Archive for the 'Announcements' Category

Totally Awesome

The total solar eclipse on Monday August 21st, 2017 was an incredible thing to witness. From the slow and steady progression of the partial phases, to seeing the moon totally obscure the sun and the land going dark, to seeing the corona and the diamond just as totality ended, to the throngs of viewers who came out to watch, it was in all aspects totally awesome!

I have finally finished processing my photos of the eclipse and I am sharing them below. I will further write a more contemplative reflection in the days to come so stay tuned. For the meantime enjoy…

A time lapse composite showing several partial phases and the famed diamond ring phenomenon. 

Prominence – Time Lapse Composite with the famed Diamond Ring Effect

A more accurate orientation of how the sun and moon moved in relation to one another.  The sun in this composite photo is moving from the bottom left corner to the upper right as it climbed in the morning sky, while the moon was moving from the upper right to the lower left corners as it was passing through its descending node of its orbit (more on that later), and the two met in the middle.  Just before they parted ways the Diamond Ring effect happens as shown in the middle.  All that glitters is not just gold.

All That Glitters. (time progression from bottom left to upper right)

The crowning photo (pun intended) is of the Corona during totality.  It was the processing of this photo that caused my delay in presenting these to you.  I made dozens of exposures of the totality in an attempt to capture detail in all parts of the corona itself.  Eight separate exposures were combined through a variety of digital imaging techniques to bring out the detail throughout the corona and produce an image that to my eyes looks as close to what I recall seeing at the time when totality took place.  The moon wearing the crown of the sun, completely overshadows the now lowly star Regulus, “The Little King” as it is known, hanging out just below and to the left of the union in total awe like the rest of us.

Wearing The Crown

You may click on the images above to see larger versions.  If you would like to see these photographs in person, I will be showing them at the Campbell’s Farmers Market on Sundays in downtown Campbell.  Please come by if you are a local!

Till later, please enjoy the photos and let me know what you think.

Peace to all!

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Hajj Begins

On Tuesday August 22, 2017 the new crescent moon, now devoid of the crown it wore just a day before while it was in union with the sun, appeared quietly above the horizon.  It is a special moon, marking the beginning of the Hajj or Pilgrimage to Mecca for the world Muslim community.  As I write, millions of people from all nationalities, races, ages, social and economic status the world round are making their way towards Mecca on foot, on animal, by car, boat or plane.  Seeking one goal.  Heeding the call of the Creator and hoping for His Mercy and Forgiveness.  A spectacle unlike any other in the world.

Dhul Hijjah, 1438

May all the Pilgrims have a blessed and accepted Pilgrimage.  And if any of you are going and are reading this, please keep me and my family in your prayers!

Peace to you all!

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Freedom From Fire

Ramadan is quickly coming to a close.  As I write, the 28th day is starting to wane.  I always feel melancholy as Ramadan prepares to leave us.  The abstaining from food and drink is not always so pleasant, but we learn to patiently deal with it as we move through the month.  The pangs of hunger, continuously reminding us of the state we are in, become dull and we don’t notice them so much by month’s end.  We start to turn inward and work on our spiritual-selves.  We pray more.  We read the Qur’an more.  We reflect on our shortcomings and work on becoming better humans.  We seek forgiveness from our Lord.  We give charity to those who are less fortunate.  We feed people.  The community comes together each night.  Camaraderie builds.  Old friends become new again.   The relationship with our Creator becomes stronger.  We become more grateful for what we have.  By month’s end, the heart is overflowing with love, compassion, gratitude and hope.

So, it is only natural that one would feel sad to see all of this vanish with the close of the month.

The month of Ramadan also brings with it some amazing opportunities for what is to come once we leave this world.  The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) stated that the beginning of Ramadan is Mercy, the middle of Ramadan is Forgiveness and the end of Ramadan is Freedom from the Hell-Fire.  Likewise He (peace be upon him) stated Woe to those who fast Ramadan and are not emancipated from the Fire.  This brings on a great urgency as Ramadan closes  with increased worship in the hopes of finding that freedom.

