Staring at the heavens: Astronomy in medieval Islam

What lies beyond what is known? Who is responsible for the majesty of the stars? Since the revelation of Islam, the night sky has offered philosophers and theologians alike a window into understanding God, heaven, and our unique journey to salvation.

Social media users rarely if ever agree on anything.

As an active Twitter poster, I can testify first-hand that cyberspace is, most of the time, a cesspit of interminable disagreements and vexatious quarrelling.

Every now and then, however, users find common ground, a happening that brings them together, at least temporarily. The most recent unifier came after NASA published the first images of the James Webb Telescope.

Everyone was taken aback by the never seen before and breathtakingly beautiful photographs of deep space.

“To the medieval Muslim astronomers and scientists, the heavens provided a heady language of admiration and thoughtful reflection. Numerous verses in the Quran, the earliest surviving text from early Islam, instruct believers to ponder over the signs of God scattered all over the heavens”

Few today would disagree that there is something mystifying and humbling about the heavens and the starry night sky.

Like us, our ancient predecessors found much delight in their nocturnal sky gazing. But for ancient religionists and scientists, there was more to it than sheer curiosity and admiration.

NGC 3324 in the Carina nebula [photo credit: Nasa/Getty Images]
NGC 3324 in the Carina nebula [photo credit: Nasa/Getty Images]

To stare at the heavens was to communicate with the gods and reach into the realm of metaphysics. The practice belonged to astrology and good-natured magic.

We are told as much in the ancient Greek novel Aethiopica by Heliodorus. When the Egyptian priest admonishes the young Theagenes, he informs him that to study the heavens is to tread the path of wisdom and honesty:

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW ARAB (UK)

There is no one Islamic interpretation on ethics of abortion, but the belief in God’s mercy and compassion is a crucial part of any consideration

As a scholar of Islamic ethics, I’m often asked, “What does Islam say about abortion?” – a question that has become even more salient since the U.S. Supreme Court reversed 50 years of constitutional protection for the right to get an abortion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling on June 24, 2022.

This question really needs to be reframed, because it implies a singular view. Islam isn’t monolithic, and there is no single Islamic attitude about abortion. The answer to the question depends on what kinds of Islamic sources, scriptural, legal or ethical, are applied to this contemporary issue by people of varying levels of authority, expertise or religious observance.

Muslims have had a long-standing, rich relationship with science, and specifically, the practice of medicine. This has yielded multiple interpretations of right and wrong when it comes to the body, including ideas about and practices surrounding pregnancy.

Islamic frameworks for thinking about abortion

The typical framing of the question of whether abortion ought to be legal hinges upon American Christian debates about when life begins. Muslims who get abortions don’t always ask “when does life begin?” to ascertain Islamic positions on the matter. Rather, as my research in the Abortion and Religion project and forthcoming book “Women as Humans” has found, Muslims who get abortions generally consider under what circumstances abortion would be permitted in the Islamic tradition.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CONVERSATION

The centrality of the Muslim world to Shakespeare’s work

Ignored for centuries, the presence of Muslims are prominent in the oeuvre of one of Britain’s most quintessential figures.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616), England’s most famous playwright and symbol of Britishness, was closely connected to the Islamic world through his extensive body of beloved work.

“Without Islam, there would be no Shakespeare,” Mathew Dimmock, Professor of Early Modern Studies (English) at the University of Sussex, matter-of-factly states.

“Without Tudor and Jacobean England’s rich and complex engagement with Islamic cultures, the plays written by William Shakespeare would be very different, if they existed at all,” Dimmock told TRT World.

Due to Queen Elizabeth I’s political and trade alliances with the Muslim world, in particular the Ottoman Empire and the Moroccan Kingdom, the influence of Muslim culture on England was immense and this penetrated into literature and theatre.

FULL ARTICLE FROM TRT WORLD

Why a Presbyterian Elder Defended Muslims Building a Mosque in Middle Tennessee

Eric Treene has gone to court to defend Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, and people from other minority faiths for more than 25 years. If you ask him why, he points to the Bible and the Westminster Confession. Treene, an elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, is motivated by his faith to defend religious freedom—especially the freedom of those he disagrees with.

