The awe of an eclipse: An Islamic perspective

Jazib Mehmood, Student, Jamia Ahmadiyya International Ghana

Today, on 8 April 2024, North America will experience a total solar eclipse, which will also be visible in some parts of Europe. The moon will glide over the surface of the sun, casting a shadow over a strip of the Earth below. Along this path, the world will turn dark as night. As the eclipse approaches its maximum phase, the air will get cooler, the sky will grow dimmer, and shadows will sharpen. (“A Total Solar Eclipse Is Coming April 8. Here’s What to Know”,

What happens to nature during an eclipse?

Plants and animals react in significant ways during a solar eclipse. According to research, bees stop buzzing the very second a total eclipse occurs in their location. (“The Moon Eclipsed the Sun. Then the Bees Stopped Buzzing.”,

Birds also stop whistling and crickets begin chirping. Plants have diminished rates of photosynthesis and water loss similar to what happens at night, though not at the same rate. (“Hydraulic and photosynthetic responses of big sagebrush to the 2017 total solar eclipse”,

The awe of an eclipse

So much for nature, but what happens to humans during the eclipse? Well, for one thing, everyone stops short. Although we usually take the power and necessity of the sun for granted, when it gets covered by the moon for even a few minutes, it inspires something akin to fear and awe within us, reminding us of our mortality.

During the solar eclipse of 14 October 2023, Dr Kate Russo, an author and psychologist, led the first-ever study that sought to capture physical reactions to eclipses by measuring the physiological responses of people during the eclipse.

Among other things, one unexpected finding was the occurrence of awe at various stages throughout the eclipse. According to their paper, immediately after the eclipse, heightened introspection was indicated by high-amplitude, low-frequency brain waves, which is commonly seen in other profound or thought-provoking experiences. (“Deeper Insights into the Solar Eclipse Experience”,

The National Geographic spoke to Dr Russo and her unique findings. Their report says:

“Awe reminds us we’re not alone. We share our greatest moments of awe with others in ‘collective effervescence,’ says Russo. ‘Just as a starling murmuration in the sky moves as one, during totality, the crowd behaves as one.’

“Fans chanting during sports games or singing along during music concerts are other examples of this collective energy, adds Russo. ‘The crowd is one; you are part of the moment.’” (“Some people have extreme psychological reactions to total eclipse—here’s why”,

Similarly, the report also states that “those who stand in the path of totality, where the moon completely obscures the sun, regularly report strong bursts of emotion and a lingering sense of awe. This heightened emotional state has the power to do more than open us to wonders of the universe—scientists say it can make us feel more curious and connected to others in it.” (Ibid.)

Since the April 8 eclipse is generating a lot of interest, particularly about how best to view the eclipse, it might be pertinent to wonder: what does Islam say about eclipses? What should a Muslim do during such unique events?

Islam and eclipses

As a Muslim, it is utterly fascinating to learn what Dr Russo proved during October 2023’s eclipse about “awe”, the Holy Prophetsa stated in one sentence over a thousand years ago in this way:

“The sun and the moon are two signs amongst the signs of Allah and they do not eclipse because of the death of someone, but Allah awes His servants with them.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-kusuf, Bab qawli n-nabiyyisa yukhawwifullahu ‘ibadahu bi l-kusuf, Hadith 1048)

Not just that, but Dr Russo’s statement that “the crowd is one” also reflects the Islamic commandment to offer congregational prayers in unity during the occurrence of an eclipse. Such feelings of awe are not for nothing; Islam asks us to pray during such times, for such events are a means of reminding the believers what they stand to lose should the light of the sun flicker out.

A Companion of the Holy Prophetsa relates that when the solar eclipse occurred, the Holy Prophetsa was fearful that the Day of Judgment was near. He went to the mosque and led congregational prayers with the longest standing [qiyam], bowing [ruku‘] and prostration [sajdah] that he (i.e., the companion) had ever seen him doing. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-kusuf, Bab az-zikri fi l-kusuf, Hadith 1059)

After the prayer, the Holy Prophetsa also delivered a sermon to the congregation, stating:

“The sun and the moon are two signs among the signs of Allah; they do not eclipse upon the death or life [i.e., birth] of anyone. So, when you see [an eclipse], remember Allah, extol his greatness, observe the salat and give charity.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-kusuf, Bab as-sadaqati fil-kusufi, Hadith 1044)

Why the awe and fear?

Some might wonder why we should do all this, when we know that – taking appropriate precautions, like not looking directly at the eclipse – there is nothing to fear from such events, which occur predictably and are completely explainable by science.

There are several reasons why believers in Islam fear such celestial events, some of which are explained below. Of course, just because science can explain a natural event does not mean that such an event is not to be feared. The asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs millions of years ago is said to be the “worst day in the history of life on earth” – despite the fact that it was an event completely evidenced by science. (“The Worst Day in Earth’s History Contains a Warning”,

Had such an event occurred in modern times, it would have been predicted well ahead of time. Other natural phenomena, like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, are also predicted by science but are still harmful to humans. Even everyday events like rain, wind or lightning can be harmful to us under certain conditions. And even though an eclipse’s impact might be dismissed as minimal, there is no doubt that it is a unique event that reminds us of our complete lack of control over our fates.

