Numbers and symbolism go great together throughout human history. (In)famous numbers like 666, 88, 2 and 3 still appeal to the imagination of the human mind. Numbers represent a certain concept, revealing a whole meaning despite their ostensible simplicity. It makes them some of the most powerful symbols, not depending on an image or drawing but on the underlying imperceptible purposes and meanings people associate with them. For you, an 8 might be just two connected circles, to others, it represents a crucial part of their religious beliefs. The number 313 is just one of those number with a whole lot more to it than you might think.
The number 313 refers to the number of Muslim warriors who were present at the Battle of Badr (624), a key battle in Islamic history. The so-called Ahl Badr, or the People of Badr, had an important position among the prophet’s Companions. They were the top of the earliest Muslims, the veterans of a game changing day. The Companion Abū Ḥuṣayn said: “Truly, you issue legal rulings concerning matters that, were they brought to ‘Omar, he would’ve gathered the People of Badr (to discuss them).” [Ibṭāl al-Ḥīl p.132 by Ibn Baṭṭa al-ʿAkbarī]
In Shia eschatology, the number 313 has another significant meaning, namely the amount of followers that will support the Islamic redeemer al-Mahdī. The 313 Ḥusayniyya Organisation for example, is an Iraqi Shia organisation of so-called servants of al-Ḥusayn Ibn ʿAlī, taking care of religious celebrations and the ḥusayniyyāt congregation halls. The number 313 has a central role in their name. According to the imam al-Bāqir, “the supporters of al-Mahdī will be three hundred and thirteen men like those present at the Battle of Badr.” [Biḥār al-Anwār vol. 52 p.307]
As the Syrian Civil War features a myriad of armed groups, it’s hardly surprising that there are a lot of symbols and distinct flags involved. One of the symbols that appeared several times is the number 313, used by both Sunni opposition groups and Shia pro-regime militias. The Sarāyā al-ʿArīn for example, is a Latakian Alawite militia featuring the number 313 and two crossed Dhū al-Faqār swords. On the other side of the divide, the Sunni opposition group Alwiyat 313 – Jund Badr, which operated in the north Homs rebel enclave, took the number 313 as their main emblem.
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.