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Direction of Al-Qiblah
by Muhammad Afzal Khan
The correct direction of Al-Qiblah is to the
Southeast/East-Southeast from North America (USA and Canada).
Advisors to Islamic Society of North America have in the recent past
recommended that the direction of Al-Qiblah is towards the
Northeast/Northeast-North from North America. This paper, based on
religious and scientific data, explains the reasons for facing
towards the Southeast/East-Southeast for Muslims living in North
America while offering their prayers.
The Northeast propagators are misleading the Muslim
Umma living in North America by introducing "INITIAL GREAT
CIRCLE COURSE" as middle and final direction to Qiblah. "Direction"
means a straight line between the observer and the object. The
bearing keeps changing along the Great Circle and hence the
direction and as such the Great Circle cannot be considered as the
"Direction". If you wish to follow a Great Circle you got to divide
it into numerous short straight-line segments and find the WAY
POINTS for that purpose. Allah SWT also mentions in
the Holy Qur^an "SHATR-AL
MASJID-IL-HARAM", which means "IN THE DIRECTION OF MASJID-IL-HARAM"
and not the short distance. Let us not confuse "Shatr-Al" with the
"Short Distance". Northeast propagators talk of using Gnomonic
Projection Chart. This chart can only be used in conjunction with
the Mercator Chart. You can read the Comparison between The Mercator
Chart and the Gnomonic Chart in my article.
Know fellow Muslims, that Allah (SWT) ordered
us to face al-Qiblah in our prayer. Allah said in Suratul
Baqarah, Ayah 144 which means: [We see the turning of your
face (O You, Muhammad) 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 Mosque, and wherever you are, turn your
faces in its direction.]
This is a matter relating to prayers and the rules
of the religion. Hence, in determining the direction of al-Qiblah we
must rely on the religious evidences and the sayings of the
The saying of Allah in Suratul-Baqarah,
"Ayah 150" 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 one who sees al-Ka^bah would face it by
physically observing it. He who is away from it would face it by
seeking the signs and methods that Allah, the Exalted, showed
His Messenger (SAWS) and the Mujtahidin of the Ummah. Seeking the
guidance from Allah, we start citing some of the signs:
Allah said in the Qur’an in Suratul-"An^am,
‘Ayah 97’: It means [It is He who makes the stars as beacons for you
that you may guide yourselves with them through the darkness of land
The content of this ‘Ayah’ includes that to
be guided by the stars is a grace from Allah. Hence this
means it is a religious order.
Allah said in Surat an-Nahl,
‘Ayah 16’: which means [and marks and by the stars they guide
Al-Imam ash-Shafi^iyy explained the marks in
his book, Al-‘Umm’, as being " The mountain, the position of which
is known on earth, the sun, moon, and the stars among the celestial
planets, and winds, the blowing direction of which is known."
It is no where mentioned in any text that the
reliance is on the shortest distance , or on stretching a string as
some intelligence-claimers voice to-day. Rather, the scholars have
al-‘ijma^ that to determine the maharib of the
mosques, one looks at the position of the country from Mecca.,
relying on the stars and like. The ancient and recent sayings and
statements of the scholars testify to that.
The Qiblah for the people of the western countries
is toward East, the Qiblah for the people of the eastern countries
is toward West, the Qiblah for the people of the southern countries
is toward North, and the Qiblah for the people of the northern
countries is toward South.
If one was absent from Mecca, he is to endeavor to
determine the direction of al-Qiblah because he has a way of knowing
it by the stars, sun, moon, mountains, and winds. For this, Allah
said in Qur^an [and marks and by the stars they guide themselves.]
The weakest of these signs are the winds for their
diversity, and in the open land and seas the strongest is the
Polaris (the North Pole Star) and the sun.
The scholars among the four schools have mentioned
that the signs of al-Qiblah are plenty and have authored numerous
books on the subject. Not any have considered the shortness or the
length of the route, nor the proximity or farness from Mecca in
Allah said in Surat Al-Ahzab, ‘Ayah 36’ which
means: [When a matter has been decreed by Allah and His
Messenger, there is no entitlement for a believer, man or woman, to
have an option about the matter.
There is no doubt that the Religion of Allah
is easy. Allah, the Exalted, said in Suratul-Baqarah,
‘Ayah 185’ which means: [Allah wants every facility for you
and does not want to put you to hardships]
Allah said in the Qur^an in Suratul-Baqarah,
‘Ayah 286’ which means: [on no soul does Allah place an
obligation except that it can bear.]
Allah said in Suratul-Haj,Ayah 78’
which means [Allah did not obligate you with difficulties.]
The earth is not exactly round but what is called a
geoid, that is, an ellipsoid flattened at the poles (The North Pole
and the South Pole). Even in that shape the earth is not perfect. It
actually has corners in its ellipticality. These are located at
Ireland, off Peru, South of Africa and near New Guinea. The North
Pole and the South Pole are referred to the North and South ends of
the Axis of Rotation. The axis of rotation, along which the earth
revolves in front of the sun, is tilted towards the sun by 66 ˝
degrees. The earth is at distance of about 93.2 million miles from
the sun. It takes 365.256 days for the earth to travel around the
sun and 23.9345 hours for the earth to rotate a complete revolution
along its axis of rotation in front of the sun.
The globe of the earth is marked by a network of
meridians stretching from pole to pole and of lines of latitude
perpendicular to them. Any location on the Earth is described by two
numbers- its latitude and its longitude. If a pilot or a captain of
ship wants to specify position on a map, these are the "coordinates"
they would use.
Meridian is an imaginary line of constant
longitude stretching over Earth’s surface from the north pole to
the south pole. Since the equator is a circle, we can divide it-like
any circle-into 360 degrees, and the longitude of a point is then
the marked value of that division where its meridian meets the
equator. What that value is depends of course on where we begin to
count–on where zero longitude is. For historical reasons, the
meridian passing through Greenwich, England, is the one chosen as
zero longitude. It is marked as Prime Meridian. Longitudes are
measured from zero to 180 degrees east and 180 degrees west, and
both 180-degree longitudes share the same line, in the middle of the
The Earth undergoes a full rotation along its axis
of rotation with respect to the sun in 24 hours. Thus each hour the
Earth rotates by 15 degrees—360/24=15 degrees.
When at your location the time is 12 noon, 15
degrees to the east the time is 1 p.m., for that is the meridian
which faced the sun an hour ago. On the other hand, 15 degrees to
the west the time is 11 a.m., for in an hour’s time, that meridian
will face the sun and experience noon.
The Earth’s Coordinate System
Great Circle:- A Great Circle is a circle on a
sphere’s surface whose plane is passing exactly through the center
of the sphere. In other words, a great circle divides a sphere into
two symmetrical parts. An arc on a great circle represents the
shortest distance between two points on a sphere. An indefinite
number of great circles may be drawn through any given point on a
sphere but only one great circle can pass through two points (except
when these points are diametrically opposite).
Small Circle:- Any circle on a surface of
sphere which is not a great circle and whose plane is not passing
through the sphere’s center is a Small Circle.
Earth’s Poles:- The Earth’s Poles are the
intersections of the surface of the Earth with the rotation axis.
The poles and the rotation axis provide the prime navigation
Equator:- The Equator is a Great Circle whose
plane is perpendicular to rotation axis of the Earth and is
everywhere 90 degrees from the north (or south pole) and is taken as
0 degree latitude. It divides the earth’s sphere into two equal
halves—the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere. It
maintains a constant east-west heading.
Parallels of Latitude:- These are the lines of
constant latitude intersections of planes parallel to the Equator
with the surface of the earth and are known as small circles. They
are perpendicular to the meridians. As the Equator is 0 degree
latitude and the poles are at 90 degree latitude (90 degrees North
and 90 degrees South) the latitude coordinate is measured north and
south from the equator. In other words the Parallels are used to
specify the arc, in degrees, of which a point is located relative to
Meridian:- A Meridian (line of longitude) is an
arc on a Great Circle that extends from one pole to the opposite
pole (Half of a Great Circle). The Prime Meridian which is used in
international navigation was arbitrarily selected in 1884 as the
meridian that passes through the Royal Greenwich Observatory in
Greenwich , England. The Meridians are used to specify the arc, in
degrees, of which a point is situated relative to the Prime
Meridian. Parallels are measured 90 degrees north and 90 degrees
south of the Equator while meridians are measured 180 degrees East
and West of the ZERO MERIDIAN (Prime Meridian). The Prime Meridian
and the 180 degrees meridian (also called the International Date
Line) together are forming one great circle whose plane intersects
the North and South poles.
Location;- The earth’s coordinate system
provides means to accurately locate any point on the surface of
earth. Such position is given in an arc measured in degrees, minutes
and seconds. A position report of N 31 degrees, 15 minutes, 00
seconds and W 86 degrees, 20 minutes, 00 seconds indicates that this
position is situated at 31 deg, 15 min, and 00 sec North of the
Equator and 86 deg, 20 min, 00 sec West of the Prime (Greenwich)
Distance and Direction
Distance is defined as a spatial interval. For
all practical purposes, distance is the length of the shortest
interval, which connects two points. Keeping in mind that the earth
a sphere, the shortest line that connects two points follows the
curvature of the earth thus, it is a great circle line.
Distances may be taken by either measurement or by mathematical
The nautical mile, which equals one minute arc of
latitude, is the most common unit for navigational purposes. One
nautical mile equals to:
The ratio between a nautical and statue miles is
Statute miles 76
Nautical miles 66
Measuring distances can be accomplished in several
ways. Aeronautical charts are scaled, that means each inch on chart
represents a certain number of inches on the surface. The most
common method is using a navigation plotter, which is calibrated for
various scales. When a plotter is not available, two other options
may be used. First, the distance is measured with a string or a
sheet of paper. Then either calculating the distance by multiplying
the measured distance by the scaling factor or by counting degrees
and minutes of latitude. Each degree of latitude equals 60 Nautical
miles and each minute equals 1 Nautical mile. When using the scale
method, the result must be converted from inches to nautical miles.
If one can see an object, then what means by the
direction towards it is obvious and trivial. One faces the object
and the direction goes in the straight line between him and the
object. Of course, this definition only works if the object is
visible. For objects or places on the earth, the object must be
above the horizon. The direction could be specified by an angle from
the True North. One could generalize this definition by defining the
direction to be the straight line between you and the object, even
if the object is not visible.
A ‘Direction’ can be obtained by either measurement
or by mathematical calculation. An ordinary protractor can be used
to measure the direction, but it is rarely used. Several styles of
plotters have been designed specially to accommodate the navigators.
Long- range segments are more difficult to measure than short ones.
Long- range navigation involves following a great circle, which is
not a straight line. This problem is solved by breaking the curved
line into numerous straight line segments. The following are the
mathematical formulas for calculating great circle distance and
Where: D = Distance (in Nautical Miles) L1 = Origin Latitude L2 = Destination Latitude
l1 = Origin Longitude, l2 = Destination Longitude
Where: C = Course (in degrees) D = Distance L1 = Origin Latitude L2 = Destination Latitude
The distance and course from New York,
Great Circle Course is located at the following URL:
Great Circle Sailing
To follow a great circle track, the navigator needs
to adjust the ship's course continuously because the great circle
track is a curve when plotted on a Mercator Chart. Therefore, it is
not really practicable to sail on an exact great circle route.
In order to take advantage of the shorter steaming
distance of the great circle track, mariners usually divide a great
circle track between the initial position and the destination into
smaller segments (way points) of about one to two day's steaming
time and make course adjustment at noon. The total distance is
therefore the sum of the distances of those segments calculated by
What's new here?
The most annoying part of the great circle sailing
calculation is to find out the way points along the great circle
route. The traditional way is to determine the position of the
vertex and use Napier's rules to calculate individual way point's
Latitude and Longitude. This method is not really very complex but
is not suitable for computerization as a set of conditions will need
to be established in order to determine the side of the positions.
A great circle is a circle on a sphere’s surface whose plane is
passing through the center of the sphere. An arc of a great circle
represents the shortest distance between two points on a sphere.
Because a great circle line follows the curvature of the Earth, it
forms a curved line rather than a straight one.
In long- range navigation, great circle routes are desired. Since
the great circle is not a straight line and, therefore, difficult to
follow, it is divided into a sequence of shorter rhumb lines
The bearing keeps changing along a great circle path on the
surface of the earth. For example, a great circle path may start out
heading northeast, gradually changing heading to the east, then
gradually change it further to the southeast and so on. The only
exceptions are the Equator and the Meridians, which maintain
constant direction. The direction along the equator will be due east
and due west and along the meridian due north and due south. Due
East means 090 degrees, due West 270 degrees, due North 000 or 360
degrees and due South 180 degrees.
Lindbergh’s Flight across the Atlantic between New
York and Paris in 1927
Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic between New York and Paris
in 1927 illustrates the use of short segmented rhumb lines of 100
miles that were carefully plotted to approximate the great circle
path (between the two cities) resulting in a savings of 140 nmi.
Lindbergh used a planning chart with a gnomonic projection where a
great circle course is obtained by a straight line between departure
and termination. He divided the resulting straight line (between New
York and Paris) into100 mile segments and transferred the
coordinates of the extremities of these segments to a Mercator chart
which he used for his historic flight.
For Voyage from Norfolk, Virginia to Cape St. Vincent, Portugal.
A rhumb line is a straight line on the surface of the earth that
crosses all the meridians at the same angle.
Ideally, straight-line course segments are sought because they
are easy to follow compared to curved lines. Since the lines of
longitude are approximately parallel, a straight line would be a
line that crosses all the lines of longitude at the same angle.
Straight lines make the plotting and tracking simple. As stated
above, rhumb line is a line on the surface of the Earth which
crosses every meridian (line of longitude) at the same angle. On a
sphere, where the meridians are converging at the poles, a rhumb
line will form a spiraling curve that eventually ends at either of
the Earth’s poles. The spiral that is created by a rhumb line is a
Loxodromic Curve or a Loxodrome. Since a loxodrome is not a great
circle, it follows that by tracking a loxodrome a longer distance
must be traveled compared to a great circle line.
North, South, East and West Directions: North is facing
along a constant longitude towards the North Pole. East is
facing along a line of constant latitude such that the north is on
the left. These directions are not the readings taken by the
magnetic compass because the magnetic north is removed from the
North Pole of the earth’s rotation. A magnetic compass does not
point towards the True north, hence the direction measured by the
magnetic compass must be corrected for Deviation and Variation
depending on one’s location.
It is an established fact that north is opposite to south and
that the east is opposite to west. ‘North-South lines’ and
‘East-West lines’ meet each other at right angles. This terminology
goes back to the time man was created by Allah "The Almighty".
Polaris (North Star):-
On the earth, north is determined by the position of the Polaris
(a fairly bright star)—the North Star. The direction of Polaris is
north. By simply observing the Polaris one can find the True North.
Moreover, the observations of the elevation of the Polaris can give
the latitude. Some small corrections must be made, because Polaris
is 1 degree from pole, but the correction is small and unimportant
for many purposes. The higher the Polaris is seen above the horizon
means the closer the country of vision is to the north. The lower
the Polaris is seen above the horizon means the farther the country
of vision is from north. The Polaris has extensively been used by
the Navigators . The scholars have mentioned that ‘Suhayl’ is
another star that always points south.
Sun:- The sun rises in the East and sets in the West. It
rises due (True) east on only two days a year, the Equinoxes. The
sun is over the equator on March 21 and starts going northwards to
the Tropic of Cancer, which is 23.5 degrees latitude north of the
equator. On June 21 it reaches over the Tropic of Cancer. This means
it covers 23.5 degrees in 92 days, thus it moves .255 degrees per
day. Then gradually it moves back towards the equator and is over
the equator on September 20 or 21. Then it moves further southward
and reaches over the Tropic of Capricorn on December 21, which is
23.5 degrees latitude south of equator. After September 21 it again
moves northwards and reaches over the equator on March 21. The sun’s
daily trip is along the lines of latitude and maintains a constant
east-west direction. The sun never goes above the Tropic of Cancer
and below the Tropic of Capricorn.
