Astrology in medieval Islam
|Astrology in medieval Islam|
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Some medieval Muslims took a keen interest in the study of astrology, despite the Islamic prohibitions: partly because they considered the celestial bodies to be essential, partly because the dwellers of desert-regions often travelled at night, and relied upon knowledge of the constellations for guidance in their journeys. After the advent of Islam, the Muslims needed to determine the time of the prayers, the direction of the Kaaba, and the correct orientation of the mosque, all of which helped give a religious impetus to the study of astronomy and contributed towards the belief that the heavenly bodies were influential upon terrestrial affairs as well as the human condition. The science dealing with such influences was termed astrology (Arabic: علم النجوم Ilm an-Nujūm), a discipline contained within the field of astronomy (more broadly known as علم الفلك Ilm al-Falak 'the science of formation [of the heavens]'). The principles of these studies were rooted in Arabian, Persian, Babylonian, Hellenistic and Indian traditions and both were developed by the Arabs following their establishment of a magnificent observatory and library of astronomical and astrological texts at Baghdad in the 8th century.
Throughout the medieval period the practical application of astrology was subject to deep philosophical debate by Muslim religious scholars and scientists. Astrological prognostications nevertheless required a fair amount of exact scientific expertise and the quest for such knowledge within this era helped to provide the incentive for the study and development of astronomy.
Medieval Islamic astrology and astronomy continued Hellenistic and Roman era traditions based on Ptolemy's Almagest. Centres of learning in medicine and astronomy/astrology were set up in Baghdad and Damascus, and the Caliph Al-Mansur of Baghdad established a major observatory and library in the city, making it the world's astronomical centre. During this time knowledge of astronomy was greatly increased, and the astrolabe was invented by Al Fazari. Many modern star names are derived from their Arabic and Persian names.
Albumasur or Abu Ma'shar (805 - 885) was one of the most influential Islamic astrologers. His treatise Introductorium in Astronomiam (Kitab al-Mudkhal al-Kabīr) spoke of how '"only by observing the great diversity of planetary motions can we comprehend the unnumbered varieties of change in this world". The Introductorium was one of the first books to find its way in translation through Spain and into Europe in the Middle Ages, and was highly influential in the revival of astrology and astronomy there.
Persians also combined the disciplines of medicine and astrology by linking the curative properties of herbs with specific zodiac signs and planets. Mars, for instance, was considered hot and dry and so ruled plants with a hot or pungent taste, like hellebore, tobacco or mustard. These beliefs were adopted by European herbalists like Culpeper right up until the development of modern medicine.
The Persians also developed a system, by which the difference between the ascendant and each planet of the zodiac was calculated. This new position then became a 'part' of some kind. For example, the 'part of fortune' is found by taking the difference between the sun and the ascendant and adding it to the moon. If the 'part' thus calculated was in the 10th House in Libra, for instance, it suggested that money could be made from some kind of partnership.
The Almagest, together with the original contributions of 9th to 10th century Persian astronomy such as the astrolabe, was introduced to Christian Europe beginning in the 11th century, by contact with Islamic Spain.
Another notable Persian astrologer and astronomer was Qutb al-Din al Shirazi born in Iran, Shiraz (1236–1311). He wrote critiques of Ptolemy's Almagest and produced two prominent works on astronomy: 'The Limit of Accomplishment Concerning Knowledge of the Heavens' in 1281 and 'The Royal Present' in 1284, both of which commented upon and improved on Ptolemy's work, particularly in the field of planetary motion. Al-Shirazi was also the first person to give the correct scientific explanation for the formation of a rainbow.
Ulugh Beyg was a fifteenth-century Timurid Sultan and also a mathematician and astronomer. He built an observatory in 1428 and produced the first original star map since Ptolemy, which corrected the position of many stars and included many new ones.
Some of the principles of astrology were refuted by several medieval Islamic astronomers such as Al-Farabi (Alpharabius), Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), Avicenna, Abu Rayhan al-Biruni and Averroes. Their reasons for refuting astrology were often due to both scientific (the methods used by astrologers being conjectural rather than empirical) and religious (conflicts with orthodox Islamic scholars) reasons. However these refutations mainly concerned the judicial branches of astrology rather than the natural principles of it. For example, Avicenna's refutation of astrology (in the treatise titled Resāla fī ebṭāl aḥkām al-nojūm, Treatise against the rulings of the stars) revealed support for its overarching principles. He stated that it was true that each planet had some influence on the earth, but his argument was the difficulty of astrologers being able to determine the exact effect of it. In essence, Avicenna did not refute astrology, but denied man's limited capacity to be able to know the precise effects of the stars on the sublunar matter. With that, he did not refute the essential dogma of astrology, but only refuted our ability to fully understand it.
