Archive for the ‘Astronomy’ Category

UK Ramadan fasting times for 2017

May 22, 2017

Bismillah. As I’ve written about before, there are different views on excessive fasting hours in the summer at high latitudes such as the UK. I am not going to repeat those, but try to provide the scientific, astronomical data, information and knowledge to help support others to come to their own conclusions.

In this post, I give the dawn, sunset & possible fasting times for 2017, when mid-summer occurs towards the end of Ramadan: the average fasting times are slightly shorter than last year (2016), when they were maximum in the 33-year lunar/solar cycle, but not by much.

*I urge mosque timekeepers (muwaqqits) or others who develop fasting timetables to be transparent about the method they are using, and not vague references like “fiqh according to Madhhab X” because there are many views in every Madhhab. E.g. using an 18-degree or even 15-degree rule gives no timings for most of the UK. Fasting timetables in the UK summer should clearly state what method is used to arrive at the beginning time of fasting. Many timetables have excessive gaps between ‘dawn’ and sunrise of 2-3 hours with no sensible justification, since this is merely one possibility amongst many others and is indeed the most difficult for people. Indeed, with the summer midnight being at 1am BST, some of these timetables are forcing people to fast from soon after midnight. With the sunset-sunrise night length being 6-8 hours across the UK, the most reasonable view within this paradigm in my view is that of the last 1/6th, 1/7th or 1/8th of the night, giving a fasting time beginning an hour before dawn. However, other approaches are even more preferable. Over to others for discussion and to arrive at their own conclusions.*

Examples of dawn/sunset timings for the UK, 2017 (four UK capital cities)

This data is taken from HMNAO’s Websurf 2.0 website, and was reproduced with permission by the ASCL in their Ramadan 2017 guidelines. I have used the four UK capital cities, with three dates for each, roughly corresponding to the beginning, middle & end of Ramadan.

Date City Dawn (AST) Dawn (15D) Dawn (NAUT) Sunrise Sunset Fasting length (AST) Fasting length (15D) Fasting length (NAUT)
27 May London *** 0220 0305 0454 2103 *** 18:43 17:58
10 June   *** 0139 0245 0444 2117 *** 19:38 18:32
25 June   *** 0122 0243 0444 2122 *** 20:00 18:39
27 May Ed’burgh *** *** 0201 0441 2140 *** *** 19:39
10 June   *** *** *** 0428 2157 *** *** ***
25 June   *** *** *** 0428 2203 *** *** ***
27 May Cardiff *** 0232 0318 0506 2115 *** 18:43 17:57
10 June   *** 0152 0257 0456 2129 *** 19:36 18:32
25 June   *** 0136 0255 0457 2134 *** 19:58 18:39
27 May Belfast *** *** 0245 0500 2143 *** *** 18:58
10 June   *** *** 0159 0448 2158 *** *** 19:59
25 June   *** *** 0134 0448 2204 *** *** 20:30


AST
refers to astronomical twilight, when begins or ends when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizonKey:

15D refers to when the sun is 15 degrees below the horizon

NAUT refers to nautical twilight, when begins or ends when the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon

The astronomical definition of “dawn” is disputed, with various Muslim religious authorities adopting one of the three possible definitions given above.

*** in the above table means that the timing is not available, because the sun does not reach that far below the horizon. This happens every year during the summer at high latitudes, such as the UK.

 

NOTES:

  1. As confirmed by HMNAO, there is always a possible error of 1-2 minutes in sunrise and sunset timings: although we can calculate exactly the position of the sun relative to our horizons, refraction of the sun’s rays can introduce an error: the sun may be below the horizon but we see it just above, due to refraction.  (This does not always happen, of course: hence the error will be zero, one or two minutes.) This means that technically, mosque prayer timetables may wish to add 2 minutes to sunset timings and subtract 2 minutes from sunrise timings, just to be safe about the timings of the sunset and dawn prayers, and for breaking the fast.  However, this might also be hair-splitting: I recommend making these adjustments, but would not worry if they are not made.
  2. If we use astronomical twilight (Sun’s depression = 18 degrees) as the start of dawn, this does not occur at all during Ramadan 2017 in any of the four capital cities. Therefore, the fasting start time and fasting length would be undefined.
  3. If we use (Sun’s depression = 15 degrees) as the start of dawn, this does not occur at all during Ramadan 2017 in Edinburgh or Belfast. Therefore, the fasting start time and fasting length would be undefined in those cities. However, it does occur in London and Cardiff, giving fasting lengths of 19.5-20 hours during the month.
  4. If we use nautical twilight (Sun’s depression = 12 degrees) as the start of dawn, this results in fasting hours during Ramadan 2017 in London and Cardiff of 18-19 hours, and in Belfast of 19-20.5 hours. We only get defined fasting hours at the beginning of Ramadan for Edinburgh, of 19.5-20 hours.
  5. Hence, it should be obvious that some ijtihad is required, eg a fraction of the night or a lower angle of the Sun below the horizon to designate the “beginning” of dawn. Another option is sunrise-sunset fasting rather than dawn-sunset, as done by some of the Sahaba (Tafsir Ibn Kathir & Ibn Hazm’s Al-Muhalla), or other, non-literalist options that I have described elsewhere.

