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Crescent Moon: Symbol of Islam?

The crescent moon and star is an
internationally-recognized symbol of the faith of
Islam. The symbol is featured on the flags of several
Muslim countries, and is even part of the official
emblem for the International Federation of Red Cross
and Red Crescent Societies. The Christians have the
cross, the Jews have the star of David, and the
Muslims have the crescent moon, right?

What is the history behind the crescent moon symbol?
What does it symbolize or mean? How and when did it
become associated with the faith of Islam? Is it a
valid symbol for the faith?

The crescent moon and star symbol actually pre-dates
Islam by several thousand years. Information on the
origins of the symbol are difficult to ascertain, but
most sources agree that these ancient celestial
symbols were in use by the peoples of Central Asia and
Siberia in their worship of sun, moon, and sky gods.
There are also reports that the crescent moon and star
were used to represent the Carthaginian goddess Tanit
or the Greek goddess Diana.

The city of Byzantium (later known as Constantinople
and Istanbul) adopted the crescent moon symbol.
According to some reports, they chose it in honor of
the goddess Diana. Others indicate that it dates back
to a battle in which the Romans defeated the Goths on
the first day of a lunar month. In any event, the
crescent moon was featured on the city’s flag even
before the birth of Christ.

The early Muslim community did not really have a
symbol. During the time of the Prophet Muhammad
(peace be upon him), Islamic armies and caravans flew
simple solid-colored flags (generally black, green, or
white) for identification purposes. In later
generations, the Muslim leaders continued to use a
simple black, white, or green flag with no markings,
writing, or symbolism on it.

It wasn’t until the Ottoman Empire that the crescent
moon and star became affiliated with the Muslim world.
When the Turks conquered Constantinople (Istanbul) in
1453, they adopted the city’s existing flag and
symbol. Legend holds that the founder of the Ottoman
Empire, Osman, had a dream in which the crescent moon
stretched from one end of the earth to the other.
Taking this as a good omen, he chose to keep the
crescent and make it the symbol of his dynasty. There
is speculation that the five points on the star
represent the five pillars of Islam, but this is pure
conjecture. The five points were not standard on the
Ottoman flags, and as you will see on the following
page, it is still not standard on flags used in the
Muslim world today.

For hundreds of years, the Ottoman Empire ruled over
the Muslim world. After centuries of battle with
Christian Europe, it is understandable how the symbols
of this empire became linked in people’s minds with
the faith of Islam as a whole.

Based on this history, many Muslims reject using the
crescent moon as a symbol of Islam. The faith of
Islam has historically had no symbol, and many refuse
to accept what is essentially an ancient pagan icon.
It is certainly not in uniform use among Muslims.


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