There can be no comparison with the established sophisticated astronomical traditions in Mamlûk Cairo and Damascus and Aleppo, with substantial numbers of capable astronomers, but since the Jerusalem tradition is virtually unknown, it is surely worth documenting separately, and for this the time is perhaps ripe…
Figure 1. Article Banner
Figure 2. The plan of the city of Jerusalem from a manuscript collection of various religious, astronomical and historical works dated 1589 (Source)
Various medieval Arabic manuscripts preserved in libraries around the world – Leipzig, Cairo, Princeton, and not least Jerusalem – attest to activity in astronomy in Mamlûk Jerusalem, mainly in the 14th century and thereafter into the Ottoman period, the most recent manuscript having been copied ca. 1900. The main figures in this activity are the Cairo astronomer al-Rashîdî and his Jerusalem contemporary al-Karakî. There can be no comparison with the established sophisticated astronomical traditions in Mamlûk Cairo and Damascus and Aleppo, with substantial numbers of capable astronomers, but since the Jerusalem tradition is virtually unknown, it is surely worth documenting separately, and for this the time is perhaps ripe.
The manuscripts are concerned with an important branch of Islamic astronomy, namely, astronomical timekeeping and the regulation of the astronomically-defined times of the five daily prayers, as well as the determination of the qibla or sacred direction toward the sacred Ka’ba in Mecca. Most of the astronomers associated with mosques who practiced such applied astronomy for religious purposes were called muwaqqits, literally “those concerned with time-keeping”, others simply mîqâtîs, specialists in the discipline ‘ilm al-mîqât, “the science of astronomical timekeeping”. In the central lands of Islam this activity is attested in Cairo from the 13th century onwards, and in Damascus from the 14th. Prior to that similar tables were compiled all over the Islamic world (except al-Andalus) but on a less organized basis.
Figure 3. An employee works on a restoration of an old manuscript at the al-Aqsa mosque compound library in Jerusalem (Source)
Our manuscripts present a corpus of tables, containing over 20,000 entries for finding the time of day from the altitude of the sun throughout the year and for regulating the astronomically-defined times of prayer. Thus the muwaqqits associated with mosques in Jerusalem were involved in the same colourful activities as their colleagues in the better-known astronomical centres as Cairo and Damascus. More modest tables are attested for Ramla and Nablus, and the most sophisticated treatise that we have come across was copied by in the early 14th century by a muwaqqit at the Sacred Mosque in Hebron who was clearly conversant with the finer points of the astronomical tradition in Cairo.