Ramadan: moon sighting in Oakland, California

Our beloved guest is almost here.  I am talking about Ramadan, of course.  As I’m now in California, I joined a gathering of about 100 people in Berkeley to attempt to site the new moon, which would mark the beginning on the month of Ramadan.  Our gathering was more of a nod to tradition, an excuse to meet up with old friends, since any hopes of actually glimpsing the silver sliver had been dashed by scientific calculations.  The new moon was highly unlikely to be visible to the naked eye from our geographic location.  To top it off, a thick shroud of fog enveloped the Chabot Science Center, making it impossible to see anything beyond 50 feet.  No one bothered looking up at the sky, it was impossible to tell even where the sun had set (especially to directionally challenged old me).

However, we were sharing a common experience with Muslims all over the world, dating back to the beginning of Islam.   Lunar months are either 29 or 30 days long, and the only way to know when a new month starts is to look for the moon on the 29th day of the current month.  This is one example of how the rites of  Islam are interconnected with nature’s cycles.  I love the fact that, as a Muslim, I am encouraged to actually go outside, look up at the sky, and if I’m lucky, witness the miraculous birth of a new moon.

According to CrescentWatch there were no reported moonsightings from anywhere in North or South America.  Thus, the Ramadan fast is set to begin on Thursday, August 12th.  But wait, not everyone agrees that sighting the moon with the naked eye is the definitive way to mark the beginning of the lunar month.  Other organisations, such as ISNA, use astronomical calculations to determine, with scientific exactitude, the moment the new month starts, which is, to be so very technical, on Wednesday, August 13th.  I love the fact that there are two completely different ways of doing this.  Moonsighting, which relies on an organic, human, personal and communal experience, and astronomical calculation, which utilizes the latest technology (and so in a sense, is also a celebration of God’s gift of intelligence).  It seems fitting that in a religion that values personal reflection and understanding, and also values differences in opinion and methodology, that there should indeed be two approaches even in this case.

So, we will have a little gap of fasting tomorrow, some people will go with the traditional ways, and some will use the most advanced tools available, but in the end, one thing is clear, and that is that we are all going to embark on an amazing journey this month.  To all the Muslim readers of this humble blog: may this be the best Ramadan ever!  To all the readers who are followers of other paths: thank you for reading this, it makes the world a little cozier when we learn new things about each other, don’t you think?

On the way to the moon sighting event, my friend Cynthia and I and four out of our collective seven kids stopped by at the Lighthouse mosque in Oakland to say our afternoon prayers.  A sparse exterior in one of Oakland’s poorer neighborhoods:

Yet inside, this piece by Chinese Muslim calligrapher Haji Noureddine said it all, “Gathering of Beloveds”:

The holy Quran, which is the sea to dive into this Ramadan:

Above the community message board, a striking piece of calligraphy bears the name of God in Arabic, Allah:

Prayers are offered, as kids run and tumble:

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