The Qibla holds deep and everlasting importance in the lives of Muslims everywhere. From any point on the globe, the Qibla is the direction which faces the Ka’bah in Makkah, Saudi Arabia and it is in this direction towards which Muslims offer their obligatory prayers , five times a day, every day. The Qibla serves as our identity and as a symbol of unity among Muslims. In the Quran, Allah (SWT) says:

For every nation there is a direction to which they face (in their prayers). So hasten towards all that is good. Wheresoever you may be, God will bring you together (on the Day of Resurrection). Truly, God is Able to do all things. And from wheresoever you start forth (for prayers), turn your face in the direction of Al-Masjid-al-Haram (at Mecca), that is indeed the truth from your Lord. And God is not unaware of what you do. (Quran 2:148-149)

We are required to pray while facing the Qibla in Islam, for it is deemed as an act that perfects our worship. The Ka'bah, in essence, is the House of Allah and it is the oldest center of monotheism. It was built by Hazrat Ibrahim (A.S.) and became the prime focus of all our Prophets and the guides of monotheism that followed. So if you turn towards the Qibla, you are turning towards Allah and testifying to his Greatness, Magnificence and Oneness.

Allah is everywhere. He is not confined by time or space but by choosing to stand in front of Him five times a day, facing His holy House, a certain level of proximity and nearness to Allah takes over. It inspires solidarity, unity, and oneness and showcases the magnanimity of all that Islam and our faith stands for.

Magnet and iron filings. Artwork by: Ahmed Mater

In this day and age, locating the Qibla is not a tedious job. Various ways can be used in order to locate it, irrespective of your location.

Step 1: The Basic Concept

The first step is to know where you are in the world, in relation to Makkah. It’s commonly believed that Muslims are to pray facing east; this is wrong. This is only possible if your location is somewhere west of Makkah at that point in time.

Let’s take an example: Even though Makkah appears to be southwest of USA on a map, many American Muslims pray in the northeast direction! Why? Because the earth is a sphere and the distance to Makkah measured from northeast is actually lesser than the distance calculated from southeast. Hence, for those Muslims, praying in the northeast direction is correct.

Step 2: Locate the Qibla using any of the following methods

The Sun

The sun is a good indicator of cardinal directions; it rises from the East and sets in the West. If you have an idea about where your current location is in relation to Makkah, you can decipher the directions by noting where the sun rises from and where it sets in that locality.

Let’s take an example: If Makkah is north of your city or country and you notice that the sun is setting to your left, then you are facing the Qibla. However, if the sun is setting to the right, then you should be facing the opposite way.

The sun’s positioning can also be used to determine the precise location of the Qibla on two occasions during the year. The sun ascends to a position directly above the Ka’bah twice a year:

• May 28 at 9:18 UT
• July 16 at 9:27 UT

If you face the sun on these exact days and exact times (converted to your local time), you will essentially be facing the Ka’bah itself. The downside is that this particular method can only be used twice a year.

A sundial

Find a piece of flat or level ground and position a vertical object on the ground, approximately 3 ft. long, just a little before noon. Then:

• Make a mark where the tip of the object’s shadow falls on the ground
• Draw a circle around the object, using its length as the radius
• As time passes, the shadow will get smaller and move away from the circle. It will then get longer in another direction and touch the circle again
• Mark the point where the circle and shadow intersect
• Join both marks using a straight line
• This direction is west to east; the first mark being west and the second being east
• Draw another perpendicular line to this line. The second line will be a north-south line
• After you have located the cardinal directions, it will be easier to get a rough idea of the Qibla direction as well.

A watch

You can also find directions using an analog watch with hour and minute hands.

For Northern hemisphere:

• Hold the watch horizontally so the hour hand points towards the sun.
• The direction in the middle between the hour hand and 12:00 o’clock on your watch is south. If you’ve located south, you can now determine the other directions as well.

For Southern hemisphere:

• Hold the watch horizontally so the 12:00 o’clock mark points to the sun. • The direction between the 12:00 o’clock mark and the hour hand will be north. If you know where north is, you can now figure out the other directions as well.
And so, through figuring out the cardinal directions, you can easily locate the Qibla as well.

A compass

The simplest and the easiest way to determine cardinal directions is a compass. If you are aware of your location in relation to the Ka’bah, a compass proves to be much more accurate and precise, compared to a mere stick in the ground.

Software Apps and technology

Due to the increasing advancement in technology, the task of determining the exact location of the Qibla has been made a mere piece of cake. This is possible through various apps and online platforms which pinpoint the precise direction of the Qibla within seconds. IslamicFinder's Athan app is a great way to get accurate qibla direction.

All these methods are valid direction indicators and can prove extremely helpful in the time of need. Nowadays, however, the easiest and least complicated method is also the fastest one; through smartphones and websites, which enable you to determine the direction of the Qibla within micro-seconds just by entering your location coordinates, and voila!