This year, 2016, we find ourselves planning to search for the new moon of the month of Shawwal, marking the end of Ramadan, on July 4th!  Here in the United States of America, of course July 4th is Independence Day, the day the founders of this great country liberated themselves from the tyranny of King George III of England in 1776.  From the location where I normally sight the new crescent moons, I can see nearly the entire San Francisco Bay Area.  It will be interesting to see all the firework displays from there all happening at the same time, at a great distance however, but nonetheless that will be a lot of fireworks!

It struck me odd this year that we are ending the month of Ramadan with increased effort to find freedom from the Fire, and we will be closing out the month celebrating freedom with fire. I’m sure there is something deep to think about there but I have some more spiritual work to tend to.

So to all my readers, a pre-Eid Mubarak and have a safe and happy 4th of July!

Freedom?

Until next time, Peace.

P.S.  Please remember to go out and search for the new crescent on July 4th.  I’ll be at Russian Ridge, my usual place, if anyone is interested in joining me.

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A Moon So Fine!

Ramadan Mubarak!

The new crescent moon of Ramadan 1437 (2016) was seen this evening by a group of crescent chasers on top the northern Santa Cruz Mountains in Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve.  The sky was somewhat foreboding as it laced itself with clouds right where we expected the moon.

At about 8:45 pm, one of the chasers thought he saw it but he lost it in the clouds as the clouds moved.  Then at about 8:55 pm we re-established its sighting as it once again re-emerged from the clouds.  Several in the group of about 15 to 20 onlookers were able to see it.

A fine a moon as I have ever seen, it was incredibly thin in a dim sky.  Once we had it in our sites, I trained the camera on it and made four images.  This one shows it best.

A Fine Moon

The sight of the new moon never ceases to amaze me.  This one literally took my breath away when I saw it.  I wish the photo could convey what I felt.

Ramadan Mubarak!

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Never Give Up!

Today was very uncertain with regards to the weather.  Mostly cloudy all day long with small pockets of rain all over the Bay Area.  Given that today was a moon sighting evening the weather made for some tense moments leading up to sunset.  As the day came to a close, I rushed to one of my back up locations to search for the moon, however I had little hope.  The sky was quite thick with clouds but as the sky grew darker the clouds started to break up.  I searched intently all alone.  Suddenly my phone beeped.  It was a friend about 40 miles to my north east, also searching.  He sent a photo of the sky from his location in the Bay Area.  His photo showed some dense cloud cover, similar to what I was seeing. I reply with a photo of the sky I was seeing and a message that I could not see the moon.

Not more than a few minutes had passed when he sends another message containing just two words; Got It.

I ask, “you see it!” but before I could hit send, I glance up and from behind a dark cloud bank I see that fine sliver of light emerge from behind the clouds!  And to think I almost threw in the towel and called it a night.  Then appended to the above, I write “I see it too!” and send the message.

Never Give Up!

Obscured by the clouds, the moon played hide and seek with me for about 5 minutes before it dropped down below that lower cloud deck hugging the mountains.  It moved so fast.

And so that moon marked the beginning of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.  An endeavor that challenges men and women of all ages, cultures, languages, financial status, and backgrounds to ten days of rigor in the Arabian Desert, all for one reason; answering the call of God to come and visit the Ancient House, to stand there on a desert plain and seek Divine forgiveness and mercy.  Not everyone can go at the same time.  Physically Mecca could not hold the entire Muslim population on the planet.  It reaches its bursting point at just about 2 million people!  And yet, Muslims will intend to go all their lives until they finally get the chance, never giving up year after year as they save what they can to afford the trip.  Some will make it when they are young if they are fortunate, others will wait a lifetime and only make it there in old age.  Nonetheless, once there they strive to accomplish the rites irrespective of the challenges and again never giving up until they complete the rites or die trying!  Having gone myself and experienced it first hand, it is an awe inspiring event that has no equal in all the world.

The reward always comes at the end, and it is a sweet reward, made even sweeter when one arrives knowing that they did not give up.

May God accept the pilgrimage of all the pilgrims there in Mecca this year!

Till next time, Peace to you All!

