Calendar, Moon Facts, Part 3 of 6

(importance of the moon)

Perspectives of the Moon's Phases

The importance of the moon for Islam

Islam lives by the cycles of the moon. The crescent, the sign of the new (waxing) moon, appears on the flag of many Muslim nations.

  • This is a conspicuous exception to the Muslim ban on representing natural objects in pictures or idols.
  • There are those who believe that the adoption and survival of this sign of Islam is based on the dominance of the new moon and is not only a signal of the beginning and end of the month-long Muslim season of fasting, but is the regular climax for the whole calendar.
  • The Muslim world has tried to live by the moon.
  • Just as Caesar had decisively committed his world to the convenience of the solar year, with the months serving as indices of the seasons, so Muhammad committed his everyday world to the cycles of the moon.
  • Such lunar cycles guide the faithful to the divinely ordained dates for their prime religious duties—the pilgrimage to Mecca and the Ramadan month of fasting.
  • Because the Muslim calendar contains only 354 or 355 days, the months are not synchronized with the "seasons".
  • The Muslim's literal submission to the moon cycle has had some interesting results. To live by the God-given visible phases of the moon (and not by some man-made calculation of when the new moon is expected) has meant that the celebration of a festival must await the actual sight of the moon.
  • Ramadan, the ninth month—the month of fasting, the observance which marks the true Muslim—and Djh'l-Hijja, the twelfth month, during the first two weeks of which the faithful are to make their pilgrimage to Mecca, may occur in summer or in winter. In each year the festival of Ramadan and the Pilgrimage occur ten or eleven days earlier than in the previous year.
  • Muhammad said, "Do not fast until you see the new moon, and do not break the fast until you see it; but when it is hidden from you give it its full measure." If clouds or mist prevent the new moon from being seen in certain villages, those villages will observe the beginning and the end of Ramadan at different times from each other.

Lunar Eclipses

An eclipse is the complete, or partial, reduction of the visibility of a celestial body by the passage of a second celestial body and the word comes from the Greek ekleipsis, "forsaking".

  • Primitive people were (and are?) greatly disturbed by the darkness of a total solar eclipse or by the strange sight of the eclipsed moon; and even animals are reported to be disturbed or frightened.
  • Accounts of such eclipses are found among the oldest records of history. Battles have been decided by their unexpected appearance and the successful prediction of eclipses constitutes one of the earliest triumphs of this scientific investigation of nature.
  • An eclipse of the moon takes place when the shadow of the earth is directed away from the sun, so a lunar eclipse can only occur at the time of the full moon, that is, when the position of the moon is opposite to that of the sun.
  • The moon's surface is never completely darkened by an eclipse; even at the middle of totality it is visible, with a peculiar dull ruddy hue as sunlight passes through the earth's atmosphere.

Lunar Eclipses as Omens

Many societies have shown similar fears of lunar eclipses, including Indians, Mayans, the central Africans, ancient Greeks, and Chinese.

  • In fact, eclipse terror has been reported on a universal basis so it must come from deep seated experiences in history.
  • Lunar eclipses have also been associated with the deaths of kings—ncluding Herod the Great, Caesar Augustus, Jesus Christ, and Henry I of England—as well as with plagues and earthquakes.
  • Eclipse phobia probably results from the terrors related to the disruption of the universe's natural order.
  • The eternal cycle of the heavens is a comforting constant, while a lunar eclipse represents broken harmony or the displeasure of a god.
    —Bradley E. Schaefer, astrophysicist
  • The mystique of eclipses loses its fears for those who can predict them, because the event is seen as a natural and anticipated cycle.

Occulations (covering) of Stars or Planets by the Moon

The moon is observed from the earth projected onto a background of distant stars.

  • As the moon moves eastward across the constellations, it occasionally passes in front of one of the brighter stars or a planet, causing an occultation.
  • At the moment when the eastern limb of the moon reaches a star, the latter suddenly disappears (immersion).
  • In about an hour or less, the moon will have passed over the star (or planet) and the latter will reappear at the western limb (emersion).
  • Between the new moon and the full moon, the immersion takes place at the invisible (or faintly visible) dark limb; the emersion takes place at the bright limb.
  • The suddenness with which a star disappears and reappears without fading or flickering is considered conclusive proof that the moon has no significant atmosphere.

No wonder time flies. Have you ever noticed how many people are out to kill it?

—E.C. McKenzie

Moon Facts, Part 4, is available.
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Silence words. Sources of information for Calendar, Moon Facts, Parts 1 to 6 are located at this Calendars Bibliography Unit.