In the US and other mid-latitude countries north of the equator
(e.g. those of Europe) , the sun’s daily trip (as it appears to us)
is an arc across the southern sky. (Of course, it is really the
Earth that does the moving). The sun’s greatest height above the
horizon occurs at noon, and how high the sun gets depends on the
season of the year--it is highest in mid summer, lowest in mid
The apparent motion of the sun, (as it passes through the south
of United States), can be important in designing a building, in
particular in the placing of windows, which trap the sun’s heat. In
a hot sunny climate such as that of Texas or Arizona, it is best to
have the largest windows face north, avoiding the sun. The
south-facing walls, on the other hand, should be well insulated and
their windows should be small, allowing cross-ventilation when
needed but not admitting much sunlight (wooden shutters on the
outside of the windows also help). In Canada the opposite direction
might be chosen, to trap as much heat as possible from the winter
sun. Please refer to the website--------
When the sun is in the northern hemisphere over the Tropic of
Cancer (during the northern hemisphere summer) it can be viewed by
the people, living south of the Tropic of Cancer or in the southern
hemisphere, rising substantially north of due east. The people
living above the Tropic of Cancer will see the sun rising towards
the south of their local east. The deviations can be large for
latitudes far north or south. The reverse is true when the sun is
over the Tropic of Capricorn.
Direction to Makkah.
Comments by Dr. Burton F. Jones, Professor of Astronomy and
Astrophysics, University of California, Santa Cruz and Staff Member,
Lick Observatory are reproduced below. These are his own personal
views expressed by him, and not those of Lick Observatory or the
University of California, Santa Cruz.
When I talk of north, I am referring to the direction to the
North Pole of rotation axis of the earth along a meridian. This is
different from the magnetic north pole; which is the direction a
compass will point. As a practical matter, a magnetic compass
generally does not point true north, and one must make a correction
depending on one’s location.
If one can see an object, then what means by the direction
towards it is obvious and trivial. You face the object and the
direction goes in the straight line between yourself and the object.
Of course, this definition only works if the object is visible.
For objects or places on the earth, the object must be above the
horizon. This means such a definition is useful only for nearby
One could generalize this definition by defining the direction to
be the straight line between you and the object, even if the object
is not visible. In the case of two points on the surface of the
nearly spherical earth that line would go through the earth. The
direction could be specified by an angle from true north, and an
angle below the horizontal. With such a definition, in the South
Pacific Islands the direction towards Mecca would be nearly straight
The higher an object is, the farther one can be from it and still
see it above the horizon. Thus one can see the high mountains from a
greater distance than low hills.
This has its limitations, however. Even if an object were
infinitely tall, one could see it from only half of the earth.
Although nothing is infinitely tall, we can make a close
approximation using the sun. The earth’s rotation axis is tilted
66.5 degrees from the plane of the earth’s orbit around the sun.
Thus in summer in the northern hemisphere, the earth’s north pole is
tilted towards the sun, and in the winter away from the sun.
Practically, this means the places with latitudes between 23.5
degrees north and south (23.5=90-66.5), the sun will be nearly
directly overhead on two dates during the year. (By overhead, we
mean that a straight line between the sun and the place in question
would pass through the center of the earth). When the sun is
directly overhead, one can imagine a tower stretching upward to the
sun. Thus, the claim is made that observing the sun at such a time
determines the direction to the place the sun is over.
For any given place , the dates on which the sun is directly
overhead can be found by consulting the Astronomical Almanac,
published by the U.S. Government printing office.
To find the dates, one must know the latitude for the place in
question. One then finds in the almanac the dates when the
declination of the sun is equal to the latitude of the place. For
Mecca (latitude 21 deg 27 min north), these dates are May 28 and
July 15 (For a couple of days on either side of these days, the sun
will nearly pass overhead Mecca).
It is possible using the information in the almanac to find the
exact Universal Time (UT) when this occurs on these dates (Muller,
Spherical and Practical Astronomy as Applied to Geodesy, Frederick
Ungar Publishing, New York, 1969). Universal time has a somewhat
complicated definition, but is basically the time on the prime
meridian running through Greenwich, England. The computation,
although somewhat complicated, is straightforward.
For May 28 the sun will be overhead at Mecca at 09:18 UT. Once
one knows the time the sun is overhead in Mecca, one can calculate
where in the sky the sun will appear for any place else on the earth
where the sun is above the horizon. Again, this is a somewhat
complicated, but straightforward, computation, and is explained in
Muller, starting on page 29.
For example, for Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, the sun will be 5
degrees above the horizon, and 22 degrees north of due east
on May 28, at 9:18 UT. For most of North America the sun will not be
above the horizon.
One could define the direction towards Mecca from a given place
as the direction towards the sun at the time the sun is directly
above Mecca. One does not have to actually observe the sun to find
the direction, as the direction can be calculated, as shown above.
This only works for places where the sun is above the horizon at
that time, and that covers only half of the earth. Thus if one were
to adopt this method for finding the direction to Mecca, one would
still have the problem of defining the direction for half of the
One can generalize the above method by using the concept of a
Mathematically, a great circle is the intersection of a plane
that contains the center of the earth with the surface of the earth.
