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Living by al-Anwa': a literary, cultural and theological analysis of folk astronomy in pre-Islamic and early Islamic Arabia
W. Ben Adams


In the pre-Islamic era, many Arab tribes responded to the light of their celestial companions by ascribing to them some qualities that singularly belonged to deities. The stars, especially as it relates to their times of rising and setting, were believed to be the direct causative agents of meteorological phenomena and thus the behavior of desert flora and fauna. The pre-Islamic celestial clock also directed Arab social behavior and economic interactions, as many of these were seasonal in nature. The advent of Islam brought with it strict monotheism, at least in theory, and Muhammad adamantly prohibited the continuation of astral worship among the Arabs. The central question of this paper is: Did astral worship continue into the first century AH (622 CE and beyond), even if only implicitly or inadvertently, despite Islamic prohibitions against such practices? More specifically, did Muslim Arabs continue to ascribe divine agency to al-anwā˒, the set of stellar groupings, traditionally associated with the 28 Indian lunar stations, whose concurrent risings and settings presaged seasonal, meteorological, floral and social activity? The answer to this question will also shed light on the real effect of the formative Islamic theology on the entrenched popular beliefs among the Arabs: Did Islamic proscriptions change pre-Islamic Arab culture and replace the former religion, or was the new Islamic faith merely amalgamated into the preexisting religious milieu? The current research gleans from Ibn Qutyaba's Kitāb al-Anwā˒ relevant source texts in pre-Islamic and Umayyad poetry and prose and then examines these original sources in their original poetical contexts.