By Ahmad Luqman
Years ago, I went on my first legitimate stargazing outing. My sister was visiting from out of town and one of her friends, who was an amateur astronomer, drove us to an observatory an hour or so outside of the city limits. We had to drive far enough away from the city’s bright lights (they actually call it light pollution) which mask all but the brightest of stars, planets, and galaxies.
I remember it being a chilly August night. I think I borrowed her friend’s sweater because I did not come prepared.
As we drove into the location, we had to turn off our headlights and park well before we approached the immediate observatory area. One of the things I learned is that stargazers covet their night vision; bright headlights and even modest flashlights can compromise the eye’s sensitivity to light. Our eyes slowly take time to adjust to the darkness, up to 45 minutes, and become more sensitive to the distant lights so many billions of miles away. Every time our eyes are exposed to a flash of bright light it takes time to adjust once again. That means, when stargazers first step out and look up into the heavens they actually do not see too many stars.
Don’t get me wrong, the sky is beautiful and breathtaking the very moment you look up into the relatively light pollution-free night—but the longer you are out there, the more you begin to see. And the beautiful panorama that you saw becomes more detailed, more complete, and truly awe inspiring.
After seeing the night in its full splendor, it is no wonder why people throughout the ages were obsessed with the stars. You can understand why poets wrote about the night sky in verses of love, why scientists and explorers mapped out the sky to the greatest detail, and why sages would seek spiritual inspiration from the dark solitude of night.
How Allah Guides Us
So what does this have to do with Eid?
I was reminded of this stargazing trip earlier this Ramadan when I read the following verse:
“And it is He who placed for you the stars that you may be guided by them through the darknesses of the land and sea. We have detailed the signs for a people who know,” (Qur’an, 6:97).
Long before GPS and Google maps, people the world over used to rely on the stars to travel great distances with amazing accuracy. Muslims were among the leaders in developing navigation tools that relied on the stars to help them travel the seas, find their way home, and even to know which way to face for their daily prayers.
It is interesting how, in modern times, many people in the world will not experience the night sky in the same way our ancestors did. How the modern hallmarks of progress—street lights, bright billboards, this conquering of the night—are the same causes for masking the beauty of the stars, sources of guidance for us through the multiple darknesses we experience in the land and sea.
Beyond the literal meaning of the verse, I feel it has striking parallels to the spiritual aspects of our lives. Just like how Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala (Exhalted is He), has placed millions of stars into the night sky as physical guidance, He has placed even more signs around us—in both day and night—as guidance to Him.
But do we see these signs?
And if the signs are there and are so clear and evident, why don’t we see them?
Sometimes we are simply not able to see. The fleeting amusements and preoccupations of this world mask our spiritual ability to see more and to see beauty. Is the worldly glitz and glam more beautiful than the profound awesomeness of Divine guidance? Certainly not. But sometimes a lesser, more immediate light can blind us from a greater, more powerful beacon in the distance. Which has greater energy at its source, the sum of all of the light sources here on Earth, or the light of one single star trillions of miles away, deep inside the cosmos?
It is truly out of Allah’s Mercy (swt) that He has prescribed for us Ramadan. In a way, He forced us away from the immediate pleasures of this world—lawful as they may be—for a sustained period of time, for one whole month, so that we could experience something more subtle yet powerful, something hidden but apparent, something we forgot but truly knew all along.
Following His Guidance
I pray that we all experienced it, one way or another, at least for an instant during this blessed month that has now passed. Perhaps it was that overwhelming feeling of calm and surrender when you were reading Qur’an. Or that moment when your heart trembled in love and fear as you stood in prayer. Or even it could have been that moment of thankfulness and relief as you uttered His Name (swt) and bit into the sweet date and sipped on some cool water after a long fast.
Whatever the experience, I pray that we all had one if not many. Insha’Allah (God willing) we can also realize that these moments came to us, were given to us, when we finally refrained from indulging in other more immediate pleasures. The eye of our hearts, over time, became more sensitive to the spiritual stars of guidance placed all around us. Undoubtedly those who spent the final days in the solitude of i`tikaf (spiritual retreat)—forgoing the distractions of internet, cell phones, TV, music, and simple idle talk—gained an even more profound awareness.
Were it not made obligatory for me, really, prescribed for me, I would not have left these immediate pleasures. I would have continued to think that I had conquered the night of my deepest fears and insecurities, to have only robbed myself of Allah’s (swt) loving guidance.
So as the blessed month has left us and we are in this day of Eid, this day of celebration, my joy today is one of great thanks. That He (swt) truly gifted me with the opportunity of Ramadan. That perhaps within that month there was a moment of true sincerity when He (swt) allowed me to taste the delightful splendor of His stars of guidance, of getting to know Him, and of the sweetness of taqwa (piety, God consciousness). In this day of thankfulness and celebration, I pray that He (swt) accepts our acts of devotion and that, out of His Generosity, He overlooks the faults within them.
Lastly, I pray that He (swt) allows us to take the time and effort to continue to strive to Him, to not allow the fleeting pleasures to blind us once again, so that we can continue to gain a greater sensitivity and experience the greater everlasting beauty of the Divine.