The American eclipse

Published April 10, 2024
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy

DURING the afternoon of April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse bisected the US. Not everyone sees solar and lunar eclipses as purely scientific events that have to do with the physical position of the moon or Earth and the sun’s light. According to myths and legends — and there are many in different religious traditions and cultures — solar eclipses are moments of omens and portents. For weeks leading up to the event, astrologers and psychics predict all kinds of things that could happen in the months following the eclipse. Astrologers say that the total time during which the sun is obscured, in this case three and a half to four minutes, corresponds to that many number of months in terms of the duration of the eclipse’s ‘effects’.

As if the eclipse were not enough, a comet called 12/P Pons-Brooks has also appeared in the sky at the same time as the eclipse. This comet, which appears every 71 years, is called the ‘Devil’s comet’ because it has a horned shape. The first spectacular image of the comet, which can be seen with the naked eye in many parts of the US, shows a bluish tail against the darkness of the sky. The last time that this comet was seen was in 1954 and it will not appear again until the end of the century in 2095. Jupiter, Saturn, Venus and Mars, a spectacular array of planets, were also visible at the time of the eclipse during the period of totality, which is the point when the moon has completely obscured the sun.

The US is a superpower currently involved in the grotesque genocide taking place in Gaza. According to Ali Olomi, a professor of mediaeval Islamic history and esotericism at Loyola Marymount University, the solar eclipse portends dire things for rulers and tyrants, with strong significance for Jerusalem. Others have gone on to spell doom for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the architect of the genocide in Gaza, pointing to his recent health problems and expecting him to lose political support and power.

Meanwhile, many Christians in the US see the events of the eclipse and the war in the holy land as a sign of the second coming of Christ. Such celestial ‘omens’ have gained a greater following because the path of this eclipse and the one that occurred in 2017, also in the US, together formed the shape of the cross.

Undoubtedly, even for those who do not believe in any higher powers, witnessing a total eclipse is a profound experience.

Some of these ardent believers in predictions of the end times point to Verse 15:33 in the Gospel of Mark, which says: “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour”, referring to the dark hours of the crucifixion in Christianity. The belief is that the obscured light of the sun is a sign of God’s wrath at the inability of humankind to remain true to the righteous path.

In Islam, special prayers are suggested for the time of a solar eclipse. American Muslims gathered to perform these prayers, known as Salat al-Kusuf, in different parts of the US. Held at various Islamic centres, these prayers are meant to show obedience and surrender to the power of the Divine. According to Prof Omid Safi, professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University in the US, Islamic tradition holds that eclipses, both solar and lunar, are signs of divine matters unfolding in nature. Notably, a lunar eclipse also occurred in the US just two weeks prior to this solar eclipse.

For those who have witnessed a solar eclipse, the event is disconcerting. In the middle of the day, the sun begins to be obscured. There is not total darkness, but a kind of dusk or twilight falls upon the earth. Animals then get very agitated and confused and birds either become quiet or start making a lot of noise. The BBC recently quoted a behavioural ecologist as saying, “[Light] is such a huge cue that affects everything from plants to animals.”

There can also be a palpable temperature change, as the warmth of the sun is suddenly cut off and the temperature may fall to night-time levels.

Undoubtedly, even for those who do not believe in any higher powers, witnessing a total eclipse is a profound experience underscoring the insignificance of human life against the far bigger presence of the universe. On most ordinary days, we go about our lives and pay little attention to the fact that the planet that we call home is a sphere spinning round a star in space. It seems that in our busy lives there is no time anymore to reflect on nature or to consider the facts of planetary rotations and revolutions. For us, the sun simply rises and sets every day, and a waxing and waning moon appears throughout the month. The might and beauty of a total eclipse is that it forces humans so engrossed in the details of their own lives, responsibilities and problems, joys, and sorrows to pause and consider their very minor position in a universe which is so enormous that their minds can barely take in its vastness and majesty.

In this sense, even witnessing recordings of the progress of an eclipse is often accompanied by a realisation of the insignificance of mankind; it is an acknowledgement that provides its own sense of liberation. The workings of this divinely created universe are so much larger than our small lives and our petty problems. Focusing on this fact will help us locate ourselves as part of a cosmic system whose workings are magical and whose very gift is to present us with our own position in the vastness of time and space.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2024

Opinion

Editorial

Budget and politics
Updated 14 Jun, 2024

Budget and politics

PML-N, scared of taking bold steps lest it loses whatever little public support it has, has left its traditional support — traders — virtually untouched.
New talks?
14 Jun, 2024

New talks?

WILL this prove another false start, or may we expect a more sincere effort this time? Reference is made to the...
A non-starter
14 Jun, 2024

A non-starter

WHILE the UN Security Council had earlier this week adopted a US-backed resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza...
Budget for stabilisation
Updated 13 Jun, 2024

Budget for stabilisation

The proposed steps lack any “disruptive policy changes", especially to "right-size" the govt, and doubts remain on authorities' ability to enforce new measures.
State of the economy
13 Jun, 2024

State of the economy

THE current fiscal year is but another year lost. Going by the new Pakistan Economic Survey, which maps the state of...
Unyielding onslaught
Updated 13 Jun, 2024

Unyielding onslaught

SEVEN soldiers paid the ultimate price in Lakki Marwat on Sunday when their vehicle was blown up in an IED attack,...