Q. My husband cannot begin his day without consulting the horoscope section in the newspaper. He claims that he has lived in Saudi Arabia for a long while and that he saw many religious people working off astrology, and that astrology only shows what God has decreed. He cites as evidence the many times that such predictions have come true, and says that it has been used in India for centuries among scholars of another religion. Would you be kind enough to let me know the Islamic position on this please?
A. The Muslim theological schools of thought have differences of opinion regarding free will and fatalism. There are salient arguments for both positions, but in no argument for fatalism (which is what your husband seems to accept) is there a relation to the movement of the planets. Even if one were to assume that the positioning of the planets may influence conditions that lead to mood swings and behavioral patterns, none of these would be able to dictate what is in store for a person. His statement regarding the scholars of India is true, but I am afraid he is confusing science and superstition. The classical study of astrology in India works off the principle that people born when the stars are aligned in a particular way do have certain traits. One may assume that the astrologers have been able to make these statements based on surveys of large numbers of people over an extended period of time. We have no way of debunking their understanding, and as such, we may accept it in general terms. The scholars, however, do NOT predict what lies in store on a daily basis for anyone. This is what the popular "astrologers" do because they have found people who are willing to live according to their predictions, which largely fall under the category of superstition.
Your husband rightly claims that sometimes the predictions are correct. However, he seems to have overlooked that they are also more often NOT correct. This is a simple case of probability and astrologers work off such probability. They are adept at making ambiguous statements or often working off what is obvious to them, but may not be so to the gullible follower. The Qur'an does not in any way indicate that our future is dictated by the movement of the planets. One may rightly claim that unless the Qur'an says that something is forbidden, we may pursue it. This, in my opinion, does not fall into that category of "allowed when not clearly forbidden." The idea of our future being dictated by the movement of the planets is not something that can be substantiated by empirical scientific study. Thus far, all we have shown is that in some areas, such as in Alaska and the northwest territories of Canada, weather patterns may cause depression, etc. This is a scientific conclusion and people can act accordingly. It is quite different to assuming that on any specific day, one's relatives may visit, or he may get good news. A Muslim is supposed to do his or her best to act accordingly, going out into the world, and doing what has to be done. Sura 55 asks the rhetorical question: "Is the reward for good anything but good?" This indicates that we pursue what is best, regardless of circumstance. Of course, we encounter pitfalls in life, and under careful scrutiny, we may find that if we act differently, we may be able to avoid such. Astrology does not cater for this: it simply claims to predict what will happen. That, to me, is counter to the philosophy of the conscientious Muslim. And God knows best.
Posted December 16, 2020