A Cultural and Historical Heritage
When studying the Qatari flag, any researcher is bound to discover a fascinating history. In an effort to better understand this history, a historical study was conducted to document the origin of the flag color from past to present.
The Color of the Flag
- The maroon red hue of the Qatari flag originated in the third millennium B.C.
- The Bronze Age began around the third millennium B.C., and ended at the time of the Cushite Empire, in the second millennium B.C.
- Maroon red was tied to the Phoenicians (who descended from the Canaanites) living in the Arabian Peninsula. The word “Phoenician” was derived from the Greek word “Phoenix”, which meant “maroon nation”.
- The Greek historian Herodotus mentioned that the Canaanites were the first inhabitants in the region now known as Qatar. Strabo, the Greek philosopher, historian and geographer, said that the Phoenicians originated in the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula. The Phoenicians were involved in the trade of maroon dyes (this hue was also known as “royal red”, or “imperial red”). The dyes were used by kings, princes and others on the top of the social pyramid during royal ceremonies, and because maroon clothing indicated the social status of the individual wearing it, the use of the dye was regulated by law.
The Island of Bin Ghannam – the source of the flag’s color
- Archaeologists have taught us that the island of Bin Ghannam was the source of maroon dye. This small island is located near Alkhour, about 40 kilometers from Doha.
- Archaeologists working in Bin Ghannam discovered numerous remains of murex sea shells, from which the Phoenicians had extracted the maroon dye. Scientists discovered approximately three million shells that contained the ingredients of maroon dye, and according to their data, Qatar was the only place in the region, besides the Lebanese city of Tyre, to produce maroon dye.
- When subjected to the harsh rays of the desert sun, the maroon dye dries, taking on a maroon (deep purple) hue.
The origins of the flag and its development
To understand how the Qatari flag is tied to the country’s history, scholars need to first examine several pieces of evidence that would help them investigate the profound history of this flag.
The meaning of the word “Aladaam”
Since ancient times, the word “Aladaam”, for Qataris, has signified the deep, dark red color on the standard of the founder of Qatar, Sheikh Jasim Bin Mohammed Bin Thani, rest his soul. The linguistic origins of the word tie it to the verb “to support”, as in to support or prop up something. Another related word is “posts”, which can prop up a house. The word “Aladaam” has also been used to refer to someone who goes forward confidently, without looking back or paying attention to an opponent. The “Adaam” are the central pillars of a house, which support the structure, and it can also refer to a support for the roof. The flag post was one of the pillars under which people would congregate, or the place where troops would amass.
- The Qatari flag is unique for the maroon hue which mesmerized ancient nations, and its cultural heritage still serves as a symbol of prestige, veneration and high social standing. It is one of the noblest of colors.
- The maroon hue of the Qatari flag distinguishes it from the flags of other countries in the world, and especially those of Arab nations who share a common religion with Qatar along with bonds of kinship and proximity. The flags of almost all Arab nations contain the color red.
- After investigating historical records, scholars found evidence that firmly established the connection between the maroon color and Qatar: the Phoenicians.
- When investigating the relationship between the land of Qatar and the Canaanites, the historians stated that the Greeks were the ones who called the Canaanites “Phoenicians”, a word derived from the Greek “phoenix”, or the nation of the maroon color. They associated the color with the clothing worn by the Phoenicians, which kept the secret of how this maroon dye was produced.
- Herodotus, the Greek historian of the fifth century B.C. who was known as “the Father of History”, mentioned that the first settlers in the land of Qatar were Phoenicians.
- In Ptolemy’s map “the Land of the Arabs”, Qatar was labelled “Gatarah”. Later, Strabo (20-64 B.C), the Greek historian, included this term in his encyclopedia, chronicling, for the first time, the origins of the nations, their wanderings, and the establishment of ancient kingdoms. Strabo said that the Phoenicians had originally migrated to the Fertile Crescent and the shores of the Mediterranean Sea from the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf regions.
- Therefore, the Canaanites were here, in Qatar, and emigrated, bringing with them the secrets of the extraction of maroon dye. Thanks to their deep connection to the sea, they passed on those secrets to those who lived in Qatar after they had left.
- The connection between Qatar and the maroon hue was never broken. Qatar was mentioned in Islamic history as a producer of textiles, robes, and maroon-colored clothes, and this color was mentioned as a Qatari color that garments, such as robes or shirts, were dyed. It is also tied to the “Qitriyah” robe, pronounced the way Qataris pronounce the name of their country- “Qitar”.
