The series of flagpoles placed prominently along Doha’s Corniche, each proudly flying the Qatari flag, is evidence of the long history of flags in the Arab and Islamic world, and the importance to Qatar of the flag as a national emblem.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, the national flag rose in importance to become a potent symbol of a nation’s history and aspirations, and serves as a symbol of patriotism.
The history of flags in the Middle East dates back to pre-Islamic times, when flags were associated with tribes or cities. The advent of Islam in the seventh century and its expansion throughout the Middle East, Africa, Spain, Eastern Europe and Asia saw flags representing a much wider area than they did previously.
The flags used during this period were a plain, solid colour, and these colours have had a major impact on the flag designs of modern Arab and Islamic countries, which are mainly white, black, red and green.
The black and white used during the time of Prophet Mohammed continued to be used by the Umayyad Caliphate in Damascus (white) and the Abbasids in Baghdad (black). Green is also an important colour representing the house of Ali, the Prophet’s cousin, and was used by the Fatimid dynasty in North Africa, which claimed descent from him. Red flags were used by the Arab tribes in their conquest of North Africa and became the symbol of the Islamic rulers of Andalusia. Red was also the colour of the Gulf States in the early 19th century.
Early additions to these solid colours were the crescent and star, and many theories exist about their origins and meanings. The crescent appeared regularly on the flags of Muslim Turks soon after their armies captured Constantinople in 1453 – the crescent had been associated with Constantinople since the fourth century. The star was added later and is associated, among other things, with Al Tariq, the morning star mentioned in the Qur’an.
With the adoption of the star and crescent on the flag of the Ottoman Empire, these symbols flew over vast areas of the Arab world.
The Arab revolt against the Turks in 1916 saw a new flag – the Arab Revolt flag – designed by its leader, Sheriff Hussein of Mecca, using the four historical colours of white, black, green and red (red was also the colour of his own tribe). Over the years, these colours have come to be known as the pan-Arab colours, symbolising unity in the Arab world. This flag now also represents the Palestinian people.
The period following the end of the First World War saw the newly emerging independent Arab states use the Arab Revolt colours in their flags. With time, the colours have come to symbolise the end of colonialisation (black), a bright future and peace (white), and sacrifice (red). Green, still in use in many flags, is said to have been a favourite colour of Prophet Mohammed and also symbolises nature and life.
The Qatari flag
The flags of the emirates along the Arabian Gulf remained solid red until the mid-19th century. The expansion of trade and communications made it increasingly difficult for foreigners to distinguish one state from another, particularly from the sea, and this was thought to have been the impetus for the change in design of Gulf flags.
No records exist, but it is believed that a distinctive Qatari flag was born during a treaty signed between Qatar and Britain in 1868. What is clear is that the change from solid red to the present white-and-maroon flag took more than 100 years, and before the uniformity provided by automation, each national flag was handmade and varied in colour, proportion and sometimes even in design. The first change was the addition of a white stripe close to the hoist (the side of the flag nearest the flagpole). It is not clear whether the edge of the original stripe was smooth or serrated. The rest of the flag remained red. The early 20th century brought a major change when the red portion was changed first to dark violet, and finally to maroon in 1936.
According to some records, a possible reason for the switch to maroon was that the former flag was almost identical to the Bahraini flag, which to this day retains the original vivid red.
During the 1930s, small maroon diamonds were also added to the white hoist section, which by then had a nine-point, serrated edge separating it from the maroon. The name of the state was sometimes written in white. The nine points are symbolic of Qatar as the ninth member of the ‘reconciled Emirates’ of the Arabian Gulf, after the conclusion of the 1916 Qatar-British Treaty in which Qatar became a British protectorate. The white, according to the government, is a symbol of peace, the maroon a reminder of the wars in which Qatar defended itself.
In 1949, the diamonds were removed and the shade of maroon and the dimensions of white to maroon were standardised. On independence in 1971, the current flag was adopted, which is almost the same as its 1949 predecessor but with slightly different proportions. Qatar’s flag is unique amongst flags, as it is exceptionally long in relation to its height.
First celebrated on 18 December 2007, Qatar’s National Day is now an annual public holiday when Qataris invite expatriate residents and visitors to join them in celebrating the country’s culture, heritage and arts with displays of traditional dancing and music, culinary experiences, poetry and drama.
Prior to 2007, Qatar commemorated the country’s heritage and history on the 3rd of September every year – the date in 1971 that the country officially declared its independence after a spell as a British protectorate.
December 18th is the date in 1878 that Sheikh Qassim Bin Mohammed Al Thani succeeded his father as ruler, establishing one nation on the whole of the peninsula. Sheikh Qassim (sometimes also written as Jassim) became the first national hero of Qatar by throwing off the influence of the Ottoman Empire at the battle of Al Wajba, and establishing for the first time a unified and national State under his leadership.
The National Anthem was adopted on the 7th December 1996 following the accession of HH the Emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani. The words are by Sheikh Mubarak Bin Saif Al Thani and music by Abdul Aziz Nasser Obaidan.