April 9, 2024

From The elements of astronomy; a textbook by Charles A. Young and Anne Sewell Young (1919)
MoonspottingA manifesto by Zainab Hussein

Moonspotting. This is the way we find ourselves in time, as muslims, for keeping, for adornment. And yes, with Ramadan we once protested against the fast being the way to /empathy/ something as thin as that, for the starving of the world. We once said, it is a way to tame ourselves, our desires, to gain a spiritual connection previously unknown and still unduplicated outside of ourselves for the consumption of others. And on consumption the month told us this: limit it. That Ramadan stands in the face of the moving world, the capitalist world, as a pillar of old, of eternity, of the unity of our bodies in prostration from a far; a distant planet, more distant than the drone, more near than the jugular; one mass, like ants in their underground civilizations, the closest to our own. The moon is all of this, no calendar, no clock, no way to call off work ahead of time for Eid, the moon is an independent timekeeper and a reminder of Outside. In this belly we work, we must work, we must persist, we must look straight ahead; but there is Outside, and it is bright and full and guides us at times; and thin, dried, an old date stalk at others; withering and rebirthing, it tells us where we are. 

Now, though, the muslims are at a point of reckoning. This is true, no drama here, or rather there is. We need drama to pay attention. The muslims must make a decision. 

The muslims must make a choice, in plural, the moon will have told us this at least twice between October and the end of Ramadan. Do you recall the path of totality at the beginning of the massacre, the massacre which has no beginning, not traceable, not here, not yet? The massacre which was the massacre of our siblings and our memory and its limits, our tired forgetfulness— how many millions was it? Have we lost count? Is it possible to count, is there a number for that? If in the unity of our pulsing mass of ants, if we are this, and we combine all of our massacres into the hill, would it even matter then?

Of course not. No metric is correct, standardized, sanitized enough to reflect a fiction in the face of truth. The moon is undeniable, the moon is not a fiction, the moon hangs over us all, all, in the materiality of the tangible stone and its craters. The unpinnable nour of reflections. If the moon could act, would it have survived this? Regardless of belief.  If the action of the moon is in the tide and what that light does to us, if it is in its ephemeral continuity, if it is in that light contacting what is invisible in earthly particles, or in the vision of the sky, to you, muslim, at the very least that vision in the sky must matter. This month told us so.  It is how we know to begin our fast, to end. The reality is there, above, when we need it, and we find ourselves in time this way, as muslims, we are moonspotting.

Were we moonspotting, on the day of the eclipse, two days before the bombing of the  Al-Ahli Arab hospital, that press conference of the laid out dead, that eclipse image signed on the backs of our eyelids, its memory, its transference? The first hospital of this set, all hospital names in Gaza become ironic after the bombing, a putrid poetry. Now, another eclipse is coming and in this belly the muslims in America will all prostrate together and pray salat al ayat, the prayer of signs because it is a sign. Afraid we must be, we must turn to the Almighty in the face of the sublime, with beauty and grandness and might; you must be afraid. The eclipse is coming, for all of us here. What to do with that? 

We inherited from the compounded occupations a hatred for each other. Do you remember the stories of before, from the elders, how we all lived together once and drank from the same well and ate the same crops and even married each other, the sunnis and shias and christians and jews, do you remember that? How they once did not care to know their distances any more than the contents of their bellybuttons? Who will be left to remember that? Not even the sunnis and shias in America are untouched by the stubborn rift that has been cast over our world. Even here, of course here, our limits have been placed by the compounded occupations. We do not marry each other, we do not know how to love one another. 

Now, America makes a movie where we must come to reckoning. In the cast are American and French and British actors hired to cover their heads and run across the desert, to play coded versions of us and our rupture, our sad, sad, rupture, and there are millions made from this project while we writhe in despair, our stomachs not nearly empty enough a mirror for something so thin as /empathy/. We joke the white boys, the Pauls, have become muslim. Then there is the Mahdi, who like us, is not a fiction.

