Skip to content

Boko Haram Isn’t the Only Muslim Group Painting Its Banners Black – Dr. Timothy R. Furnish

May 14, 2014

Boko Haram Isn’t the Only Muslim Group Painting Its Banners Black

Timothy R. Furnish

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Yesterday History News Network published my article on Nigeria’s Boko Haram and that group’s place in the long tradition of Islamic and jihad movements going back centuries in West Africa: “Why We’re Only Now Paying Attention to Boko Haram is a Disgrace.”
Afterwards, I saw several news stories showing the kidnapped Christian girls, some of whom had allegedly “converted” to Islam.   Here’s one such image:


The banner in the back left, commonly called by the media the “black flag of al-Qaeda [sic]” or “of jihad” is actually, more accurately termed the “black flag of Islam”–since the Arabic inscription reads “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger.” The first recorded usage of this banner was by the Abbasids, the Islamic dynasty from Khurasan (eastern Iran/western Afghanistan) which drove west and conquered the previous Muslim dynasty, the Umayyad, about 750 AD.  Here is a piece of Islamic art showing the Abbasids (“AQ” flag is 2nd from right):


This same flag is also used by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria:


And by its (now) enemy in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra:


This ancient Muslim banner also is carried by Indian Muslims:


It’s also showing up in Palestinian parts of Jerusalem:


Hizb al-Tahrir (“Party of Liberation”), a transnational group dedicated to reestablishing the caliphate, proudly displays the same banner on its website:


Boko Haram’s employment of this standard is yet another indication that the Nigerian jihadist group has now plugged into the global Islamic movement.  Furthermore, as my friend Charles Cameron has pointed out several times, this Islamic banner is also rife with eschatological meaning for Muslims.  The aforementioned Abbasids, who ruled the Islamic heartlands for centuries and whose tenure is deemed the “Golden Age” by many Muslim historians, came to power partially by exploiting oral Shi`i Mahdist traditions which were attributed to Muhammad (although the Abbasids were themselves Sunni).  Afterwards, Muslim messianic expectations toward Khurasan/”the East” were institutionalized in (alleged) Hadiths by Ibn Majah (d. 887 AD): “The Prophet said: ‘[T]ruly the family of my house will suffer affliction and banishment and expulsion…until a people comes from the East bearing black banners. They will demand the good and not receive it, so they will kill and triumph. Then they will demand what they had been asking for.  But they will not receive it, until they hand over power to a man from the family of my house who will fill the world with justice, just as it had been filled with injustice.'” Another one says: “The Prophet said: ‘[T]he black banners will approach from the East and slaughter all of you violently, as no people has even been slaughtered…If you see him, swear loyalty to him, even if you must crawl upon ice–because he is the caliph of God, the Mahdi.'”

Boko Haram isn’t adducing the Mahdi–yet. But the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate, which Boko Haram is trying to resurrect–Usman Don Fodio (d. 1817)–considered himself a mujaddid, “renewer,” of Islam and was deemed by many West Africans to be the eschatological Mahdi.  More recently, in 1970s Nigeria, a chap named Muhammad Marwa Maitatsine was thought to be the Mahdi and encouraged his followers to pursue violent Islamization and jihad.  Boko Haram and its offshoot Ansaru have proved they don’t need eschatological motivation to wage jihad and practice misogyny–if they do wax Mahdist, things will only get worse in Nigeria and the region.

Jihad states of 19th c., Africa–of which Sokoto was but one (from Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies [1988], p. 509).

[By the way: for my liberal readers, the title of this blog is a reference to the Rolling Stones’ song “Paint It Black” in tandem with the black banners.  No doubt someone will find a way to make that racist–but I can’t be responsible for politically correct lunacy.]

This article was first published on May 13, 2014 in
The link to the original article is:
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: