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Solving the Compass Problem for Muslims

Omar Usman

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You are at a gathering in an unfamiliar area when suddenly, out of all the people assembled, you get the burden of determining the direction of the Qiblah for salah. That’s right. The burden of making sure everyone’s salah is offered in the proper direction is in your hands. Should it be incorrect, wrong corner, opposite way – then you get the wrath and blame of everyone else.

Most of us though, are prepared for such an occurrence, keeping a compass with us at all times. This should, theoretically, quell any and all disputes about qiblah direction. Simply put it down, let the compass do its thing, find North, and then face NorthEast (assuming you are in North America).

Unfortunately, not all compasses are built the same – and not all compasses carry the same level of mobility and versatility. Only certain types are viable for keychain/pocket use, while a whole different genre of compasses can be used for carrying in a backpack or purse. My personal preference has always been to keep a compass on my keychain, so that I am always prepared.

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Over the past few months though, I found myself flying through a number of different compasses trying to find the right one. So I’ll share here some short reviews of different ones I have used and their varying results.

eddiebauerzippull

Eddie Bauer Zip Pull compass – about $10 at Target. The Prophet (sal-Allahu ‘alayhi was-Sallam) said that the believer does not get bitten from the same hole twice. In other words, don’t make the same mistake twice. Well, I made the same mistake 3 times with this compass, because it was the most convenient one I could find. It has a flashlight, thermometer, and compass all built into one. This reduced the bulk on my keychain by combining two gadgets into one (compass+flashlight). The problem with this is that it is not really suited to sustain the rigors of a keychain attachment. After a few weeks or a couple of months, the compass or thermometer piece would simply fall out. It took me til the 3rd time to realize that I didn’t just get a defective one, it just can’t sustain. Eddie Bauer also makes another keychain compass that has a whistle, but I found this to be too bulky for pocket use.

carabinercompass_

Carabiner Compass – about $5 bucks at most retail stores. I tried a couple of different types these and stopped quickly. On one of them, the compass piece broke, and on the other – i just got tired of using the carabiner. I just find them to be too big and useless. If you’re in the habit of using one of these anyway, this might be a good and cheap solution.

ux_a07062300ux0032_ux_n

Metallic/Nautical Compass – about $5-10 online.

I bought one of these on eBay, thinking it was about the size of a quarter. Whoever gave that measurement must have had some GIGANTIC quarters. This thing looks small, but when I got it, it was HUGE. Even if the diameter is workable, the thickness of the compass is not something you can readily see online, nor its weight (it is really heavy). I didn’t even bother trying to use this one.

1240244P

Keychain Compass Ball – about $2.

I thought I finally found the solution to the bulk/size issues I had been having with the other compasses. It also wasn’t a combo tool, so there was less chance of it breaking off. Or so I thought – until I decided to toss my keys to someone from upstairs, and they dropped them. The keys hit the floor and the compass went flying, the plastic part holding the metal ring breaking off. It was not much of a loss though, as this compass was extremely unreliable anyway, picking up very heavy magnetism from my keys. In fact, I remember a few times holding it in my hand and walking in a circle while the compass remained stationary.

After much anguish and experimentation, I finally found the solution. Actually, I found two solutions.  I got tipped off to this nifty new gadget. A GPS powered precision laser compass. WOW. You just put this down, it works its magic, and shoots out a laser light pointing towards the direction of the Qiblah.

qibsat

This compass has only two shortcomings:

1) It costs 99 pounds ($163 in American)

2) Despite the hefty price tag, it is currently out of stock.

My frustration level with compasses had reached such a level, that I was ready to plop down the money for this compass. Well that, and it is just seriously one suave device. The coolness factor of having this is definitely off the charts.

As this did not work out, I did find a better solution – though admittedly it is not a viable option for everyone. Watch this video, and then I’ll add some details:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlKvW89Q7Z8[/youtube]

Really, there isn’t much else left to be said. If you can get this solution, it’s really the best (and most accurate). The best part about this is that you can actually see very easily how many degrees off you are from North. So if your city’s Qiblah direction is 46 degrees NorthEast, then this compass makes it a breeze to find it.

How do you find out how many degrees you need to be set at? Well, there’s an app for that. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).

ipray11

The iPray app (free) lets you input your location, and it will actually tell you the exact degree setting for the Qiblah from your locality.

This is by far my favorite solution, but there is a much more economical one as well. That is the good old qiblah compass most of us have been seeing since we were little:

islamicbookstore-com_2058_29994699745f1fac9de4c4_19902n

This is the old reliable. The only downside of it is that it is not something you can necessarily carry in your pocket on a regular basis, but it is something that can easily be kept in the car or in a bookbag or something.

So that’s my compass experience, what’s yours?

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Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters and Qalam Institute. He teaches Islamic seminars across the US including Khateeb Workshop and Fiqh of Social Media. He has served in varying administrative capacities for multiple national and local Islamic organizations. You can follow his work at ibnabeeomar.com.

51 Comments

51 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Em

    June 29, 2009 at 12:39 AM

    Salaam. One thing you might want to add for the mechanical compass users would be to allow for the angle of declination from magnetic north to true north. At points it can be sizeable (10 or more degrees). I personally find the sub-$10 Silva Starter Compass (with a lifetime accuracy guarantee) to be very useful and pocket-sized.

  2. Avatar

    Yasir Qadhi

    June 29, 2009 at 1:05 AM

    Yea I had to experiment around with some of those same ones until I brought a professional one and kept it in my traveling bag.

    But now even that has been supplanted, by, of course, the new iPhone ;)

    yq

  3. Avatar

    Talha

    June 29, 2009 at 3:11 AM

    Lovely article…

    Jazakallah Khair

  4. Avatar

    Ahmed

    June 29, 2009 at 3:13 AM

    A brother showed me his Casio watch with digital compass…way cool! Just search for “casio compass” on Amazon. If you like the looks of Casio watches, you can’t get much more portable than something glued to your wrist. Me, I just use my Brunton Classic Compass…I think my father gave it to me, may Allah reward him.

  5. Avatar

    TheAlexandrian

    June 29, 2009 at 3:35 AM

    All this is well and good if you’re an Apple fanboy *coughs in the direction of Sh. YQ* , but here’s to hoping there’s an Android or *gulp* Windows Mobile option in the works, inshAllah

    :)

  6. Avatar

    Jamshed

    June 29, 2009 at 5:22 AM

    I actually use my phone (Windows mobile device, but it should work for iPhone, et al) to find the direction of Qibla.

    Firstly, using Pocket Islam I found the direction of the Qibla from my location within the UK. If I imagine a clock-face on my phone, the direction is sort of towards the 4 o’clock mark (where North is 12 o’clock)

    Next, knowing that, and that all maps are presented North-side up, I can now load up Google Maps or equivilent, and find where I currently am. I then align my phone to the direction of the roads in the area, which means whichever way my phone is facing is North. 4 o’clock from this direction gives me the direction of the Qibla.

  7. Avatar

    Abdul Rahman

    June 29, 2009 at 7:54 AM

    This website is helpful when you’re around a computer.

    Gives you the exact direction of Qiblah using Google Maps.

    http://www.qiblalocator.com/

  8. Avatar

    Osman

    June 29, 2009 at 8:34 AM

    assalaamu’alaikum

    I carry a Suunto compass and it hasn’t let me down. The key is like Sheikh YQ says to have a good reliable compass. There is a range of Casio watches that has a compass as well – ProTrac. The Suunto is in my bag though and since I don’t hv a 3GS, I’ll try look for a good compass application in e application store. I had a Nokia in e past that had an accurate digital compass.

  9. Avatar

    Nihal Khan

    June 29, 2009 at 8:43 AM

    I use my watch – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Casio-Digital-Watch-CPW-310-1VDS/dp/B000OYZI4A

    It doesn’t work properly if you’re inside a building but works really well if you’re outside.