Treene was a lawyer for Becket and then, for nearly 20 years, special counsel for religious discrimination in the civil rights division of the United States Department of Justice. He developed and oversaw the enforcement program for the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). Since leaving the federal government, Treene has taught the First Amendment at Reformed Theological Seminary and Catholic University and continues to litigate discrimination cases as a senior partner at Storzer and Associates in Washington, DC. This spring, Treene was honored by the Freedom Forum as a “champion of free expression.”

He spoke to CT about the problem of religious discrimination in America and why it’s so important that Christians advocate for religious freedom.

You’ve spent a lot of your career defending religious land use. Why do government officials in America today oppose religious land use?

Usually it’s because they’re zeroed in on developing commerce. A lot of what you see is the demands of the marketplace steamrolling religion.

One of my early cases, for example, was a church that had very carefully gathered several plots of land at a key intersection, but the town wanted Costco to have that spot. The town tried to use eminent domain to seize the property to build a Costco.

Is it because they hate churches? No. Again and again, what we see is discrimination against places of worship not so much out of animus but because they would rather have a commercial property that’s generating tax revenue.

There’s a very powerful economic engine in our society that often trivializes faith. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) is one way churches can push back against that.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIANITY TODAY

How a Book on Islam Strengthened my Catholic Faith

I do not pretend to be as devout a Catholic as I should be. Too often, I am not even a particularly good one. Nonetheless, I am and was raised a Catholic, so I tend to view nearly every theological topic through a Catholic lens. David Pinault’s The Crucifix on Mecca’s Front Porch gave me the chance to do exactly that. 

I have long been curious about Islam, and The Crucifix on Mecca’s Front Porch provides a Christian – and particularly a Catholic – guide to understanding Islam. Though not impartial, Pinault draws on his own extensive experience to provide an expertly researched and respectful analysis of the theological differences between Islam and Christianity, with particular focus on the two religions’ competing conceptions of the nature of Jesus Christ. The book is simultaneously detailed and readable, and Pinault ably emphasizes the need for Christians and Muslims to learn from one another even as he is careful not to minimize the significant differences between the two faiths.

Pinault, a longtime professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University, has a lifetime of experience researching “comparative Christology and the status of Christian populations in Muslim-majority societies.” He has conducted extensive fieldwork in Egypt, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Yemen, among other places. Pinault’s comparative study of Islam starts with the life of Muhammad, and concludes by addressing contentious contemporary issues such as increasing Muslim migration into Western countries and the rise of Islamic extremist terrorism. 

Pinault draws on his own extensive experience to provide an expertly researched and respectful analysis of the theological differences between Islam and Christianity.

Straightforward about his own status as a Catholic Christian, Pinault critically examines pre-Islamic Arabia, the Koran, the life of Muhammad, the development of Islamic thought, Shia-Sunni relations, and more. Pinault draws from various Islamic primary sources translated from the original Arabic, Persian, or Urdu, many of which he translated himself. He compares and contrasts these materials with excerpts from the Bible and other Christian texts, examples from the life and works of Jesus Christ, and even primary sources written in Latin by Christian crusaders. 

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE MICHIGAN REVIEW

An immigrant Muslim finds his model of empowerment in Black American Islam

One in a new series of interviews with contemporary faith-based leaders reinventing American faith.

(RNS) — Rami Nashashibi, who founded the Inner-City Muslim Action Network on Chicago’s South Side 25 years ago, is a community builder, a teacher and a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” award. Georgetown University has called him one of the world’s 500 most-influential Muslims.

What he is not is an imam. He is part of a rising generation of lay leaders blending ancient tradition with modern activism to mobilize their faith communities. Leaders such as Nashashibi are not replacing traditional institutions or houses of worship, but they bring an immediacy to their faith-based work that is re-energizing American religion. 

