From: Thomas Hockey et al. (eds.). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers, Springer Reference. New York: Springer, 2007, pp. 1159-1160

Courtesy of

Umawī: Abū ʿAlī al‐asan ibn ʿAlī ibn Khalaf al‐Umawī

Miquel Forcada

Alternate name

al‐Khatīb al‐Umawī al‐Qurubī

BornCordova, (Spain), 1120

DiedSeville, (Spain), 1205/1206

Abū al‐asan al‐Umawī, known as al‐Khaīb (the preacher), was an expert in the Islamic religious sciences and the Arabic language. He wrote a number of treatises among which there are two on Arabic ethnoastronomy: Kitāb al‐Luʾluʾ al‐manūm fī maʿrifat al‐awqāt bi‐ʾl‐nujūm (Book of the pearl in the necklace on the knowledge of time by means of the stars) and Kitāb al‐Anwāʾ (Book about the Anwāʾ). The book belongs to a genre that aims to compile astronomical and meteorological materials from traditional Arabic lore inside the framework of the anwāʾ, periods of 13 days defined by the risings and settings of certain asterisms (lunar mansions) located along the lunar ecliptic, which account for the complete solar year. Umawī's main source is the Kitāb al‐Anwāʾ wa‐ʾl azmina by another Cordovan, Ibn ʿāim (died: 1013), who had compiled materials taken from philologists of eastern Islam from the 8th century onward.

As a religious scholar, Umawī expanded on and completed Ibn ʿāim's chapters on the procedures of Arabic folk astronomy that could help determine the times of prayers (mīqāt) or find the direction of Mecca (qibla). The treatise contains a method for determining night hours based upon the appearance of the asterisms of the anwāʾ system – this chapter seems to be related with Umawī's other astronomical treatise mentioned above, two series of lengths of shadows cast by a gnomon to determine prayer times (one of them written in a numerical notation, the Rūmī ciphers, found only in Andalusia and north Africa), and a long fragment on the possibility of observing Canopus (Suhayl) from Muslim Spain, a star used to determine the direction of Mecca. The author seems to be aware of more sophisticated forms of astronomy as he mentions two unusual sundials, the mīzān fazārī and the mukūla.

There are two possible reasons for Umawī's interest in continuing a tradition that by his time was two centuries old: First, the rulers of the period, the Almohads, used to train their sons in the observation of the asterisms of the anwāʾ system; and second, the Almohad mosques, unlike those built by their predecessors, the Almoravids, were often directed toward the rising of Canopus. About a century later, this treatise was used by the famous Moroccan astronomer Ibn al‐Bannāʾ as a source for his Kitāb fī al‐anwāʾ (Book on the anwāʾ). Only the second treatise has come down to us, albeit in fragmentary form (preserved in El Escorial Library, MS 941).

Selected References

Forcada, Miquel (1990). “Mīqāt en los calendarios andalusíes.” Al‐Qantar 11: 59–69.

——— (1992). “Les sources andalouses du calendrier d'Ibn al‐Bannāʾ de Marrakech.” In Actas del II Coloquio Hispano‐Marroquí de Ciencias Históricas: Historia, ciencia y sociedad, pp. 183–196. Madrid: Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional.

——— (1993). El Kitāb al‐anwāʾ wa‐l‐azmina al‐qawl fī l‐šuhūr de Ibn ʿĀim (Tratado sobre los anwāʾ y los tiempos – capítulo sobre los meses). Fuentes Arabico‐Hispanas, 15. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientifícas.

——— (1994). “Esquemes d'ombres per determinar el moment de les pregàries en llibres d'anwāʾ i calendaris d'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, pp. 107–118. Barcelona: Societat Catalana de Física‐Secció de Ciència i Tècnica de l'Institut Menorquí d'Estudis‐Societat Catalana d'Història de la Ciència i de la Tècnica.

——— (1998).“Books of Anwāʾ in al‐Andalus.” In The Formation of al‐Andalus, Part 2: Language, Religion, Culture and the Sciences, edited by Maribel Fierro and Julio Samsó, pp. 305–328. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Ibn al‐Abbār (1887). Al‐Takmila li‐Kitāb al‐Ṣila, edited by F. Codera. Madrid: Biblioteca Arabico‐Hispana (V–VI), Biography no. 46.

Rius, Mònica (2000). La alquibla en al‐Andalus y al‐Magrib al‐Aqsà. Barcelona: Institut “Millàs Vallicrosa” d'Història de la Ciència árab.