Another Damascene scientist Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya (1292–1350), in his Miftah Dar al-Sa'adah, used empirical arguments in astronomy in order to refute the judicial practice of astrology which is most closely aligned to divination. He recognized that the stars are much larger than the planets, and thus argued:
And if you astrologers answer that it is precisely because of this distance and smallness that their influences are negligible, then why is it that you claim a great influence for the smallest heavenly body, Mercury? Why is it that you have given an influence to al-Ra's and al-Dhanab, which are two imaginary points [ascending and descending nodes]?
Al-Jawziyya also recognized the Milky Way galaxy as "a myriad of tiny stars packed together in the sphere of the fixed stars" and thus argued that "it is certainly impossible to have knowledge of their influences."
According to jurists, the study of astronomy (ilm al-hay'ah) is lawful, as it is useful in predicting the beginning of months and seasons, determining the direction of salat (prayer), and navigation. They agree that this branch of science is used in determining the beginning and end of the lunar months, e.g., that of Ramadan. As for astrology, this is considered by many Islamic scholars as haram (unlawful), as knowledge of the Unseen is known only by Allah(God). Dr. Husam al-Din Ibn Musa `Afana, a Professor of the Principles of Fiqh at Al-Quds University, Palestine, states the following:
- "First of all, it is worth noting that the Persians knew astronomy a long time ago. They would predict time through observing the movements of stars. These terms are astronomy and astrology. Astronomy is the science that deals with studying the movements of the celestial bodies and reducing observations to mathematical order. That science is useful in determining time, seasons, the direction of Prayer, etc. Astrology, on the other hand, is concerned with studying the positions and aspects of celestial bodies in the belief that they have an influence on the course of natural earthly occurrences and human affairs. Astrologists believe that the movements of stars have an influence on people's lives. Both Muslim astronomers and [religious] scholars refuse the prophecies of astrologists."
The Turkish government-sponsored Diyanet Vakfı, which represents the official Sunni view, likewise draws a distinction between astronomy and astrology, identifying the latter with non-Islamic influences on Arab culture, specifically Sabean and Hindu astrology. Astrology is seen as unscientific and conducive of a view of humans as helpless in the face of natural forces. Amongst the general population, however, astrology is popular, with most major newspapers running astrology columns.
Most scholars believe that astrology is a prohibited field of study. Imam Ibn Taymiyah said: “Astrology that is concerned with studying the positions and aspects of celestial bodies in the belief that they have an influence on the course of natural earthly occurrences and human affairs is prohibited by the Quran, the Sunnah, and the unanimous agreement of the Muslim scholars. Furthermore, astrology was considered forbidden by all Messengers of Almighty Allah(God).”
The Saudi scholar, Muhammad ibn al Uthaymeen, said: "Astrology is a kind of sorcery and fortune-telling. It is forbidden because it is based on illusions, not on concrete facts. There is no relation between the movements of celestial bodies and what takes place on the Earth."