- Islamic history is not the only source of information about this period. Islamic traditions regarding the life and deeds of Prophet Mohammed, may peace be upon him, tell us that the Prophet had worn Qatari robes throughout his life, on festivals and on Fridays, and that the maroon Qatari robe was the last garment the Prophet wore. According to a Hadith on the last day of Mohammed’s life, as related by Anas Bin Malek, Mohammed, Peace Be Upon Him, went out to the mosque, and was leaning on Usama Bin Zayd. He was wearing Qatari clothes, which had prayed in, and this was the last thing the Prophet wore.
The flag of the Hudna (ceasefire)
In January of 1820, after the British campaign against Ras al-Khaima, a peace agreement was signed between the British East India Company and the emirates of the Trucial Coast: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain, and Ras al-Khaimah. The following month, Bahrain joined the signatories of the agreement, and outlined its conditions for peace between the British and the emirates of the Trucial Coast. The agreement provided for the use of a general flag which all Arabs of the Trucial States would use, after being united through the treaty, and this flag would become known as the “Hudna” flag. It was comprised of a white cloth with a red stripe that ran through the middle of it. Although each of the Trucial States became a British protectorate in the late nineteenth century, the British government did not obligate these states to fly the Hudna flag.
- The following year, the HMS Vestal, part of the British East India Company’s fleet, attacked the city of al-Bada (the old name for Doha), claiming that certain individuals were engaged in maritime piracy near the al-Bada coast. Qatar had not signed the 1820 agreement with the British, as the other coastal emirates had.
- In January of 1823, barely two years after the bombardment of al-Bada, Captain John MacLeod, the chief political resident of the Gulf from December 1822 to September 1823, became the first British official to visit al-Bada. His visit provides us with the earliest geographical information we have on the eastern Arabian Peninsula.
- During his visit, MacLeod saw that the Qataris did not use the Hudna flag, since they had never signed the peace treaty of 1820. We mustn’t forget that at that time, there was no united Qatari flag. Instead, each tribe flew its own banner during festivals, celebrations, caravan trains, or when any type of aggression had occurred.
In 1851, the people of Qatar were the target of an invasion from Mesaimeer, and when they congregated and went out to confront the invaders, each tribe would use its own rallying cries and fly its own banner. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Thani realized the dangerous predicament the Qataris were in. This religious scholar and eloquent speaker, who believed in the history and culture of his homeland, knew how critical it was to unite the Qataris under one banner.
- Considering the apprehensive nature and disposition of these tribes, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Thani knew that it would be difficult to convince each tribe to forfeit its banner. He could only suggest united all of the banners under a maroon banner, tying the color to Qatari history and culture. This was the color the Qataris were known for producing, and above all, it was the color worn by the Prophet Mohammed Peace be upon Him, when praying for the last time, and it was the color He was wearing when He passed away.
- After mutual consultations, the Qataris decided to accept Bin Thani’s proposal. They accepted the new banner, adding the word “Alaadam” to the flag. This may have been the first time in the history of the country that a flag meant to unite the Qatari people was waved. It inspired the young people of Qatar, headed by Sheikh Jaiem Bin Mohammed Bin Thani, with the dream of establishing the country.
- This flag remained in use in Qatar, at times of peace, when congregated during the holidays, and on various occasions.
- During the reign of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Thani, when his age was quite advanced, his son, the Founder Sheikh Jasim Bin Mohammed Bin Thani was designated to lead Qatar, and in December of 1871, he flew the flag of the Ottoman Caliphate above the Tower of Bada in an effort to unify the Islamic peoples against the spread of British influence. The Ottoman flag continued to wave even after the founder of the Qatari state led the Qatari armies in Al Wajba Battel to victory against the Ottomans, in 1893, and it remained there until three years after his death.
- In August of 1915, after the eruption of World War I and 40 years after the Ottoman flag was waved over the Tower of Bada, Qatar signed the Anglo-Qatari agreement of 1916 with Sir Percy Cox, the chief political resident of the Gulf, making Qatar one of the Trucial States. However, Qatar did not fly the Hudna flag. It continued using the maroon Qatari flag created by Sheikh Abdullah Bin Jasim, rest his soul.
