lit. "choices, elections"; a term used in Islamic divination and astrology in at least four principle meanings.


EḴTĪĀRĀT (choices, elections), a term used in Islamic divination and astrology in at least four principle meanings:

1. It refers to hemerologies in which each of the thirty days of a month, either synodic or conventional (e.g., the Persian hemerology), is characterized as being good (saʿd) or bad (naḥs) for undertaking specified activities. 2. The goodness or badness of the time for activities depends on the lunar station (manzel al-qamar) occupied by the moon. 3. The goodness or badness of the time for activities depends on the zodiacal sign occupied by the moon. 4. The type of astrology usually denominated catarchic (ḥokm al-nojūm) is often associated with the word eḵtīārāt; in Islamic astrology, following a Sasanian precedent, this is confounded with interrogations (masāʾel).

1. The earliest hemerologies are those of Mesopotamia, in which each day of each month is usually given a religious significance as well as a number of activities to be undertaken or avoided (Labat, 1939). There also exists a far simpler form in which each day in each month is either favorable or unfavorable, or is associated with a single activity (Labat, 1943; for further Mesopotamian sources see Reiner, pp. 111-12). A Persian hemerology that may be related to this Mesopotamian tradition is found in the Andarz ī Ādurbād īMahraspandān (secs. 119-48, I, pp. 58-71, tr. in Zaehner, pp. 101-10). In this text the thirty days of a Persian month are identified by their associated deities, and one or two activities are advised to be engaged in or avoided on each. Perhaps related to a Persian tradition, though not to the Andarz of Ādurbād, is the Mandaean hemerology in chapter 8 of The Book of the Zodiac (Drower, pp. 88-92). This is a combination of three sources, excerpted for each of the thirty days of a month, and listing activities to be undertaken or avoided and prognostications for one who becomes ill and for one who is born on that day. Close to this is a Greek text published in Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum (XI/1, pp. 134-44; this text cites Melampus, for whom see the lunarium conflated from Melampus and another “Egyptian” book in VIII/4, pp. 105-07).

Reflecting to some extent the contents of the Andarz of Ādurbād is an Arabic bookattributed to Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq (see Sezgin, GAS VII, pp. 323-24, 373). It is also very close in content to the chapter of the Mandaean Book of the Zodiac referred to above; but in addition contains parts of the associations of the thirty days of the month with stories from the Old Testament found in many similar Byzantine hemerologies (Catalogus III, pp. 32-39, X, pp. 121-26, ascribed to David and Solomon, 196-200, 243-47, XI/2, pp. 157-62). The Mandaean and the Byzantine hemerologies along with Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq’s Ketāb all share a common source.

Also attributed to Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq are the short hemerologies which, like the second Mesopotamian text (Labat, 1943), do little more than indicate that the day is favorable or unfavorable (see, e.g., Ruska,II, pp. 35-36; for similar works in Syriac and Greek, see Budge, II, pp. 557-59; CCAG 8/4, pp. 102-04). Ebied and Young (p. 296, n. 3) mention a long hemerology in Arabic attributed to Daniel, Salmān the Persian, and Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq, which, they say, has a number of features reflecting Zoroastrian concepts. They state that they are preparing an edition; it seems not yet to have appeared.

2. The second type of elections originated in India, where it is the basic form of their science of catarchic astrology (muhūrtaśāstra); there the operative variable is the nakṣatra in which the moon is located (Pingree, Jyotiḥśāstra,chap. 6, pp. 101-09). In Sasanian Persia there seems to have been an adaptation of this methodology in which the nakṣatras were given Persian names (for these names, see Henning, esp. pp. 242-46). Later, they were identified with the Arabic manāzel al-qamar; and there exists in the Ketāb al-bāreʿfī aḥkām al-nojūm of ʿAlī b. Abi’l-Rejāl (Sezgin, GAS VII, pp. 186-87), a chapter (21 of book 7) in which for each manzel (station) occupied by the moon are given the elections according to the Indians, to Dorotheus (in part concocted from the fifth book of his work), and to the Persians, as well as the fates of male and female natives and a description of the manzel’s image for use in astral magic; there is a Byzantine translation of this astrological text (Catalogus IX/1, pp. 141-56). Such a text also appears in the Ḡāyat at al-ḥakīm ascribed to Abū Maslama Majrīṭī (ed. H. Ritter, Leipzig, 1933, bk. 1, chap. 4, pp. 14-26; Byzantine texts are found in Catalogus V/3, pp. 90-93, VIII/1, pp. 218-19).

3. The judgement that it is or it is not propitious to begin a specified activity when the moon is in a designated zodiacal sign occurs first in Akkadian texts of the Seleucid period (Reiner, pp.108-11). The principal Greek source of such teachings was the astrological poem of Dorotheus of Sidon (bk. 5 passim), which had been translated into Pahlavi in the third century, and from that language was translated into Arabic by ʿOmar b. Farroḵān Ṭabarī (Dorothei Sidonii Carmen Astrologicum, ed. D. Pingree, Leipzig, 1976) and, at least in part, by Māšāʾ-Allāh (D. Pingree, “Māshāʾallāh”). Other elements of this form of elections are found in the Apotelesmatica of Hephaestio of Thebes (ed. D. Pingree, Leipzig, 1973, bk. 3, chap. 5, pp. 240-51; cf. also Catalogus V/3, pp. 94-96). Hephaestio was read by Theophilus (Ṯawfīl b. Ṯūmā) of Edessa, and introduced by him to Māšāʾ-Allāh (both were at the ʿAbbasid court during the last half of the 8th century). From these Greek sources—Dorotheus and Hephaestio—, as filtered through Māšāʾ-Allāh, elections based on the zodiacal sign occupied by the moon became an integral part of astrology as practiced in the Islamic world. Thus, for example, Naṣīr-al-Dīn Ṭūsī came to write in Persian an Eḵtīārāt masīr al-qamar, otherwise known as the Eḵtīārāt-e qamar fī borūj-e eṯnay ʿašar (Storey, II, pp. 54-55).

