The moon and stars play an important role in Islamic artwork. Around the world, people recognize the symbol of the crescent moon and five-pointed star as belonging to Islam. But the moon and stars also have a functional and symbolic aspect in Muslim life. Throughout history, Muslim scholars have contributed to the field of astronomy, in part because of their interest in the moon's phases.
The moon and stars are commonly viewed by Muslims as just another part of Allah's creation; in other words, they are not particularly significant compared to other elements of that creation. In relation to the moon's phases, the Qur'an states, "These are signs to mark fixed periods of time for mankind and for the pilgrimage" (2:189). Verse 6:97 makes a similar comment about the stars: "So that you may guide your course with their help through the darkness of the land and the sea." However, in another verse (67:5), the Qur'an says, "And indeed We have adorned the nearest heaven with lamps, and We have made such lamps (as) missiles to drive away the shayaateen (devils), and have prepared for them the torment of the blazing Fire." This line does give spiritual meaning to the stars, but many Muslims focus on their functional aspect.
Astronomy and Islamic Scholarship
In 1190, the Arabs constructed Europe's first observatory. Two centuries earlier, a famous Muslim astronomer named Al-Battani, also called Albategni or Albatenius by scholars who favor Latin, "worked on the timing of the new moons, the length of the solar and sideral [sic] year, the prediction of eclipses, and the phenomenon of parallax," which is the different positioning of a star or other object at various points in the Earth's orbit, according to MuslimHeritage.com. These are just two examples of the many ways that Islamic scholars have played a key role in astronomical studies of the moon and stars, especially during the period commonly referred to as the Dark Ages.
The Qur'anic verse 10:5 states: "It is He who made the sun a shining light and the moon a derived light and determined for it phases - that you may know the number of years and account [of time]." Indeed, Muslims mark the passing of months according to the moon. Islamicity.com explains that the first visible appearance of the crescent moon after the new moon marks the beginning of each month. The website goes on to show how this practice can differ from place to place: "In some areas Muslims depend on a local sighting of the moon, whereas in other areas a universal sighting is accepted. (i.e. if a new crescent is seen anywhere in the world it is accepted for communities the world over)." There is no absolute method to calculate visibility, so each region chooses its own way.
Crescent Moon and Star Symbol
The symbol of the crescent moon and five-pointed star is often used in Islamic art. Although scholars do not exactly agree on the symbol's pre-Muslim origins, it is widely known that the Greeks and the Carthaginians used a form of the symbol long before the advent of Islam. The five-pointed star is a common Wiccan symbol, although it usually appears inside a circle as a pentagram. Modern Muslims sometimes argue that the five points represent the Five Pillars of Islam. In the article "Crescent Moon and Star: A Symbol of Supernova 1054?" The Woman Astronomer website puts forward the theory that the Muslim symbol represents a supernova that occurred in the year 1054.
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