Google Earth causes qibla quibble

Italy’s Il Corriere della Sera has an article sourcing Saudi Arabia’s al-Watan about how Google Earth has been used by researchers to check up on the orientation of Saudi’s main mosques, only to find that some are not facing in the direction of the qibla, i.e. Mecca.

There is no compulsion for mosques to face qibla, but many newly-built ones do so anyway in order to serve as an aide in prayer. (You need to face Mecca when praying.) My Arabic is not nearly good enough to find the original article, let alone translate it, so here’s the gist from the Italian version:

The culprits are the architects, apparently, who were too lax in their calculations. Saudi researcher Abelaziz al-Ghamidi tells al-Watan that in al-Bahah province alone, 15 mosques were constructed in the wrong direction, among them the central mosque of al-Bahah City. Al-Ghamidi has been using Google Earth for two years now, checking on each and every mosque in Saudi Arabia.

Upon al-Ghamidi’s discovery, the Saudi ministry of Islamic affairs got involved, and it determined that the errors were limited in scope, and thus would not have impacted the validity of the prayers.

I went looking for some mosques in al-Bahah City, and checked up on the two largest I could find:



My conclusion? I think al-Ghamidi has far to much time on his hands.

(Want to find out what direction qibla is where you live? Google Maps-based Qibla Locator to the rescue! Now if only somebody would make me a map that shows the direction of Darwin’s grave.)

6 thoughts on “Google Earth causes qibla quibble”

  1. I assume the methods being used follow the Great Circle route to Mecca, whereas the prayer direction would be the direct path. I don’t know the math involved, but I imagine that it would affect it by at least a few degrees if you were far enough away, wouldn’t it?

  2. Mickey, isn’t the great circle distance always the shortest path, and as it is a straight line (on a sphere) doesn’t it always point in the exact direction?

  3. Yes, it is. However, I’m still not sure if that’s the direction you’d pray or not. If the site was due east of you, wouldn’t you pray facing due east, rather than ENE (roughly where the GS would take you)? I have no idea — I just tossed that out there.

  4. Assalamu Alaekum

    I have developed a website which can be used to find the Qibla Direction at any point on Earth accurately using the Shortest Distance method based on spherical trigonometry.

    You are kindly requested to visit the website and place a link to it in an appropriate section on your website for the convenience of the Muslim Ummah. Jazak Allah Khair.

    Wassalamu Alaekum,

    Salman Sami

    Nova Softek

    Web Services Architect

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