Islam advised Muslims to find ways of using the stars. The Qur’an says: “And it is He who ordained the stars for you that you may be guided thereby in the darkness of the land and the sea. “On the basis of this advice Muslims began to develop better observational and navigational instruments, thus most navigational stars today have Arabic names.
There are several rules in Islam which lead Muslims to use better astronomical calculations and observations.
The first issue is the Islamic calendar. The Qur’an says: “The number of months in the sight of Allah is twelve (in a year) so ordained by Him the day He created the heavens and the earth; of them four are sacred; that is the straight usage. “Therefore Muslims could not follow the Christian or Hebrew calendars and they thus had to develop a new one.
The other issue is moon sighting. Islamic months do not begin at the astronomical new moon, defined as the time when the moon has the same celestial longitude as the sun and is therefore invisible; instead they begin when the thin crescent moon is first sighted in the western evening sky.
The Qur’an says: “They ask you about the waxing and waning phases of the crescent moons, say they are to mark fixed times for mankind and Hajj.” This led Muslims to find the phases of the moon in the sky, and their efforts led to new mathematical calculations and observational instruments, as well as a special science being formed specifically for moon sighting.
Quran on Astronomy
Apart from the verses that specifically describe the Creation, there are roughly another forty verses in the Quran which provide information on astronomy complementing what has already been given. Some of them are not much more than reflections on the glory of the Creator, the Organizer of all the stellar and planetary systems. These we know to be arranged according to balancing positions whose stability Newton explained in his law of the mutual attraction of bodies.
Just pause and try and imagine the Arabian night skies – crisp and clear, twinkling gently and kindly …invitingly, literally showing mankind the way. We see below a sampling of some of the mentions of Astronomy in the Qur’an. It is by no means a catalogue. The Qur’an tells us that the stars are there to guide us on land and sea.
“And it is He who ordained the stars for you that you may be guided thereby in the darkness of the land and the sea.” (6:97)
“And marks and sign-posts and by the stars, (men) guide themselves.” (16:16)
If you become familiar with the constellations and the stars in the sky, one can never be lost anywhere in the world. They are truly a guiding light in the canopy of the heavens. You can be anywhere in the world and immediately on looking up in the night sky and by recognizing stars, you can know what latitude you are at and where all the other directions is north and thereby.
You can know what time of the year it is in the absence of any calendars. It is rather appropriate that the crescent moon and star is used as signs to represent matters of religion among Muslims. The moon holds a most important position for the reckoning of time among Muslims. The lunar calendar is one of the oldest and a natural calendar system and astronomers acknowledge that the Muslim calendar is the only purely lunar calendar in wide use
“They ask you about new crescent moons, say they are to mark fixed times for mankind and Hajj.” (2:189)
“And He who made the night for rest and sun and moon for reckoning of time. This is the decree of the Exalted, the All-knowing.” (6:96)
“It is He who made sun a lamp, and moon a light and measured stages so you know number of years and count (of time).” (10:5)
“And He subjected the sun and the moon (to His law); each one runs its course for a term appointed.” (13:2), (31:29), (35:13), and (39:5)
There are now several different softwares available for calculating the dates and times of new moons, prayer times and qibla direction. The study of Astronomy is not something to be afraid of – it enlightens us and guides to a deeper understanding and appreciation of our religion and recognition of the omnipotence of our Creator. There is nothing wrong if in searching for the crescent moon we know when and where to look for it. Over and over the Qur’an emphasizes the aspect “for men of understanding”. We need to listen to that, surely there is great importance and relevance for it to be repeated so many times
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has said “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave”. Islam is about a lifetime of learning. A lifetime of learning means we can never know or understand everything. It is a dynamic process and we must continue to strive at all times.