Friday, June 19, 2015

The Sky Above, the Blooms Below: the Beauty of the Ramadan Moon



           According to Aisha Gani, writing in The Guardian on June 17, the holy month of Ramada officially began Wednesday evening, meaning the first day of a month of fasting began at dawn on Thursday morning. Or, to be more exact, she wrote "depending on the sighting of the crescent moon," the month began Wednesday evening. 
            (Here's the link:  http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/17/ramadan-guide-to-islamic-holy-month-muslims-fast)
            The Muslim calendar is a lunar calendar. Each new month begins on the evening of the first sighting of a new crescent moon. The moon appears on the first day of a new cycle as a tiny sliver of reflected light in the evening sky, and clouds can get in the way. So to be sure of your calculations, you set the members of your community with the best eyesight on a high place with an unobstructed view of the sky and you hope to gt an actual sighting when the calendar calls for the month to begin. I don't know if this search ever fails. I'm told the ultimate 'go' has to come from Mecca, where the dry air of the Arabian climate makes it likely that if a tiny fingernail sliver of moon is visible, you'll see it.
            Because the lunar calendar doesn't match up exactly with the earth's revolution around the sun -- the solar year -- Ramadan begins about 11 days earlier each year. Since those observing the fast refrain from eating during the daylight hours, the fast is shorter or longer depending on what time of year Ramadan falls. This year, the beginning of the month of Ramadan in mid-June, close to the summer solstice, makes for long fasts -- about as long as the fast period will ever get.
            Muslims observing the fast get up before daybreak, eat a meal and drink as much as water as they can, and then refrain from both eating and drinking until sundown, when they break the fast with a family meal called an Iftar meal.
           Having read in the newspapers Thursday that Ramadan had begun, Anne and I wondered if the new crescent moon would be visible in our neighborhood. We live in a neighborhood with lots of houses and some tall trees, all of them in full leaf now,  so the horizon is cluttered and we seldom see very far. We walked through the neighborhood up to a somewhat busier street where houses were built close to the road, trees fewer, and we could see a little more of the sky. We saw the two bright evening stars we've been following in recent weeks, actually the planets Venus and Mars, that astronomers are telling us are moving closer together this month and will actually cross near its end.


            Watching these stars as we walked homeward on the sidewalk, I looked back between the rooflines of two houses and caught the shiny slip of a crescent moon, a few degrees below the brighter of the planets, Venus. The crescent moon looked brand new to us, very shiny, and refreshed by its period of absence from our evening sky. This was actually the second night, according to the scholars, of the Ramadan moon. But, as I say, the first sliver of moon we have seen in some time and a very welcome sight.


            Meanwhile, though I can claim no special significance for these developments or any spiritual connection to the holy month observed by millions of people, our perennial plants continue to flower in their season. Those pictured here include, from the top down, a late-blooming yellow bearded iris; the reliable mid-June mountain laurel; the traditional old red rose vine blooming in its traditional month; and a colony of foxglove varieties with smaller blossoms.