What to Do during an Eclipse (Islam)

As discussed in another post, eclipses are a reminder of God’s power, and of cosmic events at the end of the world, and are therefore a good time for spiritual reflection and prayer. This post summarizes recommended acts during the eclipse, and comments briefly on the spiritual dimensions of eclipse-viewing.

 

 

1) The Eclipse Prayer (Salat al-Kusuf)

إِنَّ الشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ لاَ يَنْكَسِفَانِ لِمَوْتِ أَحَدٍ مِنَ النَّاسِ، وَلَكِنَّهُمَا آيَتَانِ مِنْ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ، فَإِذَا رَأَيْتُمُوهُمَا فَقُومُوا فَصَلُّوا

The sun and moon do not eclipse for anyone’s death, but [in fact] they are two of the signs of God, so when you see them, then stand and pray.” [Bukhari]

Muslim scholars differed about some of the details of how to perform the eclipse prayer, and this is not the place to discuss that. You can consult a scholars whose knowledge and piety you trust, and follow their instructions on how to perform the salat al-kusuf. This video describes one of the methods.

2) Remembrance of God (Dhikr)

فَإِذَا رَأَيْتُمْ شَيْئًا مِنْ ذَلِكَ فَافْزَعُوا إِلَى ذِكْرِهِ وَدُعَائِهِ وَاسْتِغْفَارِهِ

…so, when you see anything of that, then hasten to remembrance (dhikr) of God, supplication (du`a) to God, and seeking God’s forgiveness (istighfar).” [Bukhari]

فاذكروا الله وكبروه وسبحوه وهللوه

so remember God, and declare God’s greatness, transcendence and oneness” [Sunan Sa`id ibn Mansur]

3) Charity

فَإِذَا رَأَيْتُمْ ذَلِكَ فَادْعُوا اللَّهَ وَكَبِّرُوا، وَصَلُّوا وَتَصَدَّقُوا

….so when you see that, then supplicate to God, declare God’s greatness, and give charity.” [Bukhari]

4) Manumission

لَقَدْ أَمَرَ النَّبِىُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم بِالْعَتَاقَةِ فِى كُسُوفِ الشَّمْسِ.

Asma’, the daughter of Abu Bakr, said: “God’s Messenger commanded the freeing of slaves at the solar eclipse.” [Bukhari]

5) Eclipse-Viewing

It is permissible to view the eclipse, provided you take sufficient precautions to avoid damaging your eyes. You should consult medical and astronomical experts for details of how to view the eclipse safely. If you take approriate medical precautions, then there is no religious prohibition on observing the eclipse, and in fact it is recommended if done with the correct attitude and intention.

Say: Observe what is in the heavens and earth.” (Quran, 10:101)

Do they not look into the realm of the heavens and the earth and everything that Allah has created and [think] that perhaps their appointed time has come near? ” (Quran, 7:185)

A couple more points should be noted regarding eclipse-viewing:

1) According to most Muslim scholars, the specific eclipse prayer (salat al-kusuf) is not an obligation, and according to this view one would not be sinful if one did not perform the prayer and instead spent the time observing the eclipse or engaged in other mundane activities. However, most Muslim scholars also agree that the eclipse prayer is strongly recommended, with some holding it to be obligatory. Therefore, it would not be encouraged to neglect this prayer entirely. The optimal eclipse prayer extends through the entire duration of the eclipse, but if one is unable to do that due physical difficulty, or time constraints, or simply because one would like to spend some time observing the eclipse, then one could perform a shorter eclipse prayer. Given that the eclipse duration will be close to three hours, you can very easily perform an eclipse prayer that is decently long (30 minutes or an hour, for example) and time this in such a way that you can still observe some of the eclipse. Small children, who will probably not have the attention span or endurance for a 2-3 hour prayer, should still be given the experience of partaking in a shorter eclipse prayer, and the rest of the eclipse duration can be filled in with eclipse-viewing, dhikr, dua, discussion about the mechanics and spiritual dimensions of the eclipse, and perhaps some craft activities.

2) While it is certainly permissible to view the eclipse, for the believer, such a viewing is not merely a “fun activity” or light-hearted party (for which there are plenty of other opportunities). Observing the eclipse should ideally be done with a spiritual attitude, bringing to mind God’s greatness, and with feelings of awe and fear.

إِنَّ الشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ آيَتَانِ مِنْ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ، لاَ يَنْكَسِفَانِ لِمَوْتِ أَحَدٍ، وَلَكِنَّ اللَّهَ تَعَالَى يُخَوِّفُ بِهَا عِبَادَهُ

The sun and moon are two of God’s signs. They do not eclipse for anyone’s death, but God thereby instils fear in His servants.” [Bukhari]

This fear is not an irrational, superstitious fear, but rather an experience of natural awe, as well as of fear of the events of the Day of Judgment. In fact, the religiously-recommended activities listed could conceivably be considered a type of Qiyama-drill that makes us think of God’s oneness, uniqueness and power; seek forgiveness from God; try to tip your balance of deeds through charity; free slaves, for the human being should be in bondage only to God.

