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Saudi Arabia: History of the flag

Last modified: 2006-02-18 by joe mcmillan
Keywords: shahada | wahhabi | sword | swords: 2 | nejd |
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The origin of the flag of Saudi Arabia

The "base flag" of Saudi Arabia, the shahada or profession of faith ("There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet") on solid green was an old flag, connected to the Wahhabi reformist movement of the late 18th century, with whose religious drive the as-Saud family first rose to power.
The sword was added in 1902, when Abdulaziz ibn Abdulrahman as-Saud ("Ibn Saud" to the British) established himself as King of the Nejd. (The King of the Hejaz, Hussein, used the Arab Revolt Flag).
In 1925, Abdulaziz established himself as King of the Nejd and Hejaz, with unknown flag alterations.

When the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was established in 1932, the earlier Nejdi flag continued, though variants are shown with two swords, with a white stripe toward the hoist, etc.

Ed Haynes, 14 March 1996

One or two swords?

I have found a picture of a flag of Saudi Arabia. On it, under the shahada, two swords crossed, both pointing downwards. On today's flag of Saudi Arabia, there is only one sword, horizontal, and pointing upwards.

Goren M. Shaked, 25 April 1996

The Sept. 1934 National Geographic [geo34] includes a black and white photo of the Saudi Arabian flag with one sword. The caption under the picture reads:

"King Ibn Saud's army carried this flag in its desert conquests...When the powerful King of Saudi Arabia visited Germany two years ago [i.e., 1932], this flag was [used] in his honor by the officials of Tempelhof, Berlin's huge airport"

Unfortunately the new kingdom was proclaimed after the plates for this issue went to press, so there is no color plate or explanation about the dates of adoption, etc. There is a note in the text that also mentions that the flag was supposedly designed by Ibn Saud's grandfather, a century earlier.
There are several possible explanations for the one and two sword flags. The caption under the picture makes it sound like Ibn Saud's Army carried the flag during their conquests, therefore it may be that this is a military flag, not a national one. This would also account for its apparent use before 1932.

Nathan Augustine, 13 March 1996

Carr [car61] shows the two sword version, but the text notes that there is also a one-sword version. Crampton [cra90] says that the sword was added to the traditional Wahhabite green banner in 1902, but that there have been many variants. I suspect that the flag was never rigidly defined in the past, and whether to use one sword or two was left to the taste of the king at the time. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia's national emblem remains two swords crossed under a palm tree.

Roy Stilling, 25 April 1996

The change was gradual and never quite official due to the fact that the flag was not officially described until recently (if recently is the right word for 1973). However, 15 March 1973 is the date of adoption of the one-sworded flag.

Željko Heimer, 26 September 1996