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This Beginning is Real

So yesterday afternoon I ventured out as I do every month to sight the new crescent.  I lead a group of students from Zaytuna College up to the Lawrence Hall of Science on the U.C. Berkeley Campus  with the hopes of leading a lesson on moon sighting and to sight the moon.  Unfortunately fog blew in off the bay and washed over the observation deck at the hall of science.  Texts had started to arrive from one group that I normally lead in the Santa Cruz mountains that they did not see the moon.  Likewise world wide.  However, before we even drove down the hill the confusion erupted.  Multiple sightings from California, and even in the Bay Area, were being reported and accepted to commence Eid Al-Fitr.  Well, you can read about some of what transpired last night in my previous post.

I went out this afternoon with my intrepid photo assistants and with a few more stalwarts who were not convinced by last nights claims.  I decided to take a series of photos from the onset of sunset until the moon was sighted.  I have included three of the over 45 photos I made in the span of about 30 minutes while we were out there watching the moon progress towards the horizon.

The moon this evening was 47 hours and 14 minutes old.  Well beyond the necessary 18 hours.  It had a lag time of 58 minutes.  A true first day crescent moon can be in the sky for up to 90 minutes past sunset and it is still considered a first day moon.  The elongation was 24.2°, double what is needed for an easy to sight moon.  The percent illumination was 4.4%, four times that needed for an easy to sight moon.  And finally the altitude above the horizon was 10.25°, again double what is needed for a easy to sight moon.

One very neat way of taking measurements of the moon in the sky is to use your hands to make the measurements of objects in the sky, like stars, planets and the moon.  This small graphic should help.

Measuring Distances In The Sky

Using these hand guides, the moon should have appeared about a hand span (or a fist span as shown) up from the horizon at the time of sunset.  With 58 minutes of lag, the moon should reach its highest contrast at about 26 minutes after sunset.  And sure enough, the moon sat on top of our fist when the bottom of the fist was placed on the horizon line when we first saw it.

So here is a portion of the series of photos I made earlier this evening.

1. Just after the sun set.

Shawwal After Sunset

2. Some time after sunset and after the moon entered the clouds.

Shawwal Crescent in the Clouds

3. The Shawwal crescent then emerged from the clouds with about 30 minutes left before setting, and was joined by both Venus and Jupiter.  Forming a pseudo smiling face in the sky ushering in an Eid Sa’eed (Happy Eid)!

 

Happy Eid

This is what a new moon looks like. If you did not see this yesterday then you did not see the new crescent moon.  It did not flop over, nor did it flatten out.  It did not suddenly get shiny, nor did it rise up in the sky.  The new moon emerges slowly.  Dim at first and then slowly becomes more pronounced as the evening wanes.  It maintains its orientation and only changes its orientation over the seasons.  And as the night comes in, the new moon sinks towards the horizon, following the one thing that helps it shine, the sun.  Yes the new moon sets in the west, just like the sun.

The seeking out of the new crescent moon is a rewarding activity.  Standing out there looking at that small sliver of light is medicine for the soul.  Its a reconnection with the Creator of all things and it teaches us patience.

I wish everyone a Happy Eid Al-Fitr and Peace!

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What Happened?

Yesterday, July 16th, was the 29th day of Ramadan in the Islamic year 1436, or common era year of 2015.  It was a day of great anticipation.  Will we see the moon and end the fast or will it go on for another day?  This Ramadan started without any contention at all!  It was a refreshing respite from all the drama that is usually associated with the starts and stops of the Islamic months due to the confusion about seeing the new crescent moon.  But as far as I could tell, the entire Muslim world began fasting on the same day!  One week into the month, I started looking forward to the end of the month not to determine the if the moon would be seen or not, but to get a handle on if we would face a chaotic evening of chasing down errant reports all over the world.  I researched two primary topics: crescent visibility probability curves and weather history.

The probability curves for July 16th are shown below.  How they are generated is a topic on its own and is based on regression models and requires oodles of data from past sightings.  The more data you have the more accurate the curves will predict the probability of seeing the new crescent.  The curves are broken down into various regions shown by the different colors indicating how easy it will be to see the crescent.  Zone A: easily visible to the unaided eye, Zone B: visible under perfect atmospheric conditions, Zone C: visible to the unaided eye after found with optical aide, Zone D: only visible with binoculars or conventional telescopes, Zone E: not visible with conventional telescopes, Zone F: below Danjon Limit (7°). Click on the image for a larger view.

