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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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Festive Times

Shawwal Crescent of 1434

Shawwal Moon – Eid Al fitr Begins

Like clock work the new moon for the month of Shawwal 1434 and the ushering in of Eid Al-Fitr (the Festival of Breaking Fast) began this evening at sunset.  The moon as beautiful as always was set against a very festively colored sky.  I am always amazed at how the moon knows how to dress for the occasion!

It was late by the time I got around to preparing this post after having our last fast-breaking dinner bidding farewell to Ramadan this year, exchanging and opening gifts with my family, I was getting pretty tired, but I wanted to leave you all with a more gift-like photo of the moon.  I waited until the moon was close to setting and I created this 4 photo stitched panoramic of the moon just above the Santa Cruz mountains.

Shawwal 1434 New Moon Setting

The Setting New Moon

To all my Muslim readers, Eid Mubarak!  And to all, Peace.

 

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Ramadan’s New Moon

Good evening all!  Although it was not required or critical to sight the moon this evening, it has become a habit that I just cannot leave.  I did not travel far to find this moon.  Nor did I have to, and neither do you if you are a crescent chaser as well.

Like every other month I go out to see this tiny sliver of light in the sky, when I see it great joy fills my heart and I wear a grin from ear to ear.  It is one of the most remarkable sights in all the world to me.  The moon has been my monthly companion for the last 20 years and it still brings me as much awe and wonder as the first time I ever saw it.

This month the moon ushers in a blessed month of patience, vigilance, fortitude, faith, and spirituality – the month of Ramadan.  It is the Muslim month of fasting in which observant Muslims abstain from food, drink and marital relations from dawn until sunset for the entirety of the month, solely out of obedience to our Loving and Merciful Creator.

So without further a due, here is the harkener of blessings upon blessings.

Ramadan 1434, Crescent Moon

Ramadan 1434, July 9th, 2013 at 8:43 pm PDT from San Jose, CA

To all my Muslim readers…Ramadan Mubarak!

And Peace to all!

 

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Ramadan 1434 Announcement

Just a quick note. The new crescent moon for Ramadan 1434 (2013) was not seen here on the west coast of the United States in the San Francisco Bay Area. Being that today, July 8th 2013, is the 29th day of Sha’baan, it is the critical day for looking for the moon.

In fact no positive verifiable sightings were made worldwide today. That being the case, Sha’baan will complete 30 days and Ramadan will commence on Wednesday July 10th, 2013.

Check back tomorrow if you are interested in seeing the new moon of Ramadan, which I plan on photographing tomorrow evening, God willing.

Ramadan Mubarak to all my Muslim readers!

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Sha’baan 1434 Begins

Just a quick note to announce the beginning of the eight month of the Islamic calendar, Sha’baan, has commenced this evening.  We tried to view this moon from our normal sighting location atop Russian Ridge in the Santa Cruz mountains, but fog, wind and a thick marine layer had completely obscured the view from there and any hope of seeing the new crescent.  We rushed back down the mountains and directly to the top level of a parking structure of a local hospital.  From there we had a clear view of the horizon and we waited there until we sighted it.

Shabaan 1434 Crescent

Shabaan 1434

Sha’baan is known as the Month of The Prophet.  In this month the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing upon him, used to fast more than in any other month outside of Ramadan.  It is also a month in which there is a night where those seeking forgiveness of God will find it if they ask.  It is the night of the 15th day.  So seek out your good fortune in this blessed month and   until next time, Peace.

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Rajab 1434 Begins

This evening the new crescent moon of Rajab for the Islamic year 1434 made its appearance.  It was a delicate moon and had the company of Venus as it set in the western sky.  A mild evening that at first posed some possible cloudy interference.  But as the sun set and the sky cooled, the clouds for the most part dissipated leaving the Moon and Venus in plain sight.

Rajab Crescent 1434 with Venus

Rajab Crescent 1434 with Venus

It was interesting that Venus was spotted first and was brighter in the sky than the crescent moon was, even though the moon is closer to us and many orders of magnitude larger.  We used Venus as our marker to find the moon, as we knew from an ephemeris that the two would be close to each other.

The moon was first sighted around 8:20 pm PDT and it was primarily in blank sky. I photographed it over the next half hour until it was just about to set.  The photograph above was made at approximately 8:45 pm PDT, as the dark band of clouds added an extra dimension to the scene.

Rajab is an important Islamic month as it helps in locking down the start times for the following month Sha’baan and then the month of Ramadan when fasting begins.  It ripples from this day onward for both the start of Ramadan and its end which ushers in Eid Al-Fitr, the festival of fast breaking.

