Colors of the Arab World: Meaning and Symbolism
If you are wondering why you see green throughout our website, it is because green is the color of the Arab world! There are many symbolic meanings and representations behind the color green and the other colors of the rainbow. Arab America Contributing Writer Emily Devereaux says different colors can carry different meanings and symbols in various cultures. Colors are able to provoke specific emotions or thoughts, which has been an interesting phenomenon throughout history. Perceptions of color lead cultures to develop their own symbols and meanings based on such colors.
Significance of Colors
Different colors may evoke certain emotions. Many people may associate the color red with anger, while others associate red more strongly with love. Markella Kaplani, a psychologist from Greece, says colors are ingrained in the human signaling system. Kaplani holds that in the past, people used color to indicate danger. Many people may see a black fly and see it’s just a pest. However, if that black fly brandished yellow stripes, people would be able to indicate danger.
Therefore, people feel different looking at certain colors because they are used to indicate certain instincts. Colors have also become a critical facet of culture that is overlooked. In essence, colors have the ability to capture an emotion. Because colors convey emotion, colors are also vehicles of meaning, whether this meaning is to individuals or an entire culture.
Black was adopted as a color of the Arab world in the Abbasid era. The Abbasid Caliphate ruled the Muslim empire during the Golden Age of the Arab-Islamic World. The Golden Age produced success in literature, science, and architecture. Many flags in the Arab world have black incorporated, perhaps because of historical roots. However, black may have other meanings. In both Egypt and Syria, black was incorporated into the flags as a symbol of opposition toward the oppressive forces of colonialism, which lead many countries to associate black with the death of its people. Worldwide, black is also often associated with death or despair. Many people say black insinuates the absence of light. In Islam, hell may be called “black hell” because hell is understood as black and dark, for punishment and suffering.
However, in fashion specifically, there has been a bit of a shift toward favoring the color black. This can be because of many Muslim people, specifically Shia Muslim people, sport the color black during the month of Muharram. Arab fashion accepts black clothing as dressing smartly. This may also have to do with many Arab people having darker features, such as beautiful dark eyes!
Generally, green is associated with positive connotations. It has two primary meanings in the Arab World. First, green is often used in flags to pay homage to the land, because it’s associated with nature and fertile land. In Oman, the green in the flag represents the Green Mountains. Green evolved to have an extended meaning of growth, due to its association with nature. Similar to how crops growing for harvest, many people reach a “green age”, where they are youthful but growing and maturing, which signifies positive growth.
A second meaning for the color is Islam because green is its traditional color because Jannah is understood as a paradise full of gardens. All righteous people and Islamic believers will go to Jannah, or paradise, after their death where they will wear green clothes in their eternal garden. What better way to represent Islam, a religion of moderation, with the color that falls in the middle of the visible spectrum?
Iraqi FlagWorldwide, red represents various strong emotions. The strength of red is no coincidence because psychologically, it is a naturally attention-grabbing color. This is because red has the longest wavelength, which makes people perceive red closer in their visible spectrum than it really is. Red’s strong color also comes with strong connotations. In Arab culture, red is a mixed bag of positive and negative symbolism. Additionally, red is a color used to exhibit passion or love. Many countries didn’t adopt red into their flag to symbolize love, but instead to honor the bravery of the revolutionary armies that liberated the Arab world from colonization.
Red also carries negative connotations. While red is a representation of honor toward the revolutionary armies, it is also a reminder of the bloodshed. Bloodshed carries an extended meaning for red- evil and anger. This is in reference to the forces that oppressed the region, throughout the Ottoman rule and colonization. Many countries have extended meanings about the colors in their flags.
White is associated with purity worldwide. The Arab world is no stranger to this association. Typically, white carries a positive connotation and it can be associated with nature, reflecting clouds, crystal, cotton, and air. Therefore, white is associated with cleanliness and purity. These symbols can carry the extended meaning of peaceful outlooks and positive events, like weddings.
Many countries will include the color white in their flags, but their meanings may vary. Many flags include white to symbolize peace and purity, but other countries may use white to signify deeper meanings. For example, the Egyptian flag includes the color white to their signify independence without bloodshed.
Psychologically, blue stimulates mentally, but not physically. Blue naturally triggers thought. While it is not a color of the Arab world, it is still a widely symbolic color due to its connections to both nature and the divine. Many world religions use blue as a symbol of protection through spirituality and sometimes even heaven. Blue is found in nature in waters flowing through the rivers and shores of the Arab world. However, blue is used in rather negative connotation expressions. “Blue body” describes someone who died, and “blue-eyed” refers to a jealous or envious person.
Similar to red, yellow is also a powerful color. It also has a long wavelength and can grab attention easily. It is associated with nature and gold in the Arab world. Yellow features in nature, such as the sun, autumn, and Arab desert, signify the beauty of nature. Gold is a symbol of prosperity and success, which are stepping stones toward happiness.
Yellow is used in different phrases. For example, a “yellow smile” indicates someone is mean or cruel. A yellow eye indicates that someone is sick or diseased. Yellow is a mourning color in Egypt because mummified bodies were laid to rest in gold masks, signifying the sun’s constant presence.