Monday, November 21, 2016

Prophetic light: the Super Mercy of the Super Moon

Photo Shafiq Morton ©
THE moon is something that has always fascinated me. As I’ve been in, or on, the ocean all my life, the moon has played a major role through its influence on tides, fish behaviour, waves and – when I started designing the Wembley Calendar – Islamic lunar months.

The moon, that crescent in the sky, has been a constant reminder of the cycles of my life. In fact, there is a story that the Prophet [saw] used to look at the night sky to reassure himself that the dunya, or material world, was secure. The Qur’an had told him that Allah had made the sun and moon subservient to Him, each one running for a specified term.

I’ve learnt over the years that the moon, which has a gravitational pull on earth, is in itself a complex organism. If you watch for long enough, the skies reveal amazing things around it, some not explicable by our laws of physics – like zig-zagging UFOs travelling with astounding speed into Orion’s belt.

The Qur’anic verses that tell of meteors being shot at inquisitive jinn certainly enjoy new meaning when you see one streaking across a clear desert sky; when the Milky Way becomes so dense, and just so real, that  it almost seems to hang in the heavens like a crystal chandelier.

“We have indeed adorned the lower heaven with the beauty of the stars,” says Qur’an (37:6) in confirmation.

But back to the moon, which is the most visible light in our night skies. I’ve learnt that its orbit is elliptical, that it is sometimes closer to earth, and sometimes further, scientists using the terms perigee and apogee to describe this phenomenon. It begs the question: what ultimately decides how far the moon must, as the Qur’an says, ‘swim’?

In spite of its apparent randomness, I’ve discovered that whilst the sighting of the new crescent involves numerous variables, the structure of the lunar year throws up infinite mathematical outcomes. But it always produces the same result: a consistent lunar year in which there will be a certain number of 29 day months, and certain number of 30 day months.

The moon, I’ve discovered though, is extraordinarily reliable within its wandering orbit; but you have to wait for it to come to you – to reveal itself to you within its mansions. The sighting of the new crescent is not just a Shari’ custom, it is also a science of patient observation, a lesson of sabr – or Qur’anic forbearance.

In this is a lesson for us all. We can’t tell the moon what to do. We are not in control. We have to submit to its laws of motion and appearance. It is not a clockwork mechanism, which some – it seems – would like it to be. The only person to have ever exercised control of the moon was the Prophet [saw], who split it in response to the hostile Quraysh – the miracle observed independently in India – and recorded in the tafsir, or exegesis, of Chapter 54 of the Qur’an.

Not even Nabi Sulayman, who had dominion of other beings like the jinn, had permission to exercise authority over the moon.The moon is literally a reflective emblem of Allah’s Creation embedded in the heaven around us. As the verse in Surah Jathiyyah proclaims, "Indeed, within the heavens and the earth are signs ...” and the biggest sign is that Rasullulah, a Mercy to All of the Created Order, could miraculously manipulate the moon.

As 11 Rabi ul-Awwal approaches every year, I enjoy looking at the waxing crescent. This is a lunar date which celebrates the birth of the Praised Prophet, the Final Messenger and the Mercy of All the Created Order. The moon, almost half, always seems to be offering the potentiality of something greater to come – the full effulgence of the Prophet [saw].

The timing of Prophet’s birth date, I believe, is no creational co-incidence and it is to the full moon that we finally turn. The Qur’an describes the sun as a ‘lamp’ and in the metaphor of meaning we understand that the moon is reflected light; on another level, the full moon radiates nur, or an earthly resemblance of spiritual light.

This, we understand, is the nur of divine grace. The light is bright, mercifully not so bright enough to blind us, but enough to illuminate the landscape with a clean silvery softness, like the scented touch of the Prophet himself.

Prophetic traditions are resplendent with descriptions of the Prophet’s spiritual light resembling that of the moon. The recent super moon of 14 November, the closest the moon will be to earth until 2034, was 14 per cent bigger, 48, 000 kms closer and 30 per cent brighter. And as I struggled in a raging south-easter to photograph it, its luminosity threw all my conventional camera settings out the window.

It reminded me of the times when at sacred moments, or in sacred places, that my camera had gone mysteriously haywire, or refused to work. Granted, the super moon wasn’t such a case – its brilliance was just offering up technical challenges, but its overpowering intensity did begin to remind me of all the poetry written about the Prophet [saw].

This poetry, I believe, reflects the most passionate, the most eloquent and the most moving human expression in history. One such instance is the qiyaam, the standing greeting, of the Barzanji mawlood. Its opening words resonate in my heart. They remind me of seeing a full moon rising above the minarets of Madinah. They invoke in me an aching longing for Madinah:

The full moon has risen above us
With his [Muhammad’s] rising all other moons have been eclipsed
The like of your beauty we have never seen – the face of joy and rapture
You are the sun, you are the full moon
You are light upon light
You are the great elixir of life
You are the flaming lamp of our breasts
O, my beloved, O Muhammad
You are the bridegroom of the East and the West.