I feel very fortunate living here on the west coast.  We have the best possibility, and in most cases, the last word on any given day for sighting the new moon each month.  I and my assistants were not the only ones who sighted the moon this evening, I did receive one other report from a long time friend and fellow crescent chaser who saw it as well from atop Mount Tamalpais about 60 miles north of my location, also a stunning location in its own right.  We were atop Russian Ridge in the northern reaches of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

To all my Muslim readers, Rajab Mubarak!

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Jamaad Ath-Thaani Begins

Just a quick note.  Today ended the first day of Jamaad Ath-Thaani, the 6th month in the Islamic year.  Yesterday was the 29th day of Jamaad Al-Awwal, the 5th month and the critical day for sighting the moon, but it was not seen anywhere.  This afternoon I ventured out with the team to the coast to see it at the end of the first day.  It was a lackluster sunset but with the moon setting near the Pigeon Point Lighthouse along the San Mateo Coastline it made up for it.

Jamad Ath-Thaani at Pigeon Point

Jamad Ath-Thaani at Pigeon Point

Only two months until Ramadan!

Peace.

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Serendipi-STARR

This evening I ventured out as I do each month to photograph the new crescent moon. As far as moons go it was not as spectacular as I have seen. And to make make matters worse, I forgot to bring along my tripod! How did that happen, I don’t know but now I had to either hand hold my heavy Nikon D2x with a 400mm lens or just resign to the idea that today we are just going to sight it and that’s all. Well…the photobug that bit me 20 years ago and still has a hold on me gnawed at me some more and I did hand hold the camera and if I did not surprise myself I still came away with an acceptably sharp photo.

Jamad Al-Awwal 1434

Jamad Al-Awwal, 1434

What made tonight interesting was not just the moon. As we drove along Skyline Highway atop the northern stretches of the Santa Cruz Mountains, we passed by a couple of women at my closest emergency go-to location when I am running late to sight the moon with a telescope set up and pointed out towards the setting sun. I pulled over a few hundred feet from where they were set up and consulted with my team of moon sighters, aka my photo-assistants, aka my kids if we should stop there or continue on our way to our normal location on Russian Ridge. The consensus was to stop there and we could possibly get a chance to look through their scope at whatever they came out to see.

So we made a u-turn and pulled in close to where they had parked. Come to my surprise there were others there as well waiting for something. I walkd up to the two women and asked what they were there to see only to find out that on this evening, about 30 minutes after sunset a comet was to appear just to the left of and above the moon! Wow! I asked if they would mind if I set up my camera next to them since I was there to sight the new moon and we could possibly sight it together. They welcomed it and we parked it there, and it was at this time that I discovered I had no tripod.

As the sun made its way down more and more people started appearing to see this comet. Discussion took place and I began to inform people about the moon and its location. I was the first to see the moon at 7:17 pm PDT, just three minutes after sunset. It was a fairly old moon about 30.5 hours old so it was fairly easy to see for me and my team of moon sighters. My team and I all saw it within about 5 minutes of my initial sighting. I then started to point it out to the others there and making my photos. The photo of the moon posted was taken at 7:34 pm PDT.

I started to ask about the name of the comet and discovered that it was called PAN-STARR. I opened my starmap application on my phone and started to look for that comet. It took me a while as most comets are named after the equipment used when it was first spotted. After some searching and comparing locations in the sky with those on the star map, I discovered that our comet in question is PAN-STARRS 2012 T2 and that it would be easily visible on this evening and the following evening March 12th.

At about 7:50 pm PDT, my youngest son, age 11, cries out – “I see it! Its just a dot just to the left of the moon”. Sure enough about three fingers width to the left of the moon there was a small star. Through my camera lens the comet’s tail was visible but the light had dimmed so much that the exposures were now pushing 1 to 2 seconds long. There just happened to be another photographer there and he came up to me in the dark and asked what kind of a camera mount I needed. He asked if I could mount to a Really Right Stuff plate and whoa I could! He offered up his tripod and I accepted. I made several photos of the comet, from about 8:00 pm to 8:10 pm before some clouds obscured the comet.

The following photo was my favorite of the bunch. It was a wonderfully serendipitous evening. Going out for the moon and coming back with not only that, but a comet as well! The company was great and all who were there were glad that I was able to capture the comet in a photo. I handed out my contact information to many who were there and most were interested in seeing the photo on the website. So if you happened to be there this evening the following photo is for you. Thanks for making it a great evening!

