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For things named Crescent, see Crescent .

An example of an artistic crescent — in this case a large circle with a smaller one removed.

In art and symbolism, a crescent is generally the shape produced when a circular disk has a segment of another circle removed from its edge, so that what remains is a shape enclosed by two circular arcs of different diameters which intersect at two points (usually in such a manner that the enclosed shape does not include the center of the original circle).

Crescent Moon
In astronomy, a crescent is the shape of the lit side of a spherical body (most notably the Moon) that appears to be less than half illuminated by the Sun as seen by the viewer. Mathematically, assuming the terminator lies on a great circle, such a crescent will actually be the figure bounded by a half-ellipse and a half-circle, with the major axis of the ellipse coinciding with a diameter of the semicircle. The direction in which the "horns" (the points at the intersection of the two arcs) face indicates whether a crescent is waxing (also young, or increasing) or waning (also old, or decreasing). Eastward pointing horns (pointing to the left, as seen from the Northern hemisphere) indicate a waxing crescent, whereas westward pointing horns (pointing to the right, as seen from the Northern hemisphere) indicate a waning crescent. Note that the directions the horns point relative to the observer are reversed in the Southern hemisphere.

The word "crescent" itself, derived from the Latin verb crescere "to grow", literally means "waxing" or "increasing", and was originally applied to the form of the waxing moon (luna crescens). It is now commonly used to refer to either the waxing or waning shape.

The crescent and star, while generally regarded as Islamic symbols today, have long been used in Asia Minormarker and by the ancient Turks, earlier than the advent of Islam. According to archaeological excavations, Göktürks used the crescent and star figure on their coins. The 1500-year-old coin includes three crescent moon figures and a star near a person. The crescent is one of the oldest symbols known to humanity. Together with the sun, it appeared on Akkadian seals as early as 2300 BC and from at leat the second millennium BC it was the symbol of the Mesopotamian Moon gods Nanna in Sumer and Sin in Babylonia, Sin being the "Lamp of Heaven and Earth". The crescent was well known in the Middle East and was transplanted by the Phoenicians in the 8th century as far as Carthage (now in Tunisiamarker). In the 12th century it was adopted by the Turks and since then the crescent, often accompanied by a Star and mentioned in the 53rd surah (chapter) of the Koran, has been the main symbol of Islam since.

The crescent was the symbol of the Sabaeans and the Sassanian Empire of Persia (Iran) and is prominently displayed on the crowns of its rulers. After the Arab conquest of that empire in 651 CE, it was gradually adopted by later caliphates and Muslim rulers as an established and recognized symbol of power in Western Asia. The oldest representations of flags with the crescent are on 14th-century navigational charts, or portolanos, and manuscript of a Franciscan friar. There are discrepancies between these sources as far as the colours of fields or crescents are concerned. However, an account of flags from the Middle East and North Africa by the author of Libro de Conoscimento confirms the widespread use of the crescent of flags in that region. These include: the flags of the kings of Damascusmarker and Lucha (yellow with a white crescent); Cairomarker (white with a blue crescent); Mahdia; in Tunisia (white with a purple crescent); Tunismarker (white with a black crescent); and Buda (white with a red crescent). Some of the 14 and 15th centuries porolanos show the flag of Tunis as red with one or two crescents, which is presented on several portolanos as a symbol of the Ottoman Empire. From 16th to the 18 centuries this flag is usually shown with three white crescents; in 1793 the number of crescents was reduced to one and an eight-pointed star was later added on, when the rule of the Ottoman Empire ended, Turkey was the only Muslim state regarded as a world power at the time. Its flag was known from West Africa to the Far East, and helped to popularize the Crescent and star among the Moslem populations of many countries of Asia and Africa. Muhammad Ali, who became Pasha of Egyptmarker in 1805, introduced the first national flag of Egypt, red with three white crescents, each accompanied by a white star. This flag, in turn, influenced the design of the first flag of independent Egypt, which was green with a white crescent and three white stars to symbolize the peaceful co-existence of Muslims, Christians and Jews. During the past two centuries the crescent and star has featured on the flags of other Muslim countries.

Though the crescent was originally a secular symbol of authority for Muslim rulers, it is now often used to symbolize the Islamic faith. However, it should be noted that the crescent was not a symbol used for Islam by Muhammad or any other early Muslim rulers, as the Islamic religion is, in fact, against appointing "Holy Symbols" (so that during the early centuries of Islam, Muslim authorities simply didn't want any geometric symbols to be used to symbolize Islam, in the way that the cross symbolizes Christianity, the menorah was a commonly-occurring symbol of Judaism, etc.). This is why early Islamic coins were covered with Arabic writing, but contained no visual symbols.

Despite this mixed history, many Islamic nations and charities use the crescent symbol on their flags or logos (e.g. Pakistanmarker, The Red Crescentmarker, etc. — though currently none of the Arab states in Arabia or the Mashreq have crescents on their flags). Therefore it could be argued that this usage is meant to signify Islamic identity or Muslim brotherhood.

Note that in the case of an astronomical crescent, such as the moon observed in the sky, the outer arc will be 180° (a half-circle as previously mentioned), while the Islamic crescent symbol (Arabic هلال hilāl) is generally shown with an outer arc significantly greater than 180° (as seen in the illustrations above).

The crescent moon is also a symbol associated with the Hindu's iconography: with the deity Shiva, who wears it at the top of his matted hair.

The crescent is also used as a heraldic symbol. However, this usage is not affiliated in any way with Islam. The roots of the Slavic crescent can be traced to the old Slavic pagan beliefs. In Englishmarker and Canadianmarker heraldry a crescent is the cadence mark of a second son.

The crescent symbol is also used to represent the moon in astronomy and astrology, and to represent silver (the metal associated with the moon) in alchemy, where, by inference, it can also be used to represent qualities that silver possesses. (Alchemy and Symbols, By M. E. Glidewell, Epsilon.)

To find the area of a lunar crescent, use the following formula: pi*w*d/4 with w = maximum width and d = diameter. The formula to find out the maximum amount of pieces you can cut a crescent into if you make n cuts is the following:n*(n+3)/2+1.

The crescent printed on military ration boxes is the Department of Defense symbol for subsistence items. The symbol is used on packaged foodstuffs but not on fresh produce or on items intended for resale.

See also


  1. Michael G. Morony, Iraq After the Muslim Conquest,Gorgias Press LLC, 2005. pp 39-40. Excerpt: Yazdegerd I (399-420) was the monarch represented with a crescent moon on the front of his crown.
  2. MIL STD 129, FM 55-17

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