How to Determine the Qiblah Direction for Prayer

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيم

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Praise be to God the Creator of the world, the One Who exists without beginning, without end, without location, without a “how” and Who does not depend on time. Nothing resembles Him in anyway and He hears and sees everything without organs. Whatever you imagine, God is different from that. May the elevation in degree and preservation of his community of what he fears for it, be granted to our master Muḥammad Al-‘Amin, the Honest One, who called for following Islam, the religion of truth, the religion of all the Prophets: of the First, Adam, to the last Muḥammad.

Know, fellow Muslim, that Allāh ordered us to face al-Qiblah in our prayer. Allāh said in Suratul-Baqarah, ‘Ayah 144:

قَدْ نَرَى تَقَلُّبَ وَجْهِكَ فِي السَّمَاء فَلَنُوَلِّيَنَّكَ قِبْلَةً تَرْضَاهَا فَوَلِّ وَجْهَكَ شَطْرَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ وَحَيْثُ مَا كُنتُمْ فَوَلُّواْ وُجُوِهَكُمْ شَطْرَهُ

Which means: (We see the turning of your face (O you, Muḥammad) to the heavens. Now we shall turn you to the Qiblah that shall please you; then turn your face in the direction of the sacred mosques, and wherever you are, turn your faces in its direction.)

This is a matter relating to prayers and the rules of the Religious. Hence, in determining the direction of al-Qiblah, we rely on the religious evidences and the sayings of the scholar. We do not rely on the saying of non-Muslims or on Muslims who are without religious knowledge, even if they are outstanding in mathematics and calculations. The saying of Allāh in Suratul-Baqarah, ‘Ayah 150:

وَمِنْ حَيْثُ خَرَجْتَ فَوَلِّ وَجْهَكَ شَطْرَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ وَحَيْثُ مَا كُنتُمْ فَوَلُّواْ وُجُوهَكُمْ شَطْرَهُ

means: {from wherever you start, turn your face in the direction of the Scared Mosque and wherever you are, turn your face in its direction.}

Concerning this verse, al-’Imam ash-Shafi`iyy said in his book, Al-’Umm: “It is conceivable that Allāh, the Exalted, ordered them with facing the direction of al-Qiblah by seeking its signs. He did not leave them with to determine the direction by means which please them, cross their hearts, or delude them. Allāh decreed not to leave them helpless without showing then the signs”. This means that Allāh showed His slaves the acknowledge signs for seeking the direction of al-Qiblah. Hence, no attention is due to that which does not rely on religious proof.

Al-’Imam Khayruddin ar-Ramliyy al-Hanafiyy, in his book, Al-Fatawa al-Khayriyyah said about determining al-Qiblah: “If the mihrab was not placed by the Companions and their followers, not by those who are trustworthy and knowledgeable, nor according to their prescriptions, then the scholars unanimously agreed that it would not be relied upon.” Ibn `Abidin mentioned the same thing in his book, Al-Hashiyah.

After establishing the above, we say, henceforth, the one who sees al-Ka`bah would easily face it by physically observing it. He who is away from it would face it by seeking the signs and methods that Allāh, the Exalted, showed His Messenger, sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam, and the mujtahidin of the Ummah . Seeking the guidance from Allāh we start citing some of these signs:

1. Allāh said in the Qur’an in Suratul-’An`am, ‘Ayah 97:

وَهُوَ الَّذِي جَعَلَ لَكُمُ النُّجُومَ لِتَهْتَدُواْ بِهَا فِي ظُلُمَاتِ الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ

It means: {it is He who makes the stars as beacons for you that you my guide yourselves with them through the darkness of land and sea.}

Guidance is but for goals that are to be met, and prayers are among the most important goals. The context of this ‘Ayah includes that to be guided by the stars is a grace from Allāh. Hence, this means it is a religious order.

2. Allāh said in Surat an-Nahl, ‘Ayah 16:

وَعَلامَاتٍ وَبِالنَّجْمِ هُمْ يَهْتَدُونَ

It means: {and marks and by the stars they guide themselves.}

Al-’Imam ash-Shafi`iyy explained the marks in his book, Al-’Umm, as being: “The mountains, the position of which is known on earth; the sun, moon, and stars among the celestial planets, and the winds, the blowing direction of which is known.”

