Astronomy in the Service of Islam


5 Apr 2018

History of Science, Astronomy

David A King

Although this was scheduled as a single lecture, it is effectively two lectures together.  The speaker is David A. King, emeritus professor of J.W. Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, whose work on medieval astronomy of the Arabic-speaking world is well known. 

The first addresses the sorts of mathematical astronomy that was used from the 9th century onward to determine religious functions, like the direction of prayer (qibla), the times for the five daily prayers (salat) and the sightings of the moon that marked the beginning and ending of the months.  This starts about 8 minutes into the video, and lasts until about min. 50.  The second part, which on the video starts immediately, looks at instruments made in the Muslim world and Europe, and portrays influence from the much older Muslim instruments to the European ones made during the Renaissance.

During the first lecture, King discusses some of the differences in perspective from those practicing what he calls “folk astronomy”, that is, based on shadows and what can be perceived by the naked eye.  He suggests that this is practiced more by Islamic legal scholars (fuqaha).  He contrasts this to mathematical astronomy, which developed sophisticated tables (zij) for determining a variety of topics.

King notes that in order to facilitate people accessing his materials, he has put it all up on the web at

The lecture was given on 7 March 2018 in London as part of an Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation lecture series.  He is introduced by Sali Shahsivari and Sara Yamani.


Islam:  The material on Islam is within the bounds of what Muslims have historically understood as acceptable.

Science:  The scientific discussion here is accepted by contemporary scientists.

History:  King addresses what he sees as failings of other historians.  His perspectives are presented with abundant evidence.