The falcon has since long been a popular symbol in the ancient Near East, especially among the ancient Egyptians. On of their most significant deities, Horus, was usually depicted as a falcon-headed man or simply as a falcon with either his wings spread out or his wings folded alongside his body. In fact, Horus is effectively recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphs as ḥr.w or “falcon”. Horus was most notably the god of kingship and the sky, making the falcon a important symbol in Egyptian religion and royalty.
The modern day importance of the falcon as a symbol in the Middle-East however, was introduced with the advent of political Arab nationalism in the wake of the Arab Revolt (1916 – 1918) and the establishment of several Hashemite kingdoms. With the fall of the Ottoman caliphate, several symbols of Arab independence rose to significance, one of them being the so-called Hawk of Quraysh. This name is not random at all, but bears a rather important meaning. The Quraysh is the tribe to which the Prophet Muḥammad belonged, seen by many Arabs as the initiators and patrons of the Islamic conquests of the Middle-East and North-Africa. The so-called Ahl al-Bayt, or the family of the Prophet are members of the Quraysh tribe, and, according to some narrations, the caliph of Islam should be from Qurayshi descent.
The Hashemite kings claim their ancestry to be traceable all the way up to the Banū Hāshim, the clan of the Prophet Muḥammad and some of the most important figures in early Islam. Their use of this hawk as a symbol bears as a result an important function of legitimacy. It is claimed that the Quraysh tribe used a hawk on their banner, although that remains hard to prove. The hawk, like the falcon, is seen as a status symbol by the Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula, falconry traditionally being a popular occupation. Note that the Arabic word saqr (صقر) can be translated as both hawk or falcon.
In the past, this title has been used before. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān Ibn Mu’āwiya was a famous member of the Umayyad dynasty who fled Damascus after the Abbasid Revolt and proclaimed himself caliph in the Iberian Peninsula. His rule was characterized by a deep rivalry with the Abbasid state and its caliph, al-Manṣūr, eventually leading to an all out armed conflict. According to the Algerian scholar Aḥmed al-Maqarī, al-Manṣūr hated and yet respected ‘Abd al-Raḥmān to such a degree that he called him the “Hawk of Quraysh” [The History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain Vol II p.82]. Just like the Banū Hāshim, the Banū Umayya (Umayyads) were a clan of the Quraysh tribe.
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Omer Sayadi (*1993) is a former student of the Catholic University of Leuven with a special love for the Middle East and North Africa. After receiving his Master’s degree in Arabic Language and Islamic Studies, he’s working with both refugees from the region as well as foreigners seeking to learn the Dutch language. He wrote columns on Islam in Europe and migration, and started MENA Symbolism as a means of combining everything history, politics, symbolism and society in one place.