We are waiting for Ramadan to begin. Sprawled across the living living carpet after Maghrib namaz, my brother and I are not very old but not very young either. We are definitely children and we are waiting for Ramadan to begin.
It’s supposed to be today or tomorrow but there’s only one way to confirm it: the Jami Mosque answering machine. We dial it methodically every thirty minutes until we hear the message we’ve been waiting for, As Salaamu Alaikum and Ramadan Kareem! The moon has been sighted…
We don’t wait to listen to where the moon has been seen nor which people have confirmed it. The message on the machine feels more real than the elusive new moon anyway, it’s greeting for Ramadan enough for us to charge around the house with joy and excitement.
The Ramadans of my childhood, full as they were of wonder and happiness, were not experiences I connected deeply to the natural world.
The beginning and the end of the month, marking the first fast and Eid day, were taken from the aforementioned answering machine. Suhoor was dictated by the clock in the kitchen and iftar by tuning into the Reflections On Islam radio programme, where we listened out for guest appearances by Aunty Jameelah while waiting for the dua of the day and the adhan.
I do remember, as a teen, briefly questioning why someone or other was always fighting about the moon – how it was ‘seen’ and who could be trusted. Some years, this would lead my ummah-loving, unity-supporting, extrovert self into the frustrating situation of starting Ramadan and celebrating Eid on different days from my friends. A suburban-Muslim kid problem if there ever was one.
As life moved on and Ramadan after blessed Ramadan arrived and departed, my own experiences conspired to foster a gentle growth in my relationship with the world around me. By the time motherhood embraced me, I was embracing the idea of consciously arranging my life within the rhythms of the year and the phases of the moon.
I made an intention that I would pass on this delight, awe and friendship with the natural world to my children. To show them not only the beauty of this phenomenal place but to let them feel how their lives, faith and very beings were intertwined with it.
And so, when Ramadan rolled around again, I did what many a Muslim mama does, I made moons. So many moons. Full moons, crescent moons, quarter and gibbous moons. We hung moons from sticks. Cut them out of cookie dough. Arranged moon ornaments and decorated moon wreaths… we even took the time to make moon piñatas.
But then one year, over discussions of Ramadan plans, a friend related that her neighbour had paid an unexpected visit and, upon seeing their plethora of lunar themed decorations, exclaimed in all sincerity “Oh, so Muslims pray to the moon!”
As we contemplated this unintentionally profane assertion in awkward silence, I glanced at a particularly large metal crescent on the other side of the room. It was covered in twinkly lights and spontaneously affixed in the direction of prayer. Maybe I needed to rethink some things.
The answer lay, as it almost always does, within revelation itself. I really ought to start there more often.
“It is He who made the sun a shining radiance and the moon a light, determining phases for it so that you might know the number of years and how to calculate time. God did not create all these without a true purpose; He explains His signs to those who understand.” – Qur’an 10:5
The moon was created for us. As a Divine sign, with which to mark Divine time. And I needed to be able to connect that truth in a real way for our family, otherwise we’d be in danger of elevating a symbol just for the gorgeous sake of it.
So I announced to my family that this year we would go out to look for the Ramadan moon and in preparation we’d practice on the new moon of Sha’ban! We all felt a bit giddy with the prospect of being ‘moonsighters’ until we realised that we had absolutely no idea how to do it. After all, it must be quite precise and sophisticated when you think of all the competing Hilaal Committees in the world.
A very specific Internet search of “how to view the new Muslim moon” brought me to a talk by the New Crescent Society in collaboration with the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Why I had to qualify the new moon as Muslim, I still don’t know.
The good news was that the New Crescent Society was offering a free online course on how to sight the new moon, the bad news was that the weather forecast showed dense clouds on the night we were supposed to look for our ‘practice’ Sha’ban sliver. We would have to wait for Ramadan and pray for clear skies.
In the meantime we asked a lot of questions and took a lot of notes and it turns out, it’s not so difficult to see the new moon if someone just carefully explains to you which direction to look in, what time and where.
I’m sharing with you now the basics of what we learnt in the hope that, in a few days time, you too will gather your crew and head out to find the new moon of our splendid Ramadan – prepared with a copy of the dua to recite upon seeing it and maybe a thermos of tea and some dates to sweeten the exact moment you witness that slim crescent fulfilling it’s true purpose.
Personally, whether we see the new moon or not, our local mosque will announce it online following astrological charts, no human eyes needed. We will join them in starting on whatever day they say because we only have the one main mosque around here and common sense compels me to stick together. Whenever you begin, may your Ramadan be blessed and bountiful.
How To See The New Moon (For Ramadan, Eid and Every Other Month)
Find The Right Location
- The new crescent moon appears near the sunset. Therefore, in order to sight it you have to be facing in the direction of the sunset (west) and be able to clearly see the horizon. You can do this in one of two ways: * Find a window or balcony through which you can clearly see the sunset* Go out to a wide open space where you can observe the sunset without any large trees or buildings in the way
Look At The Right Time
- Go to your chosen location a short time before sunset, it is essential that you see the sunset. We will try to be at our location about 20 minutes beforehand.
- You will need to stay in this location until about 30 - 40 minutes after the sun sets, so make sure to plan accordingly
Mark The Sunset
- Watch the sunset. This is super important. As you watch the sun go down, make a note of the exact location where it descends into the horizon. Mark the spot and remember it's location.
Wait And Watch
- The new moon will appear approximately 30 minutes after the sun has set. So wait until that time and look slightly left of your marked sunset location in order to glimpse the new moon.
- An easy way to find the right area of the sky in which to look is to stretch out your right arm with your right palm facing out, fingers spread.Place your pinky finger at your marked sunset location and look for the new moon in and around where your thumb is.For the more technical amongst us, this is a distance of about 25°.
Recite The Special New Moon Du'a
- Screenshot this image to have the du'a on hand for when you see the new moon:
- Original Arabic:اللهُ أَكْـبَر، اللّهُمَّ أَهِلَّـهُ عَلَيْـنا بِالأمْـنِ وَالإيمـان، والسَّلامَـةِ والإسْلامِ، وَالتَّـوْفيـقِ لِما تُحِـبُّ رَبُّنـا وَتَـرْضَـى، رَبُّنـا وَرَبُّكَ اللهُEnglish Translation:Allah is The Greatest. O Allah, let us see this moon (month) pass over us in state of good fortune, faith, safety and submission. And grant us the ability to be in harmony with what You love and what pleases You. (O moon) My Lord and Your Lord is Allah.
Easy Video Instructions
- If you're more of a visual learner watch this excellent video from The New Crescent Society for a 60 second recap:
And for more thoughts on the moon, reflections on the Islamic calendar and yes, crescent-shaped decorations, look no further than our previous posts below:
On Promising My Children The Moon
Why The Lunar Calendar Matters
A Simple Ramadan Craft You’ll Want To Keep Up All Year
Original Illustration: Courtesy of Zarina Teli