The North American Qiblah Controversy

←Back to Fatwa Section and Contents

Relevant Material

The Ghareeb (Lone, Forlorn, Strange) Rulings of the Ulama-e-Haqq

FATWAS

Q. I would like to mention a couple of absurdities that lead from the view that the Qiblah is determined by the shortest distance between two points – a path that constantly changes its bearings and cannot be determined without reasonably complex geometrical methods that were unavailable to the Salaf. {Question continued below…}

The most serious absurdity that leads from this particular view is that the methods and asbaab (means) available to the Sahabah (radhiallahu anhum) and the Salafus Saliheen were inadequate and insufficient to determine the Qiblah to a reasonable degree of accuracy. In fact, in many cases such methods employed by the Salaf would have been inadequate in even determining the general ‘rough’ direction of the Qiblah as will be demonstrated in a scenario described below.

In fact, some of the early fuqaha seemed not only to consider the proposition of the incumbency of using calculations as an absurdity, but also considered it tantamount to slandering the first generation of Muslims. Hafiz Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (1336-1393 AD) states in his Fathul Bari, narrating from the likes of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (780-855 AD): “Likewise the Qiblah does not need calculation or writing” and, “This leads to (saying) that the worthy ancestors of the Ummah were misguided and their prayers were crooked.”

A good example to illustrate the fact that the methods available to the Salaf were inadequate (from the perspective of the shortest distance proponents) in determining even the general rough direction of the Qiblah from a great portion of the world, is to consider the scenario in which a group of Salaf undertake a journey heading directly Eastwards from the Kaabah. Such a group would have been able to determine this direction purely from natural phenomena such as the North Star and the rising and setting of the Sun.

According to the simple methods prescribed by the Shariah to determine the Qiblah, this group of Salaf would only need to turn back towards the direction from whence they came i.e. the West. This would have been completely in accordance to the statements of the Fuqaha such as Hadhrat Abu Hanifah:

“The east is the Qiblah for the people of the west. The west is the Qiblah for the people of the east. The south is the Qiblah for the people of the north and the north is the Qiblah for the people of the south.” (Fataawa Khairiyyah)

However, according to the muslim astronomers and modernists, the Qiblah direction determined by this very simple method would have been erroneous!

If we consider the ‘shortest distance’ method, as this group travels further and further to the East in a straight line, the Qiblah will veer more and more Northwards. Thus, the Qiblah will continuously alter as the group travels Eastwards. Initially the Qiblah will be West, then North West West, then North West, then North North West, and then eventually directly Northwards! When the group reaches the vicinity of the Hawaii islands, after travelling only Eastwards, the shortest path back to the Kaaba would be the path that goes directly Northwards through the North Pole.

Thus, according to the proponents of the “shortest distance” method, even determining the general direction of the Qiblah in many parts of the world, was beyond the capacity of the Salaf.

The inability and incapacity imputed upon the Salaf is compounded by the fact that the Fuqaha seemed to unanimously rule that wherever a mosque established by the Salaf is found, it is incumbent to submit to the direction already determined by them regardless of the primitive methods used by them. This particular ruling of the Fuqaha directly implies that such ‘primitive’ methods employed by the Salaf take precedence over new methods invented by later generations.

Even the modernists concede to the fact that such methods involving ‘shortest distance’ were completely unknown to the Salaf-us Saliheen.

David King, regarded as one of the leading experts in the world on the use of Muslim astronomy in determining Qiblah, is a huge admirer of the intricate scientific methods invented by Muslim astronomers in order to determine the Qiblah direction. However, even he admits numerous times in his publications that such methods invented by the Muslim astronomers only came into existence after the 3rd Century AH, and even then they were adopted by a select minority.

