GREEN ARABIA

by TA

The colour green bears a great significance in Arabian culture, as it is donned on 16 out of the 22 flags of the Arab states. This life-long kinship and saturation of green within the Arab flagdom has its roots in the early twentieth century, when a British diplomat, Sir Mark Sykes, designed the Arab Revolt flag of green, red, white and black. The flag was born out of an attempt to create an Arab nationalist movement to weaken Ottoman rule by creating a single, united, Arab nation, independent of all Ottoman powers.

 

These colours, which later emerged to become the pan-Arab colours, all had their origins in four of the strongest authorities to ever rule in Arabia. Green was the colour of the banner of the Fatimid Caliphate, and white the colour of the Umayyad Caliphate. Black, however, was said to be prominent on the banner of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, and was later adopted as the colour of the banner used by the Abbasid Caliphate to revolt against the Umayyad rule. To most historians, red represents the colour of the flag held by the Kharijites. Today, however, these colours are not necessarily associated with the dynasties and empires whose leaderships forever changed the region, but instead represent something unique to each country in whose flags they are present.

 

In the United Arab Emirates, green symbolises the fertility of the land, which is not too distant from the connotations we attach to the colour in Western society. In the neighbouring Sultanate of Oman, however, the representation becomes less general and much more locally significant, as the green in its national flag specifically alludes to Al Jabal Al Akhdar, which lies within the Al Hajar Mountains range, and literally translates to ‘The Green Mountain’. In the Lebanese flag, where the colour takes the shape of the Lebanon Cedar tree, it denotes something a little bit beyond the discernible show of national greenery, as here it symbolises immortality and stability. The relevance of this is bound to the purpose of the flag, as it was designed to be free from association with any particular religion or sect, which is far-removed from the strong religious echoes that the previous tetra-chromatic Arab Revolt flag had borne. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the significance of the green in its flag differs to that of its neighbours, as it symbolises the religion of Islam, and compliments the white Arabic script written across the flag, which is in fact half of the testimony of the Islamic faith, translating to “There is no other God but Allah”.

 

The various ways which green is understood in Arabia is rather akin to verses of poetry, wherein the interpretation rests solely with the interpreter. And

like the varied interpretations that can exist for a single stanza in a poem, each interpretation of what the colour green could symbolise will inevitably bear the unique markers of those interpreting it, whom herein are the diverse people of Arabia. This very uniqueness in perception sheds light on the fact that all the diverse cultures of the lands of the Arab world, extending from the east of the Atlantic in north-west Africa, to the Levant at the east of the Mediterranean, cannot then be simply summarised under one cultural banner called Arabia. These ever-changing interpretations of the colour must then have been, and continue to be, shaped by the discrete histories and experiences of the Arab people.