We ask ourselves how can we eat, how can we buy new clothes for Eid, how can we celebrate, and is the answer as simple as: we cannot, we do not. Should a Palestinian no longer have a wedding? Is there something beyond the subtraction, the minus signs and nots, will we arrive, at the other end, on Eid somehow? Is there something to be done? There will be a hole in the sky, it will look that way, but it will be a trick, because it is not a hole, an opening, it will be the perfect layer of two celestial bodies together. At once. This can blind you. This will cast us in darkness here in America, the longest darkness for two hundred years, and it will arrive to bring us Eid. It will come a day or two before, as it is the moon and we do not know yet, and this is beyond our concepts of ordered and predicted time. No, this is something, else, a different sort of time. This is time for reckoning. The sky will be clouded before us for a total of four minutes, the longest for two hundred years, and for the believer there is certainly, beyond a doubt, a sign in this. There has been much innocent blood spilled. The moon has been there all the while and in this act of drama, for we need drama to pay attention, it will say that this is a time to make a decision. 

Could this be the start of the moment, at last? In most science fiction books, discussions of aliens, it is reported that upon their arrival a new sense of human unity will be found. In the outside enemy, the humans find togetherness, if not peace. In the real world, the muslim is the enemy. Outside of theory this is clear in the steadiness of our bodies stacking, the way our unseen faces are used, always to justify the ten twenty fifty million fold violence that has no beginning, that has no beginning because we have yet to become grafted onto time. The Sopranos are coming for us, we are so very close, how many years away from dissolving into food, into Italians, are we? Do not dare celebrate this. Even the food has been given new names, this possibility evades us too, our possibility is a complete annihilation. Has the muslim spoken?  Yes, the intelligent and dead told us that the new expert on us would be the occupying forces, the way they animate our corpse to tell a certain story that has nothing to do with truth, nothing to do with the moon. The moon is a fact, and it tears that word down in its float. It is true. 

If we are not yet grafted onto time, and not yet grafted onto history, how can our numbers ever compete? In earnest, how can we even count and in which unit must we count? Do we know the number of dead in Iraq? Is our sin the sin of being slaughtered outside of sequence, not in line?  The number after the environmental disaster of depleted uranium, and the way it is a continuous stream of poison that gifts the death of human and land newly each day, now, now, now. The amount under the rubble, the amount missing, the amount in mass graves, the amount of souls stolen in prisons, the amount raped in prisons, the amount raped in the greater prison, the amount disappeared, the amount forgotten,  the amount who never recovered themselves? Do we know? Do we know how to count invisible? Even in kindergarten we needed blocks, squares, rectangles, figurations, to say one, two, three. How many has it reached today, 40 thousand, 50 thousand? This measurement cannot contain the massacre which has no beginning, because the beginning has been paved over with a parking lot, and they cannot even hear your calls from under there. Apologies for that! 

Do I dare even mention the amount killed by cigarette smoke, by exile, by distance and its theft of spirit?

So is this finally the moment, when the outside force brings us, the aliens, together? But there are those of us who have outsourced their moonspotting, do any of us even see it for ourselves anymore? It's alright, we can rely on the eye of the one we trust to tell us the beginning and the end of the holy month,  a witness to the moon. The moon which began it all, as there would be no accepted, appropriate enemy that is situated outside if it were not for that holy book on the mountain during the month of Ramadan, the moon and the beloved messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his family. We must be able to discuss this through the lens of Islam, we must be able to say Islam. We can no longer say, they did bomb a church too, because they did, but they can only do this in a land where you can hear the call to prayer from the pew. 

