To compose a readable, nontechnical account of astronomy and astrology in the Muslim world is challenging. The topic is scientific (dependent on arcane mathematical and physical theories and concepts), the period is long (covering nearly 1,000 years), the geography is extensive (stretching from India in the East to Spain in the West), and the context is crucial. To make sense of the Islamic era (from the middle of the eighth century CE until the middle of the sixteenth century), the narrative must begin three millennia before (with the Egyptians) and continue through the century following (with Copernicus, Kepler, and Newton).
Up to now, the treatments that are available fall into one of two categories. On the one hand, the books and articles by historians of Islamic science are admirably complete and sophisticated – full of formulas, diagrams, and explanations. Men like E. S. Kennedy, David Pingree, and David King have studied the Arabic treatises, carefully laying out the contributions of Islamic astronomers and mathematicians. Other historians, George Saliba, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and Julio Samso, for example, have written longer less mathematical studies of particular topics or regions – cosmology, planetary theory, or Andalusia. And Aydin Sayili has compiled an exhaustive history of the observatory in the Muslim world.
The second category is the general history. The best of these, like the surveys of John David North, are useful for their context, situating the Islamic achievement in the larger framework of astronomy worldwide, but they are necessarily brief. Muslim astronomers and mathematicians are given no more than a chapter or two – only the most illustrious mentioned at all.
This book, on the other hand, offers a different perspective. It aims, in the first place, to be complete, covering the entire range of the nearly one thousand years of Islamic astronomy and astrology – from the first translations and compositions in al-Ma'mun's House of Wisdom in mid-eighth century Baghdad to the observatories and treatises of Raja Jai Singh in mid-eighteenth century Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi).