For millions of Muslims around the world, traveling is part of their routine. Whether for studies, business or pleasure, the need to embark on long-distance journeys arises continuously and with this comes the challenge of determining the correct direction of the Qiblah while on such trips.
The importance of identifying the Qiblah (direction towards the Kaabah in Makkah) lies in the obligation of performing the five daily Prayers in the life of a Muslim.
Making a sincere attempt to face the Qiblah is one of the conditions for the validity of Prayer.
When a mosque is accessible in their respective home countries many Muslims hardly bother about this since the Qiblah is already identified inside their mosques.
However, when one is travelling and cannot find a mosque (or is unfortunate enough to land in a mosque where the Qiblah is not correctly positioned,) knowing how to find the Qiblah becomes a handy skill.
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An Age Old Problem
Precise observation, as well as an uncanny ability to derive new solutions to ancient problems, was perhaps what made Muslim scientists outstanding in the Middle Ages. It therefore did not come as a surprise when they embarked on the arduous journey of mathematically determining the Qiblah.
The puzzle was to devise a means of finding the direction of the Kaabah in Makkah at all times. By employing advanced trigonometry, they eventually came up with medieval Qiblah tables, which had a high degree of accuracy.
However, the sophistication of these tables, which even European geographers at that time couldn’t fully comprehend, limited their use (Lunde).
Another popular instrument that was used for determining the Qiblah then became the Astrolabe.
Initially designed mainly for astrology, navigation, and surveying, astronomers from the Islamic world soon found another use for it.
By adding special tables to the existing ones at the back of the conventional astrolabe, it had the added functionality of finding the direction to Makkah, and consequently the Qiblah. (Winterburn)
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