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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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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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Humble Beginnings – Ramadan 1433

I was out last night and this evening in search for the new crescent moon that marks the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.  Last night, that would be July 19th, 2012, the moon was not seen.  It was only 12 minutes behind the sun and at the same time we had some fog to contend with.  Similarly, the moon was not positively seen anywhere in the world on the evening of the 19th.

This evening was a different story.  The conditions were perfect and the moon was easily seen.  Not that it made much difference, as the 19th was the 29th day of the previous month and was the critical day in determining when Ramadan would start.  However, it is my “thing” to be out there photographing the new moon, so out I went again this evening.

The moon was easily seen and a thought suddenly occurred to me.  For the longest time as I can recall the moons of Ramadan have appeared in a lack-luster entrance.  Quiet, humble and just there.  Suddenly it all made sense to me.

“Oh you who believe, Fasting has been proscribed upon you as it was proscribed on those who were before you so that you might increase in piety” ~ Quran.

Piety, this month is about piety.  Piety is never flashy.  Its not glamorous or forward or vain.

Its about humility, being patient, reserved, and quiet.  This evening it was quiet out there.  Few people, mild temperatures, slight breeze, very unassuming.  The moons of Ramadan have arrived showing us the very qualities that this month is designed to foster in all of us.  I am in awe.

Ramadan Moon

Ramadan Moon

To all my Muslim Readers – Ramadan Mubarak!  Make use of this month to come out as humble and pious as the moon.

To all Peace.

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Ramadan 1432 Begins!

Ramadan Light

Ramadan Light

Well it was a long night.  Reports came in from many locations and they needed to be tracked down and confirmed.  Reports came in from as far away as South Africa, and several locations in the Caribbean and South America.

Here in the States, the best location astronomically was in San Diego, which by the way suffered like we did in the Bay Area with cloudy or foggy skies.

Fortunately there were two separate sighting groups in south Texas that helped us confirm the beginning of Ramadan this year.  In one case there was a group of 16 individuals that saw the moon initially with binoculars and then of the 16, 3 were able to see it again with the naked eye.  In the second case we had four individuals that saw the new crescent with their naked eyes alone, not far from the the other group but completely independent.

Here in the Bay Area, the day played out nicely.  Fog in the morning that burned off by mid morning and mild temperatuers and clear skies for the remainder of the day…that is until the temperature started to drop.

We headed out with a group of nearly 40 adult individuals and counting the children we had to number well in to the 60’s.  We headed up to Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve hoping for clear skies there, but as we neared, the fog started to climb up from the coast and covered us over.  The marine layer had to be nearly 2700 feet thick!

The above photo shows the full extent of the light we saw on Borel Hill, the highest hilltop in the Bay Area’s Peninsula region.

Nonetheless, we managed to get the sighting confirmations we needed to mark the start of Ramadan.  To all my Muslim readers, Ramadan Mubarak.


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Mercy: Day 2 – Hunger

Its now 1 PM and my stomach starts to grumble.  I feel hungry but I am in the middle of only the second day of fasting.  Its now that most will start to feel the change of the eating pattern.  That is okay, I can push through.  Its now 4 PM and the grumbles return, but I ignore them.  I start to wonder what it must be like for some one who is under fed, someone who feels like this all the time.  It is an unsettling feeling.

The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing of God upon him, said “Those who are merciful will have mercy shown to them by the most Merciful.  Show mercy to those who are on the Earth and The One who is in heaven will show mercy on you”.  Those are powerful words, and to be reminded of this during these first 10 days of Ramadan, during the days of mercy resonate within me.

My hunger will subside when the sun goes down, but for millions, and maybe for even more, around the globe they will go to sleep hungry, wake up hungry and live their days hungry.  At the same time we walk into a super market and find an unimaginable abundance of food that if it is not sold with in a week’s time is thrown out in the garbage!

I remember growing up and watching my neighbor hauling out boxes of produce from his truck that he salvaged from the supermarket garbage bin.  It was perfectly good food except it came out of a garbage bin.

When I was studying in graduate school at Stanford University, I would love to go into the library and read up on all the various subjects that interested me outside of engineering.  Once I was in the government documents library and ran across a United Nations report on hunger.  It was noted in a study conducted back in 1980 that if the United States would give just 2% of the excess wheat that it dumps into the ocean to keep wheat prices high, they could wipe out world famine! TWO PERCENT of the EXCESS! I was beside myself to say the least.

There is no mercy being on the receiving end of hunger.  There is however great mercy for the one who puts him or her self through hunger voluntarily to know what it means and then does something about it to alleviate it from others.  Showing mercy to others produces a multiplicity effect that continues to grow.

On Saturday, August 15th, 2010 a local charitable foundation and food bank, Rahima Foundation will be conducting their 7th annual Human Dignity Day by feeding the homeless in San Jose, CA.  They are looking for volunteers and it is a wonderful way to help show mercy to those who need mercy.

In The Shadow

Giving is Good.

Till tomorrow, Peace.

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Mercy: Day 1 – Sleep

Its 3:30 AM and I wake in a stupor to the rustling sounds of my wife getting dressed in a rush as she prepares to leave to help a woman give birth as her Doula. Its about 15 minutes before the alarm clock was destined to go off and wake us up for our first pre-dawn meal of Ramadan. In my half asleep state I remind her to eat and drink before she runs out. Asking me what time dawn enters, she dashes out. We have not seen her since.

Once she goes into action sleep is not an option until the miracle of birth is over.  I know the routine, having been in her shoes four times with my own children.  It is incredibly tiring, physically, mentally and emotionally.

So after she leaves, the alarm starts to blare and wakes me again.  Still tired, I wrangle myself out of bed and proceed to wake three of my four kids.  They get very excited to fast with us in Ramadan and they are getting to that age when they will have to fast, so getting used to it is not a bad idea.  The youngest of the three is only allowed to fast until he feels hungry, and the other two, well they insist on the whole day.  With all of us awake we make our way into the kitchen to prepare our meal.

Once we finish eating, I feel like I can return to bed, but the kids are now wide awake and want to get busy with their day.  Its 5 AM and its still dark out!  We do our dawn prayer and then, back to bed before its off to work.  Its now 7 AM, the alarm wakes me once more.  I wake the kids who ended up sleeping anyway.  We get dressed and we are out the door.  First off to grandma’s house to drop off the kids and then to class.

I still feel tired and wish that I could still be wrapped up and cozy in my bed.  But I push through.  The urge to lay myself down and close my eyes is great, I just want a little more rest.

The day comes to a close.  When arrive to pick up my kids, my oldest son is out like a light on the easy chair.  My oldest daughter is groggy and about to go out on the couch, the other two are still bumping around but not for long.  They have been up for nearly 12 hours, my self as well!  On the way home, a 15 minute drive, they all fall asleep, and I am starting to nod off as well.  We clamber out of the car and into the house.  Within ten minutes, we have all found a comfortable place and sleep overtakes all of us.

Sleep is such a blessing.  One of the great mercies of our Creator.  Every thing sleeps in one way or another.  From animals to plants, they all have a down time. To stretch out, to let your body sink in relaxation, to close tired eyes and to take a deep breath and letting go of all the worries of life brings a state of peace and tranquility to the soul. To relinquish all responsibility back to the Lord of the all things, and to put your trust in Him with certainty that all will be fine once we wake brings reassurance to the heart and repose to the mind that we are not in control and need not be.

Sleep brings peace to every facet of who we are and regardless of whether we become tired physically, emotionally, mentally – in any combination or all three.  It is a Mercy for every living thing and is a hallmark of the stamp of the Merciful in all of creation.  I am tried now, so I think I will go get me some Mercy.

Windy Hill Under Moon Light

Nighty Night

Till tomorrow, Peace.

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Ten Days of Mercy

The sun set in silence on the western horizon.  There was a slight breeze that caressed the face.  Suddenly a sliver of light emerged in the sky and the month of Mercy began.  Without fanfare or pomp, the month of Ramadan entered into our lives once again bringing with it the promise of great tidings.  It is a month in which the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of God upon him, said “Its first ten days are a mercy, its second ten days are forgiveness and its third ten days freedom from the punishment of hellfire”.

With the ushering in of the crescent moon, the days of mercy begin wherein we slow down, unplug from the madness of the modern world, look within ourselves and find the shortcomings that need rectification and head down that path holding on to the Rope of God in constant remembrance with the hope of becoming better than we are.  Ten days for a settled heart, a calm mind, and a peaceful soul to find the solace they need to regenerate a beleaguered body back to its spiritual and physical center.

This month brings with it many blessings , too many to enumerate, too many to even know.  It is a classroom in ‘time’ that gives us the opportunity to focus on the improvement of ourselves, to strenghten the bonds of freinds and family and to reconnect with the community at large.  This opportunity comes but once a year and not taking full advantage of it, leaves one longing to see it again, with no certainty of ever making back.  Make use of this month to garner all that you can.  These first ten days, are for you to re-engage with your Lord.  So lets get to it.


Crescent Moon of Ramadan 1431

Ramadan 1, 1431

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Ramadan 1431 Announcement

It has been a very busy time the last few weeks here. Much teaching and work revolving around the start of Ramadan this year.