Except for points on the opposite sides of the earth, only one
great circle can go through two points. Moreover, for travel on the
surface of the earth, the shortest distance between two points is
along the great circle.
In general, if one travels along a great circle, ones bearing
(the angle between the direction and true north) will continuously
If one defines the direction to Mecca, to be the direction
towards the sun at the time it is directly above Mecca, then that
direction has the same bearing as the initial bearing of the great
circle between the place and Mecca
A segment of a great circle connecting two points on the earth is
clearly the shortest distance between the two points for travel on
the surface of the earth. Except for two circumstances (travel along
the equator or along meridians), one’s direction of travel
constantly changes along the great circle.
One could, with some logic, define the direction towards a place
as the initial bearing for travel to the place along the great
From a common sense point of view, the use of the great circle to
define direction can lead to clear absurdities.
Thus, the great circle joining Alaska to South Africa has an
initial bearing of almost due north. Are we then to say that South
Africa is north of Alaska? To most people that would make no sense.
The great circle joining the tip of South America to the
Phillippines has an initial bearing of almost due south. Are we then
to say that the Phillippines is South of the tip of South America?
Nevertheless, it is true that above directions are bearings an
aircraft would follow on take-off for travel between the two
As a practical matter, one commonly finds direction between two
places by consulting a map. A map is a projection of the spherical
surface of the earth onto a flat plane. There are an infinite number
of ways to do this. All such projections distort the surface of the
earth, and no such projection can be said to be truer than any
other. On any map one can draw a straight line between two places.
For each case, the line on the surface of the earth would be curved,
since there is no such thing as a straight line lying on a sphere.
Moreover, a straight line drawn on one map will be curved on another
map made using a different type of projection. Thus one must use
care and understand fully the type of projection before using a map
to determine direction!
One commonly used map is made with a Mercator projection. A
Mercator projection is a depiction of the earth that has the
properties that lines of constant longitude (meridians) meet lines
of constant latitude at right angles. On such a map Mecca
would be to the east-south-east of San Jose. This corresponds to a
common sense understanding of direction one obtains from looking at
a globe. If on a globe Mecca is to the east of San Jose (as it is,
by a large amount) and to the south of San Jose (as it is, by a
smaller amount), then it would seem it would be appropriate to say
that Mecca is east-south-east of San Jose. That is how it appears on
a Mercator projection.
A map using a Mercator projection has another interesting and
practical property. If one were to travel between two places always
keeping the same bearing (keeping the same angle between true north
and the direction of travel), then the line of travel would be a
straight line on a Mercator projection. Such a line is called a
rhumb line, and is used extensively for navigation purposes.
An argument has been made that great circle should be used to
determine direction to Mecca because it is the shortest route. We
note that although the great circle route between two points is the
shortest distance between the point, in most situations it is not
significantly shorter than the distance along the rhumb line. For
example, the great circle distance between San Francisco and Mecca
is 4,285 nautical miles, while the distance along the rhumb line is
4,417 nautical miles, only 132 nautical miles longer.
In the end Dr.Burton F Jones says that he will make no comments
on what definition of direction people of the Islamic faith should
use in deciding on the direction of Mecca. However, he hopes the
above discussion proves helpful.
Direction of Mecca from North America -
Remarks of Mr. David Miller, Senior Editor, National Geographic
The digital map, (see
www.nationalgeographic.com/mapmachine/), is a composite of about 500 satellite
images. The images were taken over a period of several years.
Cloud-free images are mostly used. The composite map was projected
into the Equirectangular projection (a projection is a flat
representation of the globe). The Equirectangular projection is a
cylindrical-type projection like the Mercator.
It is hard to give a direction between the United States and
Saudi Arabia—both are large countries. However, from Washington, DC
you would need to turn East-South-East to face Mecca (or if north is
0 degrees, you would turn 100 degrees to face Mecca).
Senior Editor, National Geographic Maps.
You may see some more maps showing projection (Flat
Representation) of Globe and see that the direction of Mecca from
San Francisco and San Jose, CA, is to east-south-east :-
EARTH FROM SPACE at
Earth View at
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC WORLDCOM XPEDITIONS (Atlas)at
LE MONDE at
MOON SIGHTING MAP at
MAP; "THE SATELLITE WORLD" at
COMPARISON BETWEEN THE CYLINDRICAL PROJECTION AND
Imagine that the surface of the map as cylinder
that encircles the globe, touching it at the equator. The parallels
of latitude are extended outward from the globe, parallel to the
equator, as parallel planes intersecting the cylinder. Because of
the curvature of the globe, the parallels of latitude nearest the
poles when projected on to the cylinder are spaced progressively
further apart, and the projected meridians of longitude are
represented as parallel straight lines, perpendicular to the equator
and continuing to the North and South poles. When the cylinder is
slit vertically and rolled out flat the resulting map represents the
Earth’s surface as a rectangle with equally spaced parallel line of
longitude and unequally spaced parallel lines of latitude. Although
the shapes of areas on the cylindrical projection are increasingly
distorted towards the poles, the size relationship of areas on the
map is equivalent to the size relationship of areas on the globe.
Cylindrical Projection Properties
* Lines of latitude and longitude are
parallel intersecting at 90 degrees.
* Meridians are equidistant.
* Scale along the equator or standard parallels
* Rhumb Lines are straight lines. Great Circles
are curved lines.
- Can have the properties of equidistance & conformality.
The familiar Mercator projection is basically a
cylindrical projection, with certain modifications .A Mercator map
is accurate in the equatorial regions but greatly distorts areas
in the high latitudes. However, directions are represented
faithfully. Any line cutting two or more meridians at the same
angle is represented on a Mercator map as a straight line. Such a
line, called a rhumb line, represents the path of a vessel
following a steady compass course. Using a Mercator map, a
navigator can plot a course simply by drawing a line between two
points and reading the compass direction from the map.
Distance measurement from the map needs to be
made using the latitude scale surrounding the distance to be
measured- as long as each measured distance segment is no longer
than 200 NM.
Azimuthal or Planar Projections
Azimuthal projection maps are useful for viewing the
polar regions of the world, because the poles usually appear near
the center, with longitudinal lines meeting at the poles and
spreading away from each other as they move away from the poles. The
polar regions are relatively free of distortion, but the distortion
increases as the longitudinal lines move toward equatorial areas.
This group of map projections is derived by projecting the globe on
to a flat plane that may be touching it at any point. The group
includes the gnomonic, orthographic, and stereographic plane
Two other types of plane projection are known as the
azimuthal equal area and the azimuthal equidistant; they cannot be
projected but are developed on a tangent (touching) plane. The
gnomonic projection is assumed to be formed by rays projected from
the center of the Earth. In the orthographic projection the source
of projecting rays is at infinity, and the resulting map resembles
the Earth as it would appear if photographed from other space. The
source of projecting rays for the stereographic projection is a
point diametrically opposite the tangent point of the plane on which
the projection is made.
The nature of the projection varies with the source
of the projecting rays. Thus the gnomonic projection covers areas of
less than a hemisphere, the orthographic covers hemispheres, the
azimuthal equal area and the stereographic projection map larger
areas, and the azimuthal equidistant includes entire globe. In these
types of projection, however (except in the case of the azimuthal
equidistant), the portion of the Earth that appears on the map
depends on the point at which the imaginary plane touches the Earth.
A plane- projection map with the plane tangent to the surface of the
Earth at the equator would represent the equatorial region, but
would not show the entire region in one map, with the plane tangent
at either of the poles, the map would represent the polar regions.
Because the source of the gnomonic projection is at
the center of the Earth, all great circles , that is, the equator,
all meridians, and any other circles that divide the globe into two
equal parts, are represented as straight lines. A great circle that
connects any two points on the Earth is always the shortest distance
between the two points. The gnomonic map is therefore a great aid
to navigation when used in conjunction with the Mercator.
Azimuthal Projection Properties (Gnomonic)
Neither conformal nor equal area
Great Circles are straight lines – representing
the shortest distance between two points.
Rhumb lines are concave toward the nearer pole.
Scale is correct only at the center – becoming
increasingly distorted with increasing distance from the center.
Less than one hemisphere can be seen on one map
The magnetic compass is a self-contained unit, which
does not require electrical or suction power. To determine
direction, the compass uses a simple bar magnet two poles. The bar
magnet in the compass is mounted so it can pivot freely and align
itself automatically with the earth’s magnetic field.
The angular difference between the true and magnetic
poles at a given point is referred to as variation. Since most
aviation charts are oriented to true north and the aircraft compass
is oriented to magnetic north, you must convert a true direction to
a magnetic direction by correcting for variation. The amount of
variation you need to apply is dependent upon your location on the
Deviation refers to a compass error which occurs due
to disturbances from magnetic fields produced by metals and
electrical accessories within the airplane itself. Although it
cannot be completely eliminated, deviation error can be decreased by
manufacturer-installed compensating magnets located within the
compass housing. The remaining error is recorded on a chart, called
a compass correction card, which is mounted near the compass.
When the bar magnet contained in the compass is
pulled by the earth’s magnetic field, it tends to point north and
somewhat downward. The downward pull, called magnetic dip, is
greatest near the poles and diminishes as you approach the equator.
Although the compass is not subject to magnetic dip
near the equator, as the compass moves closer to the poles errors
resulting from magnetic dip increase gradually. Within approximately
300 miles of either magnetic pole, these errors are so great that
use of the compass for navigation is impractical.
In order to minimize the tilting force on the bar
magnet caused by the magnetic dip, a weight is placed on the south
end of the bar magnet. Unfortunately, the corrective weight, as well
as magnetic dip itself, both contribute to acceleration and turning
"Private Pilot Manual", Jeppesen Sanderson Training
Products, Jeppesen Sanderson, Inc.
I got three different types of Qibla compasses from
Saudi Arabia and all of these compasses show the direction of Al-Qibla
to the East-South-East from San Francisco and from San Jose. I
checked these compasses in Pakistan and they showed the correct
direction of Qibla. But the compass recommended by Mr. Khalid
Shaukat, which is available at Halalco Books and on which ISNA
depends, shows the direction of Qibla to the North-East-North from
San Francisco and San Jose. It has also been reported that actual
observation shows that this particular compass when used in the
mosque of the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ^alayhi
wa sallam, pointed to the wrong direction of al-Qibla. Likewise is
the case in the Umayyad Mosque at Damascus, the mosque that many
Companions prayed in and the one that Muslim scholars continue to
recognize the correctness of its direction towards al-Qibla since
the early days of al-‘Islam until today. When the compass,
recommended by Mr. Khalid Shaukat, was used in the Umayyad Mosque,
it pointed noticeably to the wrong direction.
