Wednesday 15 July 2020


Qibla قِبْلَة‎‎ "direction" is where to face when, as a good muslim, you perform your 5x daily prayers.  Islam is quite forgiving about these matters but all religions have sticklers for precision, believing that if you're off-the-angle for prayer you won't encounter angels when you die. That's okay, religion is not really evidence-based but requires a certain amount of faith. Christians are also traditionally directional. Churches are built facing East (Jerusalem where the Saviour met his untimely end rather than Mecca) and believers are buried feet in the same direction; so that they can sit up when they hear the Last Trump and get the best view of whatever happens at that time.

Today, the sticklers can get all sticky and use a really simple appropriate technology to determine the direction of the Qa'aba [R] in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca. Because Mecca is North of the equator but South of the Tropic of Cancer 23.44°N, there are two times each year when the Sun "culminates" above the Ka'aba 21.42°N just after noon local time and starts to head back towards the horizon. Those days are 27th May and 09:27 UTC 15th July this year. Saudi Arabia Time is 3 hours before Greenwich or UTC (Universal Coordinated Time) as we try to call it now. The Tropics are geographically interesting because at that latitude, the Sun just kisses the line and there is a single moment in the year when the Sun is directly above your head.  If you're North of 23.44°N then this never happens.
IF you plant a vertical stick in a convenient patch of ground where the Sun can be seen ANDIF it's not a miserable drizzly morning like today in Ireland ANDIF the Sun is above the horizon where you live (shucks, sorry all you sleeping North American Muslims) THEN then the shadow of that stick points directly away from the Qa'aba and you've got your fix. This works fine if you are in the same place every day, you just need one good sunny day and you can then use local building corners to orientate your prayer-mat until you have no further use for prayer mats because you've gone to join  the Prophet. Again for Irish people you have to remember that the Government floosters about with the time and we are currently an hour ahead of UTC.  So get your sticks out at 10:27 local clock-time.
If you're a travelling salesperson, or in the merchant marine, the stick solution is not really useful.  But fear not! There's an App for everything. Google's QiblaFinder will sort you out wherever whenever you are. From us the Qibla touches the S corner of my neighbour's barn and passes more-or-less over the [now defunct] Post Office in Kiltealy.

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