Black Flags

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Black flags or al-Rāyāt al-sūd, (Arabic: الرّايات السود) is a phrase used in hadiths, referring to an uprising of a group of people with black flags in the east. In many hadiths concerning the black flags, reference is made to Abu Muslim Khurasani’s uprising and the formation of the Abbasid government. Moreover, in some of those hadiths, the black flags are described as signs of the Reappearance of the savior in the end time.

According to Shiite scholars of hadiths, most of such hadiths appear in Sunni sources, and those with Shiite transmitters associate the black flags with Abu Muslim Khurasani’s uprising against the Umayyad caliphate. In contrast, some people believe that the black flags are signs of the Reappearance of Imam al-Mahdi (a).

The Notion

Black flags (in Arabic, al-rayat al-sud) is a phrase used in hadiths, referring to an uprising of a group of people with black flags in Khorasan. Here “Khorasan” refers to old Khorasan, which includes many parts of Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Hadiths about Black Flags

According to the Encyclopedia of Imam al-Mahdi (a), most hadiths about the black flags appear in Sunni sources. In original Shiite sources, there are few hadiths about black flags from Imams of the Shia, but even most of these are narrated by Sunni transmitters.

Contents of the Hadiths

In some Shia hadiths, the black flags are referred to as signs of the Reappearance of the last Shiite Imam. For example, there is a hadith from Imam 'Ali (a) in which conflicts among people of Levant, black flags, and a loud cry in the Ramadan month are considered signs of the Reappearance. However, there are other hadiths in which the black flags are associated with the collapse of the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties and reference is made to the holders of black flags. Moreover, there are hadiths in which Abu Muslim Khurasani is explicitly called the holder of black flags.

Here are the contents of the relevant hadiths in Sunni sources:

  • Collapse of the Umayyad government after an uprising with black flags.
  • Reproaching those who take over the power after the uprising with black flags.
  • The conflict among black flags.
  • Reappearance of Imam al-Mahdi (a) in Mecca after the black flags.

Are Black Flags Signs of Imam al-Mahdi’s Reappearance?

Some Shiite scholars and researchers believe that “black flags” refers to Abu Muslim Khurasani’s uprising against the Umayyad government, which led to the establishment of the Abbasid caliphate. In their view, “pure Shiite hadiths” (that is, those only transmitted by Shias) do not refer to the black flags as signs of Reappearance. Those Shiite sources in which the black flags are described as signs of Reappearance cite Sunni hadiths. According to Sayyid Muhammad al-Sadr, there are many hadiths about the Abbasid government most of which are fabricated, and one way to give confirmation to the Abbasid caliphs was the fabrication of hadiths about black flags.

Nevertheless, some people believe that black flags are signs of Imam al-Mahdi’s Reappearance. On this account, those flags are involved in an uprising that occurs before his Reappearance. The author of the book ʿAsr al-zuhur believes that the holder of black flags is al-Sayyid al-Khurasani whose army is commanded by Shu'ayb b. Salih. There will be a fight between his army and Sufyani’s. He will defeat Sufyani and pledge his allegiance to Imam al-Mahdi (a). The account is said to be supported by hadiths from Ibn Hammad’s book al-Fitan, but the book is not reliable for Shias, because many of its hadiths are not transmitted from the Infallibles.

ISIS and the Hadiths of Black Flags

Some proponents of Daesh (ISIS) have interpreted the hadiths of black flags as referring to the ISIS group since they use black flags. Rasul Ja'fariyan, a research of Islamic history, believes that these hadiths are fabricated. He argues that some Sunni scholars also reject these hadiths, and even if they are authentic, those scholars reject their application to the ISIS.