What Does Islam Say About Astrology?

Kaiser Aslam, the Muslim Chaplain at Rutgers University–New Brunswick in New Jersey, tells us about astrology in Islam.

What Does Islam Say About Astrology?

Kaiser Aslam, the Muslim Chaplain at Rutgers University–New Brunswick in New Jersey, tells us about astrology in Islam.

By

Syeda Khaula Saad

 

From apps like Co-Star and The Pattern that tell you about your personality based on the time you were born, to daily horoscopes in your favorite publication that dictate “what Gossip Girl character you are” based on your zodiac sign, astrology seems to be everywhere. And whether or not you believe in the validity of the practice, it can be a lot of fun to take part in. 

But oftentimes, Muslims who are even slightly interested in astrology or what their horoscope might be are scolded by older generations for participating in something they deem is completely incompatible with Islam. You might have even heard an elder go as far as to say that it was Shirk. But Kaiser Aslam, the Muslim Chaplain at Rutgers University–New Brunswick in New Jersey, doesn’t completely agree.

He says that one of the first things that needs to be recognized is that in the past, astrology and astronomy were actually the same field. 

“We have so many scholars of our past that actually wrote books on astrology, but they were commenting just as much on astronomy as they were on astrology,” Chaplain Aslam tells Muslim. “It’s not until maybe like 400 or 500 years ago that these two fields shift. So almost no one is in disagreement that Islam has a lot to do with astronomy.” 

Think about the very core of Islamic traditions and how we determine our holidays and prayer times.  “So much of our tradition has to do with looking at the moon, right?” Chaplain Aslam jokingly refers to the “moon wars” Muslims get into every Eid as one of the only setbacks of following a lunar calendar. At its foundation, though, the lunar calendar is unique because it does not require a central government or authority figure. This, in turn, empowers the idea of a local community coming together to make sense of it, as we see happens every Eid. “I think that’s a lot to do with the ideas of astrology … it takes away governmental or human authority figures and places it literally to the universe,” Chaplain Aslam says. “And who’s the one who made the universe? Allah SWT.”

 

Astronomy plays a very important role in Islam and spirituality in general, as it usually meant looking at celestial objects and how amazing they are and relating it to the grandeur of God, Chaplain Aslam explains. “Eventually that started getting into ‘So well, what can we do with them?’ That’s where the big debate is,” he says. “It’s not whether it’s an appropriate field in and of itself [but rather], ‘what are they used to do?’”

This is where astrology comes in and thus, the biggest controversy with the practice. 

While some people look at horoscopes as a fun way to see how close your personality traits match up with their zodiac signs, other people attempt to use this as a way of determining their life decisions. But so long as we don’t give too much power to our horoscopes in our decision-making, we should be fine. 

“We can appreciate things sometimes without seeing them as sources of guidance, where if you start going, … ‘My friends can only be the same Zodiac sign as me’ or like, ‘It’ll determine whether I say yes or no to having a relationship with someone or marrying someone,’ I think we’ve crossed the boundary.” Chaplain Aslam says. When you start subjugating all of your life’s choices to your star sign, that’s when you get into some really questionable territory. “Because at the end of the day, you’re actually supplanting a basic Islamic principle, which is that the people are based on their character,” he says. 

But this doesn’t mean you should denounce astrology completely. 

“We’re living in a weird moment within Islamic discourse, it’s a reactionary movement that we see, where things like horoscopes have [come] and we’re like, ‘that’s not Islam in any way, shape or form’,” Chaplain Aslam says. “But when we do that, when we turn the other way completely, we actually take away the nuance [of texts].” Whether people realize it or not, there are many traditions within Islam that play into a similar line of thinking as astrology. 

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Ilm-al-Nujum, or “science of the stars” is an older Islamic school of thought that encouraged believers to think about signs within nature and the universe as having a higher spiritual purpose. And these beliefs have spilled out into Islamic practices that you don’t even have to check smaller sects to find. Muslims believe Ramadan to be the most virtuous month. This has everything to do with the phases of the moon. When there is an eclipse, Muslims congregate for the Salat-ul-Kusuf prayer, which is essentially an appreciation of an astrological phenomenon. Muslims also look for signs around them for life decisions more often than one might think. The entire basis of the Istikhara is to ask Allah to give you guidance on a decision, and to provide that guidance by providing the Istishara, or the signs that may lead you to the right path. This isn’t far off from people looking to stars for guidance. 

“When you do just look up at the stars …they point you towards God,” Chaplain Aslam says. “I think that can be said about astrology in general … because astrology has that … same idea that you’re not as in control as you think you are.” He explains that one of the basic premises of astrology is that there are things that are beyond your control that end up determining things about you like your personality traits. This doesn’t drift far from the “nurture/nature” debate. 