NB: Our local latitude determines the lowest angle the Sun will dip below the horizon at mid-summer (~22 June). This angle can easily be calculated by subtracting 66.5 degrees (the latitude of the Arctic & Antarctic Circles) from the local latitude.

E.g.:

Within the Arctic Circle (66.5 deg or higher latitude), lowest Sun angle = zero or higher: the sun doesn’t set at all in the “land of the midnight sun.”

Edinburgh (56.0 deg lat): lowest Sun angle at midsummer = 56.0 – 66.5 = 10.5 deg below the horizon

Belfast (54.6 deg lat): lowest Sun angle at midsummer = 54.6 – 66.5 = 11.9 deg below the horizon

London & Cardiff (both 51.5 deg lat): lowest Sun angle at midsummer = 51.5 – 66.5 = 15 deg below the horizon

*NB: even using these angles of 10.5 deg, ~12 deg, 15 deg & 15 deg for Edinburgh, Belfast, London & Cardiff respectively will give very long fasting hours, as the table of timings above demonstrates.

Btw for Paris (48.9 deg lat): lowest Sun angle at midsummer = 48.9 – 66.5 = 17.6 deg below the horizon, so using the 18-degree rule gives no timings for Paris or anywhere north of it either at midsummer.

Have a blessed Ramadan 1438 / 2017!

Usama Hasan, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, UK

UK Ramadan fasting times for last year (2016)

May 22, 2017

Bismillah. As I’ve written about before, there are different views on excessive fasting hours in the summer at high latitudes such as the UK. I am not going to repeat those, but try to provide the scientific, astronomical data, information and knowledge to help support others to come to their own conclusions.

In the first of these posts, I am including the dawn, sunset & possible fasting times from last year (2016) because then, mid-Ramadan coincided with mid-summer, hence giving the longest average fasting lengths in the 33-year cycle as the lunar years move through solar years.

Examples of dawn/sunset timings for the UK, 2016
(four UK capital cities)

This data is taken from HMNAO’s Websurf 2.0 website, and was reproduced with permission by the ASCL in their Ramadan 2016 guidelines. I have used the four UK capital cities, with three dates for each, roughly corresponding to: beginning, middle & end of Ramadan.

Date City Dawn (AST) Dawn (15D) Dawn (NAUT) Sunrise Sunset Fasting length (AST) Fasting length (15D) Fasting length (NAUT)
07 June London *** 0147 0248 0445 2114 *** 19:27 18:26
22 June (midsummer)   *** 0117 0241 0443 2122 *** 20:05 18:41
06 July   *** 0156 0256 0452 2118 *** 19:22 18:22
07 June Ed’burgh *** *** *** 0429 2154 *** *** ***
22 June (midsummer)   *** *** *** 0427 2203 *** *** ***
06 July   *** *** *** 0437 2158 *** *** ***
07 June Cardiff *** 0159 0300 0457 2126 *** 19:27 18:26
22 June (midsummer)   *** 0131 0254 0456 2134 *** 20:03 18:40
06 July   *** 0209 0308 0504 2130 *** 19:21 18:22
07 June Belfast *** *** 0209 0450 2156 *** *** 19:47
22 June (midsummer)   *** *** *** 0447 2204 *** *** ***
06 July   *** *** 0219 0457 2200 *** *** 19:41

Key:

AST refers to astronomical twilight, when begins or ends when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon

15D refers to when the sun is 15 degrees below the horizon

NAUT refers to nautical twilight, when begins or ends when the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon

The astronomical definition of “dawn” is disputed, with various Muslim religious authorities adopting one of the three possible definitions given above.

