Islamic Astronomy




During the times between 700-1200AD, a great Islamic empire stretched from central Asia to southern Europe. Baghdad became a center of knowledge and wisdom for the whole world. Scholars and scientists from all over the world gathered to share their knowledge and ideas. The various trade routes, such as the Silk Road, crossing the region, allowed knowledge from India and China to mix with the wisdom of the Persians, the Greeks, the Egyptians, and the Jews. The Islamic scholars preserved much knowledge, translated it into Arabic and then refined it. Great advancements and discoveries were made in every field.


Since the Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula already lived in the desert, they were already skilled in reading the sky and used it to navigate in the desert. At first they adopted the Astrolabe, an instrument invented by the Greeks which calculated the positions of certain stars in order to determine direction, they perfected it. Then they developed the sextant to be a more sophisticated version of the astrolabe. This piece of technology ultimately became the cornerstone of navigation for European exploration. With the rise of Islam they had to further advance astronomy in order to tell the time, as Muslims are required to pray five times a day at specified positions of the sun. Astronomical time-keeping was the most accurate way to determine when to pray, and was also used to pin-point religious festivals.


The Arabs made great contributions to astronomy that influenced western astronomy which at the time was much inferior Arabian astronomy. Among the most famous and influential Islamic astronomers was Al-Battani, whose findings and books found their way to Europe and would influence Kepler, Galileo, and Tycho. He wrote many books about astronomy and mathematics, with his most famous book, ’KIitabal-Zij’, improving upon the work of Ptolemy’s Almagest. And there are many more other influential Islamic astronomers other than Al-Battani who made great discoveries. Some of them are: Ibn Al-Haytham, Abd-al-Rahman Al Sufi, Al Biruni and Abu Ishaq Ibrahim al-Zarqali to name a few.


Written by: Osama Waheib

July 21, 2016

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