    • Amad

      Amad

      June 29, 2009 at 12:02 PM

      I have to say that there is no better watch created in the world than this Casio Prayer watch. I have been using these CONSISTENTLY for 15 years (replace every 3-4 yrs). They are absolutely wonderful. You set the longitude and latitude of your location, and all your prayer times, the qiblah, are automatically set. You can even put an alarm to each prayer. The only manual adjustment is in the hijrih calendar.

      It’s one watch I try not to stay away from too long. I think they are cheaper in the Middle East, but even at the price on Amazon, it’s worth every cent. I promise you!

  10. Avatar

    Faraz

    June 29, 2009 at 9:23 AM

    I have an Android phone, and use “Alsalah” by Sileria, which can be found on the Android market. It’s got the compass built in (using the built-in digital compass in the HTC Dream and presumably other Android phones), using the phone’s GPS to determine where the Qiblah is in relationship to your current location. It also calculates prayer times for your current location, and any other locations you might care about.

    However, nothing beats a simple magnetic compass when you’re in the middle of nowhere and your phone is out of batteries.

  11. Avatar

    MR

    June 29, 2009 at 9:33 AM

    http://www.qiblalocator.com/

    Good if you’re on a PC.

    iPhone 3Gs also makes it really easy. I also think the 3G one can do the same.

  12. Avatar

    naqsh1

    June 29, 2009 at 9:56 AM

    Asalamu’alaikum all,

    Technology? Ha! Don’t trust it one bit (probably cos I don’t have it:) So let’s solve the compass problem once and for all:) here’s the solution. . . .you can be forgiven for leaving home without a compass, righty? But never without a tasbih, unforgivable. Heheh:) OK, you’ll definitely find this interesting so give it a try InshaAllah. . . (before or after you’ve had a good laugh:)
    So. . .holding the tasbih by the end, in your right hand, let it hang. OK, now with your left hand, gently send it on a spin anti-clockwise. . .as in the blessed Tawaf:) Hold your hand v..e..r..y still and let the motion peter out. . .you’ll find that when it comes to the end of it’s spin it’ll gently swing from side to side. On this trajectory, you’ll find, is the Qibla InshaAllah. But which direction of the two I hear you ask?:) Well, as soon as it comes out of the anti-clockwise spin watch for the initial swing. . . towards Qibla InshaAllah:) But hey, just like the magnetism from your keys, watch out for the magnetism of doubt when you try this method:) Anyway, maybe it depends on how frequently used your tasbih is:) Hope this helps InshaAllah:)

    Make du’a all.

    • Avatar

      ilmQuest

      June 29, 2009 at 10:47 AM

      As-salamaulikum,

      I don’t understand the physics behind this.

      • Avatar

        MW_M

        June 30, 2009 at 8:48 PM

        I think he’s joking….

    • Avatar

      MR

      June 29, 2009 at 2:35 PM

      It’ll be swinging to 2 possible directions, how do you know which one? (say you dont know where north, south, east or west are).

  13. Avatar

    ilmQuest

    June 29, 2009 at 10:52 AM

    As-salamaulikum,

    As for me, I use a “Engineer Lensatic Compass”, similar to this one

    http://www.stanleylondon.com/engrlensatic2.jpg

    Its the not the same brand as the one in the picture. Mine is a “Made in Taiwan” brand. Alhamdullilah it seems to very accurate. Its slightly heavy but it it has a metallic holding ring. so its easy to hang it with your bookbag/backpack.

    I’ve seen brothers with this Compass here, so I’m assuming its a very popular option for most.

  14. Avatar

    ny

    June 29, 2009 at 11:22 AM

    If your in the UK, and more specifically -London, then the TV Satelite dishes face Qibla…ironic right?
    Maybe other cities have landmarks which do a similar thing.

  15. Amad

    Amad

    June 29, 2009 at 12:04 PM

    any advice on following the stars and the sun to figure out the qiblah when your compass/watch/gadget fails?? I think there are some cool rules of thumb for different parts of the world, aren’t there?

