-bekir, Omar, Othman, and Ali.’ On the other side was written, also in Arabic: ‘There is but one God, and Mohammed is his apostle. O God. our Lord Thou are great In Goodness, and Thou art the Lord of all nations.’ It appears, therefore, from these historical facts, that the green standard now in the Mosque of Eyoob, at Constantinople, is not the same one used by Mohammed in his military engagements. And this accords with the tradition that says that when the Prophet was dying, Ayesha, his favorite wife, tore down the green purdah from the door of the death chamber, and, giving it to the assembled chiefs, bade them make it the flag of future victory. The Moslems, therefore, call this green banner ‘Bairack-un-nabi,’ as being used as the standard of the Kingdom and the religion of Mohammed.

Notwithstanding all historical facts with regard to the non-genuineness of the ‘green’ banner, the Moslems have always believed, and still believe, that the green banner which they possess is the true’ Lowa,’ or standard, delivered to Mohammed by Divine ordinance as an ‘indubitable token of victory.’ This strong faith compels them In conscience to carry their arms, and follow it whenever they see it displayed; nay, the Sultans themselves are bound, as good Moslems and successors of Mohammed, to accompany the banner of the Caliphate, and go into the midst of their troops to light against their enemies. War is, indeed, not only a political expedient to the Moslems, as it is to the Christians, but it is a religious duty enjoined upon them by the precepts of the Koran. I beg to quote here only a few texts from
the book of Mohammed, to show that the Mohammedans are not only allowed to wage war with their enemies but are even commanded by the Koran to do so. In the 47th chapter, entitled ‘Mohammed,’ it is said: ‘Oh, true believers, if you assist God by fighting for his religion, he will assist you against your enemies.’ (47:7) In the 11th chapter, entitled ‘The Cow,’ it is also said : ‘ War is enjoined to you against those who fight against you. . . . Fight for the religion of God.’ (2:190) And in the chapter entitled ‘The Spoils,’ ‘O Prophet, stir up the faithful to war!’ (8:65) etc. Thus, the Koran knows nothing of protocols, but enjoins Moslems to wage war and light against their enemies: hence they are justified by the precepts of their religion in displaying the banner of the Caliphate, and in stirring up the nation to war.

Notes:

  1. The event that occasioned this call to Jihad was Russia’s declaration of war on the Ottoman Empire the day before, something the Ukrainians will appreciate.
  2. The closest flag now in use to the “banner called Barack” is the flag of Saudi Arabia, which has what Gay called the “Mohammedan formula” emblazoned on it along with a sword.
  3. Evidently ISIS didn’t think the Ottoman banner was right either, because they adopted a black flag for their caliphate, as Wal-Mart found out the hard when they made a cake with the flag on top, having rejected the Confederate flag as hateful.

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