Comet Pan-STARR 2012 T2

Comet Pan-STARRS 2012 T2

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Hearing The Call

Thousands of years ago the Patriarch Abraham (Ibrahim in the Arabic), upon the commandment of our Creator, traveled with his family, wife Hajar and son Ismail, south out of Palestine and into the deserts of Arabia to a barren valley known at that time as Becca (today’s modern Mecca).  He left his wife and infant son there and turned around and started to walk away.  Despite the pleas of his wife he did not answer her until she asked him, “is this what your Lord commanded?”.  On that question he answered in the affirmative and continued to walk.  Hajar then replied, “then we shall persevere”.

A few days later their provisions ran out.  Her milk stopped.  The baby started to cry.  Hajar runs to the top of a near by hill, now called Mount Safa, and calls out for anyone to hear her.  She then runs down and to another hill about 1/4 of a mile away now known as Mount Marwah.  She calls out from there as well.  She runs between the two hills seven times calling out for help at each hill.  Her baby, down in the valley is crying and kicking.  Upon the completion of her seventh circuit between the two hills, she suddenly sees down by the feet of her son a spring of water had erupted and water was gushing forth.  This miraculous spring is known as Zamzam, and except for a short time when the ancient Meccans had buried it, it has flowed for thousands of years to this day providing travelers and pilgrims life sustaining water.

With the flow of water in that barren valley, birds began to fly there.  Caravans following the birds also soon arrived.  The great city of Mecca is built at that site.  About nine years go by and Ibrahim returns to visit his family and see the good fortune that was promised would come their way.  He finds a small city has grown around where he left his family.  It was at this time that he was commanded to build the first sanctuary for the worship of the One God and he lays down the foundation of that house.  It was also at this time that he was commanded to sacrifice his son Ismail.  It was this miraculous event where as he was about to draw the blade across his son’s throat, with his eyes closed unable to bear the sight of what he was about to do, hears his young son laughing heartily off to the side.  When he opens his eyes, he finds a ram in the place of his son.

He once again leaves his family only to return years later when his son is a young man.  At this time he and his son raise the house of worship, now known as the Ka’ba, a cubic shaped building.  Its corners are loosely aligned with one pair along the East-West line and the other pair along the North-South line.  Once they completed the house, Ibrahim calls out in supplication that the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth accept the effort that they made.  God replies to him by commanding him to make the call to all humanity to come and worship at that house.  Ibrahim then calls out in as loud a voice as he could.  It reverberated through all the canyons and ravines and every deep crack, and still echos to this day.

In response to that call made thousands of years ago,  on this night the faithful respond: “Hear we are in service O Lord Here we are replying to your call.  Here we are in service, there is no associate with You, Here we are!  Truly all praise is to you, all blessing from you, and to you is the dominion over all things.  There is no associate with You!”

And for the next 9 days, approximately 2 million Muslims of the nearly 1.75 billion on earth, begin to congregate on Mecca to perform the largest annual religious spectacle on the planet – The Hajj.

During the Hajj, Muslims sacrifice their livelihood by leaving it behind, leaving their families behind, their homes and trek out into the desert in worship of the One God, repeating the rites that were done by Hajar, Ibrahim and Ismail thousands of years ago.  Of course no human sacrifices are performed, being prohibited in Islam, but other sacrifices are made showing our devotion to God and our lack of care for material wealth.  It culminates in 9 days on the plain of Arafah 13 miles out in the desert and then back to Mecca on the 10th day where the faithful will circumambulate around the Ka’ba for 3 days during the Holiday of Sacrifice in commemoration of Ibrahim and what he did before they return home.  It is the biggest Muslim holiday of the year, being the second of only two holidays.

The start of the Hajj coincides with the beginning of the 12th month of the year Dhul-Hijjah, the month of the pilgrimage.  The month in the Islamic calendar, as always, starts with the sighting of the new crescent moon, which was seen world round this evening.  Here is the view from Campbell California.

Crescent Moon Dhul Hijjah 1433

Dhul Hijjah Moon, 1433

So to all my Muslims readers, Hajj Mabrur!

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Guarding Mercy

Shawwal Crescent 1433

Shawwal Crescent 1433

Over 1400 years ago as the Mercy to all of Creation fled persecution from his birthplace in Mecca to his eventual resting place in Medina, he looked up to the sky and saw this heavenly body, the same moon that we see in our sky.  He called out while looking at a crescent in supplication: Oh God, bring us into this month with this moon, in safety and faith, and in peace and in submission to you.  Then as he pointed to himself and then to the moon addressing it and said: My Lord and your Lord is Allah (God).

