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Among the sciences which African Muslim sages closely associated with the sciences of astronomy and physics are the science of cosmology/physiognomy (`ilm al-hay’a’) and mathematics (`ilm al-hisaab).

by Shaykh Muhammad Shareef bin Farid

The expression ‘hay’a’ (outward appearance or form) is a synonym of ‘sura’ (form), ‘haal’ (state) and ‘shakl’ (shape). Thus, it came to have a dual meaning among the people of verification (muhaqqiqun): 

[1] the physical configuration of the form of animals and humans; and 

[2] the order, the number, divisions, size, distance and motions of the heavenly bodies. 

The later aspect of ‘`ilm’l-hay’a’ is a branch of astronomy known as cosmology (kawniyaat). The first aspect is associated with the study of medicine; while the second aspect is the designation of the shape of the heavenly orbits (aflaak), specifying their positions, enumerating the number of the planetary bodies, the stars, and their movements. 

This is further connected to the study of the cosmic realities such as the universal orbit, Footstool, the Throne, the Guarded Tablet and the Primordial Pen. Thus, the study of the science of ‘hay’a’ involves the study of physiognomy of man as microcosm and the form of the larger macrocosmic order.

 In the Medinat’l-`Uluum the author describes the science of ‘hay’a’: “…as the science of the understanding of the states of the higher and lower celestial bodies, their forms, positions in space, their hierarchies and their distances from one another.” 

Among the more well known earlier text on this science are the al-Madkhal Ila `Ilm’l-Hay’a by Imam Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Munajim, the Misrat’l-Quluub Fee Dafi`’l-Kuruub by `Alaa’d-Deen Ali ibn Muhammad Qawshuuji, the Muntahaa ‘l-Idraak Fee Jaraaseem’l-Aflaak by Imam Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Hussayni al-Kharuukhi. 

The leading scholar among the Fudiawa responsible for composing texts on the science of ‘hay’a’, was Shaykh Abdullahi Dan Fodio. We have two texts from him which cover the science in an abridged manner: an Arabic work called al-Kayyat’s-Saniyya Fee ‘l-Hay’at as-Siniyya and a Hausa poem called Faati Buurji Ghaghida (Elucidating All the Constellations and Their Mansions). 

The first text is a theoretical work written to delineate the Islamic cosmology extracted from the Book of Allah and the Sunna. The second text is on the science of ‘hay’a’ and ‘`ilm’n-nujuum’ (astronomy) and was composed in order to utilize these as an applied science in the manner of an ‘almanac’. It was particularly useful to agronomist and civil servants of the time. 

One of the key students of Shaykh Abdullahi in this science was Shaykh Mustafa at-Turuudi, who then passed the fundamentals of this science to his son, the poet, Shaykh Abd’l-Qaadir, may Allah be merciful to all of them. 

Related to the science of ‘hay’a’ is the third of the elemental sciences that Shaykh Dan Tafa mastered which is “…arithmetic…” 

The expression ‘hisaab’ (calculation/computation/arithmetic) is an infinitive noun from the verb ‘hasaba’ (to number, count, compute or calculate); like when one says: ‘rafa`a ‘l-`aamilu hisaabahu ila al-amir’ (The civil servant presented his calculation to the governor). 

In the Qur’an the expression ‘hisaab’ (‘reckoning) is apart of the fundamental principles of theology which is obligatory for every responsible Muslim to believe in. Allah ta`ala says on the tongue of Ibrahim, upon him be peace: “Our Lord forgive me, my parents and the believers on the Day the Reckoning is established.” 

This refers to the Day of Resurrection when all the men and jinn will be revived from the dead, gathered into one place and reckoned for every atoms weight of good or evil they performed or failed to perform. It is for this reason that Allah names Himself ‘al-Haseeb’ (the Enumerator or the One Who Reckons). 

As for the science of ‘`ilm’l-hisaab’ (arithmetic), Imam al-Qanuuji said: 

“…it is concerned with determining unknown numerical quantities from known quantities, as well as the fundamental mathematical operations and extraction of root numbers.” 

Although the science of mathematics was well known and utilized by the earlier civilizations, Muslims developed algebraic and geometric calculation to new heights required for determining the division of inheritance, calculating the obligatory zakat  on wealth, dividing the wealth of the public treasury (bayt’l-maal); and pinpointing the exact direction of Mecca. 

Among the most important works composed on the science of arithmetic were: the Nihaayat’t-Tullaab Fee `Ilm ‘l-Hisaab of Badr’d-Deen ibn al-Khateeb al-Irbali; the Nuzhat ‘l-Albaab Fee `Ilm’l-Hisaab of Abd’l-`Aziz ibn Abd’l-Waahid al-Maghribi; the al-Lami` fee ‘l-Hisaab of Abu’l-Abass Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Ali al-Haa’iy ‘l-Maqdasi; the al-Lubaab Fee `Ilm ‘l-Hisaab by Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Kinani as-Sanjari; the Kifaayat’l-Hisaab Fee `Ilm’l-Hisaab of Shaykh al-Labuudi; and others. 

Among the Fudiawa, the study of the science of arithmetic was a necessary requirement for the mastery of those elemental, linguistic and shari`a sciences which involve calculation, such as the science of inheritance (faraa’id), prosody (`uruud), building engineering (handisa ‘l-banaa’), and the science of letters (jifr). 

The science of ‘hisaab’ was essential in business and commerce which were the warp and woof of long distance trade that lay at the foundation of the spread of Islam throughout the Bilad’s-Sudan. 

Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio made the science of simple and complex arithmetic a fundamental requirement in his courses as Shaykh Abdullahi Dan Fodio said in his `Ida’n-Nusuukh: 

“I took from him the science of arithmetic (al-hisaab), that which is complex and that which is simple.” 

Another scholar among the Fudiawa well versed in the teaching of the mathematical sciences was Shaykh Muhammad Mudi Mamari ibn Uthman ibn Alfa Zazi. According to Shaykh Abdullahi ibn al-Qadi al-Hajj, in addition to mastering mathematics, Shaykh Mudi Mamari was well versed in the rational sciences (ma`quul), and the theoretical sciences (`uluum nadhariyya) such as logic (mantiq), theology (kalaam) as well as the jurisprudence of the divisions of inheritance (faraa’id); all which are depended upon the science of arithmetic. 

Shehu Uthman, Shaykh Abdullahi and Shaykh Mudi Mamari were the key teachers of the mathematical and rational sciences to Shaykh Mustafa ibn Muhammad at-Turuudi, who in turn taught them to his son, Shaykh Abdalqaadir Dan Tafa, may Allah be merciful to all of them.

The reason that African sages like Shaykh Dan Tafa took the sciences associated with the calculation of the stars and movement of the heavens is because through these sciences Muslims have been able to determine the beginning of the sacred months of fasting and pilgrimage.

The Messenger of Allah may Allah bless him and grant him peace said: 

“Begin your fast based upon the sighting of the new moon; and end your fast based upon the sighting of the new moon.”

The African Muslim sages of the Fudiawa family took this prophetic tradition to mean that the study of the science of the stars and movement of the heavens were to be taken serious and given its due diligence.


Ilaawat al-Muttaalib fee Shukr ‘l-Waahib al-Mufeedat al-Mawaahib by Shaykh Muhammad Shareef bin Farid:

Shukr al-Waahib al-Mufeeda al-Mawaahib by Shaykh Abdalqaadir Dan Tafa:

The Life & Times of Shaykh Abd’l-Qaadir Dan Tafa:

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