A centuries old blending of religion and science

Christianity and Judaism are not alone in discovering how science and religion intersect. Islam depends on astronomers to determine exactly when Ramadan begins.

Here is an account from the Washington Post:

In synch with the sun and the moon, the traditions of 1,400 years and the acts of Muslims all over the world, members of one of Egypt’s seven official moon-sighting committees pulled into a parking lot high on a ridge overlooking hazy Cairo at sunset Saturday.

There were government astronomers in open-neck shirts, snapping open tripods to support their telescopes. Taking a preliminary look through the scopes at Cairo’s western horizon, the astronomers didn’t bother to announce what they saw at first glance: nothing.

There was a 70-year-old Muslim cleric, wearing glasses of stratified thicknesses, a gauzy black robe with gold tassels and a beatific smile. Declining a look through the telescopes, the cleric, Abdul Monim al-Berri, only sat and looked on, his presence as one of Egypt’s leading religious scholars giving the gathering the stamp of religious approval. “I’m the legitimacy,” he said.

And there was an al-Jazeera satellite news crew, trying to go live to tell the world the news from the parking lot, but having trouble with audio.

Frustrated, the network’s reporter folded her arms across her chest and rocked back on her heels in the gravel, staring blindly at the sky.

Together, the committee members were on a mission: to look for the crescent moon that signals the start of Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month, and tell the world whether they had seen it….

At 6:17 p.m., the same time when the crescent is expected to appear Sunday, the astronomers bent in earnest over their telescopes.

Bystanders fell silent.

The men stood in the hush, minute after minute, squinting at the rim where earth met sky.

In the silence, the rusty voice of a single old man rose from a mosque in the valley below. Carrying out a ritual older than the moon-watch committees, he man called the faithful to evening prayers.

“Allah akbar,” the mosque singer cried. “God is great.”

From his chair in the parking lot, Berri raised his fingers to the sky as if to pinch the absent crescent moon.

He then brought his fingers to his mouth and kissed them.

“This is the best part, the mingling of science and religion,” Berri said. “It’s beautiful.”

Washington Post: Religion and Science Blend in a Centuries-Old Ritual

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