The signs and its descriptions based on Al Biruni's work
|Aries||Al Hamal||An important sign as it marks the beginning of the calendar with spring. Al Biruni describes those that are born under Aries to be thin with medium height, tend to have poor eyesight with their eyes being dark or grey in color. They are also described to have a large nose and ears, while their hair is curly with a reddish color. They have a youthful disposition and have a sharp tongue to support their tendency to be talkative. They are impulsive and often described as quick to anger. Though they are generous and friendly, they can also be haughty and demanding. They are eager for relationships as they fear abandonment, however, they have few children even though they are one of the lusty signs. Medieval medical astrologers would often consult to astrology in diagnosing and treating illnesses, therefore the human body part is divided and designated to one sign, in the case of Aries, they are designated to the head and the face, and thus those born under Aries may have a mark on their face or hands. Regions are also designated to the signs, as such, Aries is said to govern Babylon, Palestine, Persia, and Azerbaijan. Aries also corresponds to fire, iron, copper, lead, crowns, helmets, and girdles. They also correspond to all hooved animals such as, goats, sheep, rams, and deer.|
|Taurus||Athawar||Al Biruni describes those that are born under Taurus to be tall and broad, with a strong neck and prominent eyebrows, forehead, and an upturned nose. They also have dark hair and downcast eyes with a large mouth and thick lips. They are also described as feminine, and melancholic. Nonetheless, those born under this sign are said to have good judgment. Although they are one of the lustful signs, like Aries, they often favor small families which could be due to their reserved nature, and also how the first part of Taurus indicates sterility. Medieval medical astrologers would often consult astrology in diagnosing and treating illnesses, therefore the human body part is divided and designated into one sign, in the case of Taurus, they are in charge of the neck, windpipes, and throat. Not only body parts, but regions are also designated to the signs, and thus Taurus corresponds to, amongst others, Oman, Cyprus, and parts of Iran. Taurus is also linked to childhood and spring. They are also associated with large domesticated animals such as cows, calves, elephants, and gazelles. Taurus also corresponds to unirrigated fields.|
|Gemini||Al Jawza||Al Biruni describes those that are born under Gemini to have an overall good appearance and are very sharp, thus it is said that they excel in games. They are described to be medium in height, with a fine face, and for the males, a fine beard. They also have broad shoulders and long legs. They are described to be masculine, airy, and spring. Although twins are prevalent in Gemini, they usually have few to no children or are barren. Medieval medical astrologers would often consult astrology in diagnosing and treating illnesses, therefore the human body part is divided and designated to one sign, therefore the arms, hands. And shoulders correspond to Gemini. Ibn Ezra gives a good example of how medical astrologers would refer to astrology when giving treatments. According to Ibn Ezra, it is not auspicious to do blood lettings when the moon is in Gemini, as the moon governs the tides and blood flow, while Gemini governs the arms. Not only body parts, but regions are also designated to the signs, and thus Gemini corresponds to the regions of Egypt, and Armenia. Gemini is also associated with gentle winds, animal spirits, and the drums, lutes, and flutes. They are also associated with winged animals, and over time gazelles and horned vipers as well.|
|Cancer||As Saratan||Al Biruni describes those that are born under Cancer is fickle, emotional, and prone to inactivity. They are described as being moderate in height and have thick limbs with long legs. They have long hair and fine browns eyes, with a crooked nose and teeth. They often appear to be downcast. The season that corresponds to cancer is spring to summer and is described as being feminine, nocturnal, and watery. Cancer often favors large families and would have many children. Medieval medical astrologers would often consult astrology in diagnosing and treating illnesses, therefore the human body part is divided and designated to one sign, therefore Cancer corresponds to the stomach, spleen, and lungs. Not only body parts, but regions are also designated to the signs, and thus Cancer also corresponds to rivers, Sudan, China, and places of worship. They also correspond to medium to tall trees, running water, rain, rice, and cane sugar. They are associated with reptiles, and also aquatic and terrestrial animals that are prevalent in the dessert such as beetles, and lizards.|
|Leo||Al Asad||Al Biruni describes those that are born under Leo to be good-looking and tall. They have a broad face, thick fingers, slender thighs and hips, a large nose, and a wide mouth with gapped teeth. They are further described to be regal, and bold, albeit for the fact that they can be troublesome and have a hard time accepting the truth. They are also very persuasive, and although they are often described as being courageous, they tend to be afraid of the unseen. They are described as being masculine and are hot, and fiery. Their season is the summer. Although Leo is one of the lustful signs, they have a few to no children and is an indication of sterility. Medieval medical astrologers would often consult astrology in diagnosing and treating illnesses, therefore the human body part is divided and designated to one sign, therefore Leo corresponds to the heart. It is said that in their youth, Leo’s would suffer lovesickness. It is understood that this meant that their emotional pain would be such that it would manifest into some form of a physical illness. Not only body parts, but regions are also designated to the signs, and thus Leo corresponds to the region of Jerusalem. Leo is associated with tall trees, subterranean fires minerals extracted from the ground, tall metal vases, and objects made from rubies, emeralds, gold, and silver. Leo also corresponds to black snakes, wild horses, tame lions, and all the other animals that have claws.|
