By Nawar Fakhry Ezzi
24 August 2017
The “heavens” and “celestial objects” have intrigued human beings on different intellectual levels throughout history. Mathematicians, physicists and astronomers have been interested in unravelling their scientific mysteries while ancient cultures attempted to understand them through myths and legends.
The changes of these heavenly bodies and their movements have inspired and evoked a wide range of emotions in people’s hearts and minds from love and serenity to fear and lunacy that have been manifested in the great works of poets and writers around the world.
So, imagine what happened to our ancestors when they saw the sun or the moon suddenly darken; it must have felt apocalyptic. Some cultures considered solar and lunar eclipses to be signs of their god’s wrath or bad omens. Other cultures that had gods and goddesses of the sun and moon, such as the Greeks and Hindus considered an eclipse to be the result of the action of an evil creature that was trying to devour the god’s power.
Arabs before Islam thought that the eclipse was the universe’s way to grieve for the death of a great person. It was illustrated in people’s reaction to the eclipse of the sun that was witnessed in the tenth year of the Hijri calendar in Madinah, coincidently, on the same day that Ibrahim, the son of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), died. They thought that the eclipse was to grieve the Prophet’s (pbuh) tremendous loss.
However, the Prophet (pbuh) corrected their misconception by saying: “The sun and the moon do not eclipse because of the death or life (i.e., birth) of someone, but they are two signs amongst the signs of Allah. When you see them, offer the prayer.” Without any available scientific explanation at the time, his statement was devoid of any metaphysical explanation and as factual as it could be while advising them to pray, which seems an instinctive reaction to the darkening of their source of light.
Prayer And Explanation
Muslims still pray when there is an eclipse even after we learned the scientific explanation, just like we pray five times a day according to the sun’s position in the sky and perform voluntary fasting during the three “white” days every month when there is a full moon. The correlation between astronomy and worship in Islam is a whole other area of research.
In general, however, prayers offer us peace and tranquillity. They equip us emotionally and spiritually to cope with any changes in our lives while maintaining a strong connection with our Creator that we always rely on when every constant we depend on in this life can fade, including sunlight.
Sadly, in this time and age, some Muslims insist that an eclipse occurs as a result of people’s sins, which is a “fact” that we learned in school and our children are still learning in most Saudi schools in the Islamic studies curriculum. The scientific explanation is taught in science, but this is mentioned as the “religious” explanation of their occurrence and regarded by many as the “true” explanation. It would be interesting to conduct a study to find out how many of us fall into this category.
Dr. Abdullah Almisnad, associate professor of climate and geography in Qassim University, has conducted extensive research to debunk the myth of this correlation between an eclipse and sin supported by scientific and religious evidence. Unfortunately, his efforts are undermined by the influence of some religious leaders and an Islamic studies curriculum that still affirms the relationship.
Piece Of Evidence
One piece of evidence that he puts forth is the precise eclipse schedule that is calculated for years in advance. The rare and amazing solar eclipse that was witnessed across the United States last Monday was projected 38 years ago, and according to calculations, some parts of Saudi Arabia will witness a similar one in 2027 and 2034, according to Dr. Almisnad.
The sun and moon are beautiful celestial objects that provide us with light, life and tools to find time and direction. In the Holy Qur’an, when Abraham (peace be upon him) was looking for God, he immediately looked at the sky and started his spiritual quest in finding his Creator among the stars, moon and the sun until he realized that as grand as those objects were, his Creator must be bigger and more constant and reliable than these “setting” objects.
Our children should learn to follow this reasonable line of thinking in their spirituality and learning process. We want to have future astronomers, not astrologers, who know that these are some of God’s amazing signs, which result from the alignment of the sun, moon and earth without sin having anything to do with it.
A collaborative effort between religious leaders, educators and scientists should be made to increase awareness among the general population and to rectify Islamic studies curricula to make them only teach about how to pray when the eclipse occurs and leave the causes of the eclipse to the science class.
Nawar Fakhry Ezzi is a Jeddah-based contributor to Saudi Gazette newspaper. She is interested in human rrights, Islam, interfaith relations and the environment.