Sighting Curves for July 16th, 2015

Now before I go on let me qualify something.  I started sighting the moon over 20 years ago.  I have gone to look for it every month.  I have seen many moons.  The majority of those 20 years of sighting were made with no prior astronomical or probability prediction knowledge.  I would always just based the sighting day 29 days later from the previous day I saw the moon.  That is all one needs to know.

However over those years one gets to know what the moon looks like, where it will  be in the sky in any given season, what orientation the moon will have and so on.  Slowly as crescent moon sighting became more contentious I began to bolster my empirical knowledge with astronomical and probabilistic tools.  I also started to teach astronomy, first at the elementary public school level and slowly moving up to higher levels until now at the college level.  Now coupling both the 20 years of empirical knowledge and with some science it is not difficult to predict if the crescent will be seen, especially in one’s own locality.

So as I looked into where the moon might be seen yesterday what I noticed was that the best place on the planet was out in the South Pacific.  Should not be a problem, no one lives on the water.  However South America could have reports.  In the last several years we have had some very strange and unverifiable reports coming from the south especially from Chile.  But most of South America was in the Zone B, and given perfect atmospheric conditions – meaning the skies needed to be totally clear we very well could receive reports from there.  So I looked into the weather history of the region in Chile where we have some contacts that have given us reports in the past.

In the month of July South America is in the midst of winter and in Chile 67% of the month of July is under cloudy and overcast skies.  I did not think a report from Chile would come in this year.  However, yesterday evening, Chile had clear skies!  The interesting result is that Chile had a negative sighting as well as all of South America, except for one report coming out of Bogota, Columbia, and that sighting was with a high-powered telescope.

Why is that important?  For one it was made with a telescope and that does not constitute a valid sighting according to Islamic Law.  Second it was a high-powered telescope.  Why?  If you look at the lunar age of the moon in the best location in Zone A it is only 23.11 hours past conjunction.  And in Zone B, where the telescope sighting was made it was only 19.03 hours old past conjunction. Conjunction is the instant of the birth of the new moon.

A 23 hour old moon is very difficult to see by the unaided eye, if at all.  Here is just such a moon from ten years ago.  The Islamic month was Rajab, and it took place on August 5th, 2005, almost ten years ago to the month.  Click on the image to see it in full.

A 23.5 hour old moon

Last night, the contentions for the sightings did not come from where we expected them, South America.  They cropped up from my own backyard here in the San Francisco Bay Area and a couple other places in California.  In California, the age of the moon was roughly 24.8 hours old.  Not much older than the moon shown in the photo above. In San Diego, it was 24.35 hours old.  In San Francisco, 24.88 hours old.  In the middle of the state 24.82 hours old.  This time of the year, the orientation of the crescent is as shown in the photo.  The limbs should run from about 2:00 to about 7:00 o’Clock on the clock dial.  This orientation of the moon’s limbs changes through the seasons.  In the summer and winter it is oriented as shown in the photo, with some slight variations, while in the spring the lit portion is on the bottom and the limbs point upwards and in autumn a bit more steeper running from 1 o’Clock to about 6 o’Clock.  This is important as we will see below, so keep this in mind.

The sighting curves are based on five parameters that need to be met in order for the moon to be seen easily by the unaided eye.  Those parameters are, age of the moon beyond conjunction, the time between sunset and moonset (known as the lag time), the elongation (a geometric orientation of the Earth, Moon and Sun past conjunction), the % illumination of the moon and the altitude of the moon at sunset above the horizon.  The criteria for sighting a moon with the unaided eye are as follows:

Age: 18 hours

Lag time: 40 minutes

Elongation: 12°

% Illumination: 1%

Altitude: 5°

Let me further qualify what these values indicate.  Neither one is more important than another.  The probability of the moon’s visibility cannot be determined by just one or two of these parameters.  Each parameter needs to be met.  The values given here are the absolute minimum values that are needed for the moon to be seen by the unaided eye.  Now just because the age of the moon is greater than the minimum 18 hours  will not alone make it visible, especially if for example the lag time is less than the 40 minutes.  Likewise, if the moon’s age was, for example, 28 hours old, but the lag time was say 15 minutes or that altitude was only 2°, the moon will still not be seen by the unaided eye, or it will be very difficult at best.

