In Memorium

In the early hours of August 16, 2020 an unusual weather phenomena took place in the Bay Area of Northern California. A dry thunder storm moved through and over the next day and a half more that 12,000 lightning strikes sparked over 615 separate fires in the state. One would never have thought such a violent storm was on its way given the calm quite serenity that came just prior to sunset.

The Clam Before The Storm

The following day 5 spot fires along the peninsula were actively burning and within one day those five spot fires became one big fire burning north into San Mateo county as well as south in to Santa Cruz county called the CZULightningComplex Fire. It was burning in wild lands that I had spent much time in.

From when I first arrived in the Bay Area back in 1990, I found myself wandering the Santa Cruz Mountains in both of those counties amid the old growth redwoods, sloshing around in the many creeks, and sitting atop the many ridge lines just soaking in the view, the serenity, and the sublimity of what the these mountains are. I always dreamed how nice it would be to live deep in these mountains, never really thinking that such a dream would be a reality. Fast forward 25 years I find myself living with my wife and children in a home we purchased literally among the redwoods. Truly a dream come true.

However, following that dry lightning storm on August 16th, the fires that broke out became very serious. Tuesday night on August 18th, the smell of smoke was very thick and safety alerts were popping up on my phone indicating that a fire was very close to home. With the help of my son, we roamed the neighborhood searching for any fire and met up with many mountain neighbors doing the same. No fire was ever found in our immediate area. By August 19th, just three days later, as seen from a ridge near my home, and possibly 10 to 13 miles away, the mountains that I so loved and grew with, were seriously on fire.

Fire deep in the woods

By the late afternoon the smoke from that fire had again reached the skies over our house and the smell of smoke was strong as it settled into the canyons in our area. Reports were coming in that communities to the west of us were receiving evacuation warnings as the fire had grown to 25,000 acres in 2 days! Evacuations were spoken of and we decided that we should start packing our cars with necessary items if we needed to bug out.

In Thick Smoke

By 6 am on Thursday morning August 19th, our area CRZ-E019 was put on an evacuation warning and the areas just west of us, parts of Zayante Canyon were put on immediate and mandatory evacuation orders. The fire had grown to about 40,000 acres and seemed to be growing out of control with only 591 fire fighters trying to stop it! By 6 pm we had pretty much packed what we needed and had taken our 13 hens to a friend’s house who offered to watch them for us earlier that morning, we had decided to button up our home and we left. We drove back down to Campbell, where we lived for 13 years and where family had offered to us accommodations to hold up in until the evacuation orders were lifted. While we were unloading our things, the mandatory evacuation order for our zone had come through at 7 pm. We were now in the endgame and all we could do was wait and monitor the fire growth.

By Saturday, August 22nd, news was starting to surface that Big Basin State Park was no longer in existence. The historic park facilities were burned to the ground. Some photos had made it on to social media and it was then that I realized, many of the canyons and places that I spent so much time in might all have been decimated by this fire. My thoughts about Big Basin burning greatly saddened me and I started wondering about some of the trees in the park. One in particular is over 2000 years old and was affectionately known as the Father of the Forest. A tree whose trunk at its base measures in at 70 feet in circumference and some 22 feet across. Looking up it stretched to 250 feet above the forest floor. No single photograph could capture its massive size. I wondered if the Father of the Forest was still standing

The Father of the Forest

I started wondering about the other places in the Santa Cruz mountains that I had visited and photographed for more than 25 years and had come to the realization that most of those areas are now gone as well. Even though I did pack my computers containing all the photographs of Organic Light Photography, I did not have the means to set them up properly so I went through my website and grabbed a collection of photographs that I have made wandering about Big Basin Redwoods and the surrounding sister lands and created the following video in memorium of Big Basin, a park that has been altered permanently.

In Memorium

After creating this homage to an area of the Santa Cruz mountains that is very dear to me, I have decided that I will be extending my support to Big Basin State Park and the other parks and public spaces surrounding Big Basin through the sale of the photos shown in the video. I will make a sizable donation from each sale to the restoration efforts that will surely follow the extinguishing of the fire. Since I am only an individual photographer and not a recognized organization, I will be reaching out to California State Parks as well as the Sempervirens Fund to find out how I can work with them to offer these photographs as a means to help raising the funds towards restoration. As soon as the details are worked out I will inform you all.

