ʿABD-AL-RAḤMĀN B. ʿOMAR ṢŪFĪ, ABU’L-ḤOSAYN, astronomer, especially well versed in knowledge of the fixed stars, b. 291/903 in Ray, d. 376/986. He seems to have spent his life in close relationship to the rulers of the Buyid dynasty in Iran and Mesopotamia, especially ʿAżod-al-dawla (d. 372/983). By his own statement, he visited Dīnavar in 335/946-47, and Isfahan in 337/948-49 with the master (ostāḏ) and chief (raʾīs) Abu’l-Fażl Moḥammad b. Ḥosayn, who obviously is identical with Ebn al-ʿAmīd (d. 359/970), the vizier of ʿAżod-al-dawla’s father, Rokn-al-dawla.

Ṣūfī left a number of works, the most important of which is Ketāb ṣowar al-kawākeb al-ṯābeta (“Book on the constellations of the fixed stars”). In this he gives a full description of the classical system of constellations, both according to the “scientific” Greek classification and to Arabic popular tradition. To this he adds his own observations and criticism of the traditions. Drawings of all the constellations, and tables of the individual stars of each constellation with coordinates (for the epoch 1 October 964) are included. This work is significant, not only for the complete description of the stellar sky, but even more for the valuable record of Ṣūfī’s own observations. For knowledge of fixed stars, his book became a “classic” for many centuries throughout the Islamic world; and his name even became known to the Latin west, through translations, as “Azophi” (i.e. al-Ṣūfī). One of the lunar craters in modern astronomy is named Azophi in his honor. Other great astronomers drew from his book, quoting him by name—e.g., Bīrūnī in his Ketāb al-tafhīm le-awāʾel ṣenāʿat al-tanǰīm (1029) and al-Qānūn al-masʿūdī (1030), and Uluḡ Beg in his star catalog of 1437. Bahāʾ-al-dīn Ḵaraqī added to his Montahā al-edrāk fī taqāsīm al-aflāk a catalog of eighty-one stars, based on Ṣūfī’s book (for the epoch 1 October 1112, adding 2°15’ to Ṣūfī’s longitudes; cf. Berlin ms., Ahlwardt 5669, fols. 30r-31r). Even the Arab seafarers of the Indian Ocean knew his name and quoted from his book (Aḥmad b. Māǰed, in his Ketāb al-fawāʾed fī oṣūl ʿelm al-baḥr wa’l-qawāʿed, ca. 1500). The descriptions of the forty-eight constellations in the much quoted Cosmography (ʿAǰāʾeb al-maḵlūqāt) of Zakarīyāʾ b. Moḥammad Qazvīnī (d. 682/1283) are taken literally from Ṣūfī’s book without acknowledgment.

In the West, a Latin version of Ptolemy’s star catalog, from his Almagest, exists in several manuscripts, using Ṣūfī’s value of precession and containing drawings of the constellations after Ṣūfī’s models (see Kunitzsch, “Sufi Latinus”). Alfonso X of Castile (reigned 1252-84) had an Old Castilian version of Ṣūfī’s book made which was incorporated in his Libros del saber de astronomia. In 1665, T. Hyde, in the commentary to his edition of Uluḡ Beg’s star catalog, introduced many quotations from Ṣūfī’s book. From that source the Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi picked up a great number of the Arabic star names which he gave to certain stars in his catalog Praecipuarum stellarum inerrantium positiones, Palermo, 1814, thus introducing these names into modern international astronomy. For medieval Arabic criticism of Ṣūfī by Bīrūnī and Ebn al-Ṣalāḥ, see Kunitzsch, Ibn aṣ-Ṣalāḥ, pp. 21, 38-74 (according to name index), 109-11. Other works by Ṣūfī are: Ketāb al-ʿamal bi’l-asṭorlāb (“Book on the use of the astrolabe”), Ketāb al-ʿamal bi’l-korat al-falakīya (“Book on the use of the celestial globe”), and Ketāb al-madḵal fī [ʿelm] al-aḥkām (“Introduction to the science of astrology”), the last two of which are still unpublished. A geometrical treatise by Ṣūfī is listed by A. Sezgin, GAS V, pp. 309f. According to Ebn al-Qefṭī (d. 1248), a celestial globe made by Ṣūfī for ʿAżod-al-dawla was extant in Egypt in 435/1043-44. It is reported to have been of silver, weighing 3,000 dirhams, and purchased at a price of 3,000 dinars.

Some manuscripts contain a poem on the constellations in the raǰaz meter (Orǰūza fī ṣowar al-kawākeb al-ṯābeta) by Abū ʿAlī b. Abu’l-Ḥosayn Ṣūfī. This author has sometimes been regarded as the son of ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Ṣūfī; this seems improbable, because the poem is dedicated to Šāhanšāh Abu’l-Maʿālī Faḵr-al-dīn—apparently the Artuqid ruler of Ḥeṣn Kayfā (538-39/1143-44).


