Muslims have always had a special interest in astronomy. The moon and the sun are of vital importance in the daily life of every Muslim. By the moon, Muslims determine the beginning and the end of the months in their lunar calendar. By the sun the Muslims calculate the times for prayer and fasting. It is also by means of astronomy that Muslims can determine the precise direction of the Qiblah, to face the Ka’bah in Makkah, during prayer.
The most precise solar calendar, superior to the Julian, is the Jilali, devised under the supervision of Umar Khayyam.
The Quran contains many references to astronomy:
“And it is He who created the night and the day and the sun and the moon; all [heavenly bodies] in an orbit are swimming.”
[Noble Quran 21:33]
These references, and the injunctions to learn, inspired the early Muslim scholars to study the heavens. They integrated the earlier works of the Indians, Persians and Greeks into a new synthesis.
Ptolemy’s Almagest (the title as we know it today is actually Arabic) was translated, studied and criticized. Many new stars were discovered, as we see in their Arabic names – Algol, Deneb, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Aldebaran. Astronomical tables were compiled, among them the Toledan tables, which were used by Copernicus, Tycho Brahe and Kepler.
Read Dr Muhammad Hamidullah’s article for Islamic contributions i other fields.