In the time being, I wait to see if I will have a home to return to. I know the firefighters are doing their best to extinguish this fire, and my hopes and prayers are with them to get the job done. I encourage everyone to put your support behind them as they contend with the 615 fires now actively burning in the California.

Until next time, Peace.

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The Year That Had No Hajj…Almost

This evening I went out to seek the new crescent moon of the 12th month of the Islamic calendar and the moon that marks the beginning of the Hajj – the Pilgrimage embarked on by Muslims around the world to the Sacred Ancient House, the Kaba, in Mecca.

As I stood there looking into the sky the crescent appeared all alone in the sky, a sky that was void of any other thing, not even the colors of sunset really accompanied this moon. It was somewhat underwhelming.

Crescent moon of Dhul Hijjah 1441
All Alone

Normally seeing the new moon brings me much joy. However today I was a little sad. The emergence of this evening’s moon brought in the Islamic month known as Dhul Hijjah, or the possessor of the Hajj, because it is in this 12th month of the Islamic calendar that the Hajj takes place. However this year, because of the global pandemic of COVID-19, the authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the caretakers of the sacred mosque in Mecca decided that it would more prudent to limit the number of pilgrims allowed to make the Hajj this year. In fact, they closed the Hajj to anyone not residing in Saudi Arabia and are limiting the number of pilgrims to only a few thousand.

For Muslims, the Hajj is the fifth pillar of the religion and is an obligation on all able-bodied adults who have the physical health and the financial ability to make the journey. Depending on where in the world a person lives, it is a once in a lifetime trip and some will save for decades before making the journey. I was greatly saddened to hear that the authorities were not granting any Hajj visas this year. But the reason for doing so was well justified. Annually, between 1.5 to 2 million pilgrims will congregate in Mecca and the surrounding area to fulfill the rites of the Hajj. Illness during the Hajj is not foreign and it is expected that one will come down with some type of illness during or afterward. I became very ill immediately after I made the pilgrimage as well as most of my friends that traveled with me. We all had a high fever and chills, followed by severe respiratory infection in the sinuses and lungs. I was ill for almost two weeks. A few of my companions needed to go to the hospital there in Suadi Arabia before we traveled back home. I shudder to think of what might occur if 2 million pilgrims were to contract COVID-19 during the Hajj and then travel back to where they came from. The pandemic might become something that could decimate millions around the world.

So while we might have not been able to visit the Sacred Ancient House, those few Guests of the Compassionate, as the pilgrims are known, will have to carry that community-wide communal obligation for the rest of the world population of the Muslims who will not be making the trip. And while we might be prevented from making Hajj and will probably have to celebrate the Holiday of Sacrifice alone due to social distancing guidelines, we are not alone in spirit.

Crescent Moon of Dhul Hijjah 1441
Not Alone At All

While we may look up at the moon and think that it is all alone, it looks back down, if it could, and it sees all of us below here on earth, as well as all the trees, mountains, oceans, and animals and together we all glorify our Creator, the Most Compassionate. So this year, in ten days, when the Holiday of Sacrifice is upon us, know that the small sacrifice that we have to make as we socially distance ourselves for the protection of all humanity in trying to quell the spread of this virus that has turned our lives upside down, that it is not an insignificant sacrifice at all.

With that, I wish to all those who will be performing the Hajj this year a blessed and accepted Hajj, and to all the rest an early greeting of Eid Mubarak!

Till next time, stay safe, stay well, protect yourselves and your fellow neighbors and community. Peace to you all!

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New Wisdom from an Old Soul

On March 27, 2020, a new comet was discovered. It was the third comet discovered in the year 2020, however the first two comets, SWAIN and ATLAS, disintegrated as they approached the sun. As this third comet approached, hopes were that this comet just might make its transit around the sun intact, and sure enough it did.

On July 5th the comet, now designated as C/2020 F3 NEOWISE, reached perihelion, the closest point to the sun along its path and given the dynamics of how comets become visible, reached its peak brightness, a brightness level high enough that the comet became a naked eye object. From that point on the comet will be moving away from the sun, losing brightness, and on or near July 13th, it will make its closest pass by Earth.

c/2020 F3 NEOWISE
C/2020 F3 NEOWISE at first sighting 4:40am, July 10, 2020.

