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We are used to seeing the map of the world on a flat projection. Look at the projection of the world map, centered on North Pole. This gives an idea of the continents of the world, as to how are they actually related to each other.
Looking at these projections, you will understand better, where Makkah is in relation to other locations of the world.
Qibla Direction from North America: Some people think that Qibla from North America is South-East, while others say it is generally North-East. Those who favor South-East are mislead by looking at the flat map with an argument that Makkah is south and East of North America. They are under a fallacy created by looking at a flat map of the world. We all konw that the earth is more like a sphere. North Pole is a point from where every direction is South; there is no East or West from there. If you take a globe and stretch a thread from Alaska to Makkah, you will see that the thread passes through or close by North Pole. So, the Qibla from Alaska will be towards North. On a flat map, it appears to be South-East from Alaska, which is not correct.
The map on the right is a true projection of the globe keeping Makkah at the center of projection. This projection allows us to draw a line from any place to Makkah and note the angle from the longitude lines. That gives the Qibla from North. For example, take Alaska, and draw a line from Alaska to Makkah (as shown by blue line). You will see that the line passes through North Pole, so the Qibla from Alaska is due North. Curved lines on this map are longitude lines and they all meet at South and North Poles. They are not like latitude lines that are parallel to each other and do not meet. Take another example, Miami. The green line from Miami to Makkah makes an angle of about 56° from the longitude line that goes to North Pole. So, the Qibla from Miami is 56° to East from North.
If that is confusing, then let us think that there is a very high minaret over Ka’bah, so high that it reaches the sky. Everyone would agree that if we can see that minaret, facing to that is the direction of Qibla. Now, Allah (SWT) has provided that imaginary minaret in the form of the sun being at the top of that minaret. It has been observed for centuries that there are two days in a year (May 28 and on July 15) when sun comes exactly overhead Ka’bah at the local noon time. Muslims in many distant countries for centuries used to wait for these dates, in the hope to see which direction is the sun and then set the orientation of the mosques.
It has been observed that around noon time of Makkah, it is about 6 am in Nova Scotia, Canada and Maine, USA. The sun rises in those locations as it comes overhead Makkah at local noon time. Facing the sun on those two dates around 6 am gives the correct direction of Qibla from North America. Those who had observed this confirmed that they saw the sun in North East direction at the specified time and date. Therefore, it is correct to say that Qibla from North America is generally North-East, except from Alaska and California where it is close to North direction.
The actual direction of the sun observed verifies with the angle calculated using Spherical Trigonometry for calculating the direction from one point to another. For the 48 contiguous states of USA, the Qibla is some angle between North and East; the angle varies from location to location. The precise value of what angle from North one should turn to face the Qibla can be calculated from Spherical Trigonometry, using Great Cirlce concept or shortest distance theory, assuming the earth is a sphere. The fact that the earth is a geoid (ellipsoid flattened at the poles) affects the results in negligible and practically immeasurable quantities.
Qibla from Sun
It is not advisable to determine Qibla using compass specially for Orienting Masajid. The following method which uses the sun is more reliable. It has been observed for centuries and reported in many books by Muslims around the world that two times a year the sun comes overhead above Ka'bah. This is observational fact for centuries, and is used to set the correct Qibla direction in places far from Makkah by Muslims for last so many centuries. Those two dates and times are:
May 28 at 9:18 UT
July 15 at 9:27 UT
When you observe the sun at these times
(after converting it to your local time), you will be
facing the Ka'bah giving you Qibla direction, because if there were a
very high minaret over Ka'bah reaching up to the sky, then you will see it just like you are seeing the sun. Now, let us take a few examples. If you are in Islamabad, Pakistan (+5 hours time difference from Greenwich), the local time to observe the sun would be 2:18 pm on May 28, and 2:27 pm on July 15.
Similarly, if you are in Nova Scotia, Canada (-3 hours time difference from Greenwich), the local time to observe the sun would be 6:18 am on May 28, and 6:27 am on July 15.
If you are at a location that you cannot see the sun on the above mentioned two dates, then you can locate Qibla from the sun when it comes overhead at a point diametrically opposite of Makkah on the globe and look for the following two dates and times:November 28 at 21:09 UT
January 13 at 21:29 UT
Face toward 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.
People tend to use compass for determining Qibla, but they do not realize the errors involved in compass. Firstly, the compass is affected by metallic objects in the vicinity, in furniture, in building materials, or even buried in the ground, so the compass placed at different locations in the same room gives different directions.
Secondly, the angle of Qibla can only be calculated from True North, and True North cannot be determined by compass. Compass points to magnetic North, (based on earths magnetic field, which is changing continuously, and sometimes has erratic behavior) that may be many degrees away from True North.
To download a research paper by Dr. Kamal Abdali
If you have Acrobat Reader, you will view this paper in your browser and can print it from there, or send e-mail to Dr. Kamal Abdali.
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Updated December 6, 2015