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Saudi Arabia

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Al-Mamlakat al-'Arabiyat as-Sa'udiyah

Last modified: 2008-01-19 by ian macdonald
Keywords: saudi arabia | asia | shahada | sword | swords:2 | royal flag | tree (palm) |
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[Saudi Arabia] 2:3 | image by António Martins-Tuválkin

Basic design in use by 1932; current version adopted 15 March 1973

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About the Saudi Flag

  • Proportion: 2:3
  • Description: Green flag with a white shahada and sword. The hoist of the flag shown above should be at the viewer's right, as it is the case for all flags featuring Arabic writings (which read from right to left).
  • Use: on land, state and war flag, at sea, state and war ensign.
  • Colour approximate specifications (as given in Album des Pavillons [pay00]):
    • Green: Pantone 330 c / CMYK (%) C 100 - M 0 - Y 50 - K 50

In The International Flag Book [ped71], Christian Fogd Pedersen gives the date 1946 for the adoption of the national flag (with the older pattern of sword). The current design of the flag was established in Article 1 of Cabinet Decision 101, as approved by a Royal Decree dated 15 March 1973, and further specified by Mandatory Standards issued by the Saudi Arabian Standards Organization, approved by the board of directors 25-5-1404 A.H. (26 February 1984), published in the Official Gazette of 10-8-1404 A.H. (11 May 1985), and with an effective date of 2-10-1404 (2 November 1984). I also have another possible date for flag legislation of 22-10-1377 A.H. (12 May 1958), with a decree number 38 [content of the decree not reported—Ed.].
Christopher Southworth, 14-15 April 2003

The Dorling Kindersley 1997 Ultimate Pocket Book of Flags [udk97] mentions that the current version of the sword was adopted in 1981, and that it represents the sword of king Abd al-Aziz, given to him by his father. However, Dorling Kindersley's flag books are not the most precise vexillological source—actually they should be called DK's handbook of flag urban legends. So most probably the 1981 date is a mistake and bears no relationship with any adoption, either de facto or de jure, of Saudi flag elements.
Santiago Dotor, 15 April 2003

If the sword was adopted in 1981, it apparently wasn't by legislation, because the only law mentioned in the Mandatory Standards (which themselves formed part of the law after 11 February 1984) is the Decree of 1973. Figure 2 and Table 8 of the standards give precise geometric instructions for the sword, which the original decree did not.
Christopher Southworth, 15 April 2003

The point of the sword always points to the viewer's left, no matter what side of the flag you're looking at. The sword points in the direction in which you read the shahada--right to left.
Joe McMillan, 31 August 2006

Shape of the Sword


The sword on the national flag is not slightly curved, but is entirely straight-bladed according to a precise construction diagram contained in Mandatory Standards effective 11 March 1984. According to both the Law of 1973 which regulated the design and the Mandatory Standards mentioned above, the sword's hilt is always to the right on both the obverse and reverse of the flag and is never reversed.
Christopher Southworth, 29 August 2006

At a business ceremony in Tokyo on Apr 2 1980, they still used curved sword.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 27 October 2006

I saw a documentary about two English guys who flew around the world (in 80 days) on a microlight. They had to get customs clearance in Saudi Arabia, and when the camera rolled --- right there behind the customs officials was Saudi Arabia's National flag with --- a curved sword! The Shahada was smaller too.
Martin Grieve, 28 October 2006


The Reverse Side of the Flag

[Reverse side of Saudi national flag]
by António Martins-Tuválkin |

If made according to law, the Saudi national flag should be identical on both sides, i.e., with the Testament or shahada reading from right to left and the hilt of the sword hilt to the right, under the beginning of the inscription. The flag therefore, looks the same whether it is the obverse or reverse which is being shown—the only way to tell which you are viewing on an image of the flag is to show a flag pole or halyard along with the image. Article 1.1 of Decision 101 (8 March 1973) is specific about this, and states that "The Testament and sword shall be clearly shown in white and appear identical on both sides of the flag." The legal position is further clarified in "Mandatory Standards" (enforced 3 November 1984) in which Article states that, "The body of the flag shall be composed of two layers of green fabric, printed on them El-Shahada and the Sword in white (as per figure 1)."
Christopher Southworth, 23 September 2003