Most importantly, he states that the legal scholars, i.e. the Fuqaha, advocated simple observations of natural phenomena – methods termed by the author as “folk science/astronomy” or “Islamic sacred geography”, and ones which were “widely practiced over the centuries” as opposed to mathematical methods which were only “practiced by a select few.” Here are a few excerpts from his publications:

 “On the one hand there was “folk science,” ultimately derived from the astronomical knowledge of the Arabs before Islam, which was devoid of theory and innocent of any calculation. On the other hand there was “mathematical science,” derived mainly from Greek sources and involving both theory and computation. The former was advocated by legal scholars and widely practiced over the centuries. The latter was practiced by a select few.”

“… Unlike the ‘astronomy of the ancients’, the popular scientific tradition relied solely upon observation of natural phenomena such as the Sun, Moon, stars and winds. As the Qur’an states that these celestial bodies and natural phenomena were created by God, and specifically that men should be guided by the stars, folk astronomy, unlike mathematical astronomy and astrology, was not criticized by the legal scholars.

“…Some mosques, to be sure, are indeed oriented in the qiblas determined by the astronomers for the locality in question, but they constitute a minority.…By the eighteenth century, however, the notion of an Islamic sacred geography was seriously weakened by Ottoman scholars increasingly familiar with European geography…In most regions of the Islamic world traditional qibla directions, used over the centuries, were now being abandoned for a new direction computed for the locality in question from modern geographical coordinates….”

Do not such actions of the Ottoman scholars completely contravene the order of the Fuqaha to submit to the Qiblah established by the Salaf?

ANSWER

Whatever you have written has already been mentioned by us in several articles on the Qiblah. The calculations of astronomers do not play any role in any Shar’i issue. The principle for establishing the Qiblah is the Qadeem Musjid (an old existing Musjid) in the locality or nearby.

The method of the Sahaabah and of all the early authorities of the Shariah for determining the Qiblah and Salaat times was observation of the natural phenomena. They did not resort to instruments.

The action of the Ottomon rulers was in conflict with the Shariah. The Ottomons had increasingly become enamoured with westernism in many things. Thus they arranged their own demise by turning away from the Shariah and following the kuffaar.

About a century ago the ruler of Egypt wanted to build a Musjid. He wanted the Qiblah to be precise. His moron engineers with their instruments ‘discovered’ that the Qiblah of Musjidun Nabawi was not precise. Now just look at this rubbish. Jibraeel (alayhis salaam) had fixed the Qiblah of Musjidun Nabawi in Madina, yet the confounded instruments determined that the Qiblah in Madinah was ‘erroneous’.
Close Answer

 

Q. Could you confirm whether or not my understanding presented below is correct with regards to the numerous quotes of Fuqaha bandied about by the modernists today which assert the permissibility or even necessity of using astronomical calculations. {Query continued below…}

An example of a quote that is liable for misuse by the modernists is the following statement found in Mufti Shafi’s Jawahirul Fiqh, checked and approved by Hazrat Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi:

“Allamah Shami (RA) states, “Where there are no old (existing) Masajid then it is permissable (by consensus) to use (Mathematical) calculations and equipment. In fact it is essential for a person (who has knowledge and skills) in this matter to use these (Mathematical) calculations and equipment instead of relying of (other) signs because surety is better than estimation (by looking at the signs). Where old Masajid exist then Ulamah differ as to whether (Mathematical) calculations and equipment should be used or not, some consider it permissible and some don’t.” [From the summarisation on pg474]

Astronomical calculations, technology and new means are permissible only if they augment, support and facilitate the implementation of the Shariah as defined by the Way of the Salaf. If such means conflict in any way with the Shariah as defined by the Way of the Salaf, then they are prohibited absolutely.

For example, it is permissible to use astronomical calculations in order to determine a time during which, and a place from which the moon may be visible to the human eye so that Ru’ya (physical sighting) can be enacted by actual real persons in order to begin the new Lunar Month.

If however, astronomical calculations are employed in the manner the modernists are doing today, in order to negate a valid Ru’ya fulfilling all the Shari’ conditions, or to even dispense altogether with the Shariah requirement of Ru’ya, then such means are absolutely impermissible.

Similarly, it is permissible to use astronomical calculations or compasses or any other means that were unavailable to the Salaf in order to determine the direction of the Qiblah,only if they are used as reliable substitutes for the methods used by the Salaf (i.e. natural phenomena).

