Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, condemns fortune-tellers and praise genuine sciences. In The Holy Koran, Surah Al-Maida commands “Forbidden also is to use arrows seeking luck or decision; all that is disobedience of Allah and sin", Quran 5:3. In this case, the critical question involves the application of astrology. Is it used to find propitious times in our lives or to benefit as a helping profession in social and psychological sciences? According to some scholars in Sufism (Islamic Mysticism) astrology may be permissible in Islam because it is neither illusion nor demonic practice. Instead, astrology is based on statistical knowledge which motivates people for further research and comprehension of the human condition.
In Islamic teachings, every prophet was gifted with diverse miracles. Prophet Idris, also known as Enoch in the Old Testament, was blessed with his immense knowledge of heavenly sciences. As compared to modern science, he had a more complex knowledge of astronomy. Some Sufi schools consider him as the founder of the science of the stars, also called “ilm al nujum” in Arabic. Historical records illustrate his birth in Babylonia and his migration to Egypt later in life. History also collaborates that astrology was first born in Babylonia and then spread to Egypt. Prophet Idris was supposedly known to be the first person to educate mankind that living creatures are under the influence of cosmic rays. Meanwhile, we should also realize that most Islamic theologians would disagree with this view. It is also believed that he laid the foundations of science and philosophy from which ancient Greek philosophers benefited.
However, it is important to make distinction between ilm al nujum and astrology. Although they both involve heavenly objects and theirs influences on us, they differ in certain ways. The science of Prophet Idris may have involved stars in the universe and some complex mechanism which required deep calculations. Perhaps that’s why; people refer to astrology as the influences of stars despite the fact that in today’s horoscopes, the heavenly objects take place in our solar system as the sun being the only star. In that sense, deep scientific knowledge of Prophet Idris in regard to stars was probably lost throughout history.
Prophet Muhammad, like other messengers, denounced fortune-telling as a demonic practice although some Muslims, especially the ones embracing Sufism, differentiate astrology as being a scientific study unlike crystal balls or other means of soothsayers. During the life of Prophet Muhammad, they asked him about his thoughts regarding fortune tellers. He responded that “Even if it comes true, they are still lying”. But one person insisted that some predictions are very accurate and wondered why we could not trust them. His explanation about true predictions involved the supernatural beings called the Jinns.
The word Jinn means “hidden” in Arabic. In The Holy Koran, they are described as beings created from smokeless fire. Jinns are the descendants of Satan like Humans are descendants of Adam but most of them are very deceptive and dangerous for humans. When God has a certain event planned in our lives, he commands the angels to create the conditions to fabricate them. Before implementing God’s plan, Angels discuss about this future event. In some cases, jinn sneaks up and overhear the future event and passes this information to the fortune-tellers through Tarot, I-ching or any other objects. Of course, the Jinns don’t intend to be favorable of humans; therefore, they muddle up the truth of future events with deception. As a result, the truthful events overheard from Angels are embellished with lies to cause confusion. This may seem like a fairy tale to many people but after years of experience, Philip Imbrogno, a paranormal researcher with a degree in astronomy, consider the Jinn very seriously.
In Islamic nations, fortune-tellers make a very good living despite the fact that their work is condemned by the religion. They simply have no idea of astrological chart calculations and the complicated interpretations of them. The most crucial information they need is the name of consulter’s mother. Once they acquire that, they are able to provide some accurate analysis of the present state of the person as well as few specific predictions. For instance, a fortune-teller may predict that on May 7th, your sister will receive a good job offer from a multinational company and her new manager will be a short man in his mid 40s with brown hair and big moustache. Indeed, the event may shockingly come true even if you never share this prediction with your sister. It is wrong to assume that few predictions may come true as mere chance because the particular events are too specific to be considered as lucky guesses.
Even the most prominent astrologers can’t get this precise in describing people and events simply because astrology is not designed for concrete predictions. Obviously, the reason behind the accuracy of some predictions is more than just a simple lie. Indeed, it is related to their involvement with Jinn. Incidentally, while a few shockingly precise predictions may come true, most of their prophecies are still false. In Turkey, one of the most popular forms of fortune telling is to read the patterns of coffee grains in a cup. One drinks the coffee, then swirls the remaining muddy portion in the cup. Then the coffee cup is placed upside down on a saucer to dry. Consulter must also tell his/her mother’s name to the fortune teller. A few minutes later, the fortune teller picks the coffee cup and gives the reading.
Perhaps astrology may not be considered as the trick of the devil because unlike tarot or I-ching, it involves deep chart calculations, complex house systems and years of serious study to become an expert. However, a particular occurrence from the life of Prophet Muhammad can be considered evidence of his opposition of theoretical views of the influence of heavenly bodies. Prophet Muhammad’s only son died around the age of two, coincidently during a solar eclipse. It was perceived by the Arabic community that solar eclipse symbolized a bad omen. Prophet Muhammad wanted Arabs to eradicate the pre-Islamic era paganism and superstitious beliefs. Distraught by the death of his son, he gathered his community and told them that solar eclipse is an irrelevant event and does not occur in correlation to someone’s birth or death. The experience of Prophet Muhammad is considered proof that there is no celestial influence or synchronicity between such phenomenon and human events.
