In February this year, Saudi Arabia’s un-elected consultative Shura Council voted in favour of changes to the royal decree that governs its national anthem and green flag — probably in sync with the rapid reforms introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to transform his once ultra-conservative country.
Though such changes are routine in the kingdom, a section of the Pakistan society is upset over such the proposal.
Historically speaking, the region of what forms the Kingdom of Saudi Arab today and other surrounding Gulf states, lost the prestigious status of being the centre of political power in Islamic world when the Umayyad dynasty (661-750) chose Damascus as the new centre of power. Abbasids (750-1258) did not return to Mecca or Medina, rather built a new city of Baghdad on the border with Iran as their preferred seat of power. Ottomans (1517-1924) opted to run their vast Turkish empire and keep a close eye on Muslim subjects from Istanbul located on the bank of Bosporus. All of the major dynasties had different flags — from black to white to green, and were never considered un-Islamic by their rivals.
The first Saudi state (1727-1818), the great emirate of Diriyah, which comprised the present day Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and Bahrain was established by Muhammad bin Saud in February 1727. Later, in 1744, an understanding was reached with religious scholar, Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab, for implementing sharia laws – that remained intact for next two centuries. An all green flag with the holy Shahadah inscribed in the centre was selected for the puritanical state. In 1818, the last King Abdullah bin Saud lost the first Saudi state to the Ottomans and his head was rolled down to the shallow waters of Bosporus in Istanbul.
King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia requested the Egyptian King Farooq to help create a national anthem for the kingdom. During King Abdul Aziz’s official visit to Egypt in 1950, the host King Farooq presented the anthem to the royal dignitary.
Turki ibn Abdullah ibn Muhammad, a grandson of the first Saudi Imam Muhammad ibn Saud, succeeded to form the second Saudi (Nejd) emirate after defeating the Egyptian forces in 1824. The new emirate kept the old flag with large Shahadah inscription in the centre. The Emirate of Jabbal Shammar in the northern parts of the Arabian peninsula, ruled by the Al Rashid family, was threatening the House of Saud since 1836. Most probably because of Al Rashid’s military alliance with the Ottomans, the emirate of Jabbal Shammar adopted an identical flag. Just like the Ottoman flag, Al Rashid’s flag had a red background with a white crescent and a multi-cornered star on top right corner.
A long drawn war between the House of Saud and the Al Rashid resulted in end of the State of Nejd in 1891, and princes of the House of Saud had to take refuge in Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait. Since the Al Rashids were already in alliance with the Ottomans, their victory over the House of Saud gave a sort of control over the entire Arab peninsula. Finally, in 1902, ibn Saud retrieved Riyadh and laid foundation of the third state of Saudi Arabia and brought back his family to their ancestral region of Nejd. This time two crossed swords above the Shahadah were added to the green flag. A white vertical strip was also added on the pole side. The process of unification of all regional sheikdoms city states was pursued through the military might till 1913.
Emirate of Asir was established in 1908, and later with covert support from the British, during the World War I, Muhammad Al Idris declared himself the amir of Asir in 1917. He picked the same green flag with the Shahadah inscription for the new state. Because of local rebellion, the House of Saud incorporated the emirate into Emirate of Riyadh in 1934.
World War I resulted in the birth of many new states and redistribution of territories held by the colonial powers. Sharif of Mecca, Husain bin Ali, revolted against the Ottoman caliph and joined hands with the allied forces against the Turkish forces to win back the complete control over the Arab peninsula. The British government promised him that once the Turkish forces were out, he would be recognized as the sole ruler of Hejaz. Sharif of Mecca did not know that the British were also betting on another dark horse that would eventually overthrow Husain Ibn Ali in 1925.
The present day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was formed on September 23, 1932 after merging all the regional sheikhdoms (such as Nejd, Hasa, Hejaz, Shamer, Asir etc). This time the historical national flag was altered leaving a single sword horizontally underneath of the Shahadah inscription. Interestingly, the white vertical strip on the pole side disappeared. The font size of Shahadah inscription also shrunk.
The tale of the national anthem is also interesting. King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia requested the Egyptian King Farooq to help create a national anthem for the kingdom. During King Abdul Aziz’s official visit to Egypt in 1950, the host King Farooq presented the anthem to the royal dignitary. The kingdom adopted the anthem the same year without any lyrics. More recently King Khalid (1975-1982) asked a Saudi poet Ibrahim Khafaja to add words to the royal salute piece. By the time the national anthem was played in 1984 on the event of Eidul Fitar, King Khalid was dead. King Fahd took the salute.
Presently, there are 193 sovereign states and two observers (Palestine and the Holy See) as members of the United Nations Organization (UNO). Every state has a national flag and a national anthem, except Cyprus and Afghanistan.
Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia are the only states that have the holy shahadah inscribed on their respective national flags.