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Yahya Michot, Ibn Taymiyya on Astrology

Yahya Michot, Ibn Taymiyya on Astrology

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Published by Yahya Michot
Annotated Translation of Three Fatwas (Oxford, 2000)
Annotated Translation of Three Fatwas (Oxford, 2000)

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Published by: Yahya Michot on Sep 16, 2011
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Journal of Islamic Studies
11
2 (2000) pp 147-208© Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies 2000
IBN TAYMIYYA
ON
ASTROLOGYANNOTATED TRANSLATION
OF
THREE FATWAS*
YAHYA J. MICHOT
Faculty
of
Theology, OxfordLa uhibbu l-afilma
...
(Qur'an,
6.76)
INTRODUCTION
According
to
Avicenna,
the
famous Abu l-'Anbas al-Saymarl
'was,
in his time,
the
smartest man
as far as
swindling
(zarq)
is
concerned.He wrote
a
book
in
which
he
provided instruction
in
swindling
to
every group
of
those
[...]
who held seances
on
the thoroughfares.
He
therefore also dealt with
the
astrologers, enumerating
[for
them]
the
various classes
of
people—men, women, children,
the
young
and
old, servants
and
others—and mentioning things appropriate
for
each.
[The
astrologers] memorized that book
and,
when they
saw
somebody, recited
to
him what they
had
memorized.
Of
course,
the
circumstances
of
the person [listening] were inevitably alluded
to by
some
of
what that fraudster
(mumakhnq)
mentioned
and
otherswere amazed
by his
statements,
as we
have mentioned. Such
is
alsothe case
of
those swindlers
{zarrdq)
who run
about
in
places
and
roadways and dupe
(makhraqa)
women and children
by
telling themthings
of
that sort.
The
veracity
of
such
a
fraudster
is,
however,greater than
the
veracity
of
one who pretends
to
possess
the
scienceof astrology
{'ilm ahkdm al-nujum).'
2
* Author's note:
My
thanks
to the
Oxford Centre
for
Islamic Studies where
a
Visiting Fellowship and the support
of
an Easa Saleh al-Gurg Scholarship enabled meto undertake this work. Also,
to
L. A.
I
owe much
of
my interest m stars
as in
moreearthly realities.
Fa-jazd-hd
Alldhu khayr
al-/azd'
wa
hafiza-hd!
1
Humorist
and
astrologer admitted
to the
court
of the
'Abbasid caliphal-Mutawakkil (Saymara, near Basra, 213/828
-
Baghdad, 275/888).
See C.
Pellat,
El
2
,
SuppI
,
'Abu l-'Anbas al-Saymari'
2
Ibn
Slna,
Nujum,
ms
Leiden,
f. 96r H Z.
Ulken's edition
of
Avicenna's refuta-tion
of
astrology
(Opuscules,
49-67)
is
generally very
bad. M. A F.
Mehren's
 