3. At-Tabaraniyy related that the Messenger of Allāh, sallAllāhu `alayhi wa sallam, said: “The best of the worshippers of Allāh are those who consider the sun, the moon, the stars, and the shadows for thikrullah.” Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar in his book, Al-Amaliyy, classified this hadith as sahih. The meaning of thikrullah in the hadith of the Prophet is prayers.

4. As it is well known, the Companions, may Allāh reward them, had al-’ijma` (unanimous agreement) to look at the position of the country in relation to Makkah when they wanted to place a mihrab in it. Hence, if the position of the country was north of Makkah, they directed the mihrab toward south, and if it was south of Makkah, the direct the mihrab toward north, and if the country was east, they direct the mihrab toward the west and vice-versa. These maharib still exist in the Muslim countries, and the sayings of the Companions are documented in the books of the scholars.

The aforementioned verses, hadith of the Prophet, and doings of the Companions signify that determining the direction of al-Qiblah relies on knowing the position of the country from Makkah based on the sun, moon, stars, and the like. As you see, it is not mentioned in any text that the reliance is on the shortest distance, or on the statement of mathematical calculations, or that of spherical triangles as some intelligence-claimers voice today. Rather, the scholar have al-’ijma` that to determine the maharib of the mosques, one looks at the position of the country from Makkah, relying on the stars and the like.

The ancient and recent saying and statements of the scholars testify to that. Examples of these sayings are:

1. In his book, Tabyin al-Haqa’iq, Az-Zayla`iyy copied the saying of Abu Hanifah which, likewise, Khayrud-Din ar-Ramliyy reported in his book, Al-Fatawa al-Khayriyyah, that the Qiblah of the people of the western countries is toward east; the Qiblah of the people of the eastern countries is toward west; the Qiblah of the people of the southern countries is toward north; and the Qiblah of the people of the northern countries is toward south.

2. Abu Ishaq ash-Shiraziyy ash-Shafi`iyy in his book, Al-Muhaththab, said: “if one was absent from Makkah, he is to endeavor to determine the direction of al-Qiblah because he has a way of knowing it by the sum, moon, mountains, and winds. For this, Allāh said:

{وَعَلامَاتٍ وَبِالنَّجْمِ هُمْ يَهْتَدُون}

Which means: {and marks and by the stars they guide themselves.}

3. An-Nawawiyy said in his book, Al-Majmu`: “Endeavoring to determine the direction of al-Qiblah is only valid through relying on the numerous signs mentioned in many books that guide to al-Qiblah. The weakest of these signs are the winds for their diversity, and the strongest is Polaris (the North Star). Polaris is a small star in the star combination of Ursa Minor (Little Bear) between al-farqadayn (two bright stars of Ursa Minor) and al-jady (Capricorn).”

4. In this, al-Husniyy ash-Shafi`iyy said the same thing as an-Nawawiyy.

5. Ibn `Abidin al-Hanafiyy, in commenting on the following text of Ad-Durr al-Mukhtar: “It (al-Qiblah) would be seen and known by the sign which, in the villages and countries, is the maharib of the Companions and their followers; and in the open land and seas, is the stars like Polaris.” Said: “His saying (like Polaris), is the strongest of the signs”

6. Ibn Qudamah al-Hanbaliyy in his book, Al-Mughni, said: “The most reliable of its (al-Qiblah) signs are the stars.” Then he said: “The most certain is the North Star.”

7. The same was mentioned by al-Buhutiyy al-Handbaliyy in his book Kashshaful-Qina`.

8. Ahmad Ibn Mayyarah al-Malikiyy said about he who is away from Makkah or Madinah: “He has to fetch the direction of al-Qiblah by the stars and what follows its course. Allāh said:

{وَبِالنَّجْمِ هُمْ يَهْتَدُونَ}

Which means: “by the stars they guide themselves” And Allāh said:

{وَهُوَ الَّذِي جَعَلَ لَكُمُ النُّجُومَ لِتَهْتَدُواْ}

Which means: “It he who makes the stares as beacons for you that you may guide yourselves”

And there is no difference of opinion in that.” This means it is a case of al-’ijma` (consensus).

The scholars among the four schools have mentioned that the signs of al-Qiblah are plenty and have authored numerous books on the subject as mentioned by an-Nawawiyy. Not any have ever considered the shortness or the length of the route, nor the proximity or farness from Makkah in determining al-Qiblah. Moreover, they have explicitly stated NOT to consider it but rather be content with seeking the direction and knowing it. Abu Hayyan ash-Shafi`iyy, who is among the most known interpreters of the Qur’an, said in Al-Bahr al-Muhit: “Al-Qiblah is the direction that the human would face.”