    • Avatar

      Ahmad AlFarsi

      June 29, 2009 at 12:23 PM

      I usually do not carry a compass, but, like Amad said, try to use the sun to determine the qiblah. There might be some flaws in my method (particularly as you get closer to zawwal time), but this is the basic gist of it:

      1) Assuming that if it is before zawwal (when the sun is at its zenith), the sun is in the eastern half of the sky, and if it is after zawwal, the sun is in the western half of the sky.

      2) The shadow of any object before zawwal time will therefore point westwards (since the sun is to the east) and the shadow of any object after zawwal time should point eastwards (since the sun is to the west).

      3) Take any object that which has a large height to width ratio (such as a stick, a pencil, a pole, or even a human), and observe its shadow. The large height to width ratio is important so that is is entirely clear in which direction the shadow is pointing. If it is before zawwal, the shadow points west, and from that you determine the direction of north-east. If it is after zawwal, the shadow points east, and from that you determine the direction of north-east.

      Again, this method might be a bit flawed when you get closer to zawwal, because the shadow might not be pointing exactly west or east at that time. Of course when it is exactly zawal time, then, there should be no shadow at all… but just wait a few minutes to get a post-zawwal shadow.

      :) hope that is helpful inshaAllah.

      • Avatar

        muslimsister

        June 30, 2009 at 12:21 AM

        how do you figure out north and south then?

        • Avatar

          Ahmad AlFarsi

          June 30, 2009 at 12:29 AM

          North is 90 degrees clockwise of west.
          North is 90 degrees counter-clockwise of east.

    • Avatar

      Ahmad AlFarsi

      June 29, 2009 at 12:25 PM

      By the way, this method has proven to be particularly helpful when you are in an airport, and you cannot see the sun directly, nor do you want to raise the homeland security alert level by asking an airport official which way is north. Simply, look out the window and see which way the shadows of the workers outside are pointing.

    • Avatar

      Hassan

      June 29, 2009 at 4:18 PM

      I never use any compass, there is enough information wherever you are to be quite accurate in determining qiblah alhamdulillah. Unless you are blind folded and then taken to a place where there is no window in the house, then I am sure Allah would be most forgiving if you prayed at wrong direction.

  16. Avatar

    sis

    June 29, 2009 at 12:51 PM

    I carry a big fat compass in my backpack pocket. As a university student, I feel it does the job quite well for me along with my travel prayer rug. It feels traditional and bulky enough to remind me that I have to pray. (oh and doesn’t get lost like the small kind.) wallaahu alam

  17. Avatar

    S

    June 29, 2009 at 1:02 PM

    InshAllah they may still have the QibSat in stock here:

    http://www.digikoran.com/Digital_quran_30_Qibsat-Isalmic-GPS-Compass.aspx

  18. Avatar

    Abdullah

    June 29, 2009 at 1:22 PM

    Assalamu alaikum,

    FYI many people face East South-East in North America.

    • Amad

      Amad

      June 29, 2009 at 1:58 PM

      The only people I know who do so belong to the Habashi (Ahbash) sect. They usually create great amounts of fitnah with this issue with unsuspecting communities. Others who may do so may be doing out of ignorance. I remember that the ahbash convinced the brelvi masjid in Houston to switch. Eventually, this masjid’s imam found some fatwa or some opinion from higher-ups of the brelvi school that it is NE, even for them. So, they switched back… this is the story to the best of my knowledge, wallahualam.

      There is pretty much consensus that Qiblah is northeast… which is the shortest distance (as the bird flies) from here to Makkah… if you could see Makkah, that would be the direction that you would see it in. Unless one believes in “earth is flat” theory, in which case the qiblah is least of the issues :)

      • Avatar

        Faraz

        June 29, 2009 at 5:13 PM

        Yeah, I knew a few guys who supported the south-east direction by showing a map of the world and indicating how North America is clearly to the northwest of Makkah, meaning we should pray south east. Then as soon as I mentioned that the world isn’t flat like a map, they had a major “ohhhhhh right ….” moment. It was funny.