On July 10, in the predawn hours I ventured out in the hopes of seeing and photographing C/2020 F3 NEOWISE. As I stood out there in the dark scanning the horizon and checking my notes on where the comet was supposed to appear and then scanning the horizon again I started to wonder if I would see it at all. Suddenly I look up and see the comet’s tail has appeared above the horizon and slowly grew in intensity and breadth. It was awe inspiring seeing something made of ice glowing in the night sky.

As a frozen chunk of matter approaches the sun, the ice start to sublimate into a gas and the radiation and heat from the sun causes the gas to start glowing. A comet’s journey begins from as far off as the Kuiper Belt or even further from the Oort Cloud, the physical limit of where the gravity from the sun ceases to be effective in holding anything in orbit. The journey is fraught with peril as along the traverse through space a comet could end up hitting a planet, or possibly an asteroid and never make it even close enough to start glowing. If it makes it close enough to the sun to start the sublimation process, now it must survive the force of gravity as it accelerates the comet to even greater speeds. This is a crucial time for a comet as it could start breaking up into smaller pieces and just vanish, or it could get pulled directly into the sun and vanish into the all-consuming ball of plasma that is the sun.

I’ve had the good fortune of seeing comets in the night sky before. I witnessed Haley’s Comet the last time it appeared in 1986, as well as Comet Hale-Bopp in 1995 and the Comet Hyakutake in 1996. I even tried to photograph Hyakutake, with little success, as I was only a fledgling photographer then. All three of which I will probably never seen again in my lifetime. So when I learned about comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE, I thought I had better make an attempt to capture it. I think what struck me first was how odd its name was given all the other comets I had seen had names associated with either the astronomer(s) who first witnessed it, predicted its arrival or studied its orbit. I think the most intriguing part of the name is NEOWISE, I thought what could it mean? Well, today the modern naming convention is based on what observing telescope was used to first observe the comet. Therefore comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE was first discovered using the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. The first letter of each word in this instrument’s name makes up the acronym NEOWISE. The F3 indicates that it was first seen in the second half of the month of March. Each month of the year is broken down into two halves. The letters A-H and J-Y are then distributed among the months. The month of March has the letters E and F, E for the first half of the month and F for the second half. Next is the ‘3’ in F3. This number indicates the that he comet in question was the 3rd comet discovered in the given year. Next, the year is part of the designation, in this case 2020 since this comet was first seen this year. Finally the C designates that this near earth object is a comet.

C/2020 F3 NEOWISE at 4:52 am on July 10, 2020

This comet will probably never be seen from Earth ever again. It is an ancient traveler from deep space. Its approach orbit was on the order of 4500 years and its outbound orbit on the order of 6800 years in an almost perfect parabolic path. It is definitely an old soul. Old souls usually have much to share with those who are younger if they are willing to listen. When I was young, I used to go to a retirement home to help out. I was always transfixed when I would sit with certain people as they told their stories. There was so much to learn, so much life to understand, so many different perspectives. The wisdom of the of the elders is priceless, it can’t be bought, it can’t be stolen, it can only be earned by painstaking patience through life and as each day passes we could only hope that more wisdom is accumulated. However there is one way in which we can attain that wisdom quickly; we can humbly sit at the feet of our elders and listen to what they have say, what life lessons they have learned along their journey, what advice they can give us. Times may changes but people do not. The problems we deal with now are the same perennial problems humanity has faced for its entire existence. In truth, we would have perished as a species on this planet long ago if we did not listen and learn from those who preceded us.

But I digress… So we have in our midst this ancient visitor to our skies. A visitor that is much older than any of us. Does it have any wisdom that it can impart to us? What does it have to say? What has it learned along its multi-millennial journey across the cosmos to meet us now in this most confusing and tumultuous time?

When we look out into the night sky we see darkness, a fathomless dark emptiness. This universe is not very dense at all; most of space is practically empty. On average the density of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is 0.1 neutral hydrogen atoms per cubic centimeter! To put it another way, if you had a cup the size of a small Starbucks coffee in space with you, your cup would be holding about 24 hydrogen ATOMS! That is a pretty empty cup. At the same time, your body alone contains over 7*10^27 atoms (that’s a 7 followed by 27 zeros or 7 billion billion billion atoms)! And of all those atoms in your body 2/3 is Hydrogen, 1/4 is Oxygen and 1/10 is Carbon, and the combination of all those make up about 99% of your body. So yeah, space is empty.

However space is not all dark. There are these little twinkling lights, we call them stars, that adorn our night sky and they are ancient as well. Not only do the stars adorn the night sky but they are there as guiding lights in the darkness of night. We as humans have learned from them the skill of navigation, moving from one place to another without getting lost along the way. The stars guide us by the light that they send our way. On the other hand, during the day the stars seem to vanish from our sky. In fact, they are still there however they are eclipsed by the brightness of the sun. The sun is also a star, the closest star to earth and the most important star of all the stars. Without the sun, life on earth would not be possible. The light of the sun is the energy source that literally powers the earth. From its light, plants produce glucose through the process of photosynthesis. The plants in turn feed the majority of creatures on this planet. We too survive off of plants and on some of the other animals that rely on the plants. Likewise, it is from the plants and animals that lived tens of thousands of years ago that have become petroleum deep within the crust of the earth that we now use to fuel the machines of the world and build our infrastructure.

Without the sun, the land would remain cold and dead. When the sun appears over the horizon it starts to warm the land, causing the surrounding air to warm as well and start rising. This rising air in turn creates a pressure differential in the atmosphere that causes wind to start blowing. The blowing wind in turn moves moisture from the oceans and onto the land and as it continues to rise over mountains starts to condense into clouds and from the clouds, life giving rain comes down to the earth to quench the thirst of all that lives on it and enlivens the earth itself, bringing life back to dead land. The light of he sun is truly life giving and one of the greatest blessings we have.

So what does all this have to do with comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE? What wisdom does this ancient traveler have for us? Comets only become visible when they are close enough to the sun to both start sublimating into a gas and start glowing by the light of the sun itself. The tail of a comet always flares out away from the sun, or in other words, the head of the comet, the part of the comet that is still a solid, is always pointing towards the sun. It is as if the comet is pointing in the direction of what gives life, reminding us that life will only thrive in the Light. Life cannot exist in darkness. Of course I do not only mean that light sustains physical life, but light also sustains life metaphorically and spiritually as well.

The year 2020 has so far been fraught with many dark days. We entered in to 2020 with the entire continent of Australia on fire. And then the SARS-CoV-2 virus which emerged in China in 2019 but suddenly started to spread with pandemic proportions throughout the world infecting nearly 13 million and killing more than half a million humans worldwide at the time of this writing. It not only has taken life, but in our attempt to slow the spread, we have shut down both our societies and our economies further exasperating the trials of life on earth. And then, to add insult to injury, civil unrest has broken out in the United States over the oppressive behavior that some of our law enforcement officers have exhibited to the African-American community resulting in mass protests not only in the United States but across the world as well exposing a disease that no vaccine can ever prevent, the disease of racism. All the while the number of infections and deaths continue to rise and the ugly face of racism continues to fester in our communities. The future certainly seems bleak and full of spiritual darkness. What is the cure?

Enter our ancient traveler, comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE, the old one with new wisdom, well actually, its old wisdom. The cure that NEOWISE is pointing us to is Light! The comet is pointing to the sun, the source of light and life on earth. The sun can be taken as a metaphor. When we look at the sun, what are we actually seeing? Are we seeing the sun, (by the way do not look directly at the sun with your naked eyes, they will be damaged), or are we seeing the light emanating from the sun. In fact we are only seeing the light coming from the sun. And the light from the sun is not the sun, it came from the sun but its not the sun. Just as physical light from the sun can dispel the darkness of space, the Guiding Light of our Creator, who has as one of the 99 Glorious Names, An-Noor, which is Arabic for The Light.

The Light of our Creator is there to guide us to what is good and life giving. From among the guidance that has come to us from our Creator is, by way of the Messenger Muhammad, peace and blessing upon him, to love for your brother what you love for yourself. Or by the way of the Messenger Jesus, peace be upon him, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or by way of the Messenger Moses, peace be upon him, Love your neighbor as yourself. And even outside of the Abrahamic Faiths, we find the same message. In Hinduism we find, one should never do that to another which one regards injurious to one’s own self. In Buddhism we find, hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.

No matter where we turn we will find the Golden Rule that has come from the Light of our Creator to guide us to what is good and life giving. We are all human beings, all 7+ billion of us, regardless of the language we speak, the food we eat, the entertainment we enjoy, and most of all the color of our skin. We all desire that same things, good health, full bellies of food, warm clothing, a safe place to rest our heads at night, and the tender embrace of our loved ones. I know that is what I love and I also love those same things for my brothers and sisters, my fellow humans on this planet.