The new flag
- In April of 1932, the British navy decided that Qatar should have its own flag, and it suggested that Qatar use the red flag – with nine points (Qatar was the ninth member of the Trucial States Agreement). However, Qatar refused to use the color red, and insisted on using the maroon color, which it had taken pride in throughout its history. It kept the nine points, however, it added maroon-colored diamonds that would separate between each point. It also added the word “Qatar”, which appeared in white, over the maroon background.
- The British didn’t accept the color of this flag, claiming that red was the color traditionally used in Arab and Muslim flags, and that maroon isn’t ordinarily used in flags. Consequently, the British asked the Qataris to change the color of their flag from maroon to red.
- The Qataris paid no heed to the British government, and the flag remained maroon-colored. According to what Eric Field wrote in 1940, the Qatari government adopted maroon, a color extracted from a natural dye, for the country’s flag.
- In 1960, the then-ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Ali Bin Abdullah Al-Thani, may Allah have mercy on him, made a minor change to the Qatari flag. He kept the white and maroon colors, but he removed the diamonds and the word “Qatar” from the flag. Qatar has been waving this flag ever since.
- This is how the maroon hue, which was intertwined with the country’s history and culture, remained part of the Qatari flag, thanks to the persistence of the Qatari people, who raise their flag with these ideas in mind.
Joining the United Nations
In 1971, after the British protectorate was abolished, Qatar joined the United Nations. The Qatari flag, with its historic white and maroon colors, was flown at UN headquarters.
- Forty years later, at the beginning of 2012,The Emir of Qatar at that time, HH the Father Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, recognized the need to create legislation that would define the color of the flag and its technical specifications, as well as protocol, in accordance with the national constitution, chapter one (“the State and the Foundations of the Government”), article 3:
“The law shall define the motto and the flag of the state, its decorations, badges, and its national anthem.”
- See C. U. Aitchison, A Collection of Treaties, Engagements And Sanads, Vol. XI, Delhi, 1933, pp. 239 – 250.
- See the Article 3 in ibid, p. 245.
- G. Lorimer, Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, Oman and Central Arabia, Historical Part 1 A, Calcutta, 1915, p. 672.
- See the Enclosure in the Deputy Secretary to the Government of India to the Political Resident in the Gulf no. F-573 N/31, 20 April 1932, L/P&S/12/3725.
- Lorimer, op. cit., Historical Part 1 B, p. 794.
- See MacLeod’s Report on his tour of the Gulf in J. A. Saldanha, Precise of Correspondence Regarding the Affairs of the Persian Gulf, 1801 – 1853, (Superintendent, Government Printing), Calcutta, (India), pp. 155 – 163.
- Lorimer, op. cit., Historical Part 1 B, p. 794.
- William G. Palgrave, Narrative of A Year’s Journey Through Central And Eastern Arabia (1862-63), Vol. II, London, 1866, p. 235, Writer’s Interview with HE Salah Al Ali, 2 August 2012; see also Mohammed Sharif al Shibani , Arab Emirate of Qatar (Arabic) in the Past and Present, Vol.1, Beirut, 1962, pp. 63 – 64.
- For more on the Battle of al- Damisha, see Yousuf Ibrahim Al- Abdullah, A Study of Qatar – British Relations 1914 – 1945, Doha; 1983, p. 19.
- For more on the Battle of Wajbah, see H. Rahman, The Emergence of Qatar: The Turbulent Years 1627-1916, London, 2005, pp. 107-112.
- For landing of the Ottoman troops in Bida see, Pelly to the Secretary to the Government of India, no. 50, 13 January 1872, L/P&S/5/269; see also Translation of News Report of Munshi Abdul Qasim, in Captain C. Grant, Assistant Political Resident in the Gulf to Pelly, no. 6, 23 December 1871, ibid.
- Sir Percy Z. Cox, Political Resident in the Persian Gulf to the Secretary to the Government of India in the Foreign and Political Department, Simla, no. B, 11 August 1915, L/P&S/10/386.
- Cox to A. H. Grant, Secretary to the Government of India, no. T-15 4 November 1916, R/15/2/30.
- Minute by J. Walton, unnumbered, 10 November 1931, L/P&S/12/3725.
- Under Secretary of State for India to the German Embassy, no. L-736/64/403, 28 December 1931, L/P&S/12/3725.