4. Dorotheus of Sidon initiated a more complex method of practicing catarchic astrology in which the astrologer must search for the most propitious moment for undertaking an activity, basing his judgment on the full horoscope of that time. After this form of catarchic astrology reached India in the second century, it was paralleled by the Indian development of interrogational astrology (praśnajñāna), in which the judgment concerning an activity was based on the horoscope of the moment at which the question was posed to the astrologer. Both Indian muhūrtaśāstra and praśnajñāna were transmitted to Persia during the Sasanian era, and there blended with the Pahlavi translations of Dorotheus and Vettius Valens into an ambiguous science of elections, which was partly catarchic, partly interrogational. To the subject normally addressed by the Greek astrologers, the Indians added military astrology, by which kings and generals may be advised. To the subjects addressed by both Greek and Indian astrologers, the Persians added political astrology, by which both the governors and their potential or actual rivals may be advised (this dangerous aspect of astrology had long been banned in the Roman empire; see Cramer).

The Pahlavi books on elections are now all lost, but we know of them through the Greek works of Theophilus of Edessa, the Arabic translations of Dorotheus and Valens (Wālīs), the writings attributed to Zoroaster and to Bozorgmehr (q.v.), and the Arabic works of a number of astrologers of Persian background who wrote in the late eighth and ninth centuries, notably Māšāʾ-Allāh, ʿOmar b. Farroḵān Ṭabarī, and Sahl b. Bešr (Ketāb al-eḵtīārāt ʿala’l-boyūt al-eṯnay ʿašar). Based on this early Arabic tradition are several treatises written in Persian. None of them has yet been published or studied, so that little more can be done here than to name them. The earliest is a Ketāb-e eḵtīārāt composed at the order of Sultan Sanjar Saljūqī (r. 511-52/1117-57; Storey, II, p. 46). In the first decade of the thirteenth century Faḵr-al-Dīn Moḥammad b. ʿOmar Rāzī (d. 606/1209) composed a Ketāb al-eḵtīārāt al-ʿalāʾīya fi’l-eḵtīārātal-samāʾīya for Sultan ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn Moḥammad Ḵᵛārazmšāh (r. 596-617/1200-20). Rāzī himself later translated this into Arabic (Storey, II, p. 49). And on either 20 Rajab 663/8 May 1265 or 9 Jomādā I 670/13 December 1271 Naṣīr-al-Dīn Ṭūsī completed, at Marāḡa, a Persian translation of and commentary on the Ketāb al-ṯamara of pseudo-Ptolemy; he had undertaken this work at the request of Bahāʾ-al-Dīn Moḥammad Joveynī (Storey, II, pp. 36-37).




Andarz ī Ādurbād īMahraspandān in J. M. Jamasp-Asana, ed., The Pahlavi Texts Contained in the Codex MX I, Bombay, 1897.

E. A. W. Budge, The Syriac Book of Medicines, 2 vols., London, 1913.

Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum, 12 vols. in 20 parts, Brussels, 1898-1954.

F. H. Cramer, Astrologyin Roman Law and Politics, Philadelphia, 1954.

E. S. Drower, The Book of theZodiac, London, 1949.

T. Fahd, “Ikhtiyārāt” in EI ² III, pp. 1063-64.

W. B. Henning, “An Astrological Chapter of the Bundahishn,” JRAS, 1942, pp. 229-48.

Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq, Ketāb eḵtīārāt ayyām al-šahr,ed. and tr. R. Y. Ebied and M. J. L. Young as A Treatise on Hemerology Ascribed to Ğaʿfar al-Ṣādiq, Arabica 23, 1976, pp. 296-307.

R. Labat, Hémerologies et ménologies d’Assur, Paris, 1939.

Idem, Un almanach babylonien (VR 48-49), Paris 1943.

D. N. MacKenzie, “Zoroastrian Astrology in the Bundahišn,” BSO(A)S 27, 1964, pp. 511-29.

D. Pingree, Jyotiḥśāstra, Wiesbaden, 1981.

Idem, “Māshāʾallāh. Greek, Pahlavi, Arabic, and Latin Astrology,” forthcoming in Arabic Science and Philosophy.

E. Reiner, Astral Magic in Babylonia, Philadelphia, 1995.

J. Ruska, Arabische Al-chemisten II. Ğaʿfar al-Ṣādiq, der sechste Imām, Heidelberg, 1924, pp. 35-36.

Sezgin, GAS VII, pp. 32-38, 49-50, 80-87, 125-28, 324-25.

R. C. Zaehner, The Teachings of the Magi, London, 1956.

(David Pingree)

Originally Published: December 15, 1998

Last Updated: December 9, 2011

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Vol. VIII, Fasc. 3, pp. 291-293