The fake flag of ISIL

These terrorists have many names: ISIL, Daesh and the Islamic State are some of the printable ones. They do have a knack for publicity, and their flag is well known. Let's have a closer look on it.

The colour goes back to the all-black "black banner" allegedly flown by the prophet himself, and more reliably by the Abbasids when they got (back) in power in the 6th century. The white text on the top is the first part of the shahada, the Islamic creed: "There is no god but God". The rest of the shahada is not written as usual, but in a white circle: "Muhammad is the messenger of God".

The white circle is the interesting part. It's claimed to be the seal of Muhammad, used by him to sign the correspondence that became more voluminous and important as Islam took off.

But even a cursory glance on the history of the seal is enough to raise suspicion. It appears the supposed "seal of Muhammad", at least in the form used on the flag, is fake.

Relics and other holy items never got big in Islam, with the black stone in Qaba being the single major exception. There never was anything like the catholic bone-trade industry. But there are some stuff which at least some (how many? no idea) moslems believe in, or at least hold in esteem. A collection of sacred relics is kept in the Topkapi palace in Istanbul, brought there from the 14th century onwards, in the heydays of the Ottoman empire. We find, just to mention a few with connections to the old and new testament (which are holy texts in Islam as well):
  • Abraham's Pot
  • Joseph's Turban
  • Moses's Staff
  • David's Sword
  • Scrolls of St John (the evangelist I presume)
And it gets even better:
  • The Mantle of Muhammad
  • The Flag of Muhammad
  • The Sword of Muhammad
  • The Bow of Muhammad
  • The Bowl of Muhammad
  • The Sandals of Muhammad
  • The Footprints (4) of Muhammad
  • A piece of the beard of Muhammad
  • A tooth from Muhammad
  • A signed (with the seal) letter from Muhammad
  • The seal ring of Muhammad

Qadam mubarak: A holy footprint of the Prophet.

How the flag looks like we don't know, and will never know:
Out of respect for our Prophet (saas), no state, including the Ottoman Empire, has ever unfurled the banner although it was carried in battles and ceremonies. The banner, and other blessed relics that have thus been preserved for 1,400 years, will be unfurled when the moral values of Islam rule the world with the coming of Hazrat Mahdi (pbuh), insha’Allah.
- Harun Yahya (a moslem crackpot with time and, in particular, money to spread his flood of creationist crap wide and far), The Sacred Relics

(Abbreviations are common in Islamic texts. Like "pbuh" = peace be upon him, "saas" = arabic for may God honor him and grant him peace etc. I don't know the penalty for leaving them out.)

Now, let's turn to the sources to see if they have anything to say about the seal of Muhammad. We'll have a look in the hadiths, stories about or description of the prophet which isn't in the Quran and the veracity of which is considered from case to case. (Rasullulah = the prophet.)
Anas Ibn Malik said: "Rasulullah (pbuh) had a ring made of silver and its (inlaid) gem was also of silver. When the Prophet (pbuh) wanted to write to the leaders of foreign states, he ordered a seal-ring to be made. Rasullullah (saas) therefore had a ring made, the whiteness of which is still before my eyes. The inscription engraved on the ring of Rasulullah (pbuh) was 'Muhammad Rasulullah,' of which in the first line was engraved 'Muhammad,' in the second line 'Rasul,' and in the third line 'Allah'."
- Irving Karchmar, The Seal Ring of the Prophet (saw)

Since the prophet couldn't bear having his name above the name of God, grammar had to give way for theology, and the words were placed in reverse order with "Muhammad" in the bottom. (Not to be read as the very blasphemous "God is the prophet of Muhammad.")

A brief quote from a thorough research of the ring in the hadiths ("Rasulullah Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam" = the prophet):
Ibn 'Umar Radiyallahu 'Anhu says. "Rasulullah Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam kept his ring in his mubaarak hands (possession). Then it was kept by Abubakr Radiyallahu 'Anhu, then by 'Umar Radiyallahu 'Anhu. Thereafter by 'Uthmaan Radiyallahu 'Anhu. In his ('Uthmaan Radiyallahu 'Anhu's) time it fell in the Well of 'Arees. The inscription on this ring was 'Muhammadur Rasulullah"'.
[Comment] Bir 'Arees is a well near Masjid Quba [mosque in Medina, the oldest in the world]. During the khilaafah of Sayyidina Uthrnaan Radiyallahu 'Anhu the ring remained with him for six years, then accidently it fell into the well. Sayyidina 'Uthmaan Radiyallahu  'Anhu ordered a thorough search of the well. For two days water of the well was pulled out, but it could not be found.
- inter-islam.org: Chapter on the mubaarak [holy] ring of Sayyidina Rasulullah Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam

After the deplorable incident with the well Uthman, last known keeper of the real ring, had a replica made. This ring was in Baghdad in 1534 when the city was captured by Suleiman the Magnificient. It was then taken to Istanbul, where it remains today.

Here is a letter to someone important in Egypt. It was written by the prophet's secretary (rasullulah etc couldn't write), to be signed by the prophet.
But this is a copy, made by hand in 1904. The original was found in an Egyptian monastery in mid 19th century; or, to be precise, at that time it was sold to the sultan by a French orientalist who claimed to have found it in an Egyptian monastery. Again, the authenticity does not appear overwhelming.

Recap: The seal ring in Istanbul is at the very best a replica made in the 7th century. It could very well be considerably later than that. Which wouldn't be the first example of a fake holy item...
Percy: Well, you won't be able to fool everyone. Look (he takes a red cloth from his sleeve): I have here a true relic.
Edmund: What is it?
Percy: (unwraps the cloth) It is a bone from the finger of Our Lord. It cost me 31 pieces of silver.
Edmund: Good lord. Is it real?
Percy: It is, My Lord. Baldrick, you stand amazed.
Baldrick: I am — I thought they only came in boxes of ten. (He opens a box of finger bones)
- Black Adder 1, ep 3: The Archbishop

On a different note, regarding the even later copies which apparently are popular among some people, it's been pointed out that they shouldn't be. A seal was a very personal thing, like an ID; if you carried the seal ring of the prophet, it meant you were the prophet.

Thx to Joacim J.

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