*** in the above table means that the timing is not available, because the sun does not reach that far below the horizon. This happens every year during the summer at high latitudes, such as the UK.

 

NOTES:

  1. As confirmed by HMNAO, there is always a possible error of 1-2 minutes in sunrise and sunset timings: although we can calculate exactly the position of the sun relative to our horizons, refraction of the sun’s rays can introduce an error: the sun may be below the horizon but we see it just above, due to refraction.  (This does not always happen, of course: hence the error will be zero, one or two minutes.) This means that technically, mosque prayer timetables may wish to add 2 minutes to sunset timings and subtract 2 minutes from sunrise timings, just to be safe about the timings of the sunset and dawn prayers, and for breaking the fast.  However, this might also be hair-splitting: I recommend making these adjustments, but would not worry if they are not made.
  2. If we use astronomical twilight (Sun’s depression = 18 degrees) as the start of dawn, this did not occur at all during Ramadan 2016 in any of the four capital cities. Therefore, the fasting start time and fasting length were undefined.
  3. If we use (Sun’s depression = 15 degrees) as the start of dawn, this did not occur at all during Ramadan 2017 in Edinburgh or Belfast. Therefore, the fasting start time and fasting length were undefined in those cities. However, it did occur in London and Cardiff, giving fasting lengths of 19.5-20 hours during the month.
  4. If we use nautical twilight (Sun’s depression = 12 degrees) as the start of dawn, this resulted in fasting hours during Ramadan 2016 in London and Cardiff of ~18.5 hours, and in Belfast of just under 20 hours at the beginning and end of Ramadan, but not in mid-Ramadan (mid-summer). We had no defined fasting hours throughout Ramadan 2016 for Edinburgh.
  5. Hence, it should be obvious that some ijtihad is required, eg a fraction of the night or a lower angle of the Sun below the horizon to designate the “beginning” of dawn.

NB: Our local latitude determines the lowest angle the Sun will dip below the horizon at mid-summer (~22 June). This angle can easily be calculated by subtracting 66.5 degrees (the latitude of the Arctic & Antarctic Circles) from the local latitude.

E.g.:

Within the Arctic Circle (66.5 deg or higher latitude), lowest Sun angle = zero or higher: the sun doesn’t set at all in the “land of the midnight sun.”

Edinburgh (56.0 deg lat): lowest Sun angle at midsummer = 56.0 – 66.5 = 10.5 deg below the horizon

Belfast (54.6 deg lat): lowest Sun angle at midsummer = 54.6 – 66.5 = 11.9 deg below the horizon

London & Cardiff (both 51.5 deg lat): lowest Sun angle at midsummer = 51.5 – 66.5 = 15 deg below the horizon

*NB: even using these angles of 10.5 deg, ~12 deg, 15 deg & 15 deg for Edinburgh, Belfast, London & Cardiff respectively will give very long fasting hours, as the table of timings above demonstrates.

Btw for Paris (48.9 deg lat): lowest Sun angle at midsummer = 48.9 – 66.5 = 17.6 deg below the horizon, so using the 18-degree rule gave no timings for Paris or anywhere north of it either, at midsummer.

Usama Hasan, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, UK

UK Ramadan dates, 2017-2025

May 22, 2017

Bismillah.

Ramadan dates 2017-2025 (approx.) for the UK

Based on Crescent Moon Visibility data for London from HMNAO’s Websurf 2.0 website

(Moon Visibility is now calculated very accurately on a scale of A-F. The following dates are based on the approximation that A-C represent a visible crescent moon; D-F represent an invisible moon.)

NB: The following dates may vary by 1 or 2 days because even with a visible crescent moon, there are intra-Muslim disagreements over how far this applies geographically.

YEAR Beginning of Ramadan Eid al-Fitr
2017 27 May 26 June
2018 17 May 16 June
2019 07 May 05 June
2020 25 April 25 May
2021 14 April 14 May
2022 03 April 02 May
2023 23 March (~ Spring equinox) 22 April
2024 12 March 10 April
2025 02 March 31 March

 

Islam and Science workshop presentations – London 2013

July 27, 2015

Bismillah. I have been working on the report for the “Islam & Science – The Big Questions” (of science and Islamic theology) Task Force that I convened in Istanbul in February 2015, chaired by Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, by the grace of God.  The Task Force report will be published in a few weeks, God-willing.