C/2020 F3 NEOWISE at 5:00 am July 10, 2020 pointing the way to salvation.

So take heed my fellow brothers and sisters. C/2020 F3 NEOWISE has come to point the way back to our salvation, metaphorically pointing to the Light of Guidance from the The Light – to love for your fellow human what you love for yourself. Until next time, may you all find the Guiding Light.

Peace.

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One Million Dollars

Imagine walking along a California beach on a mild mid-spring day. Its mid-morning and the fog is just breaking allowing the gentle rays of sunshine to stream through and you feel its warmth on your skin. As you walk along hand-in-hand with your loving spouse, your children are buzzing around like bees jumping and splashing about in the surf with sudden peals of excitement as they bolt out of the water to avoid a crashing wave, the ocean breeze tickles your cheeks and the aroma of the salty air transports you to a state of calm and tranquility without a care in the world.

Imagine all that, just for a moment.

I did not have to imagine it, because I found myself in just such a state. Would you trade that for a million dollars? Would you trade that state of joy for a million, or any amount of money?

As we walked along on that sun swept beach, I suddenly spy a sand dollar lying there in the surf. The sand dollar is a species of extremely flattened, burrowing sea urchins belonging to the order Clypeasteroida. Their test, the hard skeletal shell that makes up their body, exhibits radial symmetry that is five fold. An amazing example of one of the numbers in the Fibonacci Sequence of numbers (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13…), appearing in nature. Well it was not long before I found a second and then a third and so on. As we continued to walk along the beach we happened upon a somewhat large depression in the sand. In that depression there were more sand dollars there than I could count. Most were shattered pieces of test. However among the detritus, hundreds of sand dollars of all sizes were found. MOre than I could carry, so out the call went to my assistants and before long we had an impressive collection of sand dollars.

Well, given to the recent fascination with collections of found things on beaches, we arranged the sand dollars and made the fourth installment in the series.

One Million Dollars
One Million Dollars

What are precious family moments worth? What about walks on the beach? The mysterious nature of Fibonacci Numbers and how they appear throughout nature? Could they be replaced with one million dollars? two million? maybe a billion? Could any amount buy you a moment as rich as those spent in the love of family, nature, and the world?

These sand dollars depicted had already succumbed to their natural demise, as is the case with every living thing. But like any echinoderm, the changing environment in the oceans is wreaking havoc among their populations and no amount of money could ever bring them back. We need to think long and hard about what we find valuable in our lives and strive hard to preserve them.

Until next time, Peace.

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Emotive Moon

Every 29 days I can be found somewhere looking into the early evening sky after sunset in search of a tiny sliver of light. I have been doing this so long that it has just become a part of who I am. I have seen many moons and have made photographs that are to many to count. Some were just documentations of the moon and proof that I had seen it. Some have been very colorful as the thin crescent appeared in a fiery sunset, while others have been quite and contemplative.

One thing is for sure though that every time I see and photograph that thin new crescent a feeling of gratitude and joy washes over me. How amazing it is that I have been so fortunate to be a witness of the emergence of the hidden unseen moon into the visual world. One moment the moon is not there in the sky and then suddenly, just in the blink of an eye, it appears!

Rajab 1, 1440
Rajab 1, 1440

However this time around, as I stood there in awe of this moon, I became very excited about the light and how it danced with the moon among the misty clouds of a breaking storm. I continued photographing the moon until it was no longer visible as it slipped behind a thick veil of clouds. It was one of the most evocative moons that I have seen.

Among The Mist
Among the Mist

I was expecting to see the moon on Wednesday March 6th, the 29th day of the previous month. Unfortunately, the first 6 days of March here in the San Francisco bay are were completely cloudy and raining. On that evening, no moon was seen. So I waited one more day. Sighting it was not necessary as the announcement that the month of Rajab would start on Friday March 8th had already been made. No, this month, seeing the new crescent was just for me. On March 7th, the day had been mixed with clouds, passing cloud bursts and the sun peeking out here and there. As I stepped out that evening to search, the sky was cloudy with breaks here and there. It was doubtful that I would see it. As I moved to my sighting location, I searched the sky but no moon was to be found. When I arrived, at the lookout, my foot still had not reached the ground as I stepped out of the car, when my eye caught the sliver dancing in the misty sky among the clouds. It was a wonderful few minutes. Minutes that I wish everyone could experience. Minutes that would cause the people on this world to just be in awe of something greater than themselves. Minutes that just might bring some humility to us creatures that are filled with such hubris.