Astrology just seems to suggest a very huge nature component. Chaplain Aslam says that we as Muslims can appreciate that there are many aspects of who we are that we didn’t have any way of controlling — but that shouldn’t paralyze us. Instead, it should just make us focus more on the aspects of our personalities we can control. 

“I think that’s that balanced approach where we appreciate it up until it rubs up against one of our religious traditions, which is when we start measuring people’s worth based on their astrological sign,” Chaplain Aslam says. “But if we use it to be like, ‘Can I understand myself a little bit better so that I can focus on the things I can and cannot change?’ that might be a positive thing because you’re learning to understand yourself more.”

Human Rights Workers In Kabul Killed As Afghan Conflicts Continues

To some, this ramping cycle of death and destruction has led to an Orientalist view that death is somehow brushed off as commonplace in Afghanistan.

Human Rights Workers In Kabul Killed As Afghan Conflicts Continues

To some, this ramping cycle of death and destruction has led to an Orientalist view that death is somehow brushed off as commonplace in Afghanistan.

By

Ali M Latifi
Photo - Liu Heung Shing/AP

 

Kabul, Afghanistan – Fatima Khalil, 24, was on her way to work at Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) when the car she was traveling in exploded. Unknown to Khalil, a donor liaison officer at the AIHRC, and her driver, Jawid Folad, someone had attached a “sticky” bomb to their vehicle.

Both were killed in the blast. 

The attack is the latest in a month-long spur of violence in the capital that has cut through several generations. From mothers and children in a maternity clinic to worshippers and well-known mullahs in two mosques to the human rights workers, the last few weeks have shattered any remaining illusions of security in Kabul.

With each attack come harshly-worded government condemnations and promises of investigations, but the results (if any) seem to never be made public. In fact, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the NGO that ran the maternity that came under attack last month, cited that lack of information as the basis for their decision to close the maternity clinic.

“A month after the horrifying event, we know very little; the attack remains unclaimed,” MSF said of the decision to shutter the clinic after four years and more than 16,000 deliveries in 2019 alone.

Each of these attacks took place in well-known, crowded areas of Kabul, leading to further questions about how the nation’s capital can remain so insecure 20 years after the US-led invasion that brought billions of dollars in foreign aid with it.

Each attack has not only lowered the bar for how brazen and horrific the targets of violence in the country can get, but also begs the question of where exactly people can feel shielded from the conflict.

A clinic full of mothers and children in one of the city’s least-developed, overcrowded and under-served neighborhoods is no longer safe. Mosques where some of the nation’s most well-known mullahs preach are no longer safe. The car of a young human rights worker who had just returned from studying abroad is no longer safe. 

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There are more than 30,000 recorded cases of coronavirus (COVID-19), while thousands more go undocumented as they suffer silently at home. This also comes at a time when Public Health officials have been caught on video taking an $80,000 bribe and the Kabul government tries to fight off reports that 32 ventilators meant for Afghan patients were smuggled and sold across the Durand Line.

Taken as a whole, all of these elements show the devastating state of life in Afghanistan at a time when the Kabul government and the Taliban prepare for impending face-to-face talks as part of a February peace deal brokered between Washington and the armed group.

A day after the attack on Khalil and Folad, the human rights workers, clusters of young men and women sit and discuss what this all means.

 The talks go from how human rights workers, who were standing up against abuses of civilians by both the government and armed groups, could be targeted to the nature of martyrdom and what it means to die in an explosion.

“I just wonder how she felt, was she in pain,” a friend of Khalil’s who works for the government asks over and over again.

As they come and go, the 20 and 30-somethings, regardless of their religiosity, greet each other with a phrase often heard coming from the mouths of their elders in times of mourning: “We are all on this road,” they say.

Death is inevitable, but in Afghanistan that inevitability hangs overhead like an omnipresent phantasm.

“We could be killed walking down the street. We could be killed for going to the mosque. We could be killed at work, it’s something we accept by living here,” a photographer who grew up in neighboring Iran can be heard saying. 

To some, this ramping cycle of death and destruction has led to an Orientalist view that death, even violent death, is somehow brushed off as commonplace in Afghanistan. A modern interpolation of that bone chilling bon mot from the United States’ last failed war in Vietnam, “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does the Westerner … Life is not important.”

But seeing the devastated families and friends crying in agony or holding on to any fleeting memory and memento and the hundreds of online tributes and statements of shock and disbelief, including from strangers, after each incident, that hawkish trope is easily dismantled.

The people of Afghanistan certainly value life and lament the loss of it, but now the question is what the belligerents in the conflict, from the government in Kabul — and their backers in the US and Europe — to the armed groups — commonly believed to be aided and abetted in Pakistan and Iran — will do to finally protect human life in a country that has seen far too much conflict.

Five Influential Muslim Philosophers You Need To Know

Muslim philosophers, inspired by their enormous exposure to new knowledge, set to work on a vast project: interpreting all previous world philosophies through the lens of Islamic revelation.

