"As reported by Muhammad ibn Ali, the advent of our Mahdi will be marked by two important signs. These signs have never appeared before, not since the creation of the Heaven and the Earth. One is the eclipse of the moon on the 1st (of the possible eclipse dates i.e. 13th , 14th and 15th) of Ramadhan, and the other is the eclipse of the sun in the middle (of the possible eclipse dates i.e. 27th, 28th and 29th) of Ramadhan, and these two signs have not appeared since the creation of the Heaven and the Earth." [Dar Qutani, pg. 188]
The year 1994 commemorates a century of the lunar and solar eclipses witnessed during the month of Ramadhan on Wednesday, the 21st of March and Friday, the 6th of April 1894 respectively two heavenly signs which the Holy Prophet of Islam (sa) prophesied would mark the advent of the Promised Messiah and the Imam Mahdi. This article is the first of the series which we shall be publishing to mark the fulfilment of this prophecy with the advent of the Promised Messiah and the Imam Mahdi - Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as) of Qadian.
Down through the ages, eclipses of the sun and the moon have intrigued mankind. There are so many myths related to eclipses, and so much in the face of history being associated with these that those who did not understand the phenomena found them surprising, ominous, and awesome. In the ancient history of China, battles were won and lost, kingdoms forged and broken, and lives saved and lost due to the foreknowledge of eclipses, or the lack of it.
Even relatively recently, men have used such knowledge to overshadow their opposing party, ignorant of the origins of eclipses. One such account transpired when Christopher Columbus, during his failed fourth voyage to the New World, employed his knowledge of the lunar eclipse of 29th February 1504 to overpower an Indian tribe in the Caribbean Islands.
Today, in this modern world of science and logic, eclipses of the sun and the moon have been so striking and awe inspiring that they rank among the most impressive phenomena of nature. They have been recorded by observers of both, religious and secular worlds for more than 2500 years. Whatever their motivation, their records, both ancient and contemporary, can help to answer some questions which challenge researchers today and one such question, probably the most significant of all for our age is: When this phenomena has testified to the arrival of the Promised Messiah, can such testimonials occur again?
Before answering this questions, let me first explain the terminology being used in recording the eclipses, both by astronomers and historian and also look into the prophecy of the Holy Prophet of Islam (sa) regarding this most important and spectacular event of our time - the heavenly testimonial of the proclamation of the Promised Messiah.
The Islamic Almanac
An eclipse of the sun or the moon occurs when the orbital planes of the earth, the sun, and the moon form a planar line. Since the orbital planes of each are tilted with respect to each other by some five degrees, eclipses can occur only when the moon happens to be near one of the two nodes of its orbit. These are the points, 180 degrees apart, where the plane of the moon's orbit intersects the plane of the earth. Such intersections, constituting lunar and solar eclipses, occur on an average of four times a year, and may happen as few as two, the number in 1984, and as many as seven in a year, the number in 1982.
A distinguished lunar eclipse must not pass without mention here as it is still unknown why and how it happened. Generally, when the moon is in total eclipse, it is still visible from the earth as a copper red disk. But in 1884, it was completely invisible. Why and how only God knows better.
Perhaps it was an advance warning or glad tiding for the people anxiously awaiting the advent of the Promised One to appear. In this same year, Hadhrat Ahmad(as), the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam and the claimant to be the Promised Messiah published a large number of his revelations in his most notable book Braheen e Ahmadiyya one of which was:
"A Warner (Prophet) has appeared in the world but the world did not accept him. God will, however, accept him and will establish his truth through mighty convulsions." (See reference 1).
The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar circuits. It starts from the date of the migration of the Holy Prophet of Islam, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, from Mecca to Medina. According to historians of the civil, i.e., Gregorian and Julian calenders, this occurred on 15th July 622 CE but Muslim historians have recorded this event to have transpired on the 16th of July 622 CE. This variance is due to different definitions of a new day and the lunar month in Islamic and civil calendars.
In the Julian calendar, each day starts at noon or midday, and in Gregorian calender, the one being presently used, it starts at midnight. In the Islamic calender, however, each day starts at the sunset, about quarter of a day ahead of the present civil calender. Similarly according to civil historians and astronomers, a lunar month starts when the moon completes one revolution around the earth, i.e., 29.53059 days. On the other hand, an Islamic lunar calendar month starts when the crescent of the new moon is seen at sunset. This is usually about a day after the astronomically defined new moon. Therefore, an Islamic calendar month can have 29 or 30 days. For these reasons the start of the Islamic calendar is 16th of July 622 CE, and not 15th of July since the 1st day of the Islamic calendar started at the sunset of the 15th of July of the Gregorian calendar the calendar not in vogue at that time. Likewise, an Islamic lunar calendar year contains 354 or 355 days as against the astronomical lunar year of 354.3671 days.
Again, according to scientists a lunar eclipse can occur only when the moon is full, around the mid month time, and a lunar eclipse can occur at the time of new moon while using the Islamic calendar terminology, a lunar eclipse may occur on 13th, 14th or 15th day of a lunar month when it is close to full moon, depending upon the number of days in that particular month. Similarly a solar eclipse may occur on the 27th, 28th or 29th of a lunar month. It is interesting to note that a lunar or a solar eclipse can only complete its duration of occurrence within an Islamic calendar day. In the present civil calendar the duration of a lunar eclipse may stretch to the next day, while in the Julian calendar a solar eclipse could stretch to next day. For this and many other reasons such as the relationship between the harmonic growth of human body and the occurring of fasting in different seasons, the Holy Quran guides us to use the lunar calendar. (See reference 2). However, Islam has made use of both, the lunar and the solar systems for measuring time. For instance, for worship such as daily prayers performed within a day, the solar system is utilised while for worship such as Pilgrimage which are performed yearly, the lunar system is used.
Advent of the Promised Messiah and the Prophecies
A number of spiritual teachers have prophesied about the advent of the Messiah in latter days. Buddhist and Hindu Scriptures have clearly alluded to the appearance of a Reformer in latter days. The Old Testament (see reference 3), the Gospels (see reference 4) and the Holy Quran (see reference 5) have all referred to the second advent of Hadhrat Jesus(as). Hadhrat Jesus(as) himself mentioned his second advent which was to come in the latter days (see reference 6). He further said that every eye would witness the arrival of the Messiah. Hadhrat Muhammad Mustafa, the Holy Prophet of Islam (sa) has mentioned a large number of signs for the advent of the Messiah and has foretold how every eye would be able to witness these. Never before has a heavenly sign given testimony to the arrival of a Prophet but for the Promised Messiah, who is the Mahdi for the Muslims, Christ for the Christians, Messiah for the Jews, Buddha for the Buddhist and Krishna for the Hindus, a heavenly sign was to appear so that every eye, which has vision should see and witness.
As the listing of these references would be long to mention here, I shall cite only one which is complete in every respect. It is in the book of the Traditions of the Holy Prophet (sa) of Islam. Hadhrat Imam Muhammad bin Ali(ra) has narrated that:
"There are two testimonies for our Mahdi which have never occurred since the creation of this Universe and that is a lunar eclipse would occur on the 1st night (of the lunar eclipse dates) in a month of Ramadhan, and, the sun would be eclipsed in the middle (of the solar Eclipse dates) of the same month (of Ramadhan)." (See reference 7).
In this prophecy, the only thing which is not mentioned is the horizon of these eclipses. One may wonder why? But when we see that the prophecy is for the entire mankind, then it is not possible to define a single horizon. In other words, these foretold eclipses have to be repeated, during the lifetime of a claimant, in different parts of the world, until every man in all parts of the world witnesses the manifestation.
The signs mentioned in the old Scriptures and in the Quran indicate the time of the advent of this Promised Messiah which has been fulfilled in this age and it is a mighty proof of the truth of the Quran that, in accordance with the prophecies made in it, a man has been raised by Almighty God in this age who claimed to be the Promised Messiah. This claimant was the late Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) [1835-1908] of Qadian, India, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam. He received a large number of revelations of which I quote just one being fulfilled in spite of all types of antagonism and tyranny:
"I shall cause thy message to reach the corners of the earth." (See reference 8).
The present state of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community speaks of its truth. Hadhrat Ahmad (as) was commissioned to bring man face to face with his Maker and sow the seeds of spiritual advancement in this material world through fresh manifestations. Today, just one century after the establishement of his Movement, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has spread to all corners of the earth and commands a large membership.
The Moon and The Sun Eclipsed
It was the beginning of the fourteen century of the Islamic Almanac when scientific inventions and technological innovations were sprinkling around, and the world was contracting through the new mediums of communication and the people of both hemispheres were desperately awaiting the appearance of the Promised One. In the midst of all this, God Almighty sowed a promised seed for the spiritual unification of mankind. Against all odds and severe storm of opposition from all quarters, the young plant started flourishing. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians, all combined in opposition to this plant and resolved to ruin it. This was a clear indication that Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as) was truthful in his claim since such opposition is normally encountered only by true apostles of God. At this very time, God exercised His Might to support the claimant by manifesting the promised heavenly signs of the lunar and the solar eclipses.
On the beginning of the 13th Ramadhan 1311 Hijra, the 21st of March 1894, the moon was eclipsed and in the middle of the 28th of Ramadhan, i.e., the 6th of April 1894, the sun was eclipsed at noon. Both these eclipses were spectacular on the horizon from Qadian in India, the homeland of the claimant through to Mecca in Saudi Arabia - the Eastern hemisphere. The following year, a set of similar eclipses were witnessed on the Western horizon on the 13th and 28th of Ramadhan 1312 Hijra, i.e., March 10, 1895 and March 26, 1895.
In both of these years of promised eclipses, the months of Ramadhan were of 30 days. The eyes which had spiritual vision to see, accepted the Promised Messiah. So shall the spiritually enlightened continue to do so in the future.
There have been, no doubt, other claimants to this divine mission but they vanished even before facing any real opposition, thus proving the false nature of their claims. And there could be more such future claimants. Therefore, one has a right to know how can one recognize a true claimant. Though true prophets have always shown thousands of signs to prove their truth and there are always hundreds of manifestations to witness the truth, a single sign should be enough for an enlightened person. The sign of the promised eclipses for the Promised Messiah is one such sign which should not pass a wise person.
Can Such Promised Eclipses Occur Again?
According to the prophecy, one can quite easily target a set of criteria to identify the true claimant. I have set my criteria as follows:
1st: There should be a claimant. 2nd: There should be solar and lunar eclipses within the same lunar month. 3rd: That lunar month should be the month of Ramadhan. 4th: The lunar eclipses should occur on 13th of Ramadhan and the solar eclipse should occur on 28th of the same month. 5th: These eclipses should occur during the lifetime of a claimant after he has made claim to be the Promised Messiah.
Hadhrat Ahmad(as), born in 1835, claimed to be the Promised Messiah and founded his Movement within Islam on the 23th of March 1889. He died on the 26th of May 1908. The promised eclipses occurred in 1894 and 1895. Now, one would like to know if a similar set of promised eclipses have ever occurred before the claim of Hadhrat Ahmad(as), or will they occur again in the future - while satisfying the criteria.
For a long time, historians have used Oppolzer's Canon der Finsternesse (see reference 9) to verify records of past eclipses in Chinese and Middle Eastern records. But now we know that the results produced by Oppolzer, using pencil, paper, and logarithmic tables have produced unacceptable margins of error. I coded some programmes, all run on a personal computer to convert the Islamic calendar times into civil calendar times. [This program may differ slightly with historical records.] I then coded programmes to identify the said eclipses using Lunar Tables and Programmes (see reference 10) and Practical Astronomy with your Calculator (see reference 11). There is other software to identify eclipses such as LodeStar which I also used to compare my results. The main difficulty, however, is the unavailability of distance past astrophysical data related with the rate of the earth's rotation and the moon's orbital motion, etc. Such data have become available only recently after the availability of modern computers, atomic clocks and laser retroflectors set on the moon by the Apollo astronauts. This means that we can never work out the accuracy of the distant past eclipses.
We can, however, work out the future eclipses based on the present astrophysical data. I have tried to identify any future eclipses, upto 2100, which may occur in the month of Ramadhan on the specified dates. To my jubilation I could not identify any such eclipse which would satisfy the said criteria. Therefore I have come to this conclusion that the said eclipses of 1894 and 1895 have been specifically designed by Almighty Allah to affirm the advent of the Promised Messiah, and would never occur again. Many astronomers would not agree with me on this matter but the same astronomers have not yet answered the question of irregular and unpredictable rate of rotation of the earth; of the shrinking of the sun; of the changing of distance between the moon and the earth or various other phenomenon.
- Ahmad, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam. Braheen e Ahmadiyya, vol.iv
- The Holy Quran 2.190; 9.36 & 10.6
- The Holy Bible: Amos 8.9
- The Holy Bible; Matthew 24.29
- The Holy Quran 75.8/10
- The Holy Bible; Matthew 24.30
- Sunan Dar Qutni. vol 2, pg. 65 [See also Akmal-ud-Din]
- Ahmad, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam. Braheen e Ahmadiyya, vol.iv
- Canon Der Finsternisse. T.R. Oppolzer; Reprinted with English Introduction by O. Gingerich 
- Lunar Tables and Programs. Michelle Chapront-Touze and Jean Chapront,Sky & Telescope Publishing Corporation.
- Practical Astronomy with your Calculator. Peter Duffett-Smith, Cambridge University Press.