ISMAILI FLAG - Fatimid period
"Imam Radi Abdullah (840-881) had sent his da'is in all directions from Syria to propagate Ismailism. The most acclaimed among them was Ibn Hawshab (d. 914), who was sent to Yamen in 880. He made a large conversion and established an Ismaili rule. He took possession of a stronghold on a hillock and made it his headquarters. He hoisted the green banner at his headquarters, bearing the Koranic verse on it. Meanwhile, Abu Abdullah al-Shi'i (d. 911) conquered almost whole Maghrib and routed the Aghlabid rule of 112 years. He captured Raqada and made it his headquarters on March 25, 909. He started the Fatimid khutba and struck coins. He hoisted most significantly the Fatimid banner. Ibn Hammad (d. 1230) writes in Akhbar al-Muluk Bani Ubayd wa Siyaratihim (Paris, 1927, pp. 7-8) that Abu Abdullah also got his slogans inscribed on banners, weapons, trapping and seals. The banner had an inscription of the Koranic verse: "Soon shall the hosts be routed, and they shall turn their backs." (54:45).
The Fatimids adopted green as the colour of their standard. According to American Educator (New York, 1973, 7:131), "Green is frequently found in Arab flags because this colour was taken by the Fatimite dynasty, which ruled most of north Africa." It is also mentioned in The New Encyclopaedia Britannica (4: 812) that, "Green was the colour of the Fatimid dynasty and eventually it became the colour of Islam."
Makrizi (d. 1442) writes in al-Khitat (1:23) that, "During the Caliphate of the Fatimids, a separate department of making banners for different occasions had been erected, known as khazinat al-bunud (store of banners). The word bunud (pl. of band) was used for banner or flag. These banners were used during battles and festive occasions, wherein the Koranic verses were written. The total cost of the department was 80,000 dinars per year." The chief banner was known as "liwa'i hamd" which had been used by Ali bin Abu Talib in the battles, and was the favourite banner of the Fatimid Imams. One of the emblems of royal authority was the outfit (alah), the display of banners and flags.
The Fatimids divided their armies into smaller units. This arrangement was called "the battle order" (ta'biyah). In front of the Commander stood one army with its own battle lines, its own general and flag. It was called "the advance guard". Then, to the right of the place where the Commander was, stood another army, called "the right flank". The army on left side was called "the left flank". Then, there was another army behind the whole armies, called "the rear guard"(saqa). Separate from them and in front of the centre went the vanguard (jalishiya) with its own commander and flag.
Ibn Hammad (p. 57) writes that Imam al-Mansur (946-952) returned to the capital in triumph soon after the final defeat of Abu Yazid in 948. He was met in Kairwan by the notables mounted on fine horses and carrying drums and green flags.
When the Fatimid general Jawhar made his successful footing on the soil of Egypt on July 4, 969 as a conqueror, he sent his representative ahead in the city with a white flag. Stanley Lane Poole writes in History of Egypt (London, 1914, p. 102) that, "Jawhar, like his master, always disposed to a politic leniency, renewed his former promises, and granted a complete amnesty to all who submitted. A herald bearing a white flag rode through the streets of Fustat, proclaiming the amnesty and forbidding pillage and on August 5, the Fatimid army, with full pomp of drums and banners, entered the capital."
Jawdhar al-Azizi (d. 974) writes in Sirat al-Ustadh Jawdhar (p. 83) that when Imam al-Muizz (952-975) ascended in 952, he delivered a sermon in his inaugural appearance that he and his people would be allowed to visit the tomb of the Prophet in Medina, to mount his minbar, to visit his house, to accomplish the pilgrimage to Mecca, and to stand with banners unfurled at the illustrious sacred places.
In 977, when Imam al-Aziz (975-996) set out to conquer Syria, the outfit (alah) of the Fatimids was composed of 500 banners and 500 trumpets. It was a grand procession in front of the Fatimid army when marching towards the enemies. B.J. Beshir writes in Fatimid Military Organization (Der Islam 55, 1978, pp. 51-2) that, "Spies and guerillas were to be sent in front of the army; when the army encamped, trenches were dug. Before marching, standards, flags and emblems were flown."
Jaylam bin Shayban founded a Fatimid vassal state in Sind with its base at Multan before 968. He is reported to have introduced the Fatimid coins, and recited the Fatimid khutba. He reported to Imam al-Muizz in Cairo, how he succeeded to establish the Fatimid vassal state. The Imam replied him in 354/968. The letter of the Imam is cited in Uyun'l Akhbar (6:219). In the concluding paragraph of the letter, the Imam said, "We have sent you some of our banners, which you can unfurl in case of need. Whenever they are unfurled over the heads of the believers, God increases their glory by the banners and hails them with His assistance; on the other hand, when they are unfurled over the heads of the unbelievers, the banners humiliate their pride and overwhelm them by the power of God, Who is our Benefactor."
It is to be noted that three kinds of public holiday celebrations involved the participation of the Imam in Fatimid Egypt, such as the general Islamic holidays, Ismaili holidays and local Egyptian festivals of the agriculture calendar. The Ismaili holidays included Navroz, birthday of Ali, Fatima, Hasan, Hussain and the Imam of the age; and Eid al-Ghadir. In all these occasions, the city of Cairo was decorated with green Fatimid flags and illuminations.
Makrizi (d. 1442), Ibn Taghribirdi (d. 1469) and Kalkashandi (d. 1418) had described the pomp of the Fatimid procession in which the Imam himself participated during the New Year's Day. From the descriptions, the procession was really imposing, and the sight was fascinating when it advanced through the streets of Cairo with houses covered with spectators, with noise and commotion, which filled the city. The passage abounds in various expressions and names of different objects, varieties of cloth, ornaments, banners, etc. The procession included the display of the Fatimid banners. The issuing of all these articles for the procession was usually finished by the 28th of the month of Zul-hijja, and on the morning of the 29th the Imam personally visited a special place at which his chargers were produced for his inspection. He rode across the palace ground to the gate called Bab al-Mulk, where the inspection ground was situated, where a rehearsal of the procession was demonstrated before the Imam. When the procession was finally formed, the governor of Cairo, with his men, cleared the streets from the crowd, so that the procession could advance without hindrance. While riding in the procession, the Imam had exclusive right to be accompanied by two "banners of glory" as they were called. They were small, made of white silk embroidered with gold. They were carried folded. There were also twenty-one coloured banners, with inscriptions made in colours different from the banner itself. They measured two by one and a half yards, and were fixed on long spears.
But the most important were two special flags which were carried before all these flags, consisted of a hollow golden lion's head with opened mouth, fixed between two ends of a crescent the middle part of which formed the head of a spear. To the side which constituted the neck of the lion's head a long bag of yellow or red dibaj was affixed. While riding against the wind, the air would pass through the mouth of the lion's head and inflate the bag. These banners were carried by two riding officials.