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Islamic Jurisprudence

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Qiblah (Arabic: قبلة‎, also transliterated as Kiblah) is an Arabic word for the direction that should be faced when a Muslim prays during Salah. Most mosques contain a niche in a wall that indicates the qiblah.

The qiblah has importance to more than just the salaat, and plays an important part in everyday ceremonies. The head of an animal that is slaughtered using Halal methods is aligned with the qiblah. After death, Muslims are buried with their faces in the direction of the qiblah. Thus, archeology can indicate a Muslim necropolis if no other signs are present.


History of the Qiblah

Facing the Qiblah at a prayer in Damascus

Originally, the direction of the Qiblah was toward the Noble Sanctuary (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem (and it is therefore called the First of the Two Qiblahs). At least since Mishnaic times (AD200), Jews face the Temple Mount in Jerusalem while praying. The Mishnah speaks about this in Berakhot (Talmud) chapter 4, Mishnahs 5 and 6 and this practice is even found as early as I Kings 8:35-36. In Islam, this qiblat was used for over 13 years, from 610 CE until 623 CE. Seventeen months after Muhammad's 622 CE arrival in Medina,[1] the Qiblah became oriented towards the Kaaba in Mecca. According to accounts from the prophet Muhammad's companions, the change happened very suddenly during the noon prayer in Medina, in a mosque now known as Masjid al-Qiblatain (Mosque of the Two Qiblahs). Muhammad was leading the prayer when he received revelations from Allah instructing him to take the Kaaba as the Qiblah (literally, "turn your face towards the Masjid al Haram").

Useful Reference Encyclopedia whencesoever Thou startest forth, turn Thy face in the direction of the sacred Mosque; that is indeed the truth from the Lord. And Allah is not unmindful of what ye do.

So from whencesoever Thou startest forth, turn Thy face in the direction of the sacred Mosque; and wheresoever ye are, Turn your face thither: that there be no ground of dispute against you among the people, except those of them that are bent on wickedness; so fear them not, but fear Me; and that I may complete My favours on you, and ye May (consent to) be guided;

—Qur'an 2:149–250 (Yusuf Ali)

It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces Towards east or West; but it is righteousness- to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the Allah-fearing.

—Qur'an 2:177–250 (Yusuf Ali)

According to the historical accounts, Muhammad, who had been facing Jerusalem, upon receiving this revelation, immediately turned around to face Mecca, and those praying behind him also did so.

The Qiblah, for any point of reference on the Earth, is the direction of the Kaaba. Some Muslims from North America determine this direction using a rhumb line, while most Muslims worldwide use a great circle. In Muslim religious practice, supplicants must face this direction in prayer. Muslims do not worship the Kaaba or its contents; the Kaaba is simply a focal point for prayer. If someone is inside the Kaaba, or the exact opposite point on earth, they are allowed to pray facing any direction.

In ancient times, Muslims traveling abroad used an astrolabe to find the Qiblah.

Two methods in determining the direction of the Qiblah

The geometrical calculation of Qiblah (in French)

Several Muslim mathematicians and astronomers, such as al-Biruni, have discussed the correct way of determining the Qiblah direction from any point on the Earth's surface. They agree that at the two moments in each year when the sun is directly overhead the Kaaba, the direction of shadows in any sunlit place will point directly away from the Qiblah. This happens on May 27 or May 28 at 9:18 GMT and on July 15 or July 16 at 9:27 GMT.

Likewise there are two moments in each year when the Sun is directly over the antipodes of the Kaaba. This happens on January 12 or January 13 at 21:29 GMT and on November 28 at 21:09 GMT.

Because the Earth is almost a sphere, this is almost the same as saying that the Qiblah from a place is the direction in which a bird would start flying in order to get to the Kaaba by the shortest possible way.

North American rules: The traditional and the Mercator map

In recent years, Muslims from North America have used two rules to determine the direction of the Qiblah. A Muslim praying from Anchorage, Alaska should pray almost due North if determining the Qiblah according to the traditional rule. However, when one looks at the world on a Mercator map, Mecca appears to be southeast of Anchorage. The rhumb line from most points in North America to Mecca will point toward the southeast, but the distance to Mecca along this route on the actual surface of the earth is longer than the traditional great circle route.

The vast majority of Muslim communities in North America face toward the northeast, following the great-circle route. A minority faces towards the southeast according to early Islamic methods including sighting the stars, sun, wind, etc.[2]

Muslims consider the direction of Qiblah very important because the fact that all Muslims pray towards the Kaaba is traditionally considered to be symbol of the unity of all Muslims worldwide under the law of God.

Most Qiblah calculating programs use the traditional method and do not mention the Mercator map method.

The Qiblah from space

In April 2006, Angkasa, the Malaysian space agency, sponsored a conference of scientists and religious scholars to address the issue of how the Qiblah should be determined when one is in orbit. The conference concluded that the astronaut should determine the location of the qibala ""according to [their] capability".[3] There have already been several Muslim astronauts, among them the very first being Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the latest being the first Muslim woman in space Anousheh Ansari and the Malaysian angkasawan Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has stated that one should face the direction of the Earth. Ayatollah Al-Sistani follows the Shiite sect of Islam.


Qibla in a hotel in Egypt
  • Masjid al Haram
  • Black Stone
  • Kaaba
  • Craig retroazimuthal projection
  • Qiblih, the Bahá'í equivalent of the Qiblah


  1. ^ In the Lands of the Prophet, Time-Life, p. 29
  2. ^ "The Correct Qiblah" S. Kamal Abdali
  3. ^ [1]

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