|Virgo||Al Ardha||Al Biruni describes those that are born under Virgo to be stout although leaning towards tall in stature, broad shoulders, and chest, and have a flat nose. They also have marks on their chest and abdomen that may come in the form of moles. Further descriptions about Virgo tend to contradict each other as although they are very pleasant, they are also highly anxious about the future, and even though they are playful, they are also restrained. Furthermore, although Virgo may tend to be judgemental, they are nonetheless truthful. They are described as being feminine, earthy, and melancholic. They are also one of the nocturnal signs similar to Libra, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Gemini. Virgo indicates sterility, with having little to no children, and is often dubbed as the mistress of three forms. Out of all the signs, Virgo is the most virtuous, and they often have a good suspicion of trouble. Medieval medical astrologers would often consult astrology in diagnosing and treating illnesses, therefore the human body part is divided and designated to one sign, therefore Virgo corresponds to the stomach, and the belly, one superstition as to why Virgo people may have a mark on their abdomen. Not only body parts, but regions are also designated to the signs, and thus Virgo corresponds to the regions of Andalusia, Syria, and Crete. Virgo is associated with sown fields, all running water, mercury, and berries. Virgo also corresponds to magpies, black crows, sparrows, parrots, and large serpents.|
|Libra||Al Mizan||Al Biruni describes those that are born under Libra as being good-looking with a good nose and feet, and have distinctive marks on either their waist and neck. They are said to have a good heart, generous, and playful. Although they are quick-minded, they can also be very indecisive and are better at giving than listening to advice. Libra can take pleasure in the smallest things, and love to surround themselves with beauty. They are described as being masculine, airy, hot, and sanguine, with their season being autumn. Even with its strong ties to Venus, Libra is the pinnacle of justice and has strong ties to war, making it highly sought after by Muslim rulers. Medieval medical astrologers would often consult astrology in diagnosing and treating illnesses, therefore the human body part is divided and designated to one sign, therefore Libra corresponds to the hips, back, and buttocks. Not only body parts, but regions are also designated to the signs, and thus Libra corresponds to the regions of Mecca, Kabul, Herat, Greek, small mosques, and most importantly Rome. It is even said that Rome was found when the moon was in Libra. Libra also corresponds to Date palm trees, tall trees that are grown on mountain tops, and fruits that decorate trees. They also denote a dark atmosphere, and also correspond to silks, lutes, and drums. Libra is also associated with birds, leopards, as well as the jinn.|
|Scorpio||Al Aqrab||Al Biruni describes those that are born under Scorpio to be good-looking with a round face, broad shoulders and chest, alluring eyes, narrow forehead, coarse hair, and slender thighs. They would also often have a mark on their foot or back and may have deep lines on the soles of their feet. They are interested in the occult and are eager for deep conversations. Al Biruni further describes those born under Scorpio is often concealing their deep anxiety, even though they have a bold and impulsive nature. He continued on to say that Scorpios have a mind for vengeance and have a hard time forgiving, often thinking about their enemies of things that are sexual in nature. They are described as being feminine, watery, and nocturnal, with their corresponding season being autumn. Although Scorpio is another lusty sign, its lust differs from that of Taurus’ lust ways which are acceptable within the confines of propriety. Scorpio’s lustful tendency is often described as being lecherous, though this does not mean that they are unfaithful. Scorpio also tends to have a big family and many children. Medieval medical astrologers would often consult astrology in diagnosing and treating illnesses, therefore the human body part is divided and designated to one sign, therefore Scorpio corresponds to the genitals. Not only body parts, but regions are also designated to the signs, and thus Scorpio corresponds to the regions of the deserts of Arabia, Yemen, and some areas in Turkey. Scorpio also corresponds to medium-sized trees, running waters, such as rivers, as well as things that have been mixed with clay-like drowned land. Precious stones that are from the water, like corals, are also associated with Scorpio. Furthermore, reptiles, aquatic animals, poisonous insects, and other many footed animals like the scorpion and the wasps are also corresponding to Scorpio.|
