Ramadan and insights into the meaning of crescent moon for Muslims
Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, is quickly approaching for Muslims, due to start around the 20th of July, and will last 29 or 30 days. I say ‘around’ for the date and duration, because the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, and the beginning of each month is determined by when the new moon is seen.
This means that Muslims around the world await with great anticipation the announcement that the new moon – known as the ‘hilal’ in Arabic – has been sighted. The excitement is greatest ahead of the crescent which will herald the first of Ramadan, topped only by the new moon which marks Eid ul Fitr, the celebration that takes place on the first day of the month after Ramadan, and marks the end of the month of fasting.
No wonder then that the crescent is a symbol of such potency among the Muslim ummah. At its most fundamental level it determines the Islamic calendar which runs side by side with the solar calendar and so gives rhythm to the lives of Muslims.
Sighting the moon is a communal enterprise, and many Muslims especially in warmer climes will venture into the open as darkness begins to fall to see if they can spot the sliver in the sky that everyone is waiting for. When it marks the beginning of Ramadan it resonates with community and togetherness.
Fasts begin at dawn and last till dusk, and so the moon set in the backdrop of darkness represents the time available for eating and night prayers.
And of course, the new moon appearing at the end of Ramadan marks the close of an intensely spiritual and community-focused month of daytime restraint, ushering in the celebration of ‘Eid ul Fitr’, the festival of breaking fast.
Ramadan is a tough month physically and so the proclamation of the end of fasting mingles a sense of sadness that Ramadan has gone, with a natural excitement that daytime consumption is once again possible.
Eid is seen as a time of beginnings, and so the crescent moon carries with it the innocent pleasure of a fresh start.
The crescent moon is also the key symbol for Muslims: used in flags, cards and messaging. It is a favourite among marketers as it can act as shorthand for describing something ‘Islamic’. The challenge for marketers is to avoid slipping from the status of shorthand, into being the lazy overuse of a powerful symbol that therefore becomes cliched and diluted in meaning.
For Muslims, the crescent brings with it a mix of excitement, nervousness and community togetherness, tying the emotional and functional parts of faith together. And when it comes to the arrival of the month of Ramadan, Muslims will be waiting for news as to the first sighting of the magical sliver in the sky.