Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Shine your light and let the whole world see

Insights from the solar eclipse

Roland Clarke

Have you ever asked, “How can I start a conversation about spiritual things with unsaved friends and neighbors?” There are countless ways of engaging unbelievers in meaningful witness depending on the situation and the time of year. For example, around thanksgiving it is appropriate to talk about the good things God has done for us, including the best thing, God's indescribable gift of his Son who came to save us.

Another opportune time for pointing people to Jesus is Christmas which calls to mind the topic of stars. You could ask a thought-provoking question about the wise men, “Why were these magi (astrologers) from the East prepared to travel so far to find a newborn king?”

But Christmas is behind us and so too is Easter, another key event with a direct connection to Christ. Right now a common subject of everyday conversation is the recent solar eclipse that was visible in many parts of North America on April 8th. You can ask your friend/acquaintance, “Did you see the eclipse?” Perhaps he/she witnessed it himself or saw a pic on a friend's camera or on a news report. Then you could follow up with, “How did you feel?” After your friend shares his/her answer you can explain how it made you feel and why...

I drove to a nearby spot in the path of totality (Port Bruce) to get a better view and I wasn't disappointed. I noticed many people brought a camera or telescope. And, interestingly, almost everyone who witnessed the spectacular corona encircling the black moon was deeply moved or awestruck, including me and my wife. This was reinforced a few hours later when I saw people's reactions reported on the news. Of course, we should not be surprised, considering that most people around the world acknowledge a creator. In fact, it reminded me of the song of praise penned by King David (Daood in Islam) almost 3,000 years ago, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1, NIV) Notice how the psalmist underscores this celestial witness is constantly being transmitted day and night. Furthermore, these truths aren't just evident in the 'typical' orbits of the sun and moon, they're also seen in 'unusual' celestial phenomena, such as the total eclipse on April 8th 2024.

Did you know that a total eclipse happens somewhere on earth every 18 months on average? But there's another, even more remarkable fact which scientists call an 'amazing coincidence.' The moon is 400 times smaller than the sun, while the sun is 400 times farther away from the earth, on average. Indeed, it is these precise dimensions that providentially enable us to observe the sun's corona during a total eclipse! Suppose the moon happened to be a bit bigger (or closer to earth), then we wouldn't be able to see the corona. No wonder scientists call it an 'amazing coincidence', but it is actually no coincidence at all. Knowing these facts can help us answer skeptics/scoffers who resist/deny the idea of a good wise creator behind the universe.

I'll never forget hearing the exclamations of “Ooh and aah” as people witnessed the climactic spectacle of the moon completely overlapping the sun and yet not blocking the splendid aura of the sun's corona! There was a profound (almost mystical?) sense of camaraderie and commonality, so to speak, between onlookers. I saw someone spontaneously share his eclipse glasses with a neighbor who was viewing the event through a home-made box. I struck up a conversation with one stranger who, as it turned out, was a newcomer from Belarus. I had several conversations with different neighbors around me. A number of them gladly accepted a booklet, 'Let there be light' highlighting a magnificent picture of a sunrise and some thought-provoking comments pointing to Jesus. Looking back on this experience, I realize it would have been so natural and appropriate to exclaim, “How great God is!” Or even, “How can people say there is no God?”

This profound experience brought to mind a couple other Scriptures describing God as living “in light so brilliant that no human can approach him.” (1 Timothy 6:16) Also the apostle Paul testified, “a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me.” (Acts 26:13) Likewise, John the apostle saw Jesus, “and his face was like the sun in all its brilliance.” (Revelation 1:16) It is true: Jesus is the light of the world, but he also told his us, “You are the light of the world …” (Matthew 5:16) Elsewhere we are told: “Live clean, innocent lives as God's children ... shining like bright lights (stars) in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” (Philippians 2:14)

Conclusion: These last couple of weeks I've had several meaningful spiritual conversations with people sparked by a comment or question about the eclipse. My recent eclipse experience has opened doors to point people to Jesus as light of the world by sharing the above-mentioned booklet, 'Let there be light' which can be downloaded here.

Who can you talk to about the solar eclipse? How can you share your belief and personal testimony that this was a display of God's power and beauty?

All Bible quotes are taken from the New Living Translation unless otherwise indicated.

If you've enjoyed these insights or have questions I'd love to hear from you. Please write me here.

Endnote: An altar to an unknown god? (Acts 17:23)

Interestingly, the admiration and wonder people feel at seeing the total eclipse is like the awe/worship Athenians felt towards an unknown, if mysterious, deity. Modern observers of the eclipse may not exactly describe their admiration as 'worship'. Nevertheless, that's essentially what it is. How then can we learn from Paul's example so that we can tell our unsaved neighbors about the one true God in a seasoned-with-salt manner, considering that many of them were so deeply moved at witnessing this celestial spectacle?

One way to reinforce people's admiration at seeing the amazing splendor of the sun's corona is to comment, “Did you know that this beautiful scene wouldn't even be possible if the moon was larger or smaller or if the moon's orbit around the earth was slightly shorter or longer?” You could also make a remark as follows, “I was fascinated to learn that astronomers acknowledge it is precisely these unique dimensions that make it possible for us to experience such a remarkable and amazing event!” Based on this consideration, I asked my neighbor, “Suppose that the moon's orbit was closer to the earth so as to fully block the bright corona ring?” Would the resulting image of darkness draw half as many crowds of admiring onlookers? I doubt very much that people would exclaim, “Aaah, what an awesome, beautiful, sight!”??

