Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 01:35 AM EDT, 15 September 2009
When my father moved our family to West Africa, we lived in Nigeria. Like Malcolm X, one of the great leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement, once we left America and the Nation of Islam, my father recognized the fallacy of that cult, and embraced Islam as practiced by Shia Muslims of Nigeria. Later, when he moved to Zaria, he adopted the more fundamentalist Islamic practices and beliefs, including Shariah Law. It was also at this time that he made his pilgrimage to Mecca to say Hadjj, which fulfills one of the Five Pillars of Islam. But that is another story.
This past weekend, I took my son to get his hair cut at Cartoon Cuts. Zakia, his stylist, is a wonderfully warm person, and I love how she cuts my son's hair. She sometimes wears a Hamsa pendant on her necklace, and since I also wear a Hamsa from time to time, I thought that she might be a Jewish woman of either Moroccan or Syrian descent. Ever curious and passionate about learning, I often research esoteric minutiae that catches my attention during my worldly peregrinations. One such pursuit, is to research the meanings of the names of the individuals with whom I interact on a regular basis.
Since it is impolite to inquire about an individual's faith outside of the appropriate context, I satisfied my curiosity about her by Googling her name. It was quite interesting to discover that Zakia in Swahili means intelligent. When we lived in Tanzania, we spoke English and Swahili, and a combination of both "Sheng" - at home. Therefore, I knew that though the name may have its origins in the Arabic influences found in Swahili, she was definitely of Middle Eastern descent and clearly not East African.
My belief that Zakia was Jewish was further reinforced by my discovery that her name in Hebrew means G-d's Purity. So, my ears perked up when in response to an inquiry from the owner of the salon, Zakia explained that she would not be available from Thursday, September 17th through Sunday, September 20th because of her religious holiday.
Rosh HaShanah (ראש השנה), the Jewish New Year, begins this year (2009), on the Gregorian calendar at sundown on Friday, September 18th and ends at nightfall on Sunday, September 20th; therefore, I thought she could only be speaking of this holiday. Rosh Hashanah falls in the month of Tishrei, which is the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar. The reason for this is because the Hebrew calendar begins with the month of Nissan (when it's believed the Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt) but the month of Tishrei is also believed to be the month in which G-d created the world.
Jewish tradition teaches that during the High Holy Days G-d decides who will live and who will die during the coming year. As a result, during Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (and in the days leading up to them) Jews embark upon the serious task of examining their lives and repenting for any wrongs they have committed during the previous year.
This process of repentance is called teshuvah. Jews are encouraged to make amends with anyone they have wronged and to make plans for improving during the coming year. In this way, Rosh HaShanah is all about making peace in the community and striving to be a better person. It was with this frame of mind, that I asked if she would be going to services this weekend. She replied that she would be going to the Mosque dependent upon the time of the arrival of the new moon.
I was once again impressed by the similarities of all three of the Abrahamic religions. Friday, September 19th marks the end of the Hebrew month of Elul and the beginning of the next month, Rosh Chodesh, for the month of Tishrei. When she mentioned that the date and time for going to the Mosque was dependent upon the determination of the exact time of the new moon, I realized that she was not referring to the beginning of a holiday of repentance, prayer and fasting, but to the end of Ramadan, which started on Friday, the August 21st and continued for thirty (30) days until Saturday, September 19th.
The Islamic calendar mirrors the Hebrew calendar in that its holidays begin on the sunset of the previous day. Although Ramadan is always on the same day of the Islamic calendar, the date on the Gregorian calendar varies from year to year, since the Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar and the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar. This difference means Ramadan moves in the Gregorian calendar approximately 11 days every year. The date of Ramadan may also vary from country to country depending on whether the moon has been sighted or not.
I am so fortunate to have experienced both Islam and Judaism as an adherent. Because of my personal experience I can greatly appreciate the best of both faiths. My experiences inform my interaction with all the People of the Book without the weight of judgment founded upon ignorance. This is why I have written both this post and the one on the Ethiopian calendar. In a world full of Western views and symbolism, it is easy to forget that a great number of people in the world order their lives according to the lunar calendar, and it is this cyclical rhythm that undulates through more than a third of the world's population.Follow Nahmias Cipher Report on Twitter