In this article, I have attempted to decipher the hermetic background of the teachings of Islam, and to elucidate the connections of its traditions, holy personalities, and fundamental rituals by the use of astrological symbolism.
Though many cultures of the ancient past had endeavoured to create a reflection of heaven on earth through their ideologies, mythologies, theologies, traditions, and rituals; but the more recent ones have sought after ways to adjust and advance their cultures by improving upon the ideologies, rituals, and archetypal personalities offered to their folks from their ancient forebears. Islam being a relatively modern version of numerous older traditions, has adopted a fascinating outlook in its teachings from hermeticism. Therefore, this article is an attempt to decode the Islamic doctrine and traditions from the astrological and alchemical perspectives.
The Islamic Traditions and Archetypal Personalities
The rituals and personalities mentioned in the above table are the most cherished in Islamic teachings. Out of many diverse ‘schools of thoughts’ among Muslims, all are at consensus in embracing the authority and sanctity of them.
Most of the mentioned ‘Islamic traditions’ are commonly considered as the “Pillars of Islam”. Some Muslim sects like ‘Ismailism’ assert Islam of having seven pillars based on the authority of the descendants of prophet Mohammed; while ‘Sunni’ Muslims claim Islam to be composed of five pillars. Nevertheless, all of these traditions or rituals are practiced with much enthusiasm by everyone of the Muslim groups alike. The Muslim archetypal personalities are taken here from the “Panjetan-e-Pak” (Five Pure Ones). These are considered to be the prime among the prophet Mohammed’s family members called ‘Ahl-al-Bayt’, and are entitled to be “Ahl-al-Kisa” (People of the Cloak). The Quran states,
And abide in your houses and do not display yourselves as (was) the display of the former times of ignorance. And establish prayer and give zakat and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah intends only to remove from you the impurity (of sin), O people of the (Prophet’s) household, and to purify you with (extensive) purification. Al-Quran (33:33)
It has been reported by many authentic narrators of Islam that the above verse of the Quran was revealed to prophet Mohammed when he had covered himself under his cloak along with Ali, Fatima, Hassan, and Hussein; and pronounced them as his household. Thus, the above verse was revealed to express their holiness and infallibility. Therefore, my objective here is to relate the characteristics of the major Islamic rituals with the heroic legacies of the most influential Muslim personalities; and to compare them with the traditional archetypal planets of astrology.
The Astrological Moon
Astrologically, Moon is a luminary who brings guidance and comfort for humans in the dark. Moon being ruler of the water sign of Cancer, heralds the emotional well being and freedom associated with the summer season. Studies have shown that phases of the Moon influence ebb and flow of the tides, and thereby human emotions; since 70% of the human body comprises of water. Thus, human heart beat, blood pressure, flow of bodily fluids, and emotions are affected by the phases and movement of the Moon.
The Islamic Ritual of Salaat
Salaat is very much akin to the astrological Moon, on account of many reasons. Firstly, the physical postures followed by Muslims during this ritual seem similar to the different phases of the Moon. Also, Salaat is offered by Muslims with regular intervals during the day, which actually forms an exercise to bend and stretch the body for optimizing blood pressure and hormonal systems. The ritual Salaat in its performance is accompanied by the chanting of prayers alongside verses from the Quran, resulting in emotional link of worship to the deity. The constant practice of standing, bowing, and prostrating during the Salaat can have powerful psychological effects, which when performed in a congregation with discipline could create strong emotional connection with the community. Thus, the practice of Salaat ritual acts both on an individual as well as social level of significance, and strongly embodies astrological effects of the Moon among Muslims.
The Quran states,
The Hour has come near, and the Moon has split (in two). Al-Quran (54:1)
It is narrated by Muslims that the above verse was revealed to prophet Mohammed as a consequence of an important miracle which was performed by Mohammed at the insistence of his pagan adversaries of Mecca. In the miracle, prophet is reported to have split the Moon into two halves. Also , Mohammed used to perform Salaat regularly at midnight on account of a specific command in the Quran directed toward him.