It is one thing to admire the splendor of a corona ring encircling the dark moon, but let me share some observations that may stir your heart further to glorify and truly worship him.

The sun's eclipse portrays a dramatic spectacle showing the moon encroaching across the sun's face until the climactic moment of totality. Note: just when you expect complete darkness from the moon totally covering the sun, the moon is unable to fully block or overpower the light from breaking through. Onlookers are stunned and awe-struck as the splendid radiance of the corona light 'wins the day,' so to speak. Then only three minutes later the full brilliance of the sun begins to return, all the brighter for having been momentarily dimmed by the darkness. Suddenly it dawned on us: this heavenly drama is a fitting illustration of John 1:4-5, “In him [the Word] was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (bold font added) The eclipse serves as an object lesson or analogy demonstrating that, in the final analysis, the sun 'wins the victory' over the dark moon.*

Interestingly, the apostle Paul's sermon referring to the altar to an 'unknown god' concludes by highlighting the resurrection of Jesus Christ; “God ... commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31) Indeed, when Jesus referred to his pending resurrection from the dead he repeatedly underscored that this momentous event would glorify God. (John 12:23,28)

Conclusion: How do Muslims view the eclipse?

Let me quote a Hadith followed by a commentary showing how Muslims are supposed to respond when an eclipse occurs.

Narrated Abu Musa: “The sun eclipsed and the Prophet got up, being afraid that it might be the Hour (i.e. Day of Judgment). He went to the Mosque and offered the prayer with the longest Qiyam, bowing and prostration that I had ever seen him doing. Then he said, "These signs which Allah sends do not occur because of the life or death of somebody, but Allah makes His worshipers afraid by them. So when you see anything thereof, proceed to remember Allah, invoke Him and ask for His forgiveness.”

Sheikh Muhammad Salih Al Munajjid explains the Islamic understanding behind an eclipse;

Solar and lunar eclipses are two of the signs of Allah with which He scares His slaves and reminds them of some of the things which will happen on the Day of Resurrection, when the sun will be wound round and will lose its light and be overthrown and the stars will fall (cf. al-Takweer 81:1), and the sight will be dazed, the moon will be eclipsed and the sun and moon will be joined together (by going into one another, or folded up, or deprived of their light) (al-Qiyaamah 75:8-9). This is why Muslims should be alarmed by eclipses. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) used to fear Allah very much, and one day he came out in an agitated state, thinking that the Hour had begun, when the sun was eclipsed during his lifetime… This is indicative of the great extent to which he kept the Hour in mind and feared it. We, on the other hand, have become negligent and most people no longer think of eclipses as anything other than a natural phenomenon which they go out to watch with special glasses, carrying cameras. They limit themselves to the worldly scientific explanation without understanding the reminder of the Hereafter which it brings. This is one of the signs of hard-heartedness and a lack of concern about the matters of the Hereafter. It reflects a lack of fear of the onset of the Hour ... 

According to the Bible darkness does imply something ominous and fearful, but as explained earlier, in the final analysis, “the darkness has not overcome it.” i.e. light. Also notice Christ's words to Saul on the road to Damascus, “I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins ...” (Acts 9:17-18) Some years later Paul wrote about light in his letter to the church in Colosse, “God has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.” (Colossians 1:12-14)

Elsewhere Scripture describes Jesus as the Saviour who “broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News.” (2 Timothy 1:10) Also “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. … We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, 'Let there be light in the darkness,' has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6) Notice the highlighted words which imply light overpowers darkness. Also notice 'the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.'

Like Christians, Muslims believe that God is light and the heavens declare his glory. Tragically, however, they view the eclipse as a reminder and exhortation to be afraid and fearful, based on the example of Muhammad’s reaction. But for us Christians the eclipse calls to mind the ultimate victory of God's glorious light overpowering the short-term apparent power of darkness which inspires joyful praise rather than fear.


* We should not be surprised that Scripture uses metaphors to describe the sun, e.g. “It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race. The sun rises at one end of the heavens and follows its course to the other end. Nothing can hide from its heat.” (Psalm 19:5-6) Elsewhere Scripture portrays certain inanimate things responding to the momentous event of Christ's crucifixion: the earth shook, the rocks were split and darkness came over the whole land as the sun's light failed for three hours. Such uncharacteristic reactions of inanimate things underscore the profound implications behind this event. Even more astonishingly, we read that the tombs were opened so that “many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead.” (Luke 23:44-45; Matthew 27:51-52) These miraculous resurrections signified that, indeed, Christ's kingdom of light was breaking through and overpowering Satan's dark kingdom in keeping with the declaration, “the darkness has not overcome the light.” (John 1:5) Achieving this victory over the powers of death and darkness involves an undeniable paradox: In order to rise up victorious over the powers of darkness and death Jesus first had to die. As it is written, “Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

The Bible says that the phenomena of darkness, earthquake and splitting rocks evoked terror in the hearts of the soldiers who guarded the cross. Indeed, this kind of response is to be expected from people who do not know God's salvation as revealed through his Son, the Messiah. In a similar way, it is understandable to see Muhammad (and his followers) responding in fear and terror based on their perception of the unnatural and sinister darkness from a solar eclipse as a reminder or omen of Qiyamah (final judgment day). Interestingly, Hindus like Muslims, interpret the solar eclipse as having a dark, sinister meaning as seen in this statement by Eesha Das Gupta, a PhD astronomy student at University of Toronto. “The story of eclipses, especially solar eclipses, falls around demons swallowing the sun, so it's seen generally as ominous.”