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The Maldive Flag Mystery      

Thank you to those of you from the Maldives who enquired about that flag I have been displying in my pages, seen above on the right. The most common query is why I was assigning a Communist flag to the Maldives. I have been expecting these queries and had prepared a response. Here it is.

Maldives Flag until 1903
Flag of the Maldives until 1903

If the flag of the Maldive kings from time immemorial were their connection with Communism, then Communism originated in the Maldives, or so one would think. Indeed the Maldive red flag predates Communism by a long shot. Communism had nothing to do with the Maldive kings.

The older flag was a sensible one because, against a blue background (the ocean) red is the most visible colour. Flags were originally meant to serve a practical purpose. They were supposed to be easily seen in forums of war and other circusmstances.

The black and white hoist called the dhandimathi was an extension of the flagpole. In the olden days some flagpoles were painted white with a black strip spiralling upwards.

Contrary to popular belief, the crescent moon had never been an Islamic symbol.

Flag of the Qureish
Flag of Qureish

Flag of Mohamed
Flag of the Prophet Mohamed

Older Islamic flags were derived from the tribal flags of the Arabs. The national flag of Qureish, the nation of the Prophet Mohamed was black, with a rising eagle in the middle.

The Prophet found the eagle abhorent and determined that it was somehow connected with the idols of his forebears. Accordingly he removed the eagle and used a plain black flag as the State flag of the first Islamic Commonwealth. A black flag made enormous sense against the beige backdrop of the desert.

During the conflict between the Umayyads and the descendants of Ali bin Abu Talib, the Prophet's son-in-law, the Umayyads adopted a plain white flag to draw contrast with the black flag of the Prophet, which was also used by Ali.

When Ummayad rule, centred in Damascus, gave way to Abbasid rule from Baghdad, the flag reverted to the Prophet's black flag. For a time the Abbasids used a plain green flag, as did the Fatimids of Egypt. The Umayyads of Europe used the plain white flag of their Damascus kin.

Flags of many modern Arab states combine the traditional black white and green of the Arab dynasties and the red of the Ottomans. The eagle of the Qureish was reinstated in the tricolour of the short-lived Federation of Arab Republics that grouped Egypt, Libya and Syria. Close to Egypt making peace with Israel, the federation broke up and Syria reverted to the flag of a previous union, the United Arab Republic. Libya adopted the green flag of the Fatimids while Egypt was left with the eagle tricolour.

Flag of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey
Flag of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey

In the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire (ruled mainly by Anatolian and Rumelian Turks) carried out a very successful public relations campaign across the Islamic world to promote their crescent moon as the symbol of Islam.

The crescent moon was in fact the symbol of the city of Constantinople (renamed Istanbul by the Turkish Republic) since pre-Ottoman times. The Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II adopted the flag of Constantinople when he conquered the city in 1453 and extinguished the Byzantine Roman Empire.

Constantinople was the capital of Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire. Before Christ it was once sieged by Goths. The Romans defeated the Goths on the first of a lunar month. Therefore, to comemmorate this occasion they added the new moon on the city flag. According to another version (source: Rafael Narbaez, Jr.) the crescent was the symbol of Diana the Roman goddess of the hunt. Constantinople was dedicated to Diana. The Roman Emperor Constatine rededicated the city to the Virgin Mary, whose star symbol was added to the previous crescent.

Having conquered most of Eastern and Central Europe and lost much of it, the Ottomans were looking for dominance in the Islamic world in the East. Eastern Muslims at that time were looking for an identity in the face of Western European imperial advances and fell for the Ottomans. The Arabs were the notable exceptions. They were seeking independence from Ottoman rule and hegemony and did not adopt the Ottoman crescent. That is why we don't see the crescent in most Arab flags even today.

We still find the crescent moon on the Turkish flag presicely because it was not an Islamic symbol. In 1923 when the last caliphate was abolished and Islam was disestablished in the new Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal (also known as Kemal Atatürk) retained the Ottoman flag arguing that it was not an Islamic flag- indeed it was the pre-Ottoman flag of the city of Constantinople, adopted by pre-Christian Romans. The Turkish Republic banned everything even remotely connected with Islam from public use. Islam is no longer the official religion of Turkey and still remains disestablished there.

Maldivians fell for the Turkish gimmick in a big way as did many other peoples. In 1903, the crescent was inserted on a green field in the middle of the then existing flag. For a time, only the white crescent appeared, without the green field and with its horns facing the hoist.

Flag of the Maldives 1903 - 1949
Flag of the Maldives 1903 - 1949

Flag of the Maldives 1949 - 1965
Flag of the Maldives 1949 - 1965

Flag of the Maldives 1965 onwards
Current Flag of the Maldives

Maldivian designers had little knowledge of how the crescent appeared in other flags, as it was hastily adopted. So until 1949, the horns of the crescent faced the hoist (dhandimathi). It took that long to correct this embarrasing "mistake" of byzantine proportions and reverse the crescent to face the fly as it appears today.

It was in 1965 that the black and white hoist called the dhandimathi was removed and the present design adopted. The author of the Maldive national anthem written over 15 years before overlooked to include black as a colour of the flag, along with green red and white. Most people did not regard the dhandimathi as part of the flag. By 1965, the black was seen as an anomaly in the flag, rather than an omission from the national anthem. As a result, the hoist was removed.

The flag adopted for the Sultan of the Maldives in 1965, displayed a white five pointed star between the horns of the crescent in the national flag. The irony is that this symbol was derived by combining those of the Roman goddess of the hunt and the Virgin Mary. This flag is still in use in the Maldives.

Flag of the Sultan 1965 -1968 and now of the President of the Republic
Flag adopted for the Sultan in 1965 displaying the symbols of the Roman goddess of the hunt and the Virgin Mary- currently flag of the president of the republic

The traditional flag of the Maldives is better suited to the Maldive environment, which is still bounded by the blue ocean. The green patch tends to drown the flag against the green palms and trees.

The crescent was the result of getting sucked into a Turkish gimmick of Roman origins anyway.

Historic flag of the Maldives

Secret of Maldive Name


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