Ibn Qudamah, the Hanbaliyy scholar, in his book, Ash-Sharh al-Kabir, said: “…the obligation on these two and everyone else who is far from Makkah is to seek the direction of al-Ka`bah.” Also in his book, Al-’Insaf, he said: “For he who is away from Makkah, he has to face toward the direction.”

Ibn Nujaym related al-’ijma` (consensus) that what is obligatory on he who is absent from Makkah is to face toward that direction.

Hold on tightly to the aforementioned saying of al-’Imam Abu Hanifah whereby he established that the basis lies in knowing the direction. He is an Imam who attained the high status of al-’ijtihad al-mutlaq , along with known piety and fear of Allāh. Thos claimers of knowledge who oppose him do not even come close to one-hundredth of his knowledge and piety.

Now that we have established the saying of the Muslim scholars, let us see how to seek the direction of al-Qiblah and how to know it while complying with their sayings. In terminology, it is well known that north is opposite to south and that east is opposite to west and that their lines meet at right angles with each other. This terminology, al-Ghazaliyy states, goes back as old as when man was created. On earth, north is determined by the position of Polaris. This was mentioned by ar-Raziyy ash-Shafi`iyy, in his Tafsir and by al-Wansharisiyy al-Malikiyy, in Al-Mi`yar, and by Ibn Qudamah al-Hanbaliyy in his book, Ash-Sharhil-Kabir, and by Ibn `Abidin al-Hanafiyy, and by countless others among the scholars of the four schools.

Hence, the direction of Polaris in north. The scholars mentioned that Suhayl is another star that always points south. The higher Polaris is seen above the horizon means the closer the country of vision is to north. The lower Polaris is seen above horizon means the farther the country of vision is from north. The geographers of the west agree with the Muslims on this terminology and all navigators use it. Review if you wish, “How We got Our Arabic Star Names” by Paul Konizsch, and “Physical Geography” by Arthur Strahler, John Wiley & Sons. We mention these references while reaffirming that the reliance is on what Muslim scholars have said and not on others. East is known, and it is the direction from where sun rises, and west is where the sun sets.

Ibn `Adbil-Barr and others reported that al-’Imam Ahmad stood facing south, he pointed with his left hand and said, “This is east,” then pointed with his right hand and said, “This is west.”

As an unbiased reader, know that the Muslim scholars have al-’ijma` (consensus) that the Ka`bah is at the center of earth. Not in any of their books authored on this subject would you find mentioned otherwise.

If one stands in Makkah, looking at the height of Polaris above the horizon and compares it to the height of Polaris above the horizon while standing in the USA or Canada, he would find the Polaris is higher above the horizon in the USA and Canada. This means that these countries fall north of Makkah. Therefore, to face al-Ka`bah it is a must to direct oneself southwards. Moreover, if you add that the USA and Canada are also westward of Makkah, which is at the center of earth, then it is necessary for he who wants to pray while in these countries to face eastward so that he would be facing
al-Qiblah.

Hence, the clear result is that he who wants to pray while in the USA and Canada has to direct himself towards southeast if he wants his prayer to be valid and complying with the methodology and judgment of the Muslim scholars. In his book, Al-khitat under the chapter of al-Maharib, in the Egyptian edition, Volume 4, al-Muqriziyy ash-Shafi`iyy said: “If you are skillful in knowing the countries and the boundaries of the regions them you have learned that when people face al-Ka`bah the do so like a circle around its center. Hence for he who is west of al-Ka`bah, the direction of his Qiblah for his prayer is to the east…” Until he said: “…for he who is between north and west from al-Ka`bah, the direction of his Qiblah is between south and east.” Praise be to Allāh for this is exactly what we have said.

He who oppose in his case is as a matter of fact saying that al-Qiblah for those in Canada (which is north of Makkah) is the same as al-Qiblah for those is Yemen (which is south of Makkah) . Also, they are saying that al-Qiblah for those in the USA is the same as al-Qiblah for those in Somalia, and the countries that fall in its way. Likewise the same as al-Qiblah of Chile and what is next to it. And all of that is clearly invalid. Verily, Allāh is the one who gives strength to His slaves to be obedient

concerning magnetic needles and compasses

Know, may Allāh bestow guidance on you, that is no harm in using the magnetic needles (compasses) for determining the for direction, i.e., north, south, east, and west, though when using them, one needs to be away from iron, electricity, or anything which would affect the deflection of the needle. However, using the numbered cases of those needles to determine the direction of al-Qiblah in certain countries is neither a proof nor is it sufficient unless it is in accordance with the religious signs. (Review the aforementioned saying of al-Wansharisiyy.) When checking these compasses,
some were found to be in conformity with the religious signs in some countries, and some were not. Hence, if one wants to use numbers compass, let him first check whether or not the numbers conform to the religious signs. Verily, Allāh is the one who empowers his slaves to be obedient

