On Tuesday 4 June, Glyndon Community Centre and its adjoining hilltop park were home to an inspirational celebration of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim festival that follows the month of fasting, Ramadan.
Hosted by the Afyah Sisters Support Group and The Aluna Foundation, this was not only the first Eid Hilal (crescent) Moon sighting to be held in Plumstead, but also the first to be organised by Muslim women, supported by the New Crescent Society and Emergency Exit Arts.
Described as ‘bringing the Moon back home’, the event aimed to reinstate the traditional practice of viewing the Eid crescent Moon from a local hilltop and reinforce the Plumstead Muslim community’s connection with its local environment. As Khadija Ahmed, founder of the Afyah Sisters Support Groip three years ago, put it:
Sisterhood means looking for what connects us to each other, our neighbours, our local environment and our planet. This event is about emphasising ours and our children’s connection with our home in Plumstead, the people we live with here and the world around us. We all look at the sky and share the same Moon, so let’s unite around it. We want everyone to take part in its joy.
Although the sighting of the crescent and start of Eid had been announced by Saudi Arabia the night before, and followed by mosques around the world, this did not dampen the spirit of the event. The evening began with lively presentations on the scientific and cultural understandings of the Moon, including a short talk by the Honorary Artist Laura Aluna Project, artist Judy Ling Wong, on the significance of the Moon in Chinese culture. This was followed by a celebratory meal prepared by the Afyah sisters and Zarqa’s Kitchen, with dishes from Arab, Ethiopia, Nigeria Pakistan Drinks and Desserts reflecting the group’s diversity.
The Moon sighting itself was made possible by Mike Meynell and fellow astronomers, Tej Dyal and Simon Hurst, from the Flamsteed Astronomy Society, who shared their expertise and two high-tech telescopes with the gathering of 80 people of all ages. During his presentation on the Moon’s phases, Meynell said they would be battling with the sun, cloudy sky and ‘London haze’ to see the Moon that night, but would do their best.
Paper lanterns made by the local Plumstead children with the help of the Afyah sisters lit the path to the hilltop where the Flamsteed Astronomers had set up their telescopes and waited patiently to glimpse the crescent. At around 10pm, when hopes of seeing it amid the heavy clouds were beginning to diminish, Meynell calmly announced, ‘I’ve got it’.
The joy expressed by people as they gathered around the telescopes to view the slight, fingernail-shaped crescent as it dropped below the clouds brought home just how significant the Eid Moon is to Muslims and the emotional power it holds for everyone:
‘That was one of the best reactions to an astronomical object that I have ever witnessed! It clearly meant so much to everyone and it was a real privilege to be with you all’, said Meynell afterwards, concluding that the sighting was ‘part luck, part judgement – a special moment’.
One member of the Afyah Sisters said, beaming:
‘All my life I have been told that the Eid Moon has been sighted, but I had never seen it myself. It means the world to see it with my own eyes. I want to do this every year now, so that I can see and feel for myself that it is Eid’.
The partnership between the Afyah Sisters and Aluna has grown out of the Greenwich Moon Time public engagement programme run by Aluna with Encounters Arts.
Partnered by Royal Museums Greenwich and funded by the Royal Borough of Greenwich, Arts Council England National Lottery and Royal Astronomical Society, the programme is exploring ‘what the Moon means to us’ with community groups and schools across Greenwich, ahead of the building of Aluna, a monumental Moon and Tide Clock, on the Greenwich Peninsula. Laura Williams, the creator of Aluna said:
The Afyah Sisters are inspirational and we have been excited to work with them on this first ‘comoonity’ event. Aluna will be a sustainable landmark timepiece for Greenwich and a place of celebration and connection, uniting people and planet as we learn to change our cultures and technologies and respond to the global ecological emergency. The Greenwich Moon Time programme is enabling us to work together with the diverse communities of Greenwich, and involve them in laying the groundwork for Aluna, its design as a public/community space for gathering, festival and celebration, and its long-term community and cultural programme.
As the evening ended, the lanterns slowly went out and the games of the children, with decorated crescent Moons made earlier from paper plates still attached to their hair, began to die down. Muslims and non-Muslims, astronomers, artists, locals and non-locals all walked down the hill in animated conversation.
In that moment, the vision of unity behind both the event and Aluna was clear for all to see, just like that magical crescent Moon they had just witnessed together.
Aluna: www.alunatime.org, Tw & Fb: @AlunaLondon
Encounters Arts: www.encounters-arts.org.uk Tw: @Encounters_Arts, Fb: @EncountersArts
Flamsteed Astronomy Society: www.flamsteed.info Tw: @Flamsteed, Fb: @FlamsteedAS