From that day onward, the Muslims have used the new crescent moon to mark the months and years of their calendar, a purely lunar calendar.  It is a unique calendar in the entire world.  Many other cultures rely on the moon for their calendar as well but include the sun with it forming a luni-solar calendar, which has intercalations that add additional months every so often to keep holidays aligned in certain seasons.

The Islamic calendar however is cyclic with respect to the seasons and the tropical year, which is governed by the sun, or more accurately by the orbit of the Earth around the sun.  The months in the Islamic calendar begin traditionally by the sighting of the new crescent moon the same way the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, did during his emigration and establishing this tradition.  The lunar cycle however is not one that is completed in an integral number of days; rather its average length is 29.5 days (varying between 29.2 and 29.8 days).  What this amounts to is that some months the moon will only be seen after 30 days and some after only 29 days, and with the number of months fixed at twelve the Islamic year is only 354 or 355 days long.  This forces the months in the Islamic year to occur 10 to 11 days earlier each tropical year and taking 33 years for the Islamic months to cycle through the Tropical year.

Astronomy has reached a level of sophistication that the position of the moon in the sky and its cycle can be calculated with amazing accuracy.  However, the science behind when and where the new crescent moon can be seen is altogether different.  Seeing the new crescent moon depends on many factors.  These factors include, the age of the moon past conjunction, the elongation, the percent illumination, its altitude above the horizon at the time of sunset, and the lag time or how long it will be in the sky after sunset before it sets as well.  Each of these parameters has specific values that must be met in combination in order for the crescent moon to be “seen” in varying degrees.  Those degrees include easily visible with the naked eyes, visible with naked eyes under perfect sky conditions, visible with optical aid, visible with optical aid under perfect sky conditions, and finally the Danjon Limit, under which the moon is impossible to see under any circumstances.

The calculation methods used to determine to what level the moon is visible is not a formulaic theoretical computation like that of the position of the moon in the sky.  Rather it is a regression analysis of data on crescent moon sightings and non-sightings from archival records, originally from the Ottoman Empire and as of late from modern observation data added to the original pool.  The predictions are statistical in nature and although they have a high degree of correlation are still subject to outliers.

However, what these predictions cannot take into account is the weather.  The weather is completely outside of the realm of predictability as sky conditions can change on the hour and hence the crescent sighting predictions can only be that, predictions.  And by weather I do not just mean clouds in the sky.  A cloudless sky does not constitute perfect viewing conditions.  Other parameters like atmospheric pressure, relative humidity of the air, air quality and pollution, haze,  light pollution, altitude of the viewing location and even the geography on the horizon all play a factor in the visibility of the crescent.  In addition to all those factors every person who goes out to look for the moon brings with then their own set of variables that are never even considered, things such as experience, knowledge, eyesight, patience, prudence, etc..  These, of course, cannot be determined from a visibility prediction chart, nor from a very brief conversation one might have with that person in discerning if what he or she actually saw was the moon.

It is because of this and the juristic condition of seeing the moon to start an Islamic month that having someone actually go out and physically see the moon is still an activity that is played out each month among Muslims.  In fact, juristically, it is considered a communal obligation that at least one person from each community be charged with the task of discerning the beginnings of each Islamic month so that when the important months like Ramadan and the month of Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, arrive they are started and ended correctly.  In addition, juristically, looking for the new crescent moon becomes an individual obligation on each Muslim when its appearance brings on individual religious obligations like fasting in the month of Ramadan.  Note that seeing the moon is not the obligation, rather just looking for it is the obligation.

In the last few years, many calculation schemes have been put forward to bring some expediency to the starts of the Islamic months.  Some of them make sense and some do not.  What I find troubling about them is that they all find reason to avoid having to look up in the sky a day or two after conjunction to physically see the new crescent moon.  Establishing a date is not what is at stake here.  If that was the case, then simply determining sun-moon conjunction times, which are exceedingly accurate, plus one or two days added to ensure moon visibility could be used to nail down the beginnings of months with 100% accuracy.

What is at stake here is tradition.   The body of Islamic Jurisprudence on a whole, which covers every aspect of human life, is and always has been a means for ANY Muslim to learn and understand how to perform the religious obligations on their own.  For example it would be considered to much of a hardship if everyone was required to learn how to compute exact conjunction times of the moon and sun in order to establish the times when fasting in Ramadan was to commence and end.  However it is not out of the question to ask individuals to simply go out and look in the western sky after sunset to see if the new moon is visible or not.  In addition to this, following the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, in fulfilling religious obligations is also an obligation in itself.  The ‘how’ of many of the religious obligations outlined in the Qur’an, are just that, outlines.  The ‘how’ was left to the Prophet, peace be upon him, to explain to the believers exactly how to perform the obligations.