At first, one may construe the comments of Prophet Muhammad concerning this particular event as clear example against astrology. But let’s try to understand what may be the reason for his objection. When Arabs associated the solar eclipse as the sign of a bad omen, there was no rational base supporting this. One may argue that astrology is irrational too since the laws of physics contradict it. However, there is at least some statistical evidence confirming certain tenets of astrology. For instance, French psychologist and statistician Michel Gauquelin’s study results called “The Mars Effect”, was approved by Marvin Zelen, who was the chairman of the department of biostatistics at Harvard University.
Most Islamic Theologians refute astrology since the laws of physics disprove the astrological claims of planetary effects. In modern astrology, the position of heavenly bodies is perceived as signs for certain human behavior or occurrences. Astrologers view aspects like a clock not being the maker of the time, but simply as the indicator of time. In my view, this is a thoughtful argument against skeptics who discredit astrology especially since it is incompatible with the laws of physics. On the other hand, this argument does not help us to comprehend the inexplicable phenomena. For instance, person with healthy mind may feel wonderful in the morning and then feel so disheartened later in the day without a comprehensible explanation by modern psychology. A modern astrologer may see it as synchronicity between hard astrological aspect and the depressed moment but actually that wouldn’t really explain what causes the sudden depression. Though it may sound like fiction to skeptics, it is more logical to consider that the undetectable cosmic rays continuously influence our psyche throughout the day. Like the narrator asked in a documentary called Riddle of the Zodiac, “Is the universe perhaps made of stranger stuff”?
In fact, the universe is probably made of stranger stuff. That’s why; physicists try to understand the dark matter and dark energy in the universe. When astronomers discovered that stars spin around the galaxy approximately the same speed even if they are far from the center of galaxy, new scientific perspective has emerged beyond the Newton’s laws of physics. Astronomers finally admit that it is time to believe in something invisible and undetectable in the universe.
Although mainstream psychiatry and psychology consider astrological profiles as vague descriptions which may be suitable to anyone, there are a considerable number of academicians fascinated by the accuracy of their natal charts. Some of these academicians have remarkable success in their careers so obviously they are not gullible people who can easily be deceived by pseudo sciences. While modern psychology has helped patients around the world, a significant number of people differ that modern psychology do not provide adequate understanding of their problems for a fulfilling a resolution. Stanislav Grof M.D., PhD is known to be a psychiatry professor who embraces astrological psychology as a helpful profession. He criticizes modern psychotherapies as being superficial help and strikingly remarks that modern psychology is considered superficial while archetypal astrology should be embraced as a genuine profession. Most importantly, we need to emphasize that astrology alone is not supposed to be used solely to diagnose or treat people but as a combination along with other critical scientific procedures.
Probably from the standpoint of Islamic view, making comments about the future may only be limited to archetypal ones. As a matter of fact, psychological astrologers employ astrology for archetypal predictions; not concrete ones. Dr. Glenn Perry, a psychological astrologer, believes it is wrong to advise people to do or not to do certain things on the basis of transits. In this sense, transits may be a valuable tool for a behavioral consultant to help people attain self-growth and find purpose in their lives. This view is more acceptable since it allows things to fall into the natural course of events.
From an Islamic perspective psychological astrology may be the only acceptable form of astrological consultation while the predictive astrology is viewed as fortune-telling. But even psychological astrology faces difficulties in the sight of many Islamic theologians. After all, it doesn’t conform to the traditional scientific rules. Some Muslim scholars may recognize astrology as a study which portrays accurate personality profiles but they may still think it is impermissible since God forbids this particular practice. Certain things, especially knowledge of future events, must remain hidden to us for a reason we may not think of. I think Surah Anam (6:59) from Koran may support this view: “With Him keys of the unseen, the treasure that none knows but Him”.
In my view, Islamic Theologians should be open to debate over these issues regarding astrological psychology. An objective research conducted by unbiased theologians may result in incorporating astrological psychology into Contemporary Islamic philosophy.
Finally, I want to formulate an interesting observation that coincide the image of Islam and astrology today. Islam has a negative representation due to the unpleasant depictions by some violent, uneducated and fundamentalist Islamic followers. True followers of the religion condemn this sort of behavior and make an effort to establish the real Islam in the minds of non Muslim community. Likewise, astrology also suffers from a bad image because of misrepresentation by fortune-tellers. Real astrologers who may also hold various academic positions promote the true philosophy of astrology, not the one practiced by fortune-tellers.
After the Big Bang, the universe began cooling. As a result of this cooling process, heavy elements of Earth such as oxygen and carbon were formed in a star. An explosion from the star spread the elements of the origin of life. Astronomer Carl Sagan viewed the formation of elements in the early universe as a metaphoric statement that we are all made of star stuff. In this sense, the notion of the influence of stars on us is understandable.
Ugur Alkan is a freelance writer. He has a B.A. in Communication and MBA in Managemet from Fort Hays State University, Kansas. He can be contacted at ugur_alkan [at] yahoo.com.