I have come across many people in the United States
who have got the Qibla Compasses from Saudi Arabia but I have been
shocked to note that majority of them are completely ignorant of the
fact how to use the compass, whereas the instructions "HOW TO USE"
the compass are written on the first page of a small booklet which
comes with the Qibla Compass. These instructions are as under:-
Select the city in which you are located from the
book and the read the Index Number.
Place the Direction Finder, i.e. the Qibla
Compass, on the floor and turn it until the needle (Compass North)
points to the selected Index Number.
The Minaret at the top of the Direction Finder (Qibla
Compass) is now pointed directly to the ‘HOLLY KAABA’ in Mecca.
The Index Numbers have been scientifically
calculated from the latest available geophysical and geodetic data
Finding the Direction of Al-Qibla from ‘Point
Diametrically Opposite to Mecca’ :-
The point diametrically opposite to Mecca is located
at latitude 21 deg 27 min South and longitude 140 deg 11 min West.
The sun comes overhead this point on the following two dates and
November 28 at 21:09 UT
January 16 at 21:29 UT
Mr. Khalid Shaukat is a consultant to ISNA, Fiqh
Council of North America, and Shura Council of North America for the
matters of Qibla Direction, Prayer Times, and Moon Sighting. He
states on page 3 of 4 of his article ‘Qibla Direction’ dated
9/9/2002, " If you are at a location that you cannot see the sun on
May 28 at 9:18 UT and July 16 at 9:27 UT overhead Mecca then you can
locate Qibla from the sun when it comes overhead a point
diametrically opposite of Mecca on the globe. Face towards the
shadow from the sun at these times (after converting it to local
time) and you will be facing Ka’bah. If you can see the sun but
cannot see the shadow, put your back towards the sun and your face
will be towards Qibla."
This statement is misleading as the diametrically
opposite point has nothing to do with the finding of the direction
to Al-Qibla. This point is located in the South Pacific Ocean in the
southern hemisphere and is to the southwest of Mecca.
I suggest that he should draw an imaginary circle of
any radius around that point and mark that circle into 360 degrees
starting from 000 degrees to 359 degrees and make 360 persons stand
on the circle at the interval of one degree each with their backs
towards the sun and note in which direction all those persons would
be facing. Obviously, they would be facing in all 360 directions. In
case it is not possible to do that then he can simulate the
situation on a paper and repeat the experiment. He can take Mecca as
point ‘A’ and the diametrically opposite point as point ‘B’.
Obviously point ‘B’ will be towards Southwest of point ‘A’. Join the
two points by a straight line and draw a circle around point ‘B’ and
imagine people standing on that circle with their backs towards
point ‘B’. Note the directions in which the people are facing. Or he
can come out of his home and select a point diametrically opposite
to his main door. Draw a circle around that point, ask some people
to stand on the circle with their backs to wards the center of the
circle and see how many people are facing the door.
Mr. Khalid Shaukat, in answer to question number 8 –
para 2 (Frequently Asked Questions On Qibla Direction) dated
9/9/2000, has said, " Latitude and longitude lines are arbitrary
lines put by man and should not be considered at all for giving
arguments about directions, because arbitrary lines chosen in
another way would give another result".
I requested Mr. Khalid Shaukat as to what does he
mean by this and why has he discarded the lines of latitudes and
longitudes. But he did not answer this question of mine...
I must say that these Earth coordinates are most
important for specifying positions on the earth, estimating
distances and directions between locations, doing aerial and naval
navigation, predicting weather and astronomical phenomena at any
location, carrying out aerial survey and preparing different maps,
and so on. These are also useful in computing the direction of Al-Qibla.
Mr. Khalid Shaukat has also rejected the Qibla
Compasses, which are available in Saudi Arabia. He has
written about one of the compasses, which comes with a little
booklet that has a list of cities and a number associated with each
city in the range of 0 to 39, that it is an outdated booklet printed
20 years ago. He further says that the numbers in that booklet have
slightly changed in 20 years because of continuously changing
earth’s magnetic field. But he has said nothing about the booklets
of the other Qibla Compasses, which has a list of as many cities and
number associated with each city as the Compass recommended by him
and available at Halalco Books.
The Rulings and Response of Some Muslim Scholars and
Shaykhs that Mecca is to the Southeast
from North America.
The Response of His Eminence, the great and
knowledgeable Scholar of Hadith, the Renewer of the Century,
Shaykh ^Abdullah Ibn Muhammad Ibn Yusuf al-Hurariyy al-Qurashiyy,
may Allah protect him.
The Ruling of the President of the Honorable al-‘Azhar
University, Dr. Abdul Fattah al-Husayniyy ash-Shaykh, may Allah
The Response of His Eminence Shaykh ^Atiyyah Saqar,
the Chairman of the Fatwa Committee of al-Azhar of Egypt, may
Allah protect him.
The Response of the Mufti of Daghistan, His
Eminence Shaykh Sayyid Ahmad Darwish Hadjieve ash-Shafi^iyy ash-Shathiliyy,
may Allah protect him.
The Response of the Mufti of Ukraine, the
Honorable Dr. Ahmad Tamim ash- Shafi^iyy, may Allah protect him.