Again, it is perfectly possible that eclipses have impacts that are not yet clear to us. It is pertinent to consider the statement of Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IIra, who wrote:

“Although day and night are expressions of celestial bodies, there are also other effects of the moon, the sun and other stars. […] Moreover, there are many other effects that science is discovering on a daily basis and many that it may never discover at all.” (Tafsir-e-Kabir [2023], Vol. 6, p. 32)

Above all, the true essence of fear of celestial events in Islam does not stem from the fear of death or physical harm. A believer understands that their time of death is predetermined and does not fear death itself. Rather, the believer always harbours a sense of awe and love for Allah, maintaining a cautious stance towards such events, considering them potentially indicative of Allah’s displeasure or precursors to divine punishment. This mindset is akin to the Holy Prophet’ssa reaction to the sounds of thunder and lightning bolts, where he would supplicate: 

اللَّهُمَّ لاَ تَقْتُلْنَا بِغَضَبِكَ وَلاَ تُهْلِكْنَا بِعَذَابِكَ وَعَافِنَا قَبْلَ ذَلِكَ

“O Allah, do not kill us with Your wrath, nor destroy us with Your punishment, and pardon us before that.” (Jami‘ at-Tirmidhi, Kitab ad-da‘wat, Hadith 3450) This prayer reflects a profound reverence and fear of Divine wrath rather than the phenomena themselves, serving as a reminder to remain vigilant and pious, considering such events as opportunities to reflect on one’s relationship with the Creator and the universe.

Eclipse Prayer and sermon at the Fazl Mosque in 2015

On 20 March 2015, a total solar eclipse occurred in the North Pole and some parts of Europe. London experienced a nearly 87% partial solar eclipse, and as such, following the practice of the Holy Prophetsa, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih Vaa led the salat-ul-kusuf [eclipse prayer] and, following this, delivered a short sermon. (Solar Eclipse 2015: Address delivered by Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad”,; “Head of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community leads Special Prayers during Solar Eclipse”,

During his sermon, Huzooraa stated that once, during the time of the Promised Messiahas in 1907, a solar eclipse occurred. At that time, Hazrat  Hakeem Maulvi Noor-ud-Din, Khalifatul Masih Ira led the congregational prayer and delivered a sermon.

Presenting a part of that sermon, Huzooraa, quoting Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Ira, stated:

“When the Holy Prophetsa saw that the sun had been eclipsed by the moon, i.e., such circumstances presented where the people of earth could not benefit from the light of the sun, his heart was greatly agitated that perhaps such heavenly obstacles could also present themselves before his message, barring its reach from the world.

“This is why the Holy Prophetsa did not stop giving charity, praying, seeking forgiveness, until the light of the sun once again reached the earth. Every believer, due to the power of obedience to the Holy Prophetsa, also possesses light, like a father and son affect each other. Thus, Allah states:

مَا کَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ اَبَاۤ اَحَدٍ مِّنۡ رِّجَالِکُمۡ وَلٰکِنۡ رَّسُوۡلَ اللّٰہِ وَخَاتَمَ النَّبِیّٖنَ

“[Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but [he is] the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets. (Surah al-Ahzab, Ch.33: V.41)]

“That is, the Holy Prophetsa has no physical son, but he has countless spiritual sons. This is why every believer fears such events and should fear that such means are not created that would hinder his light from getting to others. This is why he uses such methods as are used to alleviate suffering, i.e., he gives charity, seeks forgiveness, and stands for prayer, just as the Holy Prophetsa stood for prayer during hard times.

“Then does the sea of the mercy of Allah the Almighty overflow, and just as those hindrances are removed through movement and effort that causes the light of the sun to reach the earth, similarly, those hindrances that prevent the light of the believer from reaching others are removed through prayer and istighfar.

“Putting ink on glass or hurting your eyes by looking directly at this event as a means of entertainment is far from the dignity of the believer. You are the sons of the Siraj-e-Munir [Bright Lamp, i.e., the Holy Prophetsa], therefore employ all appropriate means to spread your light to others.”

Guidance for an Ahmadi Muslim

Explaining this last statement of the first Khalifara, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa stated:

“Since there was no arrangement for spectacles at the time, the eclipse was seen by putting ink on glass. He [i.e., Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Ira] states that these are amusements; they do not befit the believer.”

These amusements have taken on new meanings in modern times. According to the Time, for the April 8 eclipse this year, several airlines are offering flights expected to have a high-level view of the eclipse. Delta is specifically marketing its flights for people who want to spend as much time as possible in the path of totality, with tickets costing over a thousand dollars, which are already sold out. (“Why These Passengers Are Flying up to 30 Hours to See Four Minutes of the Eclipse”,

Not only that, but all over America, musicians and artists are also holding concerts; festivals are also being held; and some places are even holding events all weekend just because of the eclipse. (“A list of solar eclipse events across the nation from Texas to Maine”,

Speaking of the 2015 eclipse, Huzooraa stated:

“There was a report that the eclipse would be best viewed in some areas of Scotland, so many people went to Scotland and all their hotels are booked. So, for worldly people, this is a sport. But, for a believer, this eclipse becomes a means for prayer and istighfar. Thus, an Ahmadi must always pay attention to this.”

Hence today, on April 8, when many people travel great distances and spend a great deal of money to view the eclipse and make merry, a true Muslim should be occupied in worship and remembrance of Allah.

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