Salam (Peace) Jane,
Thank you for your questions. They do not offend us, but rather they show your desire to understand and know the truth about Islam and Muslims.
You raised several points in your question, and I would like to address them one by one.
You said that your first cultural shock was that Muslims degraded Jesus (peace be upon him). You did not say what exactly you heard that you felt was degrading.
We believe that Jesus was a human being, miraculously born of a virgin, and that he was a prophet and messenger of God. He miraculously spoke as a baby in the cradle, and later performed other miracles such as healing the sick and raising the dead – by the grace of Allah.
Are we degrading him because we do not accept that he is God or the Son of God? In fact, we Muslims feel that Christians are exalting him beyond his human nature.
We love and respect Jesus as a prophet and a messenger. We do not accept that he is “the Lord”. Rather Allah, the One Who created us all and Who sent Jesus and the other prophets, including Muhammad (peace be upon them all), is our Lord.
You referred to the Muslims’ Special and Great God. We worship the same God as you. We just have some disagreement about His nature and, of course, about the nature of Jesus. God – or Allah in Arabic – is the One Who created everything and Who will raise us and judge us all, on the Day of Judgment.
Your second shock, you said, was that Muslims “were not clear with you”. I do not quite understand this remark. They probably were trying to be nice, but you expected them to be either apologetic or aggressive and put things for you in: black and white.
I really wonder why you got that impression, instead of feeling that they wanted to offer you their admiration and respect, without offending you in any way? Maybe it was simply cultural differences here.
Is the Moon Divine?
There also seems to be a misunderstanding about Muslims’ excitement over sighting the new crescent of Ramadan. So let me elaborate a bit on that.
First of all, ask yourself, why do many Americans get so excited about watching a ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve? It is just to mark the passage of time, the beginning of a new year. It is not because Americans worship this ball.
I think you could draw an analogy with the sighting of the new moon at the beginning of Ramadan. It is marking the passage of time, the beginning of a blessed month. In all cultures you will find similar celebrations, rituals, and social events.
Ramadan, as you probably know, is a month of fasting and additional worship schedules. It is supposed to be a time of spiritual renewal and extra efforts to give charity, read Quran, pray… etc.
Even many Muslims who do not keep their prayers regularly will fast during the month of Ramadan. As for others, who worship regularly, they feel it is time for renewing their commitment. Worship will become to them a renewed serenity because of their conscious devoted relation with Allah.
So, the sighting of the moon at the beginning of Ramadan is not, as you interpreted, because Muslims worship the moon. It is just that they are happy to see the start of a happy and blessed month.
Ramadan and change of behavior
You remarked that people’s behavior changed completely during this month. It is true, unfortunately – that for many people – Ramadan has become a month of consumerism.
This is as much as Christmas is not any more a purely religious event, but a season for the capital market, sales, shopping, and even partying in five start hotels for rich people while the poor are hungry.
On the other hand, it is also good and not far from the spirit of religion to consider it as a time for frequent dinners with family and friends, thus strengthening the social ties.
Again, you can see how many similarities run between different cultures and traditions, through their struggle to keep the spiritual aims of such times in tact, while coping with modern lifestyles.
The Lunar Calendar
As for sighting the moon, Islam follows a lunar calendar for its religious celebrations. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the Islamic calendar is regularly used for everyday affairs. In other countries, the Gregorian calendar is used regularly, and the lunar calendar is referred to, for the religious holidays only.
In either case, the lunar calendar is a great mercy from God. Even if someone is stranded in a deserted place, he only needs to watch the moon and keep track of the new moons to mark the passage of time.
There is no need to be an astronomer and add occasional extra days, as with the solar calendar, so that the same months fall in the same seasons.
Also, by following the lunar calendar, Ramadan and Hajj (pilgrimage) fall in different seasons of the year throughout a 33-year cycle. This way, one country does not always fast during a very hot or a very cold season, and likewise, the Hajj falls during various seasons of the year.
I hope that I have clarified things for you. Continue to search for answers to your questions, but remember not to judge Islam by what you see Muslims do. For, like in the case of Christians, Jews, and followers of any religion or creed, some Muslims do not practice what their religion teaches.
May God guide us all to the truth.
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