As I was out walking this evening I noticed just how beautiful the two day old crescent moon was. This got me wondering why a new moon is of significance in Islam, and I am ashamed to say I have no idea.
I believe it marks the start and end of Ramadan. It’s also a symbol of peace (islam) since armies back in the day tended to deploy when the moon was brighter.
Well, the Turks/Ottomans had it, and the Persians. Apparently it became widely popular during the 14th–15th centuries, not that it had been an unknown symbol for the previous thousand years in Islamic contexts. But I don’t know enough to tell you about the origins of the crescent as a specifically Islamic symbol.
Or any of the other 12 months of the Islamic calendar: The new month officially starts when the first sliver of new moon is visible.
CAVEAT: I’m not an expert on Islam or symbolism, but I have studied both a bit, and this is my understanding:
The crescent moon isn’t special in Islam.
The Ottoman Turks, when they conquered Constantinople, adopted the Byzantine flag of the city, a crescent moon and star. That symbol, in turn, is a much older symbol, going back millennia in the Near East, to pre-Islamic and pre-Christian times.
The Ottoman Empire ruled much of the Islamic world, including the “three holies” (Mecca, Medina, and al-Quds [Jerusalem]), and the Ottoman Emperor also claimed the title of Caliph, the rightful ruler of the 'umma, the worldwide Muslim community.
By the early 20th Century, Ottoman symbols had become conflated with Islam, which largely had consciously shunned symbols in earlier centuries. For example, when Europeans formed Red Cross, Muslims understandably had some objections to the overtly Christian symbolism, and the Ottoman Empire (still a major power at the time) insisted that Red Cross societies operating in its domains use the (Ottoman) Red Crescent as their symbol. From there, if Cross = Christian, it seemed logical that Crescent = Muslim, rather than Crescent = Ottoman.
As the Ottoman Empire collapsed, Muslim movements and countries that succeeded it retained or adopted its symbolism (for centuries, it was by far the most powerful Islamic state on the planet). The crescent just by some odd historical kinks wound up becoming a sort of default political symbol for Muslims. From there, it acquired some significance to some Muslims as an Islamic symbol. But there’s really no particular religious significance.
It is a symbol used by several prominently muslim countries.
it also signifies a new moon. which means a new month.
Similarly, Persia/Iran used the Red Lion and Sun for its Red Cross/Crescent equivalent up until the Revolution.
The red star and sun is still an approved emblem of the Red Cross movement, together with the red cross (lower case here, to distinguish the emblem from the movement for which it stands) and the red crescent. It’s officially called the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, but the red star and sun is on equal legal footing, even though it is currently not used and doesn’t appear in the formal name of the organisation.
The big debate, for a long time, was about the red shield of David (“Magen David Adom”) in use in Israel. For a long time the Muslim countries blocked the recognition of this as a symbol of the movement, and AFAIK it is now recognised but still at a lesser legal status. Meanwhile, the ICRC has also approved the red crystal as a religion-neutral symbol.
The crescent moon in Islamic iconography is a waning crescent, so it is an “old moon”. The waxing crescent after new moon has the illuminated side on the right, while the Islamic moon has the illuminated side on the left, indicating it is about to disappear into the new moon.
And one should be careful in attributing it to “Islamic” iconography, the flag of Pakistan is based on the flag of the All India Muslim League, which itself was based on (one of) the Mughal Empire flags.
My ignorance is being fought, post by post. Thanks
look at the post after his.
It’s not just the crescent – the Turkish and Ottoman flags had the combination of star and crescent. An associate of mine, Brad Schaefer, wrote some piece about this, but he traced it back to the fifth century BC. or even older. Unfortunately, I don’t have the articles, so i can’t give you more detailed information.
Here’s one of them:
Bradley Schaefer, “Heavenly Signs”, New Scientist, 21/28 December 1991, p.48.
Ah, this helps explain the old BC anti-Muslim comic from a few years back.