How can we locate the Qibla direction in any place of the world? This question raised strong furor among Muslims worldwide, especially in the American City of Seattle where Muslims differed over the Qibla location.
This issue was of concern in 2000 to the Muslim Society for Survey that organized a symposium on this topic and invited Brigadier Abdel-Aziz Sallam, who conducted detailed research on this subject. He managed to reach nine scientific methods to locate the Qibla direction by using trigonometry and trigonometric tables.
The General Egyptian Authority for Survey officially authenticated his methods.
We all know that Qibla is to direct oneself to the Kaaba in Mecca. Muslims need to know the Qibla direction wherever they are in order to direct themselves towards it at the time of prayers. This step comes in obedience of God’s saying:
“We see the turning of your face (for guidance) to the heavens: now shall We turn you to a Qibla that shall please you. Turn, then your face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque: wherever you are, turn your faces in that direction. The people of the Book know well that that is the truth from their Lord. Nor is God unmindful of what they do.”
The book of “Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) According to the Four Schools,” issued by the Mosque Department at the Egyptian Ministry of Wakfs (religious endowments), identified the Qibla. According to this book, the Qibla for those who are in Mecca or near it lies in the middle of the Kaba, or its parallel sphere from above or below.
So, a Muslim living in this area should direct himself to the middle of the Kaaba or at least try hard to do so. Regarding those who are away from Mecca, the Qibla for them lies in the direction of the Kaaba. They may move a little to the right or left of the Kaaba. If they are slightly deviant from this direction, they are not to blame as they are still directed to the Kaaba.
As regards the nine methods of locating the Qibla direction, the first is arithmetic. It applies the laws of spherical triangle solution and “half sinus.” It proves, for instance, that the Qibla direction for an observer in Alexandria, Egypt is 135.5 degrees to the direction of true north clockwise, in Seattle, Washington 17.5 degrees to the direction of true north clockwise, and in Hong Kong 285.1 degrees to the direction of true north clockwise.
The scientific field of Trigonometry which was first invented by the ancient Egyptians and its tables are applied under the second and third methods. These two methods proved the above-mentioned degrees of Qibla direction in Alexandria, Seattle and Hong Kong.
As for the fourth method, the star sphere is used. During sailing, a navigator needs a quick method to locate the Qibla accurately. This method locates the Kaaba by adjusting its latitude to the inclination parallels on the star sphere and the Kaaba longitude.
The fifth method uses the star disc. The direction of Kaaba is located on the star disc with the same method used on the star sphere.
The latitude of the Kaaba is matched with the inclination parallels of the celestial body and longitude of the Kaaba from the observer’s site.
The sixth method uses Weris’ cone. The longitude of the Kaaba is matched with the base line of gradation on the celestial body inclination.
The seventh method considers the site of the Kaaba a point of reference on some navigational devices.
Some of these devices, like the one that locates sites via satellites, can store points of reference and indicate the direction and distance of these points at any moment.
Thus, the site of Kaaba is stored in the device memory as a point of reference. If the direction of the Kaaba is needed at any time, the point of reference can be recalled.
Regarding the eighth method, it benefits from the perpendicularity of the sun on the Kaba. When the sun is perpendicular to Mecca, its direction at this very moment is the direction of the Qibla.
The sun is perpendicular to the Kaaba twice a year when the sun inclination equals the Kaaba latitude and during the sun time. The sun height will be 90 degrees at this very moment for observers in Mecca.
This phenomenon happens on May 28 at seventeen minutes and 52.8 seconds past 12 p.m. local time of Saudi Arabia and Egypt (summer time) and on July 16 at twenty-six minutes and 40.8 seconds past 12 p.m. local time of Saudi Arabia and Egypt (summer time).
On these two days, the sun can be watched by all inhabitants of Africa, Europe, East Asia up to the Philippines and the northwest part of Australia.
Those who see the sun at the above-mentioned moment will be facing the Qibla, God willing. A streetlight, for instance, can be observed at this very moment to locate the direction of Qibla. Thus, each Muslim can be assured of his direction and stick to it the whole year round.
The ninth method is the prayer map drawn by the Islamic Center in the United States of America. It locates the Qibla direction by angles worldwide.
In 2000, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar has formed a committee to give a final fatwa (religious opinion) on the correctness of these nine methods that locate the Qibla direction.
This article was first published in 2005 and is currently republished for its importance.