Go out next month and look for the new crescent moon. It will not be time wasted.

Until next time, Peace.

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Mysteries of Moonsighting

Just over a week ago, on February 5th, the new crescent moon of the 6th month of the Islamic calendar (Jamad al-Akheer) appeared. I anticipated that it would be seen here on the west coast and specifically in the San Francisco Bay Area. That sighting came on the heels of the 5th Central Hilal Committee annual conference on the tradition of moon sighting. I, as well as my moon sighting colleague, Zakariyya Twist, were invited this year to present at the conference. We went in with the intention to emphatically lobby for better communication between moon sighting groups, better verification of sighting reports, and presenting a unified front in advocating for this beautiful tradition to the larger Muslim community. So when the day arrived to sight the moon, I was quite confident that we would get many reports from all over the country as the other participants of the conference were just as excited as I and Zakariyya were.

The morning of February 5th emerged in the midst of the coldest storm of the year in the Bay Area. We awoke to snow falling at 1200 feet elevation. It was absolutely magical seeing snow fall at our home and playing around in the fluffy monster-sized snowflakes as they were lofting down around us. The skies were dark and overcast, the wind was blowing, it was roughly 32°F and the hopes of having clear skies later that evening were vanishing with every falling snowflake. The only consolation to that thought was the mesmerizing frosting that appeared across the Santa Cruz mountains as first light broke.

Frosted Morning

As amazing as the mountains were that morning, I had a teaching assignment that needed my attention and by the time I had completed that, the skies had cleared, the sun was shinning, the snow had nearly all melted away, while the air remained frigid near freezing. I had additional teaching assignments later that afternoon at Zaytuna College in Berkeley and I had planned to sight the new crescent from the new hilltop Upper Campus. Sunset had arrived and as I scrambled around the campus looking for a location where I could see the western horizon, I became frustrated that no matter where I stood, one or more trees blocked the view.

In my desperation, I left the hilltop campus and rushed down along Grizzly Peak Rd. to the first pullout overlook of the San Francisco Bay Area. The sky was glowing, the wind was brisk and the atmosphere was as clear as a bell! It did not take me long to spot it, one of the thinnest crescents I have ever seen.

1 Jamad Al-Akheer, 1440 (February 5th, 2019)

As I was photographing the crescent I received a text meassage from Zakarriya. He sighted the crescent as well, about three or four minutes ahead of me about 21 miles north west of my location on Mount Tamalpais. He was alone where he was and I was alone where I was and yet together in spirit.

Neither one of us had heard of any other sightings and that tempered my elation. Had our words just a few days prior fallen on deaf ears? Why hadn’t that congregation of sighters all seen it? Did they go out? Did they even look? Zakariyya reached out to some of them and after a few hours we did hear of some other sighting reports specifically from down south in San Diego from one of the conference participants who happened to be sitting next to us in the presentation hall. That lifted my spirits greatly.

It is such a subtle thing, that new crescent when it first appears. It is such a mystery to me how such a small sliver of light can illuminate my heart so fully as to cause me to exclaim in elation Allahu Akbar! (God is Greater!). I see it as a manifestation of God’s creative power to bring it into the corporeal world. I know the moon is there orbiting the earth, however to my eye, to my heart’s eye, its not existent. When it appears in the sky it as if it was brought out of non-existence and into existence right before my very eyes and that is incredibly thrilling. I do not think my explanations convey the “magic” of the experience and I can only encourage all to go out and experience it for themselves.

The next opportunity to see the new crescent moon will be on March 6th, 2019. That day will be 29 days from the sighting discussed above and will be the crucial day to go out and look for it. It might or might not be seen that evening. Only time will tell.

Till next time, Peace to All.