The conditions for the moon shown above from 10 years ago were:

Age: 23.5 hours

Lag time: 46 minutes

Elongation: 11°

% Illumination: 1%

Altitude: 8.1°

With 4 out of the 5 criteria met, and the 5th, elongation, very close, I still could not see this moon with my unaided eyes.  How then did I get this photo you ask?  I had a general idea of where the moon should have been in the sky and I pointed my camera lens in that area and tripped the shutter.  I actually made several photos panning the sky making sure I had sufficient overlap.  I was amazingly surprised to have caught the moon in the photo!

Yesterday in the SF Bay Area, in the same location as where the Rajab photo of 2005 was made, the moon had the following conditions:

Age: 24.85 hours

Lag time: 20 minutes

Elongation: 13.3°

% Illumination: 1.3%

Altitude: 3°

Yesterday’s moon only meets 3 out of the 5 criteria.  The above pictured moon met 4 out of 5 and was still not visible with the unaided eye.  I am not sure how yesterday’s moon was seen.  In the areas where the moon was claimed to have been seen, the same 3 out of 5 criteria as well were met.

Here is the interesting result.  In Chile, where it could have been seen, the criteria were:

Age: 20 hours

Lag time: 46 minutes

Elongation: 11°

% Illumination: 0.9%

Altitude: 9°

3 of the 5 criteria were met and the other two were very close to meeting the limits, and yet it was not seen!

What is more concerning is that the majority of the reports that we obtained by speaking directly to the claimants, did not describe the moon as the moon seen above in the photo of what a moon of this season and timing should look like.  One description given was a line that was flatter, oriented more towards the bottom with limbs more like 4 o’Clock to 7 o’Clock.  Two of the reports said that what they saw suddenly became very bright and shiny when they saw it.

All the of the claimants giving reports mentioned that they saw it very shortly after the sun set, within 2 to 7 minutes after sunset.  One of the claimants, reported that what he and his group saw appeared before the sun set.  Before sun set!

The first question that needs to be asked is does a person engaged in sighting the moon need to versed in astronomy and in particular the details related to the moon?  The answer is no.  I did not have that knowledge when I first started looking for the moon, but with experience these particulars become second nature.  Having knowledge about what the moon looks like in the sky, where in the sky it will appear, and its orientation will serve the seeker in not making erroneous sightings.  Any person can become a skilled moonsighter whether they are an upright Muslim or not.  The character of an upright Muslim is not a shield that prevents erroneous sightings from being made.  At the same time an erroneous sighting made by an upright Muslim does not in any way imply anything about the person’s character.  Inexperience and ignorance of the details about the nature of the moon is what brings about the erroneous reports but does not put the person’s character in question.

Moving on, the optimal time of crescent visibility on the evening of a new moon occurs when the the contrast between the moon and the evening sky reaches its maximum.  Two things need to happen for this maximum contrast to occur.  First, the sky needs to darken and at the same time as the sky darkens, the moon starts to brighten.  Maximum contrast takes place at 4/9ths of the lag time.  That is, the lag time is taken and divided into 9 parts.  Then adding 4 of those parts will indicate when the best viewing time occurs.  Last night here in California, with lag times of 20 minutes, 4/9ths amounts to 8 minutes and 53 seconds after sunset.  And for an easily seen moon, with a lag time of 40 minutes this amounts to 17 minutes and 45 seconds.  So, one would need almost 18 minutes for the moon to reach the optimal contrast in the sky for a moon that is easily seen by the unaided eye.  Last night, the moon only had a lag time just slightly longer than the optimal time.  Far from ideal.  At 2 to 7 minutes after sunset, the sky would be so bright and the crescent so dim, that it is nearly invisible at that time.  And before sunset, if the sun itself does not blind the eyes, its brightness will certainly limit anything you can see in the sky near the sun.