Original works: Ketāb ṣowar al-kawākeb al-ṯābeta, ed. from five mss., and accompanied by the Orǰūza of Ebn al-Ṣūfī, Hyderabad, India, 1954 (intro. by H. J. J. Winter).

Facsimile ed. of Persian tr. by Naṣīr-al-dīn Ṭūsī (Ayasofya 2595, autograph, from Uluḡ Beg’s library), Tehran, 1348 Š./1969.

Critical ed. of Ṭūsī’s tr. by Sayyed Moʿezz-al-dīn Mahdavī, Tehran, 1351 Š./1972.

French tr. with selected portions of the Arabic text, from two mss., H. C. F. Schjellerup, Description des étoiles fixes par Abd-al-Rahman al Sûfi, St. Petersburg, 1874.

Text and French tr. of Ṣūfī’s introduction by J. J. A. Caussin de Perceval in Notices et extraits des manuscrits XII, Paris, 1831, pp. 236f.

Quotations from the Arabic text are in T. Hyde, Tabulae longitudinis et latitudinis stellarum fixarum ex observatione Ulugh Beighi, Oxford, 1665; 2nd ed. by G. Sharpe in Syntagma dissartationum, Oxford, 1767.

These quotations were repeated and discussed by L. Ideler, Untersuchungen über den Ursprung und die Bedeutung der Sternnamen, Berlin, 1809.

The Old Castilian version in Los libros del saber de astronomia, ed. M. Rico y Sinobas, I, Madrid, 1863.

The star nomenclature of the Castilian version, and of an Italian tr. made from Castilian, was critically ed. by O. J. Tallgren, “Los nombres arabes de las estrelas y la transcripción alfonsina,” in Homenaje a R. Menéndez Pidal II, Madrid, 1925, with “Correcciones y adiciones” in Revista de filologı′a española 12, 1925, pp. 52f.

The Italian tr. was edited by P. Knecht, I libri astronomici di Alfonso X in una versione fiorentina del trecento, Saragossa, 1965.

Ketāb al-ʿamal bi’l-asṭorlāb in 386 chapters, ed. from a Paris ms., Hyderabad (Deccan), 1962.

An English introduction, by E. S. Kennedy and M. Destombes, was printed separately (Hyderabad, 1967).

A sky map, including the Arabic stellar nomenclature according to Ṣūfī was printed as Supplément to Le Mobacher, Alger, September, 1881.

Secondary literature: Brockelmann, GAL I, pp. 253f.; and S. I, pp. 398, 863, no. 4a (for Ebn al-Ṣūfī).

Storey, II/1, pp. 41f. (for some Persian tr.).

Sezgin, GAS V, pp. 309f.; VI, pp. 212f.

A. Hauber, “Die Verbreitung des Astronomen Ṣufi,” Der Islam 8, 1918, pp. 48-54.

P. Kunitzsch, Arabische Sternnamen in Europa, Wiesbaden, 1959, p. 230f.

Idem, Untersuchungen zur Sternnomenklatur der Araber, Wiesbaden, 1961, pp. 9f., 14f., 31.

Idem, “Ṣūfī Latinus,” ZDMG 115, 1965, pp. 65-74.

Idem, Ibn aṣ-Ṣalāḥ. Zur Kritik der Koordinaten-überlieferung im Sternkatalog des Almagest, Göttingen, 1975, pp. 109-11, etc.

Idem, “Al-Ṣūfī,” Dictionary of Scientific Biography XIII, New York, 1976, pp. 149-50.

M. Shermatov, “Ash-Shirazi’s comments on the star catalogue of as-Sufi” (in Russian), Dushanbinskiĭ gosudarstvennyĭ pedagogicheskiĭ institut, Uchenye zapiski no. 81, 1971, pp. 73-83.

S. M. Stern, “ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Ṣūfī,” EI 2 I, pp. 86-87.

J. Upton, “A Manuscript of “The Book of the Fixed Stars” by ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān aṣ-Ṣūfī,” Metropolitan Museum Studies 4, 1933, pp. 179-97.

E. Wellesz, An Islamic Book of Constellations, Oxford, 1965.

H. J. J. Winter, “Notes on al-Kitab Suwar Al-Kawakib,” Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Sciences 8, 1955, pp. 126-33.

(P. Kunitzsch)

Originally Published: December 15, 1982

Last Updated: July 14, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 2, pp. 148-149

Cite this entry:

P. Kunitzsch, “'Abd-Al-Rahman B. 'Omar Sufi,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/2, pp. 148-149; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abd-al-rahman-b-omar-sufi (accessed on 16 January 2014).