148 YAHYA J. MICHOT
During this same third/ninth century when al-Saymarl taughtastrology as a useful technique for charlatans, Abu Ma'shar al-Balkhl(Balkh,
c.
170/786-Wasit, 272/886),
3
the greatest medieval astrologer,advocated its scientific character in terms of a late Neo-Platonicinterpretation of Aristotle's natural philosophy.
4
Despite its veryuncertain nature, astrology never ceased to be widely practised inclassical Islam, either in relation to magic, occultism and charlatanry,
5
or in relation to cosmography, astronomy and
falsafa.
Of course,astrologers became the target of regular attacks and numerous con-demnations, not only by theologians or jurists, but also by philo-sophers, mathematicians or astronomers, themselves threatened byassociation with astrology.
6
However demand for the astrologers'services never dried up, in palaces and among the elites or in shops,markets and streets, among the lowest social classes.
7
As G. Saliba,in his excellent investigation of the social status of astrologers inmedieval Islamic society, rightly concludes: 'while trading in a craftwhich was both religiously and legally frowned upon, they stillmanaged to carve a niche for themselves which was not too differentfrom that occupied by other professional classes in that society.'
8
French version
(Vues)
is not a scholarly translation but what he himself calls a'compte-rendu'. It also contains several mistakes. For example, in the passage heretranslated, Mehren reads
nzq
instead of
zarq,
although the latter is clearly the readingin the Leiden manuscript. (On the confusion in the sources between
zarq
and
nzq,
see C. A. Nalhno,
Zarq,
and C. E. Bosworth,
Underworld,
11, 257-8. Avicenna'sexposition of Abu l-'Anbas' book and the evidence of the
lectio diffialior
of theLeiden manuscript lead me to prefer
zarq
to
nzq,
in opposition to Nallino's andC. E. Bosworth's opinions )
3
See R. Lemay,
Abu Ma'shar,
1, 2-49.
4
As pertinently argued by J. Lemay
(Islam,
28-9), Abu Ma'shar al-Balkhl's
K. al-Mudkhal al-kabir,
in its version of 262/876, showed a serious and worthy effortto synthesize the astrological heritage of the Middle East (Egypt, Mesopotamia, Iranand India) and the Greek
falsafa,
recently brought into vogue in Baghdad under thepatronage of the 'Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun; with the consequence that the book isvisibly inspired by Aristotle's
Physics
and
Metaphysics
as well as by the adaptation ofPeripatetic naturalism to astrology accomplished by Ptolemy. It is indeed Aristotlehimself who provided the theoretical framework on the basis of which astrologerswere able to build their doctrines. In more than one text, he clearly affirmed theresponsibility of the sun, the planetary spheres or the planets and their movements, inall processes of generation and corruption, including animal generation. (See thereferences given by G. Saliba,
Role,
45; D Pingree,
Astrology,
297-8.)
5
See for example Abu Dulaf (4th/10th c),
Qasida,
trans. Bosworth,
Underworld,
11,
204, verses 88-9.
6
See G. Sahba,
Role,
46-7. See also
History,
55-61.
7
Ibn Khaldun offers a psychological explanation for the phenomenon and showsits importance in the various social classes. See his
Muqaddima,
trans. Rosenthal,
Introduction,
19-38.
8
See G. Sahba,
Role,
66.
 
IBN TAYMIYYA ON ASTROLOGY 149
Around 700/1300, ideas and debate reached an unprecedented levelof sophistication and interdisciphnarity in the Mamluk sultanate.Philosophy, theology
(kaldm),
sciences and even Sufism interacted oneach other as if all the resources available had to be dialecticallyexplored in order to find an exit from the cul-de-sac into whichPeripatetic rationalism and Ptolemaic cosmography appeared to haveled most Muslim intellectuals.
9
Though perhaps inspired by despair,various disciplines relating to the sciences and wisdom
(hikma)
indeedappear to have experienced at that time some sort of 'Golden Age'.It is undoubtedly the case with mathematics and astronomy, thelatter having then become, in D. King's phrase,
11
an 'astronomyin the service of Islam', i.e. clearly distinguished from astrology andtherefore Islamically acceptable by the community of believers,increasingly dependent on the patronage of religious institutions,and dedicated to the lunar calendar, the times of prayer,
qibla
com-putations, etc., as well as to questions like the necessary reform of thePtolemaic geocentric planetary model, all of which required highstandards of mathematical sophistication.Mamluk astronomers employed by mosques no longer needed topractise astrology to earn a living. The majority were able to con-centrate on purely astronomical research, theoretical and practical.
D.
King, who catalogued 2,500 scientific manuscripts in Cairo's Daral-Kutub, affirms: 'There is in fact remarkably little astrology in the[...] Mamluk scientific treatises known to me.' Astrology neverthe-less persisted. Though Mamluk society as a whole had becomeantipathetic to their functions, astrologers retained many of theirclients, not only in the streets but also, sometimes, in the citadels ofthe ruling military class. However as their craft, definitely repudiatedby astronomers, could no longer depend on them for precise celestialand mathematical data, it inevitably became more of an occultpractice, closer than ever to magic, divination and charlatanry, get-ting its inspiration from the sorcerer's manual
The Goal of theSage (Ghdyat al-hakim)
of the pseudo-Majrltl or from al-Bunl's
Summa magica, The Sun of Supreme Knowledge {Shams al-ma'dnf
al-kubrd),^
3
rather than from Abu Ma'shar's
Great Introduction to
9
See Y. J. Michot,
Vanttes.
10
See G. Saliba,
History, 65;
D. Gutas,
Thought,
172
11
D. King,
Muwaqqit,
155;
Astronomy,
534-5.
12
D. King,
Muwaqqit,
155;
Astronomy,
550.
13
See A. Abel,
Place,
301-4; E Savage-Smith,
Science,
I,
59-71:
'Magic and Islam'It is the kind of astrology described in
The 1001 Nights,
see R. Irwin,
Nights,
ch 8-'The Universe of Marvels', especially
190-1,
202.

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