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The crescent in flags

Last modified: 2006-08-12 by phil nelson
Keywords: crescent |
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Several courtiers and regions of the world show the "crescent" in their flags, but is good to ask, "The moon in the flags is the crescent?"

The crescent is the First Quarter Moon, occurs about a week after New Moon, in the north hemisphere is shaped somewhat like the letter "D", and the Last Quarter Moon like a letter "C"; that's why the Romans said that the Moon is a liar, just because when is "crescent (growing)" is like a "D" format, and when is "decrescent" (waning) is like "C" format, in the southern hemisphere is the opposed the crescent is like the letter "C", so analyzing by this way, the countries of the North Hemisphere if want to display the "crescent" ,the moon should point to the hoist and the countries of south hemisphere pointing to the fly. Some examples of "wrong" and "right" flags: Right: Umm al-Qaiw (United Arab Emirates) (North hemisphere and Moon in "D"), Comoros (South Hemisphere and Moon in "C")
Andr Pires Godinho, 6 July 2003

No. The horns of the moon should point to the left in the northern hemisphere, which is not necessarily the same as pointing to the hoist.
Ole Andersen, 6 July 2003

Then again, in Turkey the flag is almost always pictured "sinister-hoisted" so that the crescent looks as it should.

Also, one may remember Mauritania with the crescent pointing up, as it is the usual sight over there.
Željko Heimer, 6 July 2003

And here in the tropics you will see the moon like a U.

Early at night, you see the moon at the west with the horns upwards: this is the crescent moon. Before sunrise, you see the moon in the east with horns upwards: this is a decrescendo moon. In the coat-of-arms of Chia, Cundinamarca, Colombia (Cha means moon in Chibcha) you can see this. This should be a waning moon.
Carlos, 6 July 2003

For what it's worth, it's also astronomically incorrect to show the crescent's "horns" extending so far that the outside of the crescent forms more than half of a circle. In other words, the crescents on flags (and elsewhere) are often exaggerated past what is possible in nature. Turkey, Tunisia and Algeria all show this. Also, some flags show stars in impossible places next to the moon (in places where the shadowed portion of the moon would block the star). Algeria, Comoros, Mauritania, and Tunisia all show this.
John Dodds, 6 July 2003

The horns to the left in the north is a waxing crescent (shortly after new moon). See it after sunset. The horns to the right (Turkey, say) is a waning crescent, late in the lunar month. You can see it before sunrise.

In the tropics you'll see the horns pointing up for both phases (Mauritania), and as you proceed further south the picture reverses.
Al Kirsch, 6 July 2004

There is an interesting astronomical analysis of the Singaporean flag (linked from our main Singapore page) at:

It should be taken into account that Eastern countries consider the flag's obverse or most relevant side that with the hoist to the left. So, for instance, the flag of Umm al-Qaiwain: actually shows a moon with its points to the right handside.
Santiago Dotor, 7 July 2003

This string prompted me to look at our page on Islamic flags. Much of the "information" on this page is replicated in one form or another in various places in FOTW.

I put the word "information" in quotation marks, because this page, like the alleged facts on flags from this part of the world more generally, seems to me an almost hopeless mishmash of fact, fantasy, politics, ex post facto assignment of symbolism, and so on. Frankly, it's an embarrassment; just not up to our standards. Just a few examples:

- On the Islam page, there is a picture of the "national" flag of Quraysh, black with an eagle or hawk. This is almost pure fantasy. Quraysh was (is?) a tribe, not a nation--the tribe into which Muhammad was born. It seems to be generally accepted that the pre-Islamic tribal emblem was a hawk, but the bird shown is so obviously a bad drawing of the modern Egyptian or Syrian emblem as to be laughable.

- The treatment of the origin of the symbolism of the crescent (and star) repeats a lot of myths and rumors but contains not much scholarship. According to the magisterial Encyclopaedia of Islam, the first recorded appearance of the crescent and star in an Islamic context is on coins of A.D. 695. The Turks were using these devices as tribal totems before they ever left Central Asia. They were used to decorate mosques and other buildings and appeared on military flags no later than the 15th century A.D. (It was their use as an ornament atop mosques, possibly to replace the clearly un-Islamic crosses on the domes of converted churches, that led Westerners to consider the crescent the characteristic symbol of Islam.) In any case, the notion that the Turks borrowed the crescent from the symbol of Artemis/Diana after they conquered Constantinople in 1453 doesn't hold up, nor do any of the other attributions of them to dreams of Osman or Suleiman or any other known historic figure. The fantasy that the moment of the start of Muhammad's revelation corresponded to a conjunction of Venus and the crescent moon ("Stonehenge Decoded," for God's sake!) is stated, debunked, and then reiterated in immediate succession on our page.

- The origins of the pan-Arab colors are reported in some parts of the site to come from a quotation from the 13th century Arab poet Safi al-Din al-Hilli. I found one mention, not on our site, that a group of young anti-Ottoman Arabs designed the pan-Arab flag before World War I having been inspired by this poem. Elsewhere, we find that the flag was the contrivance of the British diplomat Sir Mark Sykes during World War I. Or that the colors were based on colors of the dynastic flags used by early Islamic dynasties. These explanations are not necessarily irreconcilable, but there are obviously problems to be worked out.

By the way, on the issue of the positioning of the star and crescent, I've never understood the problem. It's a decorative design, not a scientific depiction of an astronomical event. You never see the stars aligning themselves in eleven straight, staggered horizontal lines, either, but no one faults the arrangement of stars in the Stars & Stripes on that account.
Joe McMillan, 7 July 2003

I have noticed that this whole issue of the astronomical accuracy of the moons portraits on flags

It seems to me that crescent is just a shape, similar to the one of the lighted part of the moon as seen from Earth from a new moon and a few days after that. The name of the shape happens to be related to the Latin word for the phase of the moon at the first quarter. But given that "crescent" is just the name of a shape, this could be represented in any orientation: with the horns to the top, the hoist, the fly, the viewers right, the viewers left, etc. This is not necessarily related to how the new moon is seen in a particular region.

I have noticed than in Spanish the shape is called "media luna": literally half moon. The name suggest a first or third quarter (the exact date of the quarter), but that shape would be called a "semicrculo" (semicircle) and not a "media luna". "media luna" is just a "crescent", the shape represented in the Muslim flags, and the shape of the fertile lands in the middle east ("media luna fertil", "fertile crescent").
Carlos, 7 July 2003

In the pictures of the flag flying that almost generally show the Turkish flag flying in a breeze blowing from viewer's right to left. Most notably (at least where I have seen it) these are the postage stamps.

Actually, I went to check the stamp catalogue, and it turns out that there are also Turkish stamps showing left and right hoisted flags. Maybe interesting, the Turkish stamps showing the red crescent emblem (in flag or out of it) almost entirely have the horns towards viewer's left.
Željko Heimer, 7 July 2003