And from (part of) the night, pray with it (i.e., recitation of the Quran) as additional (worship) for you; it is expected that your Lord will resurrect you to a praised station. Al-Quran (17:79)
Apart from the obligatory Salaat rituals, the midnight Salaat was made compulsory for prophet Mohammed, but optional for Muslims. This might be on account of Mohammed serving as the light of guidance (Moon) during darkness of nights. Also, Mohammed used to observe fasts on every Monday. The following narration relates the anecdote.
Abu Qatada Ansari reported that Allah’s Messenger (Mohammed) was asked about fasting on Monday, whereupon he said: It is (the day) when I was born and revelation was sent down to me. (Sahih Muslim: 2606)
Mondays are ruled by the astrological planet ‘Moon’. Thus, Mohammed being born on Monday, received the revelation on Monday, observed fasts to consecrate every Monday, practiced Salaat regularly at midnight, and performed a miracle to split the Moon on demand of the Arabs; are obvious references to his archetypal association with the Moon.
The Astrological Saturn
Saturn is astrologically considered the most difficult planet to entertain, since it rules the signs opposite to the luminaries where darkness and cold prevails throughout its tenure. Saturn imposes restrictions, boundaries, discipline, hard-work, and forces ones transformation into a new avatar. It is the principle of contraction in nature, as in mythologies it represents old age, and time. Saturn makes one lean and mean, tramp and scant, battered and bruised, trimmed and streamlined, and also bold and strong by presenting challenges that makes or breaks, and reduces one to his barebones. Therefore, it embodies the utmost struggle to overcome the hardest challenges of life in existence through constancy of a person’s dedication to grow in spirit and courage.
The Islamic Tradition of Sawm (Ritual Fast)
The Quran mentions ritual fasts in the following verse,
O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint. Al-Quran (2:183)
The Islamic rules prescribed for keeping fasts indicate complete abstinence from any food, drink, or sex. Some Muslims also consider any sort of audio-visual entertainment to be prohibited during fasts. The duration for the fasts lasts from Sunrise till Sunset. The apparent wisdom of promulgating this timing seems likely to prepare the Muslims during the light hours of days, for the following dark hours of nights. It would be same as storing the goods in summers, to be available for winters. The Jewish Sabbath traditions also observes strict austerities on Saturdays (Saturn’s day), and are akin to the ascetic Sawm ritual of the Muslims. Fasts are obligatory for Muslims in the Islamic month of Ramadan, which lasts for 29.5 days. The wisdom of this month long fasting ritual could be to attend a lunar cycle with such utmost exercise of austerities by psychologically stretching its duration through restrictions and trials, so as to be ready for the 29.5 years long Saturn’s cycle.
Mohammed was an elder cousin to Ali, and had given him this name. The name Ali is akin to ‘El’ (Saturn), about which Eusebius in ‘Praeparatio Evangelica’ has mentioned as the chief deity of the Phoenicians. Ali is reputed to be the only person ever to be born inside the walls of the holy shrine called ‘Kaaba’. The Kaaba’s architecture is designed in the form of a ‘black cube’, which also symbolizes Saturn. Add to this, Ali’s lifestyle also expresses extreme asceticism and austerity. Following are the quotes attributed to Ali in his earliest biographical collection called ‘Nahj al-Balagha’ (The Way of Eloquence).
“To sever attachments with the wicked world is the greatest wealth; piety is the best weapon of defence.” Ali
“The best kind of wealth is to give up inordinate desires.” Ali
“Anyone who loves us must be ready to face a life of austerity.” Ali
“Greed is permanent slavery.” Ali
Ali’s garment was very old with patches on it. When somebody drew his attention towards it, he replied, ” Such dresses, when worn by men of status make them submissive to Allah and kind-hearted towards others, and the faithful Muslims can conveniently follow the example . Vicious pleasures of this world and salvation are like two enemies, or two roads running in opposite directions.” Ali
Ali is also often recalled by Muslims as an exemplary figure with regards to his fasting habits, patience, and perseverance; especially in challenging times of scarcity or poverty by the title of “Mushkil Kusha”, meaning ‘saviour in difficulties’.
