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Ottoman Empire: Flags with Zulfikar

Last modified: 2002-09-07 by ivan sache
Keywords: zulfikar | dhu'-fakar | sultan | selim | barbarossa | sword | error | scissors | morocco | magen david |
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War standard of Barbarossa

[War standard of Barbarossa]

On the upper middle left of the flag there should be a white hand figure like a Hamsa, which is obliterated from this picture for some unknown reason. The flag is in light emerald green color with white characters.

The flag is shown in the Naval Museum of Istanbul and on the Museum website, with the following information:

Caption of the flag image is: Commander in Chief (1534-1546) Hizir Hayreddin (Barbarossa) Pasha's Standard.

Below the image are attached the following comments:

According to the legend, Hizir Hayreddin (Barbarossa) Pasha' s standard was made either during his life time or fifty years after his death. It was hung on the Sarcophagus in his mausoleum and stayed there until it was turned over to Topkapi Palace Museum. It was finally brought to the Naval Museum on February 19, 1976.

Explanation of the Symbols on the Standard:

  • Passage From the Conquest Sura
    "Mohammed! Reveal good news to the believers that the conquest is soon."
  • Names of the First Four Khalifs of Islam:
    Hazret-i Omer Hazret-i Ebu Bekir
    Hazret-i Ali Hazret-i Osman
  • Hand Figure [not shown on the image]
    Symbolizes "Allah", the creator of the universe and the three religions and the protector of believers.
  • Hexagonal Star
    This symbol is used for various meanings and purposes.
    • Good luck charm in Middle Eastern teachings.
    • Symbol for masculine-feminine in Far-East.
    • Seal of Hazret-i Suleyman.
    • Star of David.

    Barbarossa and the Ottoman Navy were trading with the Jewish merchants during their reign in the Mediterranean and conquest. The provisional supplies were brought from Jewish merchants too. The purpose of the use of this star is to stress the Ottoman reign and protection over regions of Jewish population.

The flag daties from the period of Soliman the Magnificent. Soliman the Magnificent attached a lot of importance to his name which means Salomon.Some historians claim that his mother or his wife was of Jewish origin.It was Salomon who repaired the city walls of Jerusalem and built a fortress there.True, the Star of David is part of Islamic culture. But the exclusive use of it by Soliman can be explained with the above factors.

Denis Ojalvo, 1 November 2000 & 17 October 2001

The sword represents Zulfikar, that, according to Islamic tradition, belonged to Ali, the first caliph after the death of Muhammed. Zulfikar is one of the oldest symbols in the Islam and according to Shiites its existance goes back to Adam who carried it out of Eden down to the Earth. The tradition says that the sword once belonged to Muhammed too who gave it to Ali before his death.
The Ottomans adopted the symbolism of Zulfikar that gradually became one of the main symbols of the Janissaries. It was not only an icon used in the war flags but also sculpted as a part of their tombs.

Baris Kilicbay, 20 August 1999

Khayreddin Pasha, a.k.a. Barbarossa, was a Greek converted to Islam. He was corsair in the Mediterranean Sea and warlord of Algiers. Selim I "hired" him in 1519 with the title of beylerbey (Province Governor) of Algiers. In 1533, Suleiman the Magnificent asked him to reorganize the Ottoman Navy and gave him the title of Kapudan Pasha (Great Admiral). Barbarossa supervised the shipyards in Galata, where a powerful Navy was created. In 1534, he seized Tunis, Corfu and the other islands of the Aegean Sea. In 1538, he defeated the joint fleets of Charles I of Spain, Venice and the Pope. Barbarossa died in 1546, short after the siege of Nice with the French Navy. Nice then belonged to Savoy, and François I, King of France, was allied with Suleiman against Charles I.

Source: T. Bittar. Soliman - L'empire magnifique. Découvertes Gallimard, 1994.

Ivan Sache, 17 October 2001

Red standard of Selim I

Standard of Selim Iby Baris Kilicbay

The red sandjak of the Ottoman sultan Selim I represents again Zulfikar. This flag carried to Egypt by Selim I [1466-1520] can be seen in the Topkapi Museum. During the 16th and the 17th centuries the Zulfikar flags were widespread in Ottoman army and numerous red Zulfikar flags left in the battles in Europe are shown in museums and one can even see a red, triangular Zulfikar flag in the Doge Palace in Venice.

Baris Kilicbay, 20 August 1999

More about Zulfikar ( Dhu'l-Fakar)

I have tracked down the following information in the academically impeccable Encyclopedia of Islam - New Edition (1965), Vol. 2, p. 233.
It bears out the important role of the sword in Islamic symbolism. Following is a summary, not direct quotation. My comments are in square brackets.

  • Dhu'l-Fakar [lit. "the possessor of the notch"] was a sword obtained by the prophet Muhammad as booty at the Battle of Badr [in A.D. 624]. It is mentioned in the Hadith, the traditional sayings of the Prophet.
  • The name comes from notches or grooves on the blade, pl. fukra.
  • Dhu'l-Fakar is axiomatically the best of all swords; fine blades produced in Islamic lands have traditionally born the inscription in Arabic, "There is no sword but Dhu'l-Fakar" [an allusion to the first phrase of the Islamic creed, "There is no god but Allah"].
  • The sword passed from Muhammad to his son-in-law Ali, fourth caliph in the Sunni succession or first imam to the Shiites, and became a major symbol of his family. After his death, it ultimately passed into the hands of the Abbasid caliphs.
  • Muslim iconography depicts Dhu'l-Fakar as having two points, apparently to mark its magical character - it was said to be capable of putting out both an enemy's eyes at one time. [This is not necessarily inconsistent with the popular explanation that the blade was split when Ali drew it from a scabbard that had been nailed shut; Ali is axiomatically the best of all heroes and so could be expected to perform such a feat.]
  • Dhu'l-Fakar eventually became a given name. [e.g., Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, late prime minister of Pakistan]

Joseph McMillan, 26 August 1999

Erroneous interpretation of Zulfikar

It might be noted here that the Zulfikar on flags were commonly misinterpreted by mediaeval European painters (and flag authorities) as (tailor's) scissors!

Zeljko Heimer, 20 August 1999

Such a flag can be found on several old flag charts. It is reported on Dutch flag charts as Moorse vlag (Moorish flag); later it became 'Moroccan flag'. An example of the mistake is on Bellin's chart, 1756 - reproduced on the cover of Sierksma's book [sie63].

Jarig Bakker, 21 August 1999

Another example of erroneous interpretation can be seen on the flag of the Great Admiral of the Porte shown on a XIXth century Dutch atlas.

Ivan Sache, 13 July 2002

The potential link to Morocco is that the Alaouite dynasty that has ruled Morocco for the last several centuries claims legitimacy on the basis of descent from Ali and hence would be expected to make use of Alid iconography. Whether they in fact did so may require further verification.

Joseph McMillan, 26 August 1999

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