This reminded me that we had not sufficiently circulated the presentations from our “Islam & Science” workshop in London from 2013, some of which the current Task Force builds on.  So, here are the presentations from that workshop, as well as the final report. These should be of interest to anyone interested in cutting-edge discussions about Islam and science, religion and science, etc. University students should find these presentations a useful resource, especially for their own dissertations and theses. Enjoy!

front page of Islam Science Workshop

1- Ibn Sina – Ehsan Masood

2- Science and Religion – Jean Staune

3- Islam and Modern Science – Nidhal Guessoum: slides unavailable, but you may view a similar lecture with similar slides here (Faraday Institute, University of Cambridge)

4- 1001 Inventions Exhibition – Yasmin Khan

5- Science Policy and Politics in the Islamic World – Athar Osama

6- Theories of Evolution – Jean Staune

6a- Lying in the Name of God – Jean Staune

7- Evolution and Islam – Nidhal Guessoum: slides unavailable, but you may read one of his articles on the topic here

8- Islam and the Theory-Fact of Evolution – Usama Hasan

9- Islamic Cosmology – Bruno Guiderdoni

10- Islam Science Ethics – Usama Hasan

Islam and Science Workshop 2013 – Final Report

 

Islam and Science Workshop – London 2013 – A Summary

February 22, 2013

Bismillah.  This is a cross-post from http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/events/islam-science-workshop-2013/

Quilliam, in association with the Université Interdisciplinaire de Paris, the American University of Sharjah and Muslim-Science.com, organised and hosted an international workshop entitled “Islam and Science: A Reasoned Approach” for students and young researchers, 18th-20th January 2013 at the Institute of Education, University of London, UK.

The participants consisted of 23 people selected by submission of essays on Science-Religion topics and/or their suitability as “disseminators of ideas” following on from the workshop. These 23 participants included three people from France, the USA and Egypt. There were a total of seven speakers at the workshop: three from the UK, two from France and one each from the UAE and Pakistan.

Introduction – Friday 18th January 2013

The workshop began with a screening of the 1-hour documentary film, Science and Islam – Dialogues for the 21st Century, which was produced by the Université Interdisciplinaire de Paris and featuring interviews with 22 leading scientists, theologians, philosophers and thinkers about the interfaces between religion and science in general, and focusing on Islam in particular.

This was followed by a presentation by Ehsan Masood, author of the BBC series-accompanying book, Islam and Science: A History, a presentation entitled Ibn Sina (Avicenna) – The Man Who Knew Everything, about the life, work and influence throughout Islamic and Christian history of this early Muslim polymath. A lively discussion followed about Ibn Sina’s philosophy and methodology and the scientific rationalisation of miracles.

Saturday 19th January 2013

Prof. Jean Staune (Université Interdisciplinaire de Paris) started with presentation on Science and Religion in the World today & New Paradigms of Science, in which he summarised the major developments in 20th-century science such as relativity and quantum theories in physics, Godel’s theorem in mathematical epistemology, and De Duve and Conway-Morris’ ideas of direction, non-randomness, and convergence in biological evolution. He showed how these “new paradigms” have influenced the discourse in “Science and Religion”, and how this field has become a growing academic discipline in its own right with chairs at Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard. This was followed by Prof. Nidhal Guessoum (American University of Sharjah), who gave a general overview of the main topic, Islam and Science, showing why “modern science” (particularly “methodological naturalism”) poses a challenge for traditional religious views and discussing the various contemporary Muslim responses to the challenge, ranging from Nasr’s “Sacred Science” and Sardar’s “Islamic/Ethical Science” to Salam’s “Universal Science”, ending with his own “Averroesian Harmonization.”

Yasmin Khan (former curator at both the Science Museum and the British Library) spoke on The 1001 Inventions Exhibition at the Science Museum, London: Engaging the Public in a Multicultural History of Science, a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges of commissioning the most successful touring exhibition in the history of the Science Museum, with a screening of the exhibition’s central 15-minute film, 1001 Inventions and The Library of Secrets, starring Sir Ben Kingsley as Al-Jazari.