But I am both happy and sad to announce that Ramadan of the Islamic year 1431, will commence on the evening of Wednesday August 11th after sunset and the first day of fasting on Thursday August 12 according to the tradition of sighting the new crescent moon.  A valiant effort was made by several people in gathering reports from all over the globe, and in particular in South America where seeing the new crescent had the highest probability.  The was not seen anywhere in the world on this evening, even by yours truly.

So why am I happy, well that we now have Ramadan in our presence and we can begin again , God Willing, our fast in devotion of our Merciful Creator in a couple of days with clear certainty of its start.  And why sad?  Sad that we did not have the great fortune of seeing that amazing crescent moon this evening.  Tomorrow the moon will be much larger and higher in the sky and easy for almost anyone world wide to see it.  I encourage all of you to go out and look at this phenomenal sight, Muslim or otherwise.

The evening was special as it always is, with over 50 adults and probably an equal number of children as well came out this month to look for the crescent with me and many other sighting parties occurred with equal numbers.  Nonetheless the view was captivating and the learning of how to sight the moon was the best I had ever seen.

It is wonderful to see so many people interested in reviving this wonderful tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing of God be upon him.

So to all my Muslim friends and readers and to everyone else as well ~

Ramadan Mubarak!

Fog rolling in over Santa Cruz Mountains

Above The Fog

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Ramadan 1430 Begins

Ramadan Mubarak to all!  This evening August 21st, 2009 at 8:06 pm PDT the new crescent moon of Ramadan 1430, was sighted by a group of over 30 men and women, not counting the numerous children as well at Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve, just west of Palo Alto, CA in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  We had clear skies with some dark thick marine layer atmospherics close to the horizon.  It was a fine crescent that was about 3.5 degrees in altitude above the horizon and at a true azimuth of 265 degrees.

The group of sighters started out at about 20 people and over the next 15 minutes it grew to well over 35 people.  As the evening progressed everyone became quite joyful that the Blessed Month of Ramadan was upon us.  As the moon approached the horizon, we packed up and headed off into the night with the intention of commencing our Fast for the next 29 or 30 days, until we see the next new moon.  So Congratulations to all for having another opportunity to benefit from Ramadan.  May all your prayers and fasting be accepted this month.

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30 Days

Another month has gone by.  The new moon this time around met with the sun and blocked her out, completely for nearly 6 minutes all across Asia.  The longest total solar eclipse that the Earth will see for the next 123 years!  If you missed it, like I did, oh well, I guess we will have to figure out how to live another 123 years.

However, every month, the possibility for either a solar or lunar eclipse is there.  At each new moon, the Moon comes in between the the Sun and the Earth, that is why we lose sight of the Moon for a couple of days as it passes in front of the Sun.  At each full moon, there is a possibility of a lunar eclipse as the Earth comes in between the Sun and the Moon.  The reason we do not have two eclipses each month is that the Moon’s orbit around the Earth is not in the same plane as the orbit of the Earth around the Sun.  The graphic below should help in clarifying that.

Only when all three bodies line up perfectly on the ecliptic will an eclipse occur.  They are not hard to predict, but they also do not occur all that frequently.  However when an eclipse does occur, it is a big deal and many cultures have placed significance in its occurrence.  But what goes almost un-noticed month after month is the emergence of a new moon a day or so after conjunction.  The beauty and subtlety of the new moon is something that words fail to convey.  It needs to be experienced to really be appreciated.  What is wonderful is that we see twelve new moons every year, so your chances of seeing one are much better than that of an eclipse, and given the conditions, the display is just as impressive.

Shabaan 1, 1430

Sha'baan 1, 1430

A few days ago, a day after the big solar eclipse actually, the new crescent moon made its appearance once more.  Surely its significance was “eclipsed” by the Solar eclipse itself, but it ushered in the Islamic month Sha’baan, known as the Month of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.  It is the month that proceeds the month of mandatory fasting for the Muslims, the month of Ramadan, and it is a month preparations – both physical and spiritual.

Great anticipation builds in the Muslim world once the moon of Sha’baan is sighted, for in 30 days worldly pleasures take a back seat for an entire month. Eating, drinking and marital relations come to a screeching halt during daylight hours and at night, the hours are spent in spiritual endeavors from reciting the melodic verses of the Quran in Arabic as in the first chapter Al-Faitha ~ The Opening to standing in prayer, sometimes for up to three or more hours!  All with the intention of establishing a connection and closeness to the Creator and Lord of our world.  So as this month is whittled away by time and we approach the next new moon it will have immense significance to 1.6 Billion people around the world.  And although the heavens will not put on a show as grand as a total solar eclipse, it ushers in a month long exercise that eclipses most others.

Peace to you all.

~ Youssef

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