The Response of the President of the Association
of as-Sadatul Ashraf (the descendants of the Prophet, sallallahu ^alayhi
wa sallam), in Lebanon, Shaykh Nabil Ibn ash-Shaykh al-Qadi al-Mustashar
Muhammad ash-Sharif al-Husayniyy, al-‘Azhariyy ash-Shafi^iyy
ar-Rifa^iyy, may Allah protect him.
The Response of His Eminence, the great Imam, the
Shaykh of al-‘Azhar, may Allah protect him.
The Response of Hazrat Allama Maulana Mufti
Mohammad Akhtar Raza Khan Qadri Azhari, President: All India Sunni
Jamiatul Ulema, Head Mufti: Central Darul Ifta-Bareilly, may Allah
The Respons of Some Astronomers, Geographers,
Universities, Geographic and Marine Institutions in the United
States of America and Canada that the Direction of Mecca is to the
Southeast of North America.
Response of Derrick H. Pitts, Vice President, Fels
Planetarium, Franklin Institute Science Museum.
Response of Eugenia M. Ryan, Research
Correspondence, National Geographic Society.
Response of Cdre. A Sadek, President, Arab
Institute of Navigation.
Response of Dean Louder, Director, Lavel
Resposes of Brian Klinkenberg, Department of
Geography, University of British Columbia.
Response of Paul Jance, Cartographer, The
University of British Columbia.
Response of T.R. Moore, Associate Professor of
Geography, McGill University.
Response of B.A. McIntosh, Ph.D., National
Research Council, Canada, Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics.
Response of DB Knight, Professor of Geography,
Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.
Response of Dr. David B. Frost, Associate
Professor, Department of Geography, Concordia University.
Response of Andrew Berghardt, Professor of
Geography, McMaster University, Ontario, Canada.
Allah has said in Suratul-Baqarah, "Ayah 150" [from
wherever you start , turn your faces in the direction of the Sacred
Mosque and wherever you are, turn your faces in its direction.] It
is mandatory for the Muslims to face in the direction of al-Qiblah
while offering their prayers. Allah further says in Qur^an that take
guidance from the stars and the marks through the darkness of land
and sea. It is no where mentioned in any text that the reliance is
on the shortest distance, or on stretching a string between two
points as some intelligence-claimers voice to-day. The spherical
trigonometry formula gives you the initial bearing of the great
circle arc between two points on the same great circle. As the great
circle path is divided into numerous straight-line (Rhumb line)
segments, lot many times one will have to calculate the new
bearings. It is difficult to do the calculations for every sector.
This process is very complicated and 98 percent people or more do
not understand such procedure. Allah does not make things difficult
for human beings.
It is agreed that an arc of a great circle
represents the shortest distance between two points on a sphere.
Because a great circle line follows the curvature of the Earth, it
forms a curved line rather than a straight one. In long range
navigation, great circle routes are desired. Since the great circle
is not a straight line and therefore difficult to follow. It is
divided into a sequence of shorter rhumb line segments. The bearing
keeps changing along the great circle path on the surface of the
earth. For example, a great circle path may start out heading
northeast, gradually changing heading to the east, then gradually
change it further to the southeast and so on. The only exceptions
are the meridians and the equator, which maintain constant
direction. Rhumb line is a straight line on the surface of the earth
that crosses all the meridians at the same angle. Ideally, straight
line segments are sought because they are easy to follow compared to
Some people argue that the great circle should be
used to determine direction to Mecca because it is the shortest
route. Please note that although the great circle route between two
points is the shortest distance between the points, in most
situations it is not significantly shorter than the distance along
the rhumb line. For example, the great circle distance between San
Francisco and Mecca is 7,285 nautical miles, while the distance
along the rhumb line is 7,417 nautical miles, only 132 nautical
Great circle path is a route and not a direction.
The ‘Direction’ is a straight line between the observer and the
object. All this is universally agreed upon. It is, therefore,
recommended that we must not follow a great circle path while facing
in the direction of Mecca. Rather, we must follow a straight line.
On the globe all lines are curved and there is no straight line. For
that projection (Representation of the globe on a flat map) is a
must. The best projection is the Mercator Chart The Mercator chart
is most commonly used by NASA, National Geographic Society, the
airlines and the Navy for navigation purposes.. The Globe is covered
with a network of Meridians and parallels of latitude. The parallels
of latitude are perpendicular to the meridians.
If you see the globe and Mercator Chart you will
find that Mecca, in general, is towards southeast from North America
or east-southeast from some places in North America. I would like to
say here that if any one who does not agree with me or with other
persons, who say that Mecca is to the southeast of North America, he
is at liberty to contact the Religious Scholars, Astronomers,
Geographers teaching in different universities in U.S.A., Airlines
Pilots and Navigators, NASA or the National Geographic Society to
verify the correct direction of Mecca from North America. I would
like to point out that when something goes wrong with your car you
always take the car to a technician and not a doctor. I think ISNA
must approach the right persons for the advice on the correct
direction of Mecca from North America.
In the end I must mention that Allah said in Surat
Al-Ahzab, ‘Ayah 36’ which means: [When a matter has been decreed by
Allah and His Messenger, there is no entitlement for a believer, man
or woman, to have an option about the matter]. Every one is
answerable to Allah on the ‘Day of Judgement’. If we misguide the
people in the religious affairs we must be ready for His punishment.
May Allah guide us all! Amin.
Late Mr. Muhammad Afzal Khan, NON-Habashi / Al-Ahbash (a stray sect among Muslims), was a retired Pakistani-American Pilot.