Born in Jordan to Palestinian parents, Nashashibi founded IMAN in 1997 with his friend Abdul-Malik Ryan, a lawyer and Muslim convert, in Chicago Lawn, a traditionally Black neighborhood that was rapidly becoming a hub for Arab Americans. The two had the goal of providing a place where first-, second- and third-generation Muslim Americans, converts and non-Muslims would all feel included.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE

Islam And Democracy: Are They Antithetical? – Analysis

Shûrâ, Or The Principle Of Collective Deliberation

When one evokes the relation between Islam and democracy, (1) the temptation is great to go to texts (Qur’an and Hadîth) and to Muslim political history of experiences of governance with analogies to modern pluralistic systems. (2) Hence the reformist currents of Islamic thought, which intend to promote the principle of shûrâ, which can be roughly translated as “collective deliberation”. On the theological level shûrâ refers directly to the Qur’anic text, in particular to Sûrah 42, precisely entitled “The Consultation”:

’And those who answer the call of their Lord and establish prayer and whose affair being matter of counsel among themselves, and who of that wherewith We have provided them expend. ‘’ (Holy Qur’an, 42 : 38).
وَالَّذِينَاسْتَجَابُوالِرَبِّهِمْوَأَقَامُواالصَّلَاةَوَأَمْرُهُمْشُورَىبَيْنَهُمْوَمِمَّارَزَقْنَاهُمْيُنفِقُونَ

On the mythical-political level, it refers to the prophetic city of Medina, in which the Prophet Muhammad was supposed to make his decisions after consulting his companions (saHâba) and even the members of the nascent Islamic community (‘ummah).
Shûrâ, or the principle of collective deliberation, is a principle mentioned both in the Qur’an and in the practice of the Prophet and his Companions. In the modern context, shûrâ has been understood as the Islamic term for what the contemporaries call democracy. Nevertheless, this concept remains obscure despite the publication of hundreds of books and articles on the subject over the past decades. Many aspects of shûrâ have not yet been addressed.

On the principle of collective deliberation and the evidence supporting it in Islamic normative texts, scholars have customarily referred first to two Qur’anic verses concerning the disputatio angelica, i.e. the metaphysical creation of the human order and, therefore, the meaning to be given to the unfolding of humanity.

The eminent scholar Mohamed Tahar Ben Achour (3) has stated that this disputatio has a foundational value in the creation order. We can include in it the principle of Abraham’s deliberation, having received a commandment from God about his son Ishmael. The question of whether Abraham should sacrifice his son was already settled by the divine command, but Abraham nevertheless asked his son: 

 “And when he reached with him [the age of] exertion, he said, “O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so see what you think.” He said, “O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allāh wills, of the steadfast.”
 “(Holy Qur’an, 37: 102).

فَلَمَّابَلَغَمَعَهُٱلسَّعْىَقَالَيَٰبُنَىَّإِنِّىٓأَرَىٰفِىٱلْمَنَامِأَنِّىٓأَذْبَحُكَفَٱنظُرْمَاذَاتَرَىٰۚقَالَيَٰٓأَبَتِٱفْعَلْمَاتُؤْمَرُۖسَتَجِدُنِىٓإِنشَآءَٱللَّهُمِنَٱلصَّٰبِرِينَ
More generally, from an Islamic perspective, the principle of collective deliberation (4) is necessary for any form of interpersonal relationship. The importance of shûrâ in both the private and public spheres is highlighted in the Qur’an:

 “And it was by God’s grace that thou [O Prophet] didst deal gently with thy followers: for if thou hadst been harsh and hard of heart, they would indeed have broken away from thee. Pardon them, then, and pray that they be forgiven. And take cou nsel with them in all matters of public concern; then, when thou hast decided upon a course of action, place thy trust in God: for, verily, God loves those who place their trust in Him ‘’ (Holy Qur’an, 3 : 159).

FULL ARTICLE FROM EUROASIA REVIEW

Environmental Protection in Islam

Islam is keen to protect the environment with all its components by creating a complete conception of life and its system and what it requires of  development according to fixed rules that do not change with the change of time and place. This is what gives Islamic environmental principles the status of validity that achieves happiness and prosperity for its members in this world and the hereafter. Islamic principles of the environment is not a fantasy nor a myth from the myths of the Greeks and Romans, but rather it is part of instinct which God has put in humans, a sincere approach to the creator, the one who created everything. The Almighty said: {So be steadfast in faith in all uprightness ˹O Prophet˺—the natural Way of Allah which He has instilled in ˹all˺ people. Let there be no change in this creation of Allah. That is the Straight Way, but most people do not know.} Ar-Rum verse 30. Nature, including the resources that Allah has gifted to His servants, such as water, soil, sun, and air, is the responsibility of man in this society to preserve -if possible- these natural resources that Allah Almighty has brought forth. However, modern civilization, despite its undeniable services and achievements, has had a negative impact on the human body, from work-related injuries to environmental pollution.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ISLAMONLINE.NET

Will Islam soon be the world’s largest religion?

Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran, Iran

A Pew Research poll predicts that, based on current trends, the number of Muslims worldwide will be nearly equal to the number of Christians by 2050. In conversations, you might hear this statement as proof that Islam is growing and other religions (such as Christianity) are quickly declining. But such a conclusion is misleading and does not take into consideration a number of realities happening throughout the Muslim world.

Research reveals the cultural tendencies in Muslim families, not the attractiveness of Islam itself, explains the demographic surge. The growing number of Muslims is not primarily caused by conversion but is due instead to Muslim families producing more children. The higher relative birthrate occurs for various social and religious reasons, including the fact that, in most Muslim-dominant societies, women have few opportunities outside the home.

Of course, some converts are choosing Islam—but we should acknowledge recent research demonstrating that conversion works in two directions.

Consider the Muslim population in the United States. In January 2018, a Pew Research study declared that the number of converts to Islam almost equaled the number who abandoned the faith. Thus, there was virtually no net growth at all. This study also found that about 25 percent of adult Muslims raised in the United States no longer identified as Muslims.

What about the Arab world, especially the heartland of Islam? What are the patterns there?

On June 24, 2019, The Guardian reported a study—conducted by a Princeton University-based research group—that suggested Arab Muslims are quitting Islam in unprecedented numbers. The study compares the numbers of “non-religious” people between roughly 2014 and 2019. The numbers went from 11 percent to 18 percent.

Such a statistic is stunning because the Arab world is the stronghold of Islam. This study occurred during the rise of ISIS when militant Islamist groups were committing atrocities. Many Muslims, it appears, questioned their former beliefs. If more Muslims felt comfortable answering the study’s questions openly, the numbers might be even greater.

FULL ARTICLE FROM WORLD

The Qur’an and Its Link to Christianity and Judaism

By Charles Mathewes, Ph.D.University of Virginia

In the past 50 years, thinkers have come to realize that Islam is an intrinsic part of the history of Western thinking on evil in complicated ways. Islam is linked to the older traditions of Jewish and Christian thought, but offers an alternate vision to them. There is also the way in which the Islam regards the Qur’an.

Islam and Other Abrahamic Religions

Islamic thought was deeply influenced by earlier Greek, Jewish, and Christian thinkers; and so, to understand Islamic thought reveals things about those earlier traditions that might otherwise go missing.

Islam was itself the source of the transmission of much pre-Christian literature and philosophy, especially Greek philosophy, to Western Christendom. These also picked up a good bit of insight on a series of important topics from the Islamic philosophers and lawyers themselves.

Also, Islam serves in a way as a kind of internal critic of the mainstream of Western thinking about evil; a critic who is both within and without this mainstream. It not only serves as a useful contrastive option to the main line of thinking that Western ideas of evil follow, but it also serves as a vital account that has its own integrity, even if it is somewhat oblique to that mainstream.

This is a transcript from the video series Why Evil ExistsWatch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

The Uniqueness of the Qur’an

A decorated page from the Qur'an
The Qur’an has a complicated relationship with the sacred texts of Judaism and Christianity. (Image: Acquired by Henry Walters/Public domain)

The Qur’an is unique among the scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths in explicitly rendering the episode of the origin of evil in Creation by recounting the rebellion of Iblis, the rebellious spirit. Iblis is the one who becomes ash-Shaitan, the primordial rebel against God.

The Qur’an is the sacred text of Islam, but it is not viewed, per se, as the Muslim Bible. Yes, it’s roughly as long as the Christian New Testament and similarly divided into sections. There are 114 suras (chapters) in the Qur’an and each of those suras is composed of verses called ayahs, which is also translated as the word ‘sign’.

Each of the verses, thus, of each of the suras of the Qur’an is a sign of God’s providence and love towards humanity. So far so good; it looks like another holy book.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE GREAT COURSES