The muslims must make a decision, the decision being what is to be done with ourselves and the spiritual marrow of Islam when it is those very figures who some of us trust to spot the moon for us who bankroll our annihilation. Have you seen the erection of that awful clock in the holy land? The Yemenis turn another ship around. Saudi sells us dates and tells us dates. Jordan feeds an occupier and drops parachutes in water. What is to be done with the traitor, and what is to be done when we find the traitor inside ourselves? We are afraid to fall in love. We are too afraid to lose anything, those of us who are only here as a result of having lost everything. Us who are only here as a result of kingdoms and governments, and prisons and occupations, and many years, lost years, with the ones we loved, the only thing that ever mattered in the world.

The moon is there, and it exists, factual beyond inventions, factual beyond that painful crime of distance. The moon tells us there is and there is not a beginning, there is and there is not an end. The moon is there all the while despite the limits of our eyes, the limits of our spirits and their invented absence. The moon who never turns its face from earth. How long must the next eclipse be for us to see-- twenty, fifty years of darkness? Let the vampires out, bring on the disorder. 

Still, we cannot even marry each other, we cannot even look in the eye of the rival, and the shia, and their resistance forces that bring the occupiers closer and closer to the village, to the city, and away from the crater. Because, you do know, the map the senator wants you to draw contains it all, even the shape of your grandmother, and the headstones of past, present, future-- you know this, right? We cannot even love each other yet. 

Our sad rupture is as real as it is invented. Yes there is a difference, but when will we look around and see we will never be free so long as the gaps between us are so expansive, when our bodies in prostration from a distance are no longer shoulder to shoulder, when there are devils dancing in that space between my arm and yours. What shameful conclusion is this, that in the days of the latest catastrophes, we turned to our left and to our right and disowned ourselves and those at our shoulders, what shame! What to do with all this? The eclipse is coming, and it is hovering over our Eid, and we must pray salat al ayat because we must be afraid. Afraid of the majesty of the Almighty, and afraid of the clarity of such a sign in the succession of clear signs. This eclipse is for the muslims, the muslims, the muslims. We do not decide who is one.  We both believe in the Imam Mahdi. Even the Hollywood movie, starring British, American, and French actors cosplaying as the fiction of muslims, when even they recognize the Mahdi, there is certainly a sign in this. When in the heart of empire they speak the name of the enemy of empire.   The sacrifice of his great great, great, great, great, great, great, great, grandfather Imam Hussein, the Great Martyr, blessings on him, is singed into the heart of every shia, who knows a constant and unshakable stand in the face of oppression, further justice for the heart and essence of Islam (which is every thing), is worth an outnumbered sacrifice for no worldly reward. Yes, our endless end is elsewhere. Yes, the muslims believe in our martyrs, and our faith is active and invasive to the machinations of the political world. What does a podium do with this but disfigure? The great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, grandson of Imam Hussein will complete that sacrifice in Karbala; the avenger of martyrs, the Mahdi is coming. Why can this be said in American cinema, but not by the muslims who are not a fiction?

This eclipse is for the muslims, and we can no longer limit that definition as if it were our role to stack humans. No, it is for the muslims, the muslims meaning the ones who have surrendered, not to the moon, but to the Outside, the external, that which is not subject to time or category or definition. In love and beauty and wrath, the tangible solid hovering object and spirit of moon is given us. 

What is exterior is not subject to these words. 

In prostration I hope to be with you, and I hope to do this at the first qibla, Al Aqsa one day. In prostration I hope to be with you, and I hope to do it at the last qibla, the Kaaba one day. When it is restored to the lovers and believers, away from those who sold us all, our many millions, and the many (the number does not exist) of our dead. My wish is to know to love you, and you me, and to face the same direction.

The old has never felt so new. The eternal has never felt so continuous and pressing, and in the sky there are prompts, answers, and questions. This year is different, this time is different, and even the heavens, the heavy celestial bodies, are telling us so.

 They say to us: it is time to begin.

Zainab Hussein is an emerging writer born in Basra, Iraq, and raised across Iran, Yemen, and Syria; then Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio. She holds an MFA in fiction from the University of California, Irvine, where she was awarded a fellowship by the International Center for Writing and Translation, and is a 2023 MacDowell Fellow.