Dr. Athar Osama (of Muslim-Science.com) complemented the day’s philosophical, theological, historical, civilisational and public-outreach themes with a sobering presentation on Science Policy in the Muslim World Today: Challenges and Prospects, focusing on governmental public policy and investment in science education and research and an analysis of the funding and work of COMSTECH, the OIC’s arm for science and technology.

Sunday 20th January 2013

Dr. Jean Staune gave a fascinating presentation on the Theories of Evolution. The philosopher of science showed multiple lines of evidence that evolution is an indisputable fact, but one that should not be confused with Darwinism. Based on the research of leading palaeontologists such as Conway-Morris and on the work of Nobel laureate De Duve and others, Staune insisted that the current Darwinian theory of evolution is incompatible at best, and presented ideas implying that evolution is a process leading, sooner or later, to beings like us with a consciousness of their own existence and the ability to seek God.

This was followed by a joint presentation on Islam and the Theory/Fact of Evolution by Prof. Nidhal Guessoum and Dr. Usama Hasan (Quilliam). The presentations included theological and scriptural arguments supporting evolution as well as a history of evolutionary ideas within Muslim civilisation since the 9th century CE from Al-Jahiz and the Brethren of Purity through to Rumi and Ibn Khaldun, a history recognised by a number of historians, Muslim and non-Muslim ones. Also covered was the acceptance of biological evolution by 19th/20th-century Muslim theologians such as Husain al-Jisr (nicknamed “the Ash’ari of our times” by Afghani), and ‘Abd al-Sabur Shahin, a well-known scholar of Al-Azhar. Current Muslim resistance to scientific facts was illustrated with historical precedents of misreading the Qur’an to make inflexible but erroneous assertions about scientific matters, such as Ibn Kathir and Shanqiti’s insistence that the earth was created before the heavens, Suyuti’s insistence that the earth is flat and Ibn Taymiyyah’s assertion that cattle (sheep, goats, cows and camels) were created in heaven (which would imply that modern-day followers of Ibn Taymiyyah who insist that humans were created in heaven and descended from there must also believe the same about those four species of mammals).

The sessions by Staune, Guessoum and Hasan illustrated well the irony that whilst modern biology, built on evolution, has succeeded in mapping the entire human genome as well as the DNA of thousands of other species, and new fields emerge such as astrobiology and the origin-of-life research looking at deep-sea volcanoes, many Muslims (and Christians) continue to debate whether or not evolution (including that of humans) is a fact, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence.

Dr. Bruno Abdelhaq Guiderdoni (Director of the Lyon Observatory) gave a fascinating presentation on Islam & Cosmology: Yesterday and Today, based on the mind-boggling discoveries of modern astronomy, including the existence of exo-planets in earth-like habitable orbits around stars other than the sun. In his lecture, Dr. Guiderdoni stressed the need to read the “Book of Nature” along with the “Book of God” and to maintain the inseparability of science and ethics. The discussion included topics such as the possibility of a multiverse and the question of extra-terrestrial intelligence and life-forms.

Dr. Guiderdoni’s emphasis on ethics led nicely to the session by Dr. Usama Hasan on Islam, Science and Ethics, in which he presented the theory of Maqasid al-Sharia (The Universal, Higher Objectives of Islamic Law) as an Islamic framework for ethics suitable for “Universal Science.” The framework is based on the Islamic principles of justice as minimum, compassion as maximum, promoting benefit and avoiding harm. The theory was illustrated with reference to ethical questions around family planning, abortion and organ transplants.

The workshop concluded with an open and long discussion session involving all participants, further exploring the ideas presented at the workshop and possible next steps to take the exciting conversations forward.

When is Eid al-Fitr? 1433 / 2012

August 15, 2012

Bismillah.  *Sunday 19th August 2012 is a sensible date for Eid al-Fitr 1433 for the whole world.*

Please refer to the Moonwatch data (http://astro.ukho.gov.uk/moonwatch/nextnewmoon.html), that shows:

Friday 17/8: Conjunction and astronomical new moon around 15.54 UT (GMT) – no crescent moon is visible anywhere on earth that night, except possibly in the Southern Pacific, very close to the solar date-line.

Saturday 18/8: The crescent moon is visible throughout the Southern Hemisphere, plus a few places north of the Equator, but not in Asia, the Middle East, North Africa or Europe.