And God knows best.

– Suheil Laher

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Vishnu_kv, https://pixabay.com/en/solar-eclipse-eclipse-sun-sky-moon-2575133/

 

2612 : 2004

Please follow and like us:

Solar Eclipse : Spiritual Synergy vs Superstition

The year was 632 of the Common Era (Julian) calendar, the day 27 January (29 Shawwal year 10 of the Islamic Hijri calendar). It was probably a mild, dry, mid-winter day in Madinah, with a clear sky, and a gentle easterly breeze. In the middle of the morning, the people of Madinah witnessed a solar eclipse, with about three-fourths of the sun becoming obscured. A solar eclipse remains even today a moving experience, with darkness falling and the stars coming out in the middle of the day, but in that late-antique period, superstitions and myths about eclipses were still rife, and this particular instance came in the midst of an emotionally charged atmosphere. The Prophet Muhammad’s son, Ibrahim, had just died that day, aged about 16 months. It was not long before people began chattering, saying that the two events were connected, and that the eclipse was either a sign of divine mourning or a portent of negative consequences to occur on the earth. The Prophet himself did not buy into his people’s superstitions, but upon the onset of the eclipse his first thoughts were turned towards the Creator, for the eclipse is a awe-inspiring reminder of God’s power, and of similar cosmic events that will occur on the Day of Resurrection. Prophet Muhammad therefore hastened to the mosque, where he performed a special prayer involving recitation of lengthy portions of the Quran, and prolonged glorification of God’s greatness. After completing the prayer, he gave a special sermon to address and dispel the superstitious rumor. He said, “The sun and moon are two of the signs of God. They do not eclipse for anyone’s death nor for anyone’s birth. So, when you see that [occurring] then perform prayer until it passes over.”

Theological Dimensions of the eclipse
1. The Quran states clearly that the sun and moon move, “by precise calculation,” (Quran, 55:5) and that each moves in its own path, so that neither of them reaches or catches up to the other (Quran, 36:40). This cuts at the heart of baseless beliefs of eclipses being a fight between the sun and moon, or a union between them. These verses had been revealed in Makkah (i.e. many years before the eclipse), but it often takes time for people to release themselves from the mental and psychological shackles of superstition. Lunar eclipses are relatively frequent, and the Prophet used to observe the eclipse prayer when they occurred.The solar eclipse, on the other hand, is rarer and also more striking, and the instance described above was probably the only solar eclipse witnessed by the Prophet Muhammad. It was therefore an ideal teaching moment, and the lesson conveyed in such a moment would have a powerful and lasting impression on those present. Rather than opportunistically fuel people’s superstitions, and thereby garner status for his own family by presenting the eclipse as a divine sign in honor of his son’s death, the Prophet instead used the opportunity to uproot the superstition. Sadly, some Muslims even today still hold on to superstitions, such as believing a pregnant woman should not view an eclipse or should not use a knife during an eclipse lest her child be born deformed. Such baseless notions are still firmly ingrained in many Muslim cultures, despite the fact that they have no basis in the Quran or sunna.

2. One question might remain, however, Why did the Prophet perform a special prayer during the eclipse, for is this not itself superstitious? The answer (to which I already alluded in the narrative) is that the eclipse prayer is not motivated by superstition, but rather by senstivity to the greatness of God that the eclipse manifests. We do not pray out of unfounded fears such as thinking that the dragon might gobble up the sun if we don’t pray for safety. But there is a big difference between superstition and being in tune with nature and aware of the attributes of God that manifest in the natural world.
“And how many a sign within the heavens and earth do they pass over while they, therefrom, are turning away. ” (Quran, 12:105)
“Do they not look into the realm of the heavens and the earth and everything that Allah has created and [think] that perhaps their appointed time has come near? ” (Quran, 7:185)

That heart that is not awed and moved by powerful natural phenonema is either spiritually cold and unfeeling, or too much distracted by other concerns. As William Wordsworth observed in one of his poems, “The world is too much with us,” and we often fail to see the beauty and power of the universe. The Prophet Muhammad was in touch with God’s signs, and would see powerful natural phenomena as reminders of God’s greatness and ability to punish, and would draw admonition from them. An eclipse, in particular, is a reminder of cosmic events associated with the Day of Judgment.
“When the sight is dazzled, and the moon loses its light, and the sun are brought together (possibly in the figurative sense that they will both lose their light, as many Quranic commentators suggested).” (Quran, 75:7-9)
The moon “losing its light” might be an eclipse, and the Arabic word used carries both the meanings of “eclipse” and of “losing light.”

Even such seemingly mundane things as the winds and rain can be powerful reminders of God, as the Quran often draws our attention to. Unusual natural phenomena catch our attention, and are therefore appropriate occasions for spiritual reflection and prayer.

– Suheil Laher

—-
2612 : 2004

Please follow and like us: