The word hilal means slim crescent, while the word badr means full moon. The word appears only once in its plural form, ahilla in the Koran (2:189). The general term in the Koran for moon however occurs 27 times, usually paired with the sun. The Hebrew word hodesh also means new moon. The term lail at-qamar means the night of the crescent. The method of calculation of the new moon was firstly introduced by the Fatimids in 331/942 in North Africa, then in 359/970 at Cairo. That is the reason that the use of the hilal as a decorative emblem was introduced firstly in the period of Imam az-Zahir (d. 427/1036). On the early night when the crescent appeared, the Ismailis call it chand ra’t (crescent night), while the Syrian Ismailis pronounce it shand ra’t. On that occasion, a grand assembly is held in the Jamatkhana.
The spiritual power of the new moon was believed by the ancient Egyptians and Babylons. The ancient Chinese venerated while looking the new moon. From earliest times a “pontifex minor” would watch for the new moon from the Capitoline Hill in Rome, and when it was sighted, call out to Juno, the queen of the gods. The first of the month was called the calends from the verb “to call out.” Juno is in this way identified with the new moon, as her husband, Jupiter, is with the ides, or full moon. The priests then announced the series of festivals for the coming month. The ancient Greeks sent out criers to announce the sighting of the new moon. In Mesopotamia the month began with the sighting of the new moon. A letter to the Assyrian kign Esarhaddon (ruled 680-669 B.C.) states, “On the thirtieth I saw the moon. It was in a high position. The king should wait for the report from the city of Assur and then may determine the first day of the month.” The early Hebrews celebrated the new moon with a feast, which was a family gathering at which animals were sacrificed. The Buddhist monks still hold most of the rituals on new moon, and they also keep fast on that day. Some Hindu castes regard the new moon as the most sacred sign, and they also keep fast of silenceness for the whole day without talking with others. Some of them pass sleepless night devoted to meditation. The Jews call the day of new moon as rosh hodesh and pass the night in recitation of Old Testament. The Muslims call the new moon as hilal, as it is also a first day of the Islamic month.
According to the modern computation, it takes 29.530589 days from one to another new moon.
The Koran says: “They ask you about the new moon. Say: they are fixed times (mawakit) for the people and for the pilgrimage” (2:189). Qurtubi (2:306) writes that the Muslims repeat “God is Great” as they see the new moon. According to Hayatus Sahabah (Karachi, 1999, 8:397-8), Talha bin Ubaidullah relates that the Prophet prayed when looking the new moon: “O’my God! Make it rise over us with baraka, faith, safety and Islam.” Ibn Umar however relates the Prophet’s prayer as “God is Great. O’my God! Make it rise over us with peace and safety and well-being and Islam; and with the help for that which You consider good and are pleased with it.” Rafe bin Khadaij on the other hand said that wheneer the Prophet saw the crescent, he would say, “O’my God! I beg of You the goods of this month and the good of fate and seek Your shelter from its mischief.”
In the Sufi philosophy, the moon symbolizes the true man not only for his guidance to others, but also for his purity; and here is to be found the interpretation of the Koranic letters Ta Ha (20:1), which is taken as referring especially to these two aspects of the Prophet as Moon of the World, in that the letter Ta, according to the commentary, stands for At-Tahir (the Pure), whereas Ha stands for Al-Hadi (the Guide). Besides, these two letters, if given their numerical values, 9 and 5, add upto 14, which is the number of the moon.
Meer Hasan Ali writes in Observations on the Mussulmauns of India (London, 1832, p. 156) that, “The new moon is a festival in the family of every good Mussulmaun. They date the new moon from the evening it first becomes visible….The event is announced in native cities by firing salutes from the field-pieces of kings, Nuwaubs, etc. Among the religious people there is much preparation in bathing and changing the dress against the evening the moon is expected to be visible….They then repeat the prayer, expressly appointed for this occasion, and that done, the whole family rise and embrace each other, making salaams and reverence to their superiors and elders. The servants and slaves advance for the same purpose, and nothing is heard for some minutes, but “May the new moon be fortunate” reiterated from every mouth of the assembled family.” Roe and Fryer also write in Travels in India in the Seventeenth Century (London, 1873, p. 304) that, “The very sight of the new moon of every month was hailed with general festivities, when all malice apart, the Muslims embrace one another, and at the sight thereof make a jubilee, by firing of guns, blowing of trumpets, feasting and praying very devoutly.”
It is related that the Indian Sufi Shaikh Nizamuddin Awliya used to place his head on his mother’s feet when the crescent appeared in the sky, out of reverence for both the luminary and the pious mother. For Allama Iqbal, the crescent serves as a model of the believer who “scratches his food out of his own side” to grow slowly into a radiant full moon.