Sunday 19/8: The crescent moon is easily visible throughout the whole world, including the UK.

Hence:

Sunday 19th August 2012 is a sensible date for Eid al-Fitr 1433 for the whole world: there is expected to be a high degree of agreement on this, as has happened in previous years.  (Those who began Ramadan on Fri/Sat 20/21 July will complete 30/29 days of fasting and celebrate Eid together.)

For those following local sightings, Monday 20th August 2012 would be Eid al-Fitr 1433 in the UK.

May Allah bless us all during the remainder of Ramadan and on the glorious day of Eid al-Fitr (the Festival of Breaking the Fast).

Dr. Usama Hasan,

Senior Researcher in Islamic Studies at Quilliam & Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society

15th August 2012 / 26th Ramadan 1433

About the Ramadan start date this year 1433/2012

August 15, 2012

Bismillah.  This is what happened:

Saudi claimed to have seen the moon on Thursday 19/7 and began Ramadan on Friday 20/7; many other countries followed suit.  However, we know definitely that such a sighting was impossible, for at least two reasons:

(i) from precise astronomical calculations (www.crescentmoonwatch.org )

(ii) had it been genuine, there would have been an easier sighting from the Southern US and Central America on the same date, which there wasn’t.  Refer to Ibn Taymiyyah’s fatwa on moonsighting (elsewhere on this blog), as well as Sheikh Afif al-Akiti’s detailed treatise on the subject.

However, the ECFR (www.e-cfr.org ) had already announced that Ramadan would begin on Friday 20/7, due to the expected visibility of the crescent moon from South America on 19/7.  The ECFR mentioned Santiago (Chile) in its declaration.  Note that the ECFR’s declaration implied that they agreed that moonsighting was impossible in Saudi on that date, but ruled that the Chile sighting was enough for the whole world, even if it occurred many hours after local sunset elsewhere: e.g. the ECFR method required Australia to begin Ramadan on 20/7, even though they are about 12 hours ahead of Chile. 

Note also that this ECFR method is consistent, and is a possible approach to determining Arabian/Islamic lunar dates worldwide, using the solar date-line as an effective lunar date-line.  If people agree to use this method, it is a possible solution to the moonsighting problem, although we will need to check that it gives a reasonable pattern of 29/30-day months.

Amongst Sunni Muslims, there were three start dates:

(i) Friday 20/7 – those following the impossible Saudi sighting or the plausible ECFR method

(ii) Saturday 21/7 – those following the easier sightings around most of the world on the next day

(iii) Sunday 22/7 – for northern latitudes such as the UK, those following a local sighting.

Amongst Shia Muslims, the same three start dates were observed, based on people following the fatwa of their authority (marja’), whether Fadlallah, Khoei or Sistani respectively.

A beginner’s guide to learning about astronomy

October 9, 2009

Bismillah. Some recommendations:

1) All knowledge comes from God, so continually pray to him to teach you more. This Koranic prayer is great: rabbi zidni ‘ilma(n) – “My Lord, increase me in knowledge.”

2) The first and last learning resource for astronomy is the sky itself, especially the night sky. Get into the habit of watching the movement of the sun and moon, where and when they rise and set etc. (Never look directly at the sun.) Sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset times are widely-available online and in good daily newspapers.

The apparent movement of stars and planets would be the next thing to learn. Make sure you know your N-E-S-W directions wherever you are. Learning about the North Star helps here! Binoculars are good for viewing the moon and fainter stars.

3) Visit the Royal Observatory Greenwich (ROG), http://www.rog.nmm.ac.uk – free entry with brilliant learning resources, planetarium shows and a good shop for books, software and telescopes.

4) There are many observatories and planetaria around the UK – do try to visit those.

5) Watch “The Sky at Night” on BBC1, it’s a monthly programme. Has a good website, too.

6) There are several national and international astronomical associations and astronomy magazines. The latter include “Astronomy Now” and “Sky and Telescope.” There are hundreds of websites.

7) Software: free, shareware or fairly cheap, and will show you on your PC screen what the night sky looks like at your location, at any time. “Starry Night” is about £10 at the ROG shop, and is excellent. Skyglobe is good shareware, available online. Others include Stellarium, but I’m not familiar with them. A good way to learn to recognise and name the planets, stars and constellations.