The Meaning of the Saying of Allāh in Suratul-Baqarah, Ayah 115

Some people erroneously think that it is not an important matter to be keen in detecting the direction of al-Qiblah for prayers. Rather, they say it is sufficient for the person to have the intention of facing al-Qiblah in prayers. After which, they say, it is not conditional for him to endeavor to determine its direction by the signs, nor to attempt to face it. Based on that, they claim that for he who is praying in the USA, whether he faces north, east, south, or west, or may other direction, his prayer is valid. These people are also prepared to pray one time to one direction and another time to another direction without seeing any discrepancy in their actions. In that, they claim to rely on the saying of Allāh in Suratul-Baqarah, ‘Ayah 115

{وَللهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّواْ فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللهِ إِنَّ اللهَ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ}

Which means: “to Allāh belong the east and the west so wherever you turn there is a direction, and Allāh is All-Knowing.”

They erroneously interpret the saying of Allāh to mean that it is permissible for you to face any direction while praying. This is, no doubt, a perversion of the Religion. Allāh said in Suratul-Baqarah, ‘Ayah 150:

{وَمِنْ حَيْثُ خَرَجْتَ فَوَلِّ وَجْهَكَ شَطْرَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ وَحَيْثُ مَا كُنتُمْ فَوَلُّواْ وُجُوهَكُمْ شَطْرَهُ}

Which means: “From wherever you start turn your face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque and wherever you are, turn your faces in its direction.

The term shatr in the ‘Ayah means ‘the direction’, as the author of al-Qamus, among others, said. None of the scholars among the four schools have beaten the deviants to this saying. Moreover, not any reputable scholar has interpreted the ‘Ayah as they did. Muḥammad Ibn Ahmad al-Qurtubiyy al-Malikiyy, in his interpretation of the Qu’an known as Al-Jami` li ‘Ahkam al-Qur’an, listed six different interpretations of this ‘Ayah, none of which include what they have claimed. Rather, after listing these interpretations, he said: “It is not permissible for anyone to intentionally leave al-Qiblah under any case except in the case of extreme fear.” The adopted interpretations of this ‘Ayah is the wajdullah means the Qiblah of Allāh, that is, it is permissible for he who is traveling, while riding an animal, to pray the optional prayer to the direction that the animal is heading, whether or not it was toward Al-Qiblah. Mujahid, the student of Ibn `Abbas interpreted it as such, and ash-Shafi`iyy took by it. Moreover, Imam Muslim related the saying of `Abdullah Ibn `Umar, may Allāh accept his deeds, that the Messenger of Allāh, sallAllāhu `alayhi wa salam, used to pray on his animal when coming to Makkah from Madinah to whatever direction the animal was facing. He added that for this incident the following ‘Ayah was revealed:

(فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّواْ فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللهِ)

Which means :{wherever you turn there is a direction.}

Because of this hadith, none of the Imams had different opinions about the permissibility of praying while traveling, mounted on an animal.

Moreover, the overlooked turning right and left from al-Qiblah that was mentioned by the Hanafiyy scholars, is not what those followers of al-`Abdaliyy try to portray. The author of Raddul- Muhtar, which is among the most famous of their books, explained by saying: “It is not intended by that to have the Ka`bah to his right or left, or else undoubtedly he would have entirely left out the direction (that is of Al-Qiblah)” Rather, this is something that the Hanafiyy scholars mention when they talk about he who is praying in a place far away from al-KA`bah. This means that after one endeavors to determine the direction and faces it, if it turned out that he was deviating slightly to the left or to the right, then this is overlooked. The difference is great between this saying and what those negligent people try to portray.

O you Muslim who is careful about his Religion, do not pay attention to such negligence, and do observe performing your prayer in the manner that is acceptable to Allāh. Use the signs to check the direction of al-Ka`bah following the methodology that was shown by the reputable scholars of the four schools. Adhere to their sayings, for they are qualified carriers of the banners of the Religion and they are the worthy examples to follow.

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