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Drama-less

It strikes me how calm things are for most of the year when it comes to sighting the moon.   It shows up every month in complete silence in the sky after the sun drops below the horizon.  The winds stop.  The birds go quiet and silence descends upon the earth.  Most months during the year no one even cares about the new moon.  No one calls asking if the moon was seen.  No one calls or sends emails or messages by some means reporting that the moon was seen.  No debates, no arguments, no drama at all.  Its a nice reprieve from that madness, however then my mind starts to wonder why?  Why is no one debating our recent sighting?  Why is no one sending in reports?  Did anyone go out and look for it?  It worries me that this beautiful tradition might be slipping through our collective fingers.

No Fanfare

And yet, with no fanfare, that beautiful sliver of reflected light makes its self known every month and for those who are willing to just go outside and look, it will enamor them.   So, for those lovers of light who might be out there reading this simple and short post, this quiet drama-less photograph of the new crescent moon is for you.  Keep the vigilance and watch out for the next new moon as this month, Rab’i Ath-thaani, winds down.  And may the Beloved, peace be upon him, know that we are still here keeping his traditions alive.  

Until next time, Peace.

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Better Late Than Never

Tuesday October 9th was the 29th day of the month of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar and the evening of the first moon sighting in the Islamic year of 1440.  I was teaching my astronomy course that evening at Zaytuna College and was planning on taking the class out to search for the new crescent there on the hilltop campus.  By 5 pm that evening, fog had rolled in from the San Francisco bay and completely enveloped the campus.  Sighting the new crescent moon from the campus was not going to happen.

Fellow moonsighter and colleague at Crescent Watch, Zakariyya, sent me a text message, at about the same time the fog had rolled in, indicating to me that we on the west coast might again be the only people to sight the moon.  The probability map for that evening showed that most of the southern half of North America would be in a visibility zone that required perfect atmospheric conditions to see the crescent without an optical aid.  I replied to him and informed him that he alone might be that person as I was fogged in.  He was on his way up to the western face of Mount Tamalpais, north of San Francisco in the Marin Headlands.

Sighting Probability, October 9th, 2018

I quickly sent messages to my four assistants that they needed to make a concerted effort to meet at our near-home sighting location in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  All four managed to congregate at about 7 pm at our normal viewing location.  At 7:07 pm, I receive a phone call while in the middle of class.  It was my oldest assistant contacting me to let me know that the moon was nowhere to be seen and asked for some additional guidance as to where they can expect to see it.  There was some confusion among the team as to where to look.  At that point in time the sun had already gone below the horizon 30 minutes prior and the moon, although a hand span or so above the horizon at the time of sunset, would now be much closer to the horizon itself.  They had at that point possibly 20 minutes before the moon would drop below the horizon.  I suggested looking about 2 finger widths above the horizon.  No sooner did I finish that instruction to him that he exclaims “Allahu Akbar! There it is!”  The entire astronomy class becomes gleeful as they all heard his exclaim coming through over the phone speaker.  Suddenly two more voices rip out from the phone as the other two assistants saw it, and then voices clamoring as they pointed it out to my youngest assistant and suddenly all four are witnesses!

It was a joyful moment for all of us.  I quickly sent a text message to Zakariyya, who by that time was on Mount Tam, that we had a positive sighting by three adults, 2 male and one female, in the south.  His reply was one of relief as he informed me that Mount Tam was covered by clouds as well.  Within the hour it was clear that no other sightings had been made and my four assistants, to the best of our knowledge, were the sole witnesses in the entire world!  I was very proud of my four assistants for coming together and making the effort to keep this crucial tradition alive.  However, within that same hour, we received word that another crescent sighting organization had announced that the crescent had not been seen and the month of Safar had not commenced.  We quickly had to rally to correct the misinformation by passing along the sighting report to that organization.  We had no doubt that they would want to interview my assistants on the sighting details.  

I called my oldest and informed him that he and the others were about to be the object of scrutiny and to be ready for it and answer honestly.  For the most part the interviews went well and all was done.  However, on the next day my oldest received one more call from an obscure person who was not so interested in the sighting itself but in the character of my son.  He questioned why his name had never come up before as a sighter even though my son claimed to be a veteran of moonsighting with more than a decade of experience.  When my son informed me of this I was taken aback at first.  My son was quite agitated by the man’s line of questioning.  I counseled my son to learn how to grow a thick skin and that if you choose to be a guardian of this tradition that from time to time you will be the object of such behavior towards you.  I will say this now, in my son’s defense, he has been with me at nearly every outing to sight the moon ever since his birth.  When he became an adult, and I made a sighting report, he was my validating witness, even if his name never made it into the records.