8. Many observatories, including ROG, run short courses with weekly sessions, teaching astronomy at beginner and more advanced levels, as do many adult-learning colleges. For children, there are GCSE and AS-level courses in astronomy.

9) My blog (https://unity1.wordpress.com) has a section on astronomy and Islamic astronomy.

10) There are many books on Islamic astronomy. Good websites include ICOP, the Astronomical Societies of Jordan, the UAE and Qatif in Saudi Arabia (qasweb.org) and various moonsighting ones.

Perseid Meteor Shower 2009

September 5, 2009

Bismillah.  I wrote the following short piece about the Perseid meteor shower at the request of the Guardian CIF on Wednesday 12th August 2009, around the time that the Perseids were peaking.  By the grace of Allah, or “thanks to God and then to Google,” the article was No. 1 Most Viewed on the CIF section all day on Thursday 13th August 2009 and No. 3 on the Guardian website overall, with over 115,000 views.  The photo of a meteor that CIF put at the top of the article generated many hits via Google.

Most readers were thus not regular CIFers, which is partly why there weren’t too many comments.  However, as usual, some of the comments were hilarious and well-worth reading.

The last comment is my own, an extract from the Egyptian scholar al-Suyuti (d. 911 AH/ 15th century CE) regarding meteoric events in history.  Here is an extended extract from those pages of History of the Caliphs, covering other events such as Siamese twins, etc.

[Caliph no. 53:] Al-Nasir li Din Allah, Ahmad

Al-Nasir li Din Allah, Ahmad Abu l-‘Abbas b. al-Mustadi’ bi Amr Allah.

He was born on Monday the tenth of Rajab in the year five hundred and fifty-three [553].  His mother was a Turkish umm walad [“mother of a child,” a slavewoman who is free after her master’s death due to her giving birth by him] named Zumurrud.  He was pledged allegiance when his father [Caliph no. 52, al-Mustadi’ bi Amr Allah] died at the beginning of Dhu l-Qa’dah in the year seventy-five [575].  Several scholars gave him permission to transmit from them, including Abu l-Husain ‘Abd al-Haqq al-Yusufi, Abu l-Hasan ‘Ali b. ‘Asakir al-Bata’ihi and Shuhdah.  He himself gave permission to several others to narrate from him.  They used to narrate from him during his lifetime, competing in that for the sake of fame, not of isnad.

One of his interesting anecdotes is that a servant of his named Yumn wrote him a note that included:

Biman yumann Yumn Thaman Yumn thumun

(By whom shall Yumn be favoured?  The price of Yumn is an eighth!)

In the year eighty [580]: the caliph made the tomb of Musa al-Kazim a sanctuary for anyone who took refuge there.  Large numbers of people did so, and many problems resulted.

In the year eighty-one [581]: a boy was born in al-‘Alath – his forehead was a handspan plus four fingers in width, and he had one ear.

In the year eighty-three [583]: it so happened that the first day of the (lunar) year was also the first day of the week, the first day of the solar year and the first day of the Persian year, and the sun and the moon were in the first zodiacal sign.  This was an amazing coincidence.

One of the strange matters [connected to the reconquest of Jerusalem] is that Ibn Burrajan mentioned in tafsir of “Alif Lam Mim: The Romans have been conquered” [Qur’an, 30:1-2] that Jerusalem would remain in the hands of the Crusaders (al-Rum) until the year five hundred and eighty-three [583], when they would be vanquished.  Jerusalem would be conquered and remain a Land of Islam until the end of time.  He derived all this from the arithmetic of the ayah, and it is precisely what happened.

Abu Shamah said: What Ibn Burrajan mentioned is a wondrous coincidence, for he died ages before the event, his death having occurred in the year five hundred and thirty-six [536].

In the year five hundred and ninety-two [592]: a black wind gusted over Mecca, blinding everyone.  Red sand covered the people.  A piece of the Yemeni corner [of the Ka’bah] broke off and fell.

In the year five hundred and ninety-three [593, around 1197 CE], a great celestial object fell to earth with a terrifying sound, shaking dwellings and lands. The people sought divine help and prayed publicly, and thought that this was one of the signs of the Day of Judgment.

In the year ninety-seven [597]: A great earthquake shook Egypt, Sham and Arabia, destroying many places and forts. A village near Busra sank into the ground.