|Sagittarius||Al Qaws||Al Biruni describes those that are born under Sagittarius to be tall, and have a good-looking backside. They have a reddish complexion, with a nice eye shape, large belly, coarse nose, and a long beard. They would also have some kind of mark on their arms and legs. They are described to have a noble spirit, like Leo, they are considered to be one of the royal signs, and are very skilled in communication. Often influencing people with their writing or their speech. Although they are open-minded and liberal, they have very strong dislikes. Furthermore, although it is often well-intentioned, their tendency to meddle may cause problems to arise. Sagittarius is also described as being masculine, fiery, and dry. Their season is autumn. Even though they are one of the lusty signs, they favor small families and would have few children. Medieval medical astrologers would often consult astrology in diagnosing and treating illnesses, therefore the human body part is divided and designated to a sign. Sagittarius corresponds to the thighs. Not only body parts, but regions are also designated to the signs, and thus Sagittarius corresponds to the regions of Persia, Baghdad, and Iraq. Sagittarius is also associated with natural streams and the body heat of animals. Tin, gold, and articles of fighting like spears and arrows are also associated with Sagittarius. Furthermore, hooved animals such as horses, donkeys, and mules are associated with Sagittarius, although there is some indication that birds and reptiles may be counted as well.|
|Capricorn||Al Jadi||Al Biruni describes those that are born under Capricorn to be handsome, having a slender body with a fine figure, and have thin hair and legs. They are social, amiable, and forthright, however, they are also rather shy, cautious, and solitary. Al Biruni further describes them as often taking a pragmatic approach to things that they tend to get anxious about life. They are also described as being pessimistic, with many opinions, and have a good memory of things that slighted them. They are described as being feminine, nocturnal, and melancholic. Their season is spring. The latter part of Capricorn are eager for marriage, and favor large families, thus having many children. However, the first part of Capricorn indicates sterility, and would thus have few children. Like Scorpio, their lusty aspect is seen as being lecherous. Medieval medical astrologers would often consult astrology in diagnosing and treating illnesses, therefore the human body part is divided and designated to a sign. Capricorn corresponds to the knees, and those born under Capricorn often have a mark on their knees. Not only body parts, but regions are also designated to the signs, and thus Sagittarius corresponds to the regions of the Indus river, Eastern China, and Persepolis. Capricorns are also associated with herbs and crops. They also correspond to children, herded animals such as lambs, as well as creeping things like locusts.|
|Aquarius||Ad Dawl||Al Biruni describes those that are born under Aquarius to be good-looking with a broad chest, narrow forehead, well-filled out body, and have a downcast demeanor. They are easily bored and annoyed and are very forthright. They struggle in trying to articulate their emotions, although when it comes to their thoughts and ideas they are able to express them easily. Al Biruni criticized them as being an overthinker, and have the tendency of contemplating on matters too deeply. Aquarius is described as being masculine, hot, and moist. Its season is in the winter. Aquarius favors smaller families and would thus only have a few children. Medieval medical astrologers would often consult astrology in diagnosing and treating illnesses, therefore the human body part is divided and designated to a sign. Aquarius corresponds to the shins and ankles, and thus those born under Aquarius would often have a mark on those parts of their body, as well as the head. Not only body parts, but regions are also designated to the signs, and thus Sagittarius corresponds to the regions of Egypt and the southern part of Iraq. Aquarius is also associated with tall trees, seas, and running water. They are also associated with vultures, eagles, beavers, sables, and aquatic birds, especially ones that are black in coloring.|
|Pisces||Al Hut||Al Biruni describes those born under Pisces as being delicate and having a good figure. They have smooth skin, a fine face, narrow shoulders and forehead, a small head, and is medium height. They are described as moody, get attached easily, and although smart, they tend to put little effort into work. They are often time enchanted by locations. They also have the tendency to wander. Pisces is also described as being lustful, however not in the same lecherous tendency in Scorpio and Taurus. They often change their minds, and Pisces men, in particular, are known as being unreliable. Pisces are described as being feminine, nocturnal, and cold. Its season is in winter and the early days of spring. They favor large families and would have many children. Medieval medical astrologers would often consult astrology in diagnosing and treating illnesses, therefore the human body part is divided and designated to a sign. Pisces correspond to the feet and heels, and thus those born under Pisces often have injuries to their heels. They also have a mark on their chest. Not only body parts, but regions are also designated to the signs, and thus Pisces corresponds to the regions of Syria and the seas of Yemen. Pisces is also associated with cotton, sugar, fruit-bearing trees, sandalwood, pearls, corals, stagnant waters and lakes, and medium-sized trees. They also correspond to birds, fish, aquatic carnivores, serpents, and scorpions.|
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