The Counter Crusade

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Solar Eclipse

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Today a solar eclipse was visible in many parts of the world. The picture above was taken in Ghana. On January 27th, 632 C.E., or the 10th year after the Hijra, a solar eclipse was witnessed at 10 a.m local time by the inhabitants of Medina (see scientific details). Here are the events of that day:

Illness and Death of Ibrahim

Muhammad's attachment to his son had nothing to do with either his faith or with his mission. ...he had lost his two sons, al Qasim and al Tahir, at a tender age, and his daughters-even after they grew to maturity, married, and bore children-so that only Fatimah remained of all his progeny. Naturally, these sons and daughters who passed away one after the other and were buried by Muhammad's own hand left their father with a severe sense of bereavement. It was natural that a father so bereaved would feel excessive joy and the strongest personal pride and hope at the birth and growing of a son.

The promise and hope which Ibrahim represented were not to last long. Soon, the child fell seriously ill. He was moved to a date orchard near Mashrabat Umm Ibrahim, where his mother and Sirin, her sister, looked after him. When his state worsened and it became apparent that he will not live long, Muhammad was called. He was so shocked at the news that he felt his knees could no more carry him, and asked `Abd al Rahman ibn `Awf to give him his hand to lean upon. He proceeded immediately to the orchard and arrived in time to bid farewell to an infant dying in his mother's lap. Muhammad took the child and laid him in his own lap with shaking hand. His heart was torn apart by the new tragedy, and his face mirrored his inner pain. Choking with sorrow, he said to his son, "O Ibrahim, against the judgment of God, we cannot avail you a thing," and then fell silent. Tears flowed from his eyes. The child lapsed gradually, and his mother and aunt watched and cried loudly and incessantly, but the Prophet never ordered them to stop. As Ibrahim surrendered to death, Muhammad's hope which had consoled him for a brief while completely crumbled. With tears in his eyes he talked once more to the dead child: "O Ibrahim, were the truth not certain that the last of us will join the first, we would have mourned you even more than we do now." A moment later he said: "The eyes send their tears and the heart is saddened, but we do not say anything except that which pleases our Lord. Indeed, O Ibrahim, we are bereaved by your departure from us."

Aware of Muhammad's sorrow, the wise among the Muslim sought to remind the Prophet that he himself had commanded against indulgence in self-pity after a bereavement. Muhammad, however, answered: "I have not commanded against sadness, but against raising one's voice in lamentation. What you see in me is the effect of the love and compassion in my heart for my lost one. Remember that whoever feels no compassion toward others will not receive any compassion." These may not have been his exact words, but the meaning remains the same. Muhammad tried to sublimate his sadness and lighten his sorrow, and, looking toward Mariyah and Sirin, he said to them in appeasement that Ibrahim would have his own nurse in Paradise. Umm Burdah, or according to another version, al Fadl ibn `Abbas, washed the body of the child in preparation for burial. He was carried on a little bed by the Prophet, his uncle al `Abbas, and a number of Muslims to the cemetery of Abu Bakr where, after a funeral prayer recited by the Prophet, he was laid down to rest. As Muhammad ordered the grave closed, he filled it with sand, sprinkled some water, and placed a landmark on it. He then said "Tombstones do neither good nor ill, but they help appease the living. Anything that man does, God wishes him to do well."

The death of Ibrahim coincided with the eclipse of the sun, a phenomenon the Muslims saw as a miracle. They went about saying that the sun was eclipsed in sadness over the death of Ibrahim. The Prophet heard them. Would his exceeding love for Ibrahim and deep sorrow over his loss not enable him to find in such rumors a measure of consolation? Would he not at least keep his silence and thus allow the people to believe what they had taken to be a miracle? Certainly not. Such an attitude surely belongs to those who exploit the ignorance and credulity of the people; for those whom suffering and sorrow push beyond reason and common sense. It does not belong to the man of genuine wisdom, nor a fortiori, to the great Prophet. Hence, looking to those who claimed the sun was in eclipse because of the death of Ibrahim, Muhammad said, "The sun and the moon are signs of God. They are eclipsed neither for the death nor birth of any man. On beholding an eclipse, therefore, remember God and turn to Him in prayer." What greatness! Even in his moment of greatest personal disaster this Prophet preserved his cool presence of mind. He remained fully conscious of his message and most serious in his commitment to it. And even the Orientalists could not hide their admiration and wonder when they came across this fact in the life of Muhammad. Even they could not fail to acknowledge the genuineness of the man who insisted on truth even in face of the greatest personal adversity. [1]

"In all things Muhammad was profoundly practical. When his beloved son Ibrahim died, an eclipse occurred, and rumours of God's personal condolence quickly arose. Whereupon Muhammad is said to have announced, "An eclipse is a phenomenon of nature. It is foolish to attribute such things to the death or birth of a human being." "At Muhammad's own death an attempt was made to deify him, but the man who was to become his administrative successor killed the hysteria with one of the noblest speeches in religious history: "If there are any among you who worshipped Muhammad, he is dead. But if it is God you worshipped, He lives forever." [2]


1. Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad (pbuh)
2. James A. Michener, "ISLAM: THE MISUNDERSTOOD RELIGION," in READER'S DIGEST (American edition), May 1955, pp. 68-70.


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