In the year five hundred and ninety-nine [599, around 1202 CE] at the end of Muharram [the first month of the Islamic calendar], the stars were in commotion and swarmed around like locusts. This continued until dawn. The people were distressed and cried out to God the Exalted. The [celestial] phenomenon had only been experienced before at the advent of the Messenger of God, peace be upon him.

In the year six hundred and one [601]: a woman at Qutay’a’ gave birth to a boy with two heads, two arms and four legs.  He did not survive.

In the year six hundred and six [606]: the story of the Tatars began, which will be explained later …

Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, Tarikh al-Khulafa or History of the Caliphs, Muassasah al-Kutub al-Thaqafiyyah, Beirut, 2nd ed., 1417/1996, pp. 390-6 (my translation)

Moon Clocks – Mediaeval & Modern

September 5, 2009
Bismillah.  For a description of a mediaeval Islamic moon-clock in Toledo, Andalusia, see below.
Firstly, a modern moon-clock project.  From the team at Aluna:
Dear All,

We were thrilled that Aluna was featured on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and also on the BBC website on September 1st 2009. Thanks to those of you who heard it and have already been in touch.

The radio piece, by BBC Science Correspondent Pallab Ghosh, features contributions from David Rooney, former curator of Timekeeping at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich (now at the Science Museum), Dr. Usama Hasan, Imam and Islamic Astronomer and Aluna’s Laura Williams.

Do take a look at the article on the BBC news website – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8226735.stm

You can also listen again to the Today Programme on the BBC iplayer for the next few days – http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00m9nxp/Today_01_09_2009/


(The story starts at 44 mins 30 secs but you can skip straight there by dragging the cursor along)
For those of you who are not already aware, we’re very pleased that The Aluna Foundation has received its charitable status – granted on the July 20th, the 40th anniversary of the Moon landings!
Secondly, thanks to Mohammad Baig, an astronomer and writer, for drawing my attention to the following:
Al-Zarqali and his lunar chronograph or moon-clock
Extracts:

Abu Ishaq Ibrahim Ibn Yahya Al-Zarqali (Arzachel in Latin), was a famous Andalusian scholar known also as Al-Zarqalluh and Al-Zarqallah. He was born in 1029 and died in 1087. His life corresponded exactly to that dramatic period when the Muslim realm of Spain completely disintegrated, and nearly collapsed, only to be saved in 1089, when the Almoravids of Morocco crossed into Spain, crushed the Christians at Zalaqa, and unified Spain once more. They were followed later by the Almohads, who kept Spain under Muslim rule for another two centuries, until the middle of the 13th century, when Muslim Spain, with the exception of Granada, was lost for good.

Al-Zarqali constructed the famed clocks of Toledo, which al-Zuhri has described in a Castilian translation, published by J.M. Millas-Vallicrosa. The clocks were in use until 1135, when King Alphonso VI tried to discover how they worked and asked Hamis Ibn Zabara to dismantle them. Once they were taken apart, nobody could reassemble them. They constituted a very precise lunar calendar and were, to some extent, the predecessors of the clocks or planetary calendar devices that became fashionable six centuries later in Europe.

Ahmad Thomson has given a vivid account of the intricate working of the clocks. The clocks consisted of two basins, which filled with water or emptied according to the increasing or waning of the moon. At the moment when the new moon appeared on the horizon, water would begin to flow into the basins by means of subterranean pipes, so that there would be at day-break the fourth of a seventh part, and at the end of the day half a seventh part, of the water required to fill the basins. In this proportion the water would continue to flow until seven days and as many nights of the month had elapsed, by which time both basins would be half filled. The same process during the following seven days and nights would make the two basins quite full, at the same time that the moon was at its full. However, on the fifteenth night of the month, when the moon would begin to wane, the basins would also begin to lose every day and night half a seventh part of their water, until by the twenty-first of the month they would be half empty, and when the moon reached her twenty-ninth night not a drop of water would remain in them. It is worthy of remark that, should anyone go to any of the basins when they were not filled, and poured water into them with a view to quicken its filling, the basins would immediately absorb the additional water and retain no more than the just quantity; and, on the contrary, were anyone to try, when they were nearly filled, to extract any or the whole of their water, the moment he raised his hands from the work the basins would pour out sufficient water to fill the vacuum in an instant.