Vertical version of the flag

[Vertical Saudi Arabian flag] image by António Martins-Tuválkin

Actually, the official Saudi hanging flag reads correctly and has the sword underneath the shahada, just like on the flag. In other words, take a Saudi flag and make it longer than wide with the heading at the top and you would have it.
Dave Martucci, 2 February 1998

Consider the citation from page 47 of Znamierowski [zna99]:

"Indeed, at least four countries, namely Brazil, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka, explicitly forbid vertical display of their national flags."
If so, we can ask what this vertical flag is? Indeed, there has been a tendency of vertical hoisting of flags recently, especially at big international events like Olympic games, and in several such occasions the vertical Saudi flag was surely used. Is it the official design, officialized recently just for that reason, or is it only an unofficial rendition of the Saudi flag made by foreign flagmakers, as a way to display the text rightly? That is, is this an official design, a de facto flag or simply an erroneous design that might have been used somewhere?
Željko Heimer, 7 June 2000

I have the idea that Saudi law prohibits the vertical hoisting of the normal flag, because the writing would become illegible. Maybe the design with the writing set horizontally across the middle of a vertical flag is done not in spite of this legal provision, but because of it.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 8 June 2000

I am not sure that the religion prohibits writings from the Quran from being written vertically. If I am not wrong, the inscriptions, in various ornamental forms, are used throughout the Muslim world as a very developed form of art, and scriptural ornaments are to be found in many places. So, if there is a ban on vertical hoisting of the Saudi flag (and it seems there is), that would be for other reasons—first due to the design that is not suitable for vertical hoisting, and second, and not quite unrelated with the first, due to the apparent tradition of "horizontal-only" hoisting of flags in the Arabian Peninsula. Comparably, there are bans on vertical hoisting in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as mentioned above. These flags are not to be hoisted vertically for the same reasons as mentioned above, and not due to religious reasons. Other flags in the same part of the world are rarely if ever seen vertically hoisted in their own countries— and without any religious reason behind it, and even without the "designwise" problems.
Željko Heimer, 10 June 2000

Use of the Shahada on the Flag

The inclusion of sacred Islamic Text on the flag of Saudi Arabia has created problems when the flag is reproduced on souvenir items or as a throw-away hand-waver. An example of this problem occurred when Muslims complained of the flag appearing on World Cup footballs. I recall that one solution was to reproduce the flag with only the sword, deleting the text. However I cannot locate any source for this approach. Does anyone know if this or of any other approach to including Saudi Arabia in a flag display without giving offence to devout Muslims? If the sword only is used, is it centered?
Ralph Kelly, 12 December 1998

The Saudi flag at half-mast

Flags were not flown at half-mast because the green Saudi flag is inscribed with Islam's testament of faith and lowering it would be considered blasphemous.

Reported Civil Flag

Reported Civil Flag of Saudi Arabia
by Joseph McMillan, 26 August 2006

The Saudi Arabian flag is only allowed for official purposes. Private citizens can fly a plain green flag with a golden palm tree over two crossed swords in the upper fly corner.
Armand Noel du Payrat, 28 June 2002

We have a World Cup promotion poster in Japan which shows 32 national people with their national flag paintings on their faces. Only Saudi Arabia does not use the national flag but a green flag charged with a yellow palm above two crossed swords.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 28 June 2002

The only mention of a "civil flag" I can find in Saudi Arabian flag legislation is contained in a Mandatory Standard ("Dimensions, Geometrical Details and Usages of Flags and Banners of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia") whose date of enforcement is given as 3 November 1985. This is the Civil Ensign (described in the Mandatory Standard as the "commercial flag") used by merchant vessels at sea There is no other which might conceivably be considered as a civil flag.
Christopher Southworth, 10 July 2003

Coat of Arms

Saudi Arabian 
Coat of Armsby Joseph McMillan, 26 August 2006

Adopted 1950.