The traditions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, are second to the Qur’an in understanding the religion and how its obligations are to be performed.  The traditions are so important, in fact, that they have been preserved with the same level of preservation as the Qur’an itself.   Immense volumes of traditions are memorized word by word, including information on who narrated it and the entire chain of narration leading back to the Prophet, peace be upon him, himself, with additional notation on the character of each of the narrators in the chain resulting in various levels of authenticity for each tradition.  In fact, there is no other historical record of what any human being said or did that is more accurate and exact as that of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.  To say the traditions are not important is to deny most of what Islam is.

The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was referred to by God in the Qur’an as a Mercy to all of Creation.  An examination of his blessed life gives credence to that.  Everything he did or said brought mercy to those of his time and to those who followed afterwards, and when taken with sincerity and practiced, mercy is what is found in his traditions, and not just to humans, but also to animals and plants as well.  One of the aspects of prophethood is that prophets elucidate what the future holds for people, not in specific, but in general.  The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, left no stone unturned when it came to matters of the end of days.  I won’t delve into those matters as that deserves its own study, but one thing that I will say is that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, did relate that knowledge of Islam and his traditions would slowly vanish over time and one of the last things that would remain before the end of days occurred was prayer.  For one reason or another, much of what came with Islam through the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, has already eroded away. Watching his traditions erode away and die off is like watching the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, scrubbed from existence entirely.  However, if we hold onto the traditions it is like keeping him alive, and if we revive one of his traditions that did die it would be as if we had revived him.

In the Prophet’s time, there were many battles between the believers and idolaters of Mecca.  In one of the battles, the Battle of Uhud, in what initially looked like a Muslim victory turned into a rout and victory for the idolaters.  In the midst of the rout, as the Muslim ranks were breaking and men were fleeing from the battle, the Prophet and a few of his companions were surrounded.  Among those who were surrounded was a woman, Umm ‘Umara Nusayba bint Ka’b.  She was among those who came to the battle to provide water to the soldiers.  Her husband and two sons were also in this battle and were surrounded in the rout.  One of her sons was injured during the rout and she tended to his wound, only to find herself wielding a shield and sword and in the midst of the battle.  She threw herself in front of the Prophet, peace be upon him and defended him.  Later the Prophet, peace be upon him, commented that in Uhud, no matter where he turned to face in the battle he saw Umm ‘Umara in front of him fighting.  Umm ‘Umara had the courage and the love in her heart to stand up and guard the life of the Prophet, peace be upon him, when even men fled in fear for their life.  In the course of that battle she sustained 13 sword and arrow wounds to her body and among one of the sword wounds was a sever one to her neck which required an entire year to heal. In the midst of that rout, the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, supplicated that Umm ‘Umara and her family would be among his companions in Paradise.

In a time when threats to the Prophet’s life were real, the men and women around him were willing to sacrifice their own life to protect his.  Today in a time when threats to life and limb in a civilized world are far and few in between, I find it alarmingly astounding that we can sit by and allow the last vestiges of the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be on upon him, to fall by the wayside because it is not expedient to wait until the moon is seen to mark our days.  Rather, it has become the fashion to know the dates of holidays years in advance that we may plan our perfect little lives around them.  I know that my actions in following the traditions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, will never bring him back to life, but doing so brings me a deep sense of comfort and certainty that he, peace be upon him, is still alive in my heart and that I can expend a little effort to emulate my beloved.  I do not think for a minute that the little that I do in keeping his tradition of sighting the moon each month alive would get me into Paradise.  However, I can find solace that on the day when the debts fall due and I am standing in front of my Lord, I can say with certainty that I did not let the Prophet, His most Beloved, Muhammad, peace be upon him, die in my heart or in my actions.

Festive Moon of Shawwal 1433

Festive Moon of Shawwal 1433

I beseech all of my Muslim readers to take up this tradition and keep the spirit of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, alive in their own lives.  Moreover, to those readers, who follow another of God’s Messengers, hold onto their traditions as well.  In our days, it is these traditions that keep our connection to our Lord healthy and strong.  Do not rob yourselves of the deep spiritual connection that can be formed with the Creator as you see the moon emerge in the evening sky from apparent non-existence into the realm of existence right before your very eyes.

Peace to you all.

 

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