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
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
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
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,
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
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.
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