From: Thomas Hockey et al. (eds.). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers, Springer Reference. New York: Springer, 2007, pp. 942-943

Courtesy of

Qāsim ibn Muarrif al‐Qaṭṭān: Abū Muammad Qāsim ibn Muarrif ibn ʿAbd al‐Ramān al‐Qaṭṭān al‐ulayulī al‐Qurubī al‐Andalusī

Mercè Comes

FlourishedCordova, (Spain), 10th century

Qāsim ibn Muarrif al‐Qaṭṭān may well represent the earliest astronomers in Islamic Spain (al‐Andalus) of whom we have knowledge. Though known as a reciter of the Quran (muqriʾ) and traditionalist with the sobriquet al‐shaykh al‐raʾīs (Principal Shaykh), only one of his works is extant, a study of cosmological and astronomical subjects. However, in the biographical dictionaries there is no reference to Qaṭṭān's interest in cosmology or astronomy. From what we know of the lives of his teachers, we can deduce that he was born at the end of the 9th or the beginning of the 10th century. An analysis of Qaṭṭān's work offers only two chronological details: a quotation from Maslama al‐Majrīī and the following statement in the title of the star table: “We found its longitude in the ecliptic in the year 300 of the Hijra” (912–913).

If the attribution is correct, Qaṭṭān's work, entitled Kitāb al‐hayʾa (Book on cosmology), would be the first extant Andalusī treatise on astronomy. The only known manuscript is preserved in the Süleymaniye Library in Istanbul (Carullah Efendi 1279, folios 315r–321v). The work is a compendium of all the Andalusī cosmological and astronomical knowledge of the time and draws upon a variety of traditions. The most prominent is that of eastern Islam, which flourished in the 10th century after successfully combining the old cosmology and astronomy of Greece and India. There are also echoes of an old Latin astrological tradition, still in use in the Iberian Peninsula.

The text consists of 30 numbered and five unnumbered chapters. The unnumbered chapters differ from the others in several aspects and do not seem to belong to the work. The chapters are as follows: 1–8: signs of the Zodiac and lunar mansions; 9–11: planets and cosmographical subjects; 12: stars; 13–16: Moon and Sun; 17–27: subjects related to the calendar, i. e., years, months, days, hours (22 and 23 are devoted to clocks); and 28–30: description of the cosmos, both the superlunary and sublunary world. The other five chapters – the ones without numbering – deal with the Sun, the Moon, and terrestrial latitudes. Some of the chapters that purport to explain the physical structure of the cosmos show a clear dependence on Aristotle, while others draw upon Ptolemy, in particular on his Planetary Hypothesis, which very probably reached the author through the Kitāb al‐aʿlāq al‐nafīsa of the eastern geographer Abū ʿAlī Amad ibn ʿUmar ibn Rustah.

The clocks described are a sundial, the description of which coincides almost word for word with the one found in the Kitāb al‐asrār fī natāʾij al‐afkār (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Misc. Or 152, folio 47r), explicitly attributed to Ibn al‐affār, one of Maslama's disciples. This clock is unlike extant Islamic clocks, although we know of at least two texts that describe a similar instrument (the balāa described in the Zīj by Ibn Isāq al‐Tūnisī and the one in the commentary to the Mišná by Maimonides). These clocks seem to date back to biblical times. The second one, called thurayya, is a “fire clock” because the hours are indicated by the burning of oil. A description of a similar clock is found in a work by a certain Yūnus al‐Mirī. Qaṭṭān's clock derives from a clock calculated for Baghdad, which probably reached al‐Andalus through Tunis, perhaps thanks to the well‐known epistolary relationship between asdāy ibn Shaprut of Cordova, and the Tunisian Dunash ibn Tamīm.

The star table contains 16 stars. It is a standard table of the kind that accompanies a treatise for constructing an astrolabe, although, in view of the errors found, it was probably derived from a reading of the coordinates of an instrument calculated for Cordova, namely ecliptic coordinates (longitude and latitude) and the degree of the zodiac that rises with a star and diurnal arc. It is the first star table documented in al‐Andalus and is clearly influenced by Battānī and Maslama.

In a number of chapters there are signs that the author does not have a thorough understanding of the field. However, the work is important because it demonstrates the emergence of astronomical and cosmological knowledge from a range of traditions in 10th‐century al‐Andalus, the period in which science was beginning to develop in this area. Although the author is Andalusī, the manuscript is eastern, suggesting that it reached a fairly wide readership. The text is largely nonspecialist and was probably used in the nonscientific circles in which the author undoubtedly moved.

Selected References

Casulleras, J. (1993). “Descripciones de un cuadrante solar atípico en el occidente musulmán.” Al‐Qantara 14: 63–69.

——— (1994). “El contenido del Kitāb al‐Hayʾa de Qāsim b. Muṭarrif al‐Qaṭṭān.” In Actes de les I Trobades d'Història de la Ciència i de la Tècnica, edited by J. M. Camarasa, H. Mielgo, and A. Roca, pp. 75–93. Barcelona: Institut d'Estudis Catalans. Societat catalana d'Historia de la Ciència i de le Tècnica.

Comes, M. (1993–1994). “Un procedimiento para determinar la hora durante la noche en la Córdoba del siglo X.” Revista del Instituto Egipcio de Estudios Islámicos 26: 263–272.

——— (1994).“La primera tabla de estrellas documentada en al‐Andalus.” In Actes de les I Trobades d'Història de la Ciència i de la Tècnica, edited by J.   M.   Camarasa, H. Mielgo, and A. Roca, 95–109. Barcelona: Institut d'Estudis Catalans. Societat catalana d'Història de la Ciència i de le Tēcnica.

Comes, M. (2006). “Ibn Muṭarrif al‐Qaṭṭān, Qāsim.” In Biblioteca de al‐Andalus. Enciclopedia de la Cultura andalusí. Fundación Ibn Tufaye. Amería. Vol. 1, [893], 304–306.

Rosenthal, Franz (1955). “From Arabic Books and Manuscripts V: A One‐Volume Library of Arabic Philosophical and Scientific Texts in Istanbul.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 75: 14–23, esp. 21.

Samsó, Julio (1992). Las ciencias de los antiguos en al‐Andalus. Madrid: Mapfre.

Sezgin, Fuat (1978). Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums. Vol. 6, Astronomie, 197–198. Leiden: E. J. Brill.