But it made me think of the numerous times that we received sighting reports from unknown people and the line of questioning that we had to put them through.  The interesting thing is that even though we did ask about their experience, we never questioned their veracity.  Albeit I suppose someone could be lying about seeing the moon, but for the life of me I can not fathom why a person would do so of their own volition.  Many times what they saw was clearly not the moon and such mistakes are not uncommon, but every time we saw a new name pop up on our radar it brought with it a sense of hope that this tradition is being revived.  If we treated every sighting claim made by a new person with skepticism and questioning the character of that person making the report, we would alienate the community from carrying out this beautiful monthly tradition.

Finally, as I checked in on our social media outlet to see if the announcement of the start of Safar had been made, I came across a comment left by one of the followers of that account.  It started off with “Pff.  Is there a photo…”.  I was shocked and at the same time felt somewhat guilty.  For years I have been reporting the sightings of the new crescent and in almost every case I have always included a photograph of the crescent.  I asked myself, have I created a culture of seekers that will only take as proof a photograph?  The fact is the proof of the sighting comes only by the claim that it was seen by at least two credible male witnesses.  Of course the more witnesses the better and when the sky is clear and the moon could be easily seen, even  more witnesses are expected.  For some, the claim of the sighting is taken without any additional questioning as to the veracity, not of the person, but of the details of the sighting itself, regardless of how incredulous the report could be.  However, in this modern age where many things leave traces in the sky that could be mistaken for the crescent moon, some questioning of what was seen is necessary to corroborate the sighting against scientific data of the moon’s condition at the time of the sighting.  Other than that no additional evidence is needed.  Photographs do help if the sighter has one, but it is not necessary, nor is it proof that the moon was seen.  If I was a deceitful person, I could pull out any of my myriad of crescent moon photos from the last 25+ years of sighting and claim it was the moon of the current month.  How would one know the difference?  Granted, today’s technology makes it a bit harder to falsify such things with the attached meta-data that is tagged with digital images, but nonetheless, it could be done.

We have to learn how to trust one another in an age when lying is believed to be true and truth is believed to be a lie. It is unfortunately a sign of the end of time as the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, foretold us about in his many prophecies of the future.   If nothing else I hope that this tradition of sighting the new crescent moon to establish the starts of months in this living Islamic calendar, will help build trust between us in the Muslim community here in North America and worldwide.

Given all that I have mentioned above the beauty of the new crescent moon still shines through.  And even though I did not have the good fortune of seeing the crescent when it first appeared on the horizon, I went out the next night to capture a photograph of it.  I did not have to go far, as I only had to step out of my front door to see and photograph it as it poked through the redwood trees surrounding our home.

Safar 1440, Day 2 Crescent

If you have never seen the new crescent moon on the first day when it is visible, then make the intention to go out next month to search for it.  You most likely will not have to travel far at all, probably just out our front door as well.  In case you wish to do so, mark Wednesday November 7th as that day.  It will be the 29th day of the month of Safar and the day that searching for the next new moon will occur.

With that I wish all of you a Safar Mubarak and Peace.

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Crisp And Clean Confirms Our Deen

Yesterday, May 15th 2018, was the 29th day of the Islamic month of Sha’baan.  It was the critical day to go out and site the new moon for the month of Ramadan.  Unfortunately, no one saw the crescent moon last evening.  Even more disappointing, was that there was a claim that the moon was seen through a telescope down in Southern California.  The claim was incredulous and by 9 pm last night many organizations had announced that based on no valid sighting reports that Ramadan would start on Thursday May 17th.

Then this evening, after sunset this was the view in the western sky.

New Crescent of Ramadan 1, 1439

Without a doubt what you are seeing in this photo is the first day moon of Ramadan.  And without any doubt I know there will be people who will make the assertion that this is a second day moon.  One only needs to compare this moon too any of the other first day crescent moons on this site like the moon from earlier this year in the article titled Blue Is Peace.  You can compare for yourself and tell me if this evening’s moon is not a first day moon.

New Crescent of Rabi’ Al-Awwal 1, 1439

What is more phenomenal, is that those who claim it to be a second day moon, probably have never gone out to see a new moon in the first place!  The audacity!

Ramadan has finally started.  We begin fasting tomorrow.  Ramadan Mubarak to all my Muslim readers, and Peace to all.

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