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Co-opting Symbols: Star and Crescent vs. Sun and Crescent

A brief discussion of the origins for the star and crescent symbol.

The Star and Crescent symbol associated with Islam today ultimately traces its origins to the Sumerians (Figure 1). From the Sumerians, it would pass on to the Persians who would introduce it to the Central Asian region. However, with the arrival of the Hunnish tribes in Central Asia during the 4th century C.E., a similar symbol, an upward facing crescent, would be introduced to the Persian world. This symbol derived from the imperial standard of their Hunnic ancestors, the Xuŋa (Xiongnu) (Figure 2). Sima Qian's The Grand Scribe's Records notes that the Hunnic emperor, Laoshang Darğa claimed descent from the Sun and Moon; thus, his authority and legitimacy were directly tied to his divine nature.

Figure 2: Imperial Standard of the Xuŋa, Mongolia. National Museum of Mongolia
Figure 2: Imperial Standard of the Xuŋa, Mongolia. National Museum of Mongolia

As Patterns in Textiles

After the collapse of the Xuŋa, a Hunnic tribe known as the Tabğaç (Tuoba) would adopt the Xuŋa standard as their own and in the fourth century C.E., establish the Wei dynasty of China. It is during the Wei dynasty that we first see the production of textiles featuring an upwards pointing crescent surrounded by pearl roundels (Figure 3). The textile pattern would first be borrowed by the Soğd (Sogdians) and then by the Sassanians. In the Persianate world, it would appear frequently as a secondary element within textile patterns. However, by the end of Late Antiquity, it would be absorbed into the native Persian Star and Crescent symbol. The Persian symbol would then find itself co-opted by Islamic tradition, thereafter, becoming a symbol of Islam. Yet, it would continue to be used by various Turkic states in its original capacity: as a symbol of divine authority and legitimacy.

As Components of the Tamğa

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