The Prophet mohammed and the solar eclipse
In the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) a natural phenomenon, i.e., a solar eclipse occurred. People superstitiously attributed its occurrence to the death of Ibrahim, son of the Prophet (peace be upon him). They said that Ibrahim’s death, which coincidently happened in the same day of the solar eclipse, blocked out the sun.
What did the prophet (peace be upon him) said say to them? Did he confirm such erroneous belief, or did he rather correct it? The Prophet’s (peace be upon him) response was: “The sun and the moon are two signs amongst the signs of Allah. They do not eclipse because of someone's death or life. So when you see them, invoke Allah and pray until the eclipse (the Moon) ‘yanjali’ (i.e. is cleared)”
Usually, the ancients ascribed the occurrence of any phenomenon to myths or superstitions; for example, they believed that the Sun eclipsed when a great figure died. Sometimes, they said that such phenomenon was an omen of defeat in battles, death of a king or the fall of his reign.
Some myths seem funny in our modern time; however, they appeared to be the only logical causes for the occurrence of phenomena thousands of years ago. The Chinese, for instance, thought that the eclipse of the Sun took place because a dragon was trying to swallow the Sun’s disk! Therefore, they used to beat the drums and shoot arrows upward for frightening the dragon and getting the Sun back from his mouth! In India, people used to pour water on themselves when seeing that phenomenon, in order not to have any part of it fall on them! Some people believed that the eclipse of the Sun foreshadowed great incidents/the eclipse of the Sun foretold the occurrence of great incidents, as they used to correlate the Sun to the gods.
Such superstitious convictions were common up to few centuries ago; in 1230, an eclipse happened in Western Europe in the morning; thereupon, the laborers went back to their homes because they thought that nighttime came! However, the sun shined again in one hour, and so all of them became astonished.
In that time, such convictions were certainly unshakeable, yet we view them in our present time as being just myths.
Along with the scientific progress, and with the beginning of the age of astronomical discoveries and scientific research, scientists found an explanation for this phenomenon. They discovered that it is a natural phenomenon that takes place when the Moon orbits around the Earth and passes between the Sun and the Earth; consequently, it blocks out the Sun. Such phenomenon occurs constantly in accordance with a fixed cosmic and mathematical law, and it can be previously forecasted.
Hence, the eclipse of the Sun does not occur because of the life or death of a king or a ruler; it rather takes place for matters that are much greater than that. That was the way by which Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) explained this phenomenon to the people.
Had Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) been a seeker of fame, money or authority, and had he liked the idea of being praised or having his son’s death attributed to the solar eclipse, he would have accepted the people’s supernatural explanation of the phenomenon. He should have let the people sanctify him and grant him a legendary status. Had he been a praise lover, he would have let his people relate the solar eclipse to the death of his son, and that would have given him a higher status among his people.
In contrast, he made it plain that the Sun and the Moon are Allah’s creatures; they are His signs which are subservient to His will. They have no relation to what takes place on Earth, whether it is the birth or death of a person, or whatever else. In the mentioned prophetic statement, the Noble Prophet (peace be upon him) laid a basis for scientific research in the field of natural phenomena. He set forth that the Sun and the Moon are Allah’s signs and creatures that are subject to His will.
The hadith also mentioned that the occurrence of this phenomenon is ascribed to both of the Sun and the Moon whereas people used to believe that the Moon has no relation to that rare incident. They had the conviction that whenever the sun eclipsed, it mysteriously disappeared and went away, or a supernatural power tried to swallow it.
The prophetic phrase: “until the eclipse (the Moon) ‘yanjali’ (i.e. is cleared)” has a miraculous aspect. Does not this phrase indicate the end of the eclipse when the Moon unblocks the Sun? In the Arabic Lexicon Mukhtar as-Sihah, the word ‘yanjali’ denotes ‘to be cleared’. That means that the Moon first blocks out the Sun, then, at the end of the eclipse, it unblocks it. Thereupon, the Sun shines again. This shows the absolute linguistic and scientific accuracy of the wording of the Prophet (peace be upon him). And Allah knows Best.
Hence, all this asserts that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is Allah’s Messenger. He sought nothing but getting His Lord’s satisfaction and conveying His message. Fame meant nothing for him; Allah’s pleasure was his sole goal. He wanted us to build our faith on a solid, accurate ground.
“There has certainly come to you a Messenger from among yourselves. Grievous to him is what you suffer; [he is] concerned over you and to the believers is kind and merciful.” (At-Taubah, 9: 128-129)
By, Abd-d-Da’im Al-Kuhail