Bismillah. The BBC has reported this here.
For London, the eclipse will begin around 7am, and thus only be visible from sunrise, around 8.12am, and end around 9.31am. DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN AT ANY TIME, WHETHER DURING AN ECLIPSE OR NOT, ELSE YOU RISK SERIOUS DAMAGE TO YOUR EYESIGHT, AND PERHAPS EVEN BLINDNESS. The only exception to this is for the few minutes during a total solar eclipse when the moon totally obscures the sun. Since this is a partial eclipse, that does not apply. The fact that we depend on the sun for all our light, warmth and energy needs and daily routine, yet go throughout life without ever looking at it, is a metaphor for the fact that we cannot see God in this world, being veiled from Him, although His creation and knowledge is everywhere around us. We only get to see God in the next life, for those who deserve the Beatific Vision.
In the Islamic tradition, a solar eclipse, like any wonderful natural phenomena, is a Sign of God and therefore a good time for reflection, prayer, meditation and charity, etc. Those who wish to observe the Islamic solar eclipse prayer at this time may wish to note the following:
1. The prayer is normally done when the eclipse is visible: in this case, from sunrise. However, extra prayer is usually forbidden for the 5-10 minutes before and after sunrise to avoid imitating sun-worshippers. My view is that it’s best to wait about 10 minutes after sunrise before offering the eclipse prayer.
2. It would be acceptable to offer or start an eclipse prayer an hour or so before sunrise, since the astronomical calculations are precise to within a minute or two, and hence one knows that the eclipse is taking place. This would be similar to following Imam Subki’s fatwa that someone who knows astronomically that a visible crescent moon is present behind the clouds is permitted to observe lunar months on that basis, including Ramadan. However, extra prayer is usually discouraged or forbidden after the dawn prayer and before sunrise, but in this case it would be acceptable as a special exception. One could therefore, of course, begin the eclipse prayer before sunrise, continuing during sunrise and concluding afterwards. Would that be acceptable? The jurists may discuss it endlessly. My view is that it would be acceptable, since it is not imitating sun-worshippers, like someone who begins the Dawn Prayer shortly before sunrise and concludes it afterwards.
3. The solar eclipse prayer consists of two rak’ahs (cycles). In the Sunni tradition, three of the main schools have an extra ruku’ (bowing) in each cycle, making a total of two bowings and two prostrations in each cycle. Before each bowing, the Qur’an is recited, with the jurists disagreeing over whether or not The Opening Chapter (Surah al-Fatihah) must be recited in each section, or simply once per rak’ah. The Hanafi school holds that there are no extra bowings, so that it is a normal two-rak’ah prayer. The other three schools accept this also as a valid form of the prayer. All of these possibilities are valid forms of the prayer.
4. The Prophetic way was to observe a very long eclipse prayer, lasting the entire duration of the event, i.e. 2-3 hours. This is not necessary, but recommended. The minimum is a normal two-rak’ah prayer, as detailed above.
5. The prayer may be performed individually, or in congregation. Congregation is better. The jurists differ as to whether the recitation of the individual or the imam (leader of the congregation) should be aloud or quiet. God-willing, all methods are acceptable. Some jurists held that a lunar eclipse prayer has loud recitation whilst the solar eclipse prayer has quiet recitation since these are performed by night and day respectively, analogous to the loud recitation for the daily night and dawn (darkness) prayers and the quiet recitation in the daily afternoon prayers. For a long, congregational prayer, loud recitation may be best in both cases. When I helped to revive the Sunnah of the solar eclipse prayer at Masjid Tawhid during August 1999 by spreading awareness and leading several hundred worshippers in a two-rak’ah prayer for over an hour, I recited loudly from the long mufassal surahs (roughly, parts 27-29) of the Qur’an.
The eclipse should be an awe-inspiring event, as usual, if we are blessed with clear skies. Even if it is overcast or cloudy, we may be able to detect less sunlight than usual. May we be showered with God’s blessings, internally and externally, during the eclipse and forever afterwards!