Five Influential Muslim Philosophers You Need To Know

Muslim philosophers, inspired by their enormous exposure to new knowledge, set to work on a vast project: interpreting all previous world philosophies through the lens of Islamic revelation.

By

Sameed Shariq

 

The Golden Age of Islam – typically around the 8th to 13th centuries – saw Muslims lead the world in science, culture and the arts. Due to expansion under the Abbasids, Muslims were the first to have access to discoveries of the natural world across cultures. 

Muslim philosophers, inspired by their enormous exposure to new knowledge, set to work on a vast project: interpreting all previous world philosophies through the lens of Islamic revelation. In this effort, they hoped to determine the relationship between spirituality and reason, thus integrating the two into a single coherent system which made sense of the natural world and man’s place in it.

Here are five of the most influential Islamic philosophers who embarked on this quest to understand reality:

Al-Farabi (872 – 950)

Al Farabi’s writings pertained to science, cosmology, mathematics and musical theory alongside philosophy. Diverse fields of study were common among the Philosophers, who believed acquiring all sorts of knowledge was an essential part of their quest to understand the nature of the universe. 

In his consideration of the Aristotelian concept of a ‘First Cause’, which describes a perfectly beautiful, indivisible initiator of the universe, Al-Farabi found a logical basis for Tawhid (the Islamic principal of the oneness of God). Through his commentaries of Aristotle, he preserved the original Greek texts for future generations and influenced prominent philosophers like Ibn Sina.

 

Ibn Sina (980 – 1037)

While often hailed as the father of early modern medicine, Ibn Sina also published a great number of highly influential philosophical works. His commentaries of Aristotle were critical – one example of which sees him reproach inductive reasoning as a means of defining a fact. Instead of solely drawing on one’s experiences to infer a truth, Ibn Sina proposed a method of examination and experimentation. Thus, an early form of the scientific method was born. 

Ibn Sina also followed Al-Farabi’s lead to comment on the question of being and the existence of God. He distinguished between existence and essence to develop an understanding of the soul. Through his ‘Proof of the Truthful’, Ibn Sina argued that God’s existence was necessary as there would need to be an agent-cause that imparts existence to an essence. Historian of philosophy Peter Adamson describes this as one of the most important medieval arguments for God’s existence.

 

Al-Ghazali (1058 – 1111)

Sufi Imam and jurist Al-Ghazali preferred to think of himself as more of a theologian and mystic than a philosopher. His inclusion in this list is important, however, because even though he sought to refute past philosophers’ rationalisation of the Divine through logic, he also utilised their methods of reasoning to do so. 

Through his ‘Incoherence of the Philosophers’, Ghazali claimed that by using the Greeks’ philosophies of metaphysics as the foundations for their own, philosophers like Ibn Sina had committed heresy. Ghazali claimed that ideas such as God’s existence being necessary were contradictory to revelation. It was not natural laws that governed causation, Ghazali said, but God’s rational will that enables the universe to operate in a way that we are able to make sense of and decipher rules for; Godis not fixed by these rules, so attempting to prove His existence through them is futile. 

Ghazali’s argumentation was widely celebrated and marked a major shift against the rationalisation of revelation in the Islamic world. 

 

Ibn Rushd (1126 – 1198)

Ibn Rushd was a highly proficient judge, physician and philosopher from Cordoba, Spain. By his time, the mainstream of Muslim thinking had shifted firmly away from Aristotelianism to Ghazali’s Asharite school of thought. Despite a valiant effort to defend the pursuit of philosophy in his systematic rebuke of Ghazali, Ibn Rushd’s ‘Incoherence of the Incoherence’ didn’t hold much clout with his co-religionists by the end of his life. 

In fact, his philosophical works survived not in Arabic but in Hebrew and Latin translations that ultimately earned him fame in the West. There, he became known as ‘The Commentator,’ the immensely important guide to the teachings of Aristotle.

 

Ibn Khaldun (1332 – 1406)

A venerated Islamic scholar, social scientist and historian, Ibn Khaldun is credited as the pioneer of the philosophy of history. By approaching history empirically and treating sources critically, Ibn Khaldun developed a method for historiography that refuted myths and falsehood. His most famous work, ‘Muqaddimah,’ identified critical issues made by his fellow historians and proposed a scientific method to the field that is practiced in varying forms to this day. 

These Muslim Philosophers form a cornerstone of our Islamic intellectual and cultural heritage. The pursuit of knowledge should be celebrated, especially where it serves to develop our relationship with our spirituality. Within Islamic philosophy we find questions which underpin our most fundamental beliefs as Muslims. Questions that ask us to think critically and innovatively, to strive for truth and understand our world and ourselves. It is imperative that we face them and continue to ponder reality and spirituality through the lenses they provide

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