The Astrological Venus
Venus has been astrologically interpreted as very favourable, being the third brightest orb in the heaven. Venus rules the signs of Taurus and Libra, which gives it control over material wealth and relationships. Therefore, the function of Venus is that of harmony, gentleness, material riches, justice, and goodness. Venus is particularly important to Muslims on account of Islam’s community based teachings of social justice, good mannerism, human dignity, and nobility in conduct. Muslims also celebrate Fridays (the day of Venus) as holidays dedicated to the congregational sermons and prayers.
The Islamic Tradition of Hajj (Pilgrim’s Festival)
Hajj is considered the most important festival, and a pillar of Islam. It comprises of a congregation of millions of pilgrims from around the world gathering at the Kaaba (Mecca).
And pilgrimage to the House (Kaaba) is a duty unto Allah for mankind, for him who can find a way thither. Al-Quran (3:97)
It is the great meeting of Muslims from all racial, linguistic, and social backgrounds which culminates in their stay at the plains of Mount Arafat.
The pilgrimage is (in) the well-known months, and whoever is minded to perform the pilgrimage therein (let him remember that) there is (to be) no lewdness nor abuse nor angry conversation on the pilgrimage. Al-Quran (2:197)
When ye press on in the multitude from ‘Arafat’, remember Allah by the sacred monument. Al-Quran (2:198)
Muslims are required to station together in a specific area called the plains of Mount Arafat for an afternoon; and this sojourn is proclaimed as the indispensable part of their pilgrimage. Then on the next day, pilgrims are supposed to sacrifice an animal in commemoration of the Abraham’s story of attempted ‘filicide’ of his son; and afterwards they distribute and consume the food among themselves.
The sacrificial camels we have made for you as among the symbols from Allah: in them is (much) good for you: then pronounce the name of Allah over them as they line up (for sacrifice): when they are down on their sides (after slaughter), eat ye thereof, and feed such as (beg not but) live in contentment, and such as beg with due humility: thus have We made animals subject to you, that ye may be grateful. Al-Quran (22:36)
Thus, the Hajj festival of Islam represents a comprehensive expression of archetypal Venus; in order to create a lasting sense of harmony and well being among the fellow Muslims.
Fatima was the daughter of prophet Mohammed, and the only one who gave him descendants. She received the title of ‘Al-Zahra’ (the shining one) by her father. Incidentally, the word ‘Zahra’ is akin to the word ‘Zohra’, which in Arabic language means ‘the planet Venus’. Fatima was the wife of Ali, and mother of the prophet’s grandsons; Hassan and Hussein. The prophet had also given her the title of “Leader of the women of the worlds”.
One particular anecdote is interesting regarding her care for children; which says that on the day of her demise, and despite of being ill and infirm herself, she personally prepared food for her children and instructed the maid not to inform the children of her physical condition, until they have taken the meal. This shows her deep and unwavering sense of care and affection toward her children, notwithstanding her own health.
The Astrological Jupiter
Jupiter controls the astrological signs that bring an end to autumn and winter, and thus is deemed to bring hope and optimism. It is considered the most benign and fortunate influence resulting in a gracious disposition of generosity, expansion, and goodwill by causing relieve from poverty, misery, and illness. Jupiter rules Thursday, due to which the Maundy alms giving custom, and other services of the Holy Thursday celebrations are derived. Therefore, philanthropic and altruistic attitudes form the hallmark of astrological Jupiter.
The Islamic Tradition of Zakat (Alms Giving or Generosity)
The tradition of Zakat forms a pillar of Islam and is considered the most basic teaching of ‘Equity’ in Islam. According to this tradition, Muslims who own properties above a specific limit are required to pay 2.5% of that property’s value as alms to the poor members of their community. It is fascinating to note that in the Quran, whenever Zakat is ordered in any verse, the Salaat ritual is also mentioned in it. Here, I quote the following verses for reference.