- Rosemaire Said Zahlan, The Creation of Qatar, London, 1979, p. 68.
- Viceroy of the Secretary of State for India, no. 995, 19 July 1930, L/P&S/12/3725.
- The Political Resident in the Gulf to the Foreign Secretary, no. 265-S, 28 April 1932, L/P&S/12/3725.
- The Political Resident in the Gulf to the Foreign Secretary to the Govt. of India, no. 1199, 11 June 1936, R/15/2/1694.
- Minute by Clauson, unnumbered, 8 August 1936, L/P&S/12/3725.
- Eric Inglefield, Flags, London, 1986, p. 69.
- Chamber’s Encyclopedia, Vol. V, London, p. 681.
- Minute by Walton, unnumbered, 10 November 1931, L/P&S/12/3725; see also C. M. Ross to A. M. Paskin, no. EA-1511/2, 3 March 1951, F.O.371/91326.
- Aitchison, C. U., A Collection of Treaties, Engagements And Sanads, Vol. XI, Delhi, 1933.
- Abdullah, Yousuf Ibrahim Al, A Study of Qatar – British Relations 1914 – 1945, Doha, Oriental Publishing, 1983.
- Ali, Salah Al. Personal Interview. 2 August 2012.
- Chamber’s Encyclopedia, Vol. V, London.
- Clauson, Meeting Minutes, (8 August 1936), unnumbered, L/P&S/12/3725.
- Cox, Sir Percy Z., Political Resident in the Persian Gulf to the Secretary to the Government of India in the Foreign and Political Department, Simla, 11 August 1915, no. B, L/P&S/10/386.
- Cox to A. H. Grant, Secretary to the Government of India, 4 November 1916, no. T-15, R/15/2/30.
- Enclosure in the Deputy Secretary to the Government of India to the Political Resident in the Gulf no. F-573 N/31, 20 April 1932. L/P&S/12/3725.
- German Ambassador in London to the British Foreign Secretary, no. 287, 19 February 1931, L/P&S/ 3725.
- Gillespie, Frances, “The Purple Island, Jazirat bin Ghanim or Al Khor Island “, www.qatarvisitor.com
- Grant, Captain C., Assistant Political Resident in the Gulf to Pelly, no. 6, 23 December 1871, Qasim, Munshi Abdul, News Report, Trans.
- Hafsa, Ambar ibn, audio narration, Haditch no. 1213.
- Inglefield, Eric, Flags, London, 1986.
- Jacoby, David, “Silk in Western Byzantium before the Fourth Crusade” in Trade, Commodities, and Shipping in the Medieval Mediterranean (1997) www.wikipedia.com.
- Lorimer, J. G., Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, Oman and Central Arabia, Historical Part 1 A, Calcutta, 1915.
- Lorimer, J. G., Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, Oman and Central Arabia, Historical Part 1 B, Calcutta 1915.
- Maalik, Ibn, audio narration, Haditch
- Nab, Ibrahim Abu, Qatar: A Story of State Building, Beirut: 1977.
- Pelly to the Secretary to the Government of India, no. 50, 13 January 1872, L/P&S/5/269.
- Political Resident in the Gulf to the Foreign Secretary, no. 265-S, 28 April 1932, L/P&S/12/3725.
- Political Resident in the Gulf to the Foreign Secretary to the Govt. of India, no. 1199, 11 June 1936, R/15/2/1694.
- Ross, C. M. to A. M. Paskin, no. EA-1511/2, 3 March 1951. F.O.371/91326,
- Saldanha, J. A., Precise of Correspondence regarding the Affairs of the Persian Gulf, 1801 – 1853, Superintendent, Government Printing, Calcutta, India.
- Shibani, Mohammed Sharif al, Arab Emirate of Qatar (Arabic) in the Past and Present, Vol.1, Beirut, 1962.
- Under Secretary of State for India to the German Embassy, no. L-736/64/403, 28 December 1931, L/P&S/12/3725.
- Viceroy of the Secretary of State for India, no. 995, 19 July 1930, L/P&S/12/3725.Vine, Peter and Paula Casey, The Heritage of Qatar, London: IMMEL Publishing, 1992.
- Walton, Meeting Minutes, (10 November 1931) unnumbered, L/P&S/12/3725.
- Zahlan, Rosemaire Said, The Creation of Qatar, London, 1979.