We live in a time in which our skies are filled with many flying objects.  Objects that did not exist at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and not for more than 1000 years after His time.  Those flying objects leave many traces in the sky that can easily be misconstrued as the crescent moon to the inexperienced and unskilled seeker of the moon.  Here is a link to a small gallery of photos of just such traces that can easily be mistaken for the moon.  And in fact, many times when interviewing claimants, these are the exact items that they describe to us.  Here is the link

I do not know what those claimants saw on Thursday evening.  I am not accusing anyone of anything.  They saw what they saw and they reported it as such.  They were honest and sincere, and may they be rewarded accordingly by our Creator.

What concerned me in this whole affair is why were their reports not examined with more scrutiny by those who were charged with making a decision about breaking the fast?  There were more details involved than I have mentioned that needed to be addressed.  I and another friend working with me did.  Before we even had spoken to half those claimants who had a report, the decision to break the fast, based simply on that those reports were made, had already been made by most mosques and organizations.  Confusion was rampant all night long.

So what happened last night?  I am not entirely sure.  I was content and certain the moon had not been seen.  My Ramadan did not end last night.  I was not even going to voice my concerns as over the years I have learned this only stirs the drama pot and makes things worse.  That was until I saw this…

A Minion Eid

This is, in a sad and hilarious way, what I feel is happening.  My pressing question though is, the Minions of Who?  Minions of the One Eye, the Nafs…Who?

Later tonight I will be heading out once more to seek out the new moon.  I will of course be photographing it and it will, insha Allah (God willing) be posted here on Organic Light Pan.

I wish everyone, and I mean everyone, a most Blessed Eid, filled with love, laughter, family, friends and joy, and may you receive all the rewards of fasting the month of Ramadan.  May our Creator forgive us all for our mistakes and trespasses and bring our hearts together in love and brotherhood and sisterhood.

To all, Eid Mubarak and Peace!

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From Darkness…

..And into the Light.

That is how the moon appears.

Dhul Hijjah Crescent 1435

It emerges from apparently nowhere and appears before our eyes basking in the light of the sun and guiding us on our journey through time.  We stand under it on this evening in submission and hearing the call to return to the Ancient House, where so many have returned over the millenia.  For those able, the journey of a lifetime begins and will culminate cleansed and given the chance to start anew, freed from the darkness of the self and allowed to enter into the Light of the Divine.

Safe travels and Godspeed, Oh Guests of the Compassionate.  Do not forget us in your prayers.  May your sacrifice be accepted.

For those of us who stay behind, get busy; for the best ten nights of the year start now.

Peace to All.

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Happy Returns

Crescent Moon of Shawwal, The Start of Eid

Shawwal 1435 – Eid Mubarak!

Like clockwork, the moon ticks its way back to new.  It will show itself in the sky.  It always does.  Bringing with it, for those who wait to look, a joy that signals a day of joyous celebration.

To my Muslim Readers, Eid Mubarak!

Peace to All!

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Here is Ramadan!

Last night we ventured out in search of the new crescent moon, not just my team and I, but countless number of Muslims all over the world.  There was not a single verifiable positive naked eye sighting.  Yesterday was the 29th day of Shabaan. Today it was the 30th and final day of Shabaan with no other option than to start Ramadan tomorrow.

While many people devised an abstract construct to signify the start of the months in the Islamic Lunar calendar, nothing can be as simple and beautiful as going out to search for the new crescent moon.  The sight of the new moon has significant spiritual value for the heart.  By its vision it ingrains in the heart a firm certainty that serves as the foundation for actions that make up the worship of the One who created us.  Through that certainty our hearts find ease, calm and peace and dispells difficulty, angst and chaos.

The need to go out once again to search for the moon on the 30th day is redundant, but to help those who still might question whether they should have fasted today or not and did not go out to settle their own hearts, I hope this photo will settle it.

Ramadan Crescent Moon

Ramadan 1435

Ramadan is a wonderful time where we are given the opportunity to look at our selves in its mirror and see our shortcomings and work towards making ourselves better.  Its an exercise in self-discipline and fortitude, a time for reflection and contemplation, and a means for forgiveness and salvation.  Welcome this month with open arms, grasp onto it and garner as much benefit from it as you can before it moves on.

Ramadan Mubarak and Peace to All!

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