Zodiac sign of Scorpio on an Islamic Astrolabe

Lines of Faith
Astrology and Astronomy

"Lo in the creation of the heavens and the earth
and the difference of night and day
..... are signs for rational men." (II; 164)

Astrology and astronomy were closely linked in Islam, encapsulated in the Arabic term Ilm al-nujum, which means the study of both disciplines. The Qu'ran suggests that there are signs in nature for man to read, and in the history of Islam the study of astronomy and astrology were at one time regarded as having a higher spiritual purpose in thinking about the universe. However the Hadith - the account of words and actions attributed to Muhammad - mentions that only God knows the future, and implies that man should not attempt to predict the future. Inaccurate forecasts could also have serious consequences - for example, a series of disastrous predictions by Taki al-Din in 1577 AD led to the demolition of the Istanbul observatory by the Sultan Murat III.


The main principles of Islamic astrology were inherited from the Babylonian and Greek cultures, and were made relevant to Muslim scholars because of the spiritual relationship, as interpreted from the Qu'ran, between the celestial bodies and the heavens, and man and the earth. Each of the signs of the zodiac was thought to govern certain aspects of earthly life. They were not only related to people, but also the seasons of the year, the weather, and agriculture, and different branches of astronomy developed among Muslim scholars to deal with the diverse subjects of astrology. Over time astronomers within state observatories came to distance themselves from astrology due to its vulgar associations with fortune telling, although it retained its appeal among the population.


Muslims obtained much of its astronomical knowledge from Greek antiquity, but original work was also undertaken. Cosmological theories were developed, mathematical models for planetary motion were improved, and highly accurate observations of stellar movement were taken. The modern use of Arabic terms such as zenith, azimuth and nadir, and star names such as Betelgeose (bait al-Jauzah) and Algol (ra's al-ghul) demonstrates Muslim influence on astronomy.

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