Lo! those who believe and do good works and establish worship (Salaat) and pay the poor-due (Zakat), their reward is with their Lord and there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve. Al-Quran (2:277)
He only shall tend Allah´s sanctuaries who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and observes proper worship (Salaat) and pays the poor-due (Zakat) and fears none save Allah. For such (only) is it possible that they can be of the rightly guided. Al-Quran (9:18)
And they are ordered naught else than to serve Allah, keeping religion pure for Him, as men by nature upright, and to establish worship (Salaat) and to pay the poor-due (Zakat). That is true religion. Al-Quran (98:5)
The same trend can also be found in the rest of the Quran. For instance, the verses (2:3), (2:43), (2:83), (2:110), (2:177), (4:77), (4:162), (5:12), (5:55), (9:5), (9:11), (9:71), (19:31), (19:55), (21:73), (22:41), (22:78), (24:37), (24:56), (27:3), (31:4), (33:33), (58:13), and (73:20).
The astrological reason behind this could be the sign of Cancer, which is ruled by the Moon and where the Jupiter is exalted. From this, one can also surmise reason for the ‘2.5% value’ on alms due; since the Moon takes 2.5 days to transit the sign of Cancer as compared to the Jupiter’s one year, and also it takes 2.5 years interval between two consecutive ‘Blue Moons’.
In Arabic language, the word Hassan means ‘Benefactor’, which is the role of Jupiter in astrology. Hassan was the eldest grandson of the prophet, who named him at the behest of angel Gabriel. Hassan is mostly credited in the history of restoring peace among the early Sunni and Shia factions of the Muslims by entering into an agreement with his father’s (Ali’s) adversaries. This is very reminiscent of the Zeus’s takeover from the Titan Kronos in Greek mythology; and in astrology, it is the ending of Saturn’s rule after the winter season at the sign of Pisces, which is ruled by Jupiter. Hassan is also reported to have been murdered subversively afterwards by the enemies of his father. There is a widely popular anecdote among the Shia Muslims that captures the mythological connotations of their history.
On Eid al-Fitr (Muslim festival), according to the hadith (narrative), Gabriel descended with a gift of new white clothes for each of the Prophet’s grandsons. The Prophet said that the grandsons were used to coloured clothes. So Gabriel asked each boy what color he wanted. Hassan chose green, Hussein red. While the clothes were being dyed, Gabriel wept. He explained: Hassan’s choice of green meant that he would be martyred by poisoning, and his body would turn green, and Hussein’s choice of red meant he would be martyred and his blood would turn the ground red. Hassan is buried in Medina with a green banner on his mausoleum. Hussein is buried in Karbala with a red banner. (Source: Muhammad Baqir Majlesi, 1616–1698 AD)
This narrative from the accounts of a Shia Muslim cleric of the seventeenth century, strongly associates Hassan with green colour, and Hussein with red colour. Now in astrology, Jupiter’s symbolic colour is green, and Mar’s symbolic colour is red.
The Astrological Mars
The red planet Mars is astrologically considered the fuel tank among planets, due to its energetic and dynamic dispositions. Mars is active, aggressive, unyielding, assertive, projective, and a race winner. Mars is associated with the rising Sun of the morning that breaks away the darkness into shreds. Mars is the soldier who always seeks after and finds victory by every means possible. Therefore, red colour has always been associated with the spirit of Mars, since it is the pure colour of carnal and sanguine life.
The Islamic Tradition of Jihad (Struggle or Fight)
Jihad is an essential component of Islamic teachings. It requires Muslims to struggle, or fight for justice and truth. The Quran expresses the importance of Jihad in the following verses.
Those who believe do battle for the cause of Allah; and those who disbelieve do battle for the cause of idols. So fight the minions of the devil. Lo! the devil’s strategy is ever weak. Al-Quran (4:76)
Sanction is given unto those who fight because they have been wronged; and Allah is indeed Able to give them victory. Al-Quran (22:39)
Fight them! Allah will chastise them at your hands, and He will lay them low and give you victory over them, and He will heal the breasts of folk who are believers. Al-Quran (9:14)
And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrong-doers. Al-Quran (2:193)
It is quite clear from the Quran that Muslims are required to struggle and fight for the establishment of Islamic culture with whatsoever means possible.
Hussein is the celebrated hero and martyr of the great historic ‘battle of Karbala’ that took place on 10th October, 680 AD. On the occasion, Hussein refused submission to a tyrannical usurper, and fought with mere seventy two men against hundreds of thousands of mercenaries. Hussein’s army got butchered, but he still declined any offer of allegiance, and fought valiantly till his martyrdom. That is considered the most tragically moving episode of intrigue, subversion, and betrayal in the recorded human history; as well as of loyalty, valour, steadfastness, and courageous attitudes displayed by the household and companions of Hussein during the battle. Therefore, the battle is annually commemorated by Muslims in the Islamic month of Muharrum, with the day of Hussein’s martyrdom (called Ashura) celebrated with lugubrious dirges and mournful lamentations.
The Astrological Mercury
Mercury in the Greek mythological motif is called Hermes, who acts as an emissary of gods to the mortals. Astrologically, Mercury deals with communication and transportation skills, whereby symbols and emblems can be used to convey profound messages or ideas. Hermes is also attributed to have taught the divine arts, gnoses, and sciences to humans. Thus the understanding of astrology, alchemy, theosophy, and other hermetic sciences are the gifts of Hermes (Mercury) to mankind. Mercury rules the sign of Gemini ’The Twins’, of whom the one ‘Castor’ is mortal, and the other ‘Pollux’ is divine; thus creating the connection of a messenger between physical and spiritual dimensions. Mercury also rules the sign of Virgo, which brings to it the meticulously analytical and dexterously practical talents for undertaking every action with efficiency and perfection.
The Islamic Ritual of Wudu or Taharah (Ablution or Cleanliness)
The Islamic Wudu or Taharah is similar in principle to the Jewish ‘Netilat Yadayim’ or ‘Tevilah’, and is also akin to the Christian ‘Baptism’. Actually in both Hebrew and Arabic languages the word Taharah means ‘purity’. In Islam, this cleaning ritual is mandatory to be performed before observing every ‘Salaat’. The Quran states,
O ye who believe! When ye rise up for prayer, wash you faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and lightly rub your heads and (wash) your feet up to the ankles. And if ye are unclean, purify yourselves. And if ye are sick or on a journey, or one of you cometh from the closet, or ye have had contact with women, and ye find not water, then go to clean, high ground and rub your faces and your hands with some of it. Allah would not place a burden on you, but He would purify you and would perfect His grace upon you, that ye may give thanks. Al-Quran (5:6)
This statement of the Quran indicates that the cleaning ritual is not just about physical cleanliness, but more essentially psychological or spiritual purity; since the alternative procedure of performing the ritual in the absence of water is also mentioned. In the same context, the spiritual baptism is stated many times in the Gospels.
John said: “I baptized you with water; but He (Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8; cf. Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16; John 1:33).
“John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5).
This indicates that the wisdom behind washing rituals is to prepare the body for the impressions from the Divine. Thus ritual cleaning helps a person to be more suggestible for the spiritual messages; which is directly relevant to the astrological function of Mercury.
Gabriel (Holy Spirit)
The archangel Gabriel (Holy Spirit), is the trustworthy messenger that brings the divine revelations to the prophets. The function of Gabriel in Islam is alike when compared to Hermes in the Greek mythology. The Quran states,
Say (O Muhammad, to mankind): Who is an enemy to Gabriel! For he it is who hath revealed (this Scripture) to thy heart by Allah’s leave, confirming that which was (revealed) before it, and a guidance and glad tidings to believers. Al-Quran (2:97)
That it is indeed the speech of an illustrious messenger (Gabriel). Al-Quran (69:40)
These are verses of the Qur’an, a book that makes (things) clear. Al-Quran (27:1)
With truth have We sent it down, and with truth hath it descended. And We have sent thee as naught else save a bearer of good tidings and a warner. Al-Quran (17:105)
The Astrological Sun
Sun is distinctive from other planets on account of possessing its own light. Astrologically, it represents the centre of existence and the driving force or will power for all concentric or focused activities. Sun rules the sign of Leo, which is the sign of the ‘King’. It also symbolizes the theological concept of the supreme being, as it represents the centre of our solar system. Although neither the Judeo-Christian, nor the Islamic theological teachings consider Sun as God, but they use it as a sign symbolizing the ultimate Divinity. It represents the source energy, the will power, and the selfhood possessed by any self-conscious human being.
The Islamic Tradition of Tawaf (Circumambulation around Kaaba)
Tawaf is the circumambulation around Kaaba, which is considered the most sacred ritual in the Islamic teachings. Tawaf consists of circling the Kaaba seven times in an anticlockwise direction. Men are encouraged to do this three times at a hurried pace, followed by four times more closely to Kaaba at a leisurely pace. (Source: Mohamed, Mamdouh N. (1996). Hajj to Umrah: From A to Z. Amana Publications)
Here, the circular movement of masses around the centre (Kaaba) in anticlockwise direction is symbolic of the motion of planets around the Sun. The Seven times of circular motion would represent the seven visible planets; out of which the three times faster circumambulatory movement of the Muslims closer to the Kaaba should be the three faster moving planets (Moon, Mercury, and Venus); whilst four times slow movements are for rest of the four astrological planets (Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn). The Quran states the importance of this ritual in the following verses.
And when We made the House (at Makka) a resort for mankind and sanctuary, (saying): Take as your place of worship the place where Abraham stood (to pray). And We imposed a duty upon Abraham and Ishmael, (saying): Purify My house for those who go around and those who meditate therein and those who bow down and prostrate themselves (in worship). Al-Quran (2:125)
Then let them make an end of their unkemptness and pay their vows and go around the ancient House. Al-Quran (22:29)
I should explain here that earlier in the article, it was mentioned about the ‘black cube’ architecture of Kaaba as a symbol of Saturn; so one might ask that why do Muslims circumambulate around the Saturn symbol? The answer is that the Sun does not receive any worship offered because it only gives out the light. Therefore, Saturn being the furthest from the Sun, has to be the choice for offering worship and devotion in place of the Sun; since its traditional black colour is most susceptible to absorb and accept whatever service offered to it. Hope it clarifies the point of using the Saturn’s symbol with respect to the worship which is actually meant for the Sun.
Imam or Leader
Imam is a title in Islam, which means the leader. One might wonder that why should Islamic teachings use a general title to represent the archetypal Sun. That is because the Sun represents an individual who finds his light from within, unlike other planets. The Quran states,
And who say: Our Lord! Vouchsafe us comfort of our wives and of our offspring, and make us patterns (Imams) for (all) those who ward off (evil). Al-Quran (25:74)
The Quran encourages the Muslims to pray for their self empowerment in order to become exemplary characters, so as to be the light of truth for good folks to appreciate. The Quran teaches this in another verse by citing example of the great patriarch Abraham.
And (remember) when his Lord tried Abraham with (His) commands, and he fulfilled them, He said: Lo! I have appointed thee a leader (Imam) for mankind. (Abraham) said: And of my offspring (will there be leaders)? He said: My covenant includes not wrong-doers. Al-Quran (2:124)
The End Note
I hope that this article would help elucidate the hermetic teachings in Islam, and also create a more clear impression of the Islamic traditions. I should conclude this article by quoting a verse from the Quran.
The seven heavens and the earth and all that is therein praise Him, and there is not a thing but hymneth His praise; but ye understand not their praise. Lo! He is ever Clement, Forgiving. Al-Quran (17:44)