If however a certain astronomical method, or the end result of such a method, conflicts with the Qiblah direction the Salaf were able to determine, then it would not only be completely impermissible, but it would also imply that the means granted to the Salaf for determining such a vital requisite of Salaat, were completely inadequate.

For example the use of astronomical calculations to determine the “shortest distance” between two points using the trajectory of the arc of a Great Circle, in order to determine the Qiblah, is in complete conflict with what the direction the Salaf would determine to be the Qiblah. Adjudging such a method to be correct automatically implies inadequacy in the means granted to the Salaf by the Shariah in order to determine even the general rough direction of the Qiblah.

Heading on a path directly Eastwards from the Kaabah is sufficient to illustrate the glaring conflict between this method and the Way of the Salaf. According to the unanimous ruling of the Salaf, and the natural means available to them, the Qiblah would be directly West from this path. On the other hand, the “shortest distance” method produces results that differ increasingly as one moves further Eastwards, eventually demanding that the Qiblah be directly Northwards.

Even worse, such methods of the astronomers directly imply that Hadhrat Jibreel (alayhis salaam) erred by a number of degrees when he (alayis salaam) fixed the Qiblah in Masjid an-Nabawi.

Traversing the path of the Great Circle involves calculations of a degree of complexity, and a need to constantly alter one’s bearings, that sailors to this day still use the traditional method of travelling on a fixed bearing that can be easily maintained through the use of a compass or natural phenomena.

It is even unfeasible for many airplanes with all their technology to continuously adjust their bearings in order to adhere accurately to the trajectory of the Great Circle. Such airplanes travel on a fixed direction bearing for a good distance before changing the direction to a new fixed bearing, then travel in this new direction for another good distance before altering the bearings to another fixed direction, and so on for a number of times, in order to achieve at least an approximate adherence to the trajectory defined by the Great Circle.

ANSWER

The view you have stated is correct. In determining the Qiblah there is no need for instruments.  Astronomical calculations have no  scope in the Shariah. The principle for determining the Qiblah is the Qadeem Musjid in the same town or if there is no such Musjid, then the Musjid in a nearby town.

In the absence of any Musjid, instruments may be utilized. But instruments may not be used where there is an existing Musjid.  In Jawaahirul Fiqh it is clearly mentioned:

“The Ulama  and Fuqaha of the Ummah have unanimpously without any difference clarified that the basis of the Qiblah direction is not astronomical calculations and  such instruments. On the contrary, conforming and following the Qadeem Musjid are adequate.”

The ibaarat from Shaami cited in Jawahirul Fiqh applies to a place where there is no Musjid. The aforementioned statement in Jawahirul Fiqh is in conflict with the ‘essentiality’ stated in Shaami. Where a Qadeem Musjid exists, there is no difference of the Fuqaha on the issue. The Qiblah of the new Musjid must necessarily conform to the Qiblah of the Qadeem Musjid.

In our book on Rooyat-e-Hilaal and Astronomical calculations, we have explained the views of the Fuqaha in greater detail.

ADDENDUM

The confusion which reigns in North America regarding the Qiblah is the result of side-stepping the Shariah. Modernists unschooled in the Shariah and ignorant of the Sunnah and the methods of (fie Salf-e-Saaliheen are the root cause of the prevalent confusion. Some claim that the Qiblah in North America is north-east while others say it is southeast.

Those who believe the Qiblah is north-east present secular arguments. The shape of the earth, the shortest distance, mathematical formulae and the views of non-Muslim geographers and astronomers are their proofs. This group has entirely ignored the Islamic method of determining the Qiblah. Almost 100% of the world’s Musaajid have had their Qiblah direction determined by the Shar’i principle of Taharri (reflection and estimation). Never were instruments used in this determination despite their availability.

The teachings of Islam are for all and sundry – for the educated and the illiterate; for city dwellers and villagers; for those living in jungles, farms and on islands. Islam has not imposed the burden of astronomical calculations and the utilization of instruments on the masses of the Ummah. Simplicity is the theme in all the Ahkaam of Islam. The closest town to Baitullah is Mina. Even there the Qiblah of the Musjid was fixed by the principle of Taharri (reflection and estimation). The only Qiblah in which there is not the slightest element of doubt is the Qiblah of Musjid-e-Nabawi which was determined by Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) by the medium of Wahi (Revelation).

Numerous Musaajid all over the world were established by the Sahaabah. Wherever there was a need for a Musjid, the Sahaabah would employ Taharri to plot the Qiblah, never instruments. Degrees and seconds of latitude and longitude, the shape of the earth, etc., had absolutely no relevance in this issue. In a place where there is an existing Musjid the principle for the determination of the Qiblah is the Qiblah of the Qadeem (the old existing Musjid). It is not permissible to utilize instruments or adopt any other method for determining the Qiblah in a place where there is an existing Musjid. The mihraab of tire existing Musjid is the correct Qiblah and has to be compulsorily adopted for all new Musjids being erected in that place.

This has been the practice of the Salf-e-Saaliheen (the illustrious Ulama of the early epochs of Islam).The entire Ummah from the earliest days always followed the Qiblah of the Musjid established by the Sahaabah. Even if a compass or the most modern instrument conflicts with the direction of Qadeern Musjid, it will not be accepted in preference over the Qiblah indicated by the mihraab of the old existing Musjid. When there is no Musjid in a place, then other methods may be used to determine tile Qiblah.

However, even if there is no existing Musjid, it is not incumbent to use compasses or any other instruments or any scientific method. It suffices to determine the direction from the sun, moon and stars. Utilizing these natural markers of direction, the Qiblah is to be fixed. Determining the Qiblah and building Musaajid are not new to the Umrnah. Salaat is the first practical requirement of Islam. The Ummah has been performing Salaat since the very inception of Islam fourteen hundred years ago. The Muslimeen were never in need of Instruments, compasses, the views of astronomers, geographers and universities for ascertaining the Qiblah.

The corruption in North America has been caused by the modernists trying to assert their methods over the methods of the Shariah. They come up with a variety of confusing and burdensome arguments making use of formulae, the shape of the earth and what not. But, Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) declaring the simplicity of the Ummah said: ‘We are an illiterate Ummah. We neither write nor calculate. The month is so much and so much and so much (while saying so, he indicated with the fingers of his hands three times to convey thirty days).’ (Bukhari, Muslim and Abu Dawood)

Although the above saying applies to the determination of the Islamic months, it conveys the simplicity of method. There is no need to become entangled in confusing calculation and methods which are confusing to the masses and which impose on them an unnecessary burden. Similarly, regarding the Qiblah for the people of Madinah, Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) said: ‘Between east and west is the Qiblah.’ (Tirmizi) This statement of Nabi-e-Kareem (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) affords wide latitude in the determination of the Qiblah. It refutes the constrictive method of employing degrees and seconds.

On the basis of this principle enunciated by Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), Imaam Abu Hanifah (rahmatullah alayh) ruled:

‘The east is the Qiblah for the people of the west. The west is the Qiblah for the people of the east. The south is the Qiblah for the people of the north and the north is the Qiblah for the people of the south.’ (Fataawa Khairiyyah)

In Jawaahirul Figh of Hadhrat Muhammad Shafi (rahmatullah alayh) appears the following:

“It was not the way of tile Salf (Sahaabah, Taabieen and Tab-e-Taabieen) to use mathematical and geographical instruments to determine the Qibla direction nor has the Shariah commanded this, neither is it necessary to use such instruments in any circumstances. On the contrary the well known practice of the SaIf was to follow the existing Musaajid in cities which had old Musjids. Where there were no Musaajid, the method was to employ well-known stars and other conspicuous signs. In this way the Qiblah would be fixed by estimation.”

THE QIBLAH IN NORTH AMERICA

The simple fact is that North America is north of Makkah Muazzamah. When Makkah is south of North America, common sense as well as the principles explained by Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and the Sahaabah demand that the Qiblah be south, not north. The question of the earth being round and a sphere does not alter this reality. If a thread is held from any point in North America on the globe to, Makkah, it will be seen that while the line initially goes towards the north, it turns to the south just above latitude 50°. There is no straight line as claimed by those who say that the Qiblah is north-cast. A straight line can be imagined from North America to Makkah if a high tower is imagined in North America. From the top of the tower a straight line to Makkah runs south-east, not northeast. The arc on the globe stretching from North America to Makkah is not a straight line.

Furthermore, this straight-line theory or any other theory has no relevance in the determination of the Qiblah. The simple and straight forward methods of life Sahaabah are mandatory and devoid of confusion. The ways of the Shariah as expounded by the Sahaabah and the Ulama of the Salf are:

• Where there exists a Masjid, it is incumbent to go by the mihraab of that Musjid. The new Masjid being built should follow the Qadeem (old) Masjid. When performing Salaat in such a place all people should follow mihraab of the Qadeem Musjid

• Where there are no Musaajid and natural instruments (sun, moon and stars) created by Allah Ta’ala suffice for the determination of the Qiblah. Even in such places there is no need to resort to instruments.

• Where a person in unable to fix the Qiblah from even natural objects and phenomena, his Taharri (reflection mid estimation) is adequate. Direction is plotted from the sun. Everyone knows that the sun rises in the east. The Qur’aan is explicit in mentioning this fact. Once east has been located, all other directions stem there from. When even universities and observatories, astronomers and geographers are confused about the direction of Makkah from North America-some say north-east and some say south-east-then it is only intelligent to dismiss their claims and adhere to the simple methods of the Shariah.

In relation to North America, this simple method is that since Makkah is south-east of North America, its Qiblah is south-east. And, Allah knows best. Makkah Muazzamah is approximately 28° north of the equator. Consider a place on the opposite side of the globe 28° south of the equator. From this point Makkah will be equidistant whichever direction one takes. According to the logic of those who go by the shorter distance and by the fact of the earth being a globe, one will be facing Makkah no matter which way one faces. But this is IslamicalIy absurd in relation to the Qiblah because there can be only one Qiblah direction from any given location in the world. The only exception to this rule is when performing Salaat right inside the Ka’bah Shareef. Inside the Ka’bah, one may face any direction. This exception cannot be extended to any other place on account of its distance being equal whether looking south, north, east or west as is the case with a place assumed in the Pacific Ocean at 28° south of the equator.

In such a place from which all distances are equal to Makkah, the only determinant for the Qiblah is the Shar’i principle of Taharri which has played a vital role in the determination of the Qiblah of innumerable Musaajid throughout the world, erected by the Sahaabah and the Salf-e-Saaliheen. It is not valid and not permissible to overlook the Shar’i principle, to adopt any theory advanced by geographers, astronomers and modernists.

It is indeed surprising that even Ularna who, are schooled in the Shariah are nowadays inclining towards the methods of fussaaq and fujjaar. It is indeed lamentable that Muslims, including Ulama have to resort to kuffaar universities and geographers for determining a Shart (imperative condition) of Salaat. In their arguments to prove their point of view regarding the Qiblah in North America some Ulama rely in entirety one the calculations and opinions of non-Muslim sources. The Shar’i principles, teachings and Islamic spirit, underlying the determination of the Qiblah are completely overlooked. The simple and glittering tareeqah (method) of tile Sahaahah and life many categoric rulings of the illustrious Fuqaha on this question are ignored. It will assist the Ulama to study Hadhrat Muhammad Mufti Shafi’s article on the Qiblah. See Jawaahirul Fiq.

By resorting to the methods of modernists and non-Muslims, some Ulama, even the author of Ahsanul Fatawa, has only succeeded in confusing and clouding the issue. A simple question has been rendered intricate and problematic. But in reality there is no problem. The problem is only the confusion created by those who seek to go beyond the confines of the Shariah.

The Ahadith of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), the Qur’aanic aayaat on the Qiblah and directions and the basic Shar’i principle of Taharri have bestowed wide latitude to the Ummah in the determination of the Qiblah. When a Muslim happens to visit a new town/city/region and there are existing Musaajid, he should simply perform his Salaat in the direction of the Musjid ‘s Mihraab. It is satanic and mischievous to take out a compass or to make enquiries to establish whether the Musjid’s Mihraab is facing the correct direction. When the Shabah has ruled that the validity of the Qiblah is based on the Mihrab of the (Qadeem Masjid), everyone should accept this and not embark on a procedure which creates unnecessary controversy and disruption in the community.
Close Answer

 

Q. There is considerable confusion in North America on the direction of the Qiblah. According to some the direction is south-east while the majority faces north-east. Most Musjids in North America face north-east. What are we, who follow the Mujlisul Ulama’s directive of south-east to do in such a situation of conflict?

A. We believe that the Qiblah in North America is south-east. However, even some of the senior Ulama of the Hanafi Math-hab claim that the Qiblah over there is north-east. This difference of opinion has not been resolved. Those who follow the south-east direction should study the arguments and proofs of both views. Carefully study our arguments and consult with experienced persons of the other view. Then if you incline to the other view, follow it and face north-east.

On the other hand, even after having studied the opposite view, if you feel that the south-east view is correct, then you have no option but to face south-east. This is not an issue on which any side could be dogmatic. However, the one who is convinced that his view is correct, may not face the opposite direction for the sake of convenience or to keep the ‘peace’ with the others or to project a false image of ‘unity’.

ADDENDUM

We wish to clarify the following issues:

(1) Our South-East view is not based on the view of the Ahbash. In fact, we are not even aware of this group.

(2) We are not bigoted in our view which is the product of our opinion. Our south-east view is not the final word on this issue. Our view is not the effect of absolute certitude.

(3) Senior Muftis in Pakistan agree with the North-East view.

(4) No one is under Shar’i obligation to accept our south-east view. We advise even those who follow us, to independently study the arguments of both sides, and act in accordance with their understanding. After studying the arguments of the two views, if they believe that our view is incorrect, they should set it aside and accept the other view.

(5) Those who are unable to determine independently the direction, should make Taqleed of the Ulama-e-Haqq at their end. There is no need for developing this issue into an acrimonious dispute.
Close Answer

 

Q. What should I do if I come to a Musjid in America knowing about the Qiblah controversy?

A. Whenever and wherever you find a Musjid, perform your Salaat there facing the direction which the Mihraab indicates. Don’t probe the direction. Don’t ask if it is north-east or south-east. Simply follow the direction which the Musjid’s Mihraab indicates. That is the Sunnah way. Don’t create a problem by prying into something unnecessarily.

 

Q. I am encountering problems regarding the Qiblah direction in the U.S.A. I go out with the Tabligh Jamaat. Most of the brothers follow the north-east Qiblah. What should I do when I am out with the Jamaat and all of them face north-east? The Musjids where we stay over also face north-east. Presently, I face north-east with the group, and later I repeat my Salaat. Please advise.

A. As far as the Qiblah is concerned at your end, we advise that you study all the arguments of those who say that the Qiblah is north-east. Then study our arguments. If you find that the arguments of the north-east group are more convincing than ours, then follow the north-east direction. We are not dogmatic regarding our view. However, if after studying the different viewpoints with their arguments, if you are convinced that south-east is the correct direction, then it will not be permissible to attend Jamaat Salaat in the north-east Musjid even if you will be repeating it afterwards.

The Qiblah issue is of fundamental importance. Therefore study the two viewpoints carefully and adopt the viewpoint which appears to you to be the most convincing. If after being convinced that the Qiblah is south-east, it will be sinful to face north-east for Salaat.Whether out with Tabligh Jamaat or any other Jamaat, the Shariah is very clear and emphatic that each one should face the direction which he believes is the correct direction even if it means that he has to perform alone.
Close Answer

←Back to Fatwa Section and Contents

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *