Islam Symbols of the Moon & Stars

The image of a crescent moon and star first appears in Islamic art in the late seventh century.
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The crescent moon, often accompanied by a five-pointed star, has become a prominent symbol of Islam. For example, a crescent moon has appeared on top of mosques since at least the eleventh century, while a crescent moon and star appear on the flags of several countries with majority Muslim populations. However, some Muslim scholars not only assert that the crescent and star have no symbolic connection to Islam, but advise that their use is actually prohibited by Islamic law.

1 Origin

The exact origin of the crescent and star symbol is unclear. According to the latest edition of "The Encyclopedia of Islam," the image of a crescent moon and star first appears in Islamic art in the late seventh century. The crescent and star symbol became a particularly prominent emblem of the Islamic faith in the nineteenth century, when the Ottoman Empire -- whose sultans were also the calips of the Muslim world -- featured the crescent moon and star on its flag. The crescent moon and star went on to become a common symbol on flags of other countries with majority Muslim populations, such as Pakistan, Malaysia and Algeria.

2 The Crescent, the Star and the Calendar

In Islam, the crescent moon is known as the new moon, or hilal, and its appearance marks the beginning of a new month in the Muslim lunar calendar. The Quran highlights the new moon's significance in Chapter 2, verse 189, which mentions its appearance in conjunction with the sacred rite of pilgrimage to Mecca, or Hajj. The sun and other stars also play an important role in Islamic ritual. One authoritative foundation for this is chapter 10, verse 5 of the Quran, which states that God made the sun a shining light and the moon a reflected light for the reckoning of time.

3 Spiritual Meanings

The spiritual meaning of the moon and star can vary. The Quran includes a chapter titled the "The Moon," in which the split or crescent moon is a harbinger of the day of judgment. The Quran also has a chapter called "The Star," which refers to God as the lord of the day star Sirius worshipped by pagans. Moreover, the moon is associated with Muhammad in Muslim poetry, and the mystical tradition known as sufism uses the moon as a symbol of the heart responsive to the light of truth. In addition, one popular interpretation of the five-pointed star is that it represents the five pillars of Islam, which are the five foundational obligations of the obedient Muslim life.

4 Recognition and Rejection

The image of the crescent moon and star has become widely associated with Islam. For example, the United States military allows the symbol to be used on Muslim tombstones. However, not all Muslims have accepted the crescent and star as a legitimate symbol of Islam. For example, a 2010 fatwa, or opinion on Islamic law issued by a Muslim scholar, notes that the crescent and star were pagan in origin and as such using them as symbols of Islam constitutes idolatry. Similarly, another fatwa held that it was not blasphemy to wear a crescent and star symbol provided that it was not worn as an act of worship, since the crescent and star have no connection to the faith.

John Green is an attorney who has been writing on legal, business and media matters for more than 20 years. He has also taught law school and business courses in entrepreneurship, business enterprise, tax and ethics. Green received his J.D. from Yale Law School and his Ph.D. in religion from Duke.