      • Avatar

        sara

        November 1, 2016 at 5:08 PM

        “Isaac Newton first proposed that Earth was not perfectly round. Instead, he suggested it was an oblate spheroid—a sphere that is squashed at its poles and swollen at the equator.” , “Our globe, however, is not even a perfect oblate spheroid, because mass is distributed unevenly within the planet. The greater a concentration of mass is, the stronger its gravitational pull, “creating bumps around the globe,” says geologist Joe Meert at the University of Florida in Gainesville” , and this is what we know from our religion. and thus, taking This real science into consideration , you could tell that in fact, the qibla is “south-east south” :)
        Oh and check yourself some very old cemeteries, and see how everyone used to point in that direction, but the confusion came when a pilot ( or so) came out with the “shortest travelling distance” and then some mistook it for it to mean that the qibla should be changed.

  19. Avatar

    Imam Zia

    June 29, 2009 at 5:36 PM

    I have an app on my G1 phone that is a sattelite compass. BUT you have to adjust its settings by deducting a few degrees, as it points to True North versus Magnetic North, and the settings that are published are for Magnetic North. So in Dallas its 43 from north, but on my compass I should look for 36-38. The app is called Orienteer, if you’re interested.

  20. Avatar

    B

    June 29, 2009 at 6:49 PM

    You can always use major highways and interstates to figure out North/East.

    • Avatar

      Ahmad AlFarsi

      June 30, 2009 at 12:35 AM

      usually works, but u gotta know your map of the area pretty well. i.e. an out of towner to houston without a map may innocently assume that Highway 59 North points north, however, for the most part, it actually points north-east, and at one point (once ur into the city a bit), it bizarrely points directly east :)

  21. Avatar

    midatlantic

    June 29, 2009 at 9:29 PM

    Airports and other large places have maps that can tell you where north is too.

  22. Avatar

    Qaiser

    June 29, 2009 at 11:59 PM

    Prayer mat that GLOWS when you point it to qibla!
    THIS is what everyone needs! A prayer mat that glows when you point it towards the qibla!! ….subhanAllah. … but it’s not in the market just yet.

  23. Avatar

    Sahir

    June 30, 2009 at 7:10 AM

    If you are in the US and you would like to know what direction the Qiblah is, text ‘praytime’ (without the quotes) followed by your zip code, city and state, or airport code to 41411. The qiblah direction (in degrees from north), along with prayer times for that location will be texted back to you.

    More info at: praytime.us

    • ibnabeeomar

      ibnabeeomar

      June 30, 2009 at 6:56 PM

      but you would still need a compass to figure out which way north is :)

  24. Avatar

    Faraz

    June 30, 2009 at 9:23 AM

    Most office buildings and other public places (in Canada, anyway) also have emergency exit instructions posted all over the place that will always show a compass. I use those all the time to orient myself in hotels and shopping malls whenever I get stuck somewhere. Very useful when you already know the direction of Qiblah relative to North in the city you’re in.

  25. Avatar

    ihafidh

    June 30, 2009 at 12:47 PM

    MashaAllah, what a practical article!

    I like the comments too as they gave more ideas especially the casio watch. I have been in the market for a keychain compass as I sometimes forget my compass when traveling.

    Once, when traveling by car, I forgot my compass so I used my Garmin GPS. However I was already in my hotel room so I had to walk around the room with it to show the direction. That didn’t work quite well, so I drove around the parking lot to get it to work properly. :)

  26. Avatar

    Aboo Suhaylah Sa'eed al-Amreekee

    July 1, 2009 at 11:58 AM

    Salaamun ‘Alaykum,

    My biggest gripe with ALL compasses is that they are easily taken off mark by any large metal objects or magnetic fields in the immediate vacinity. Anyone have any solutions for that???

    • Avatar

      ihafidh

      July 1, 2009 at 12:03 PM

      Abu Suhaylah,
      Nice to see you here. This is Ibrahim.
      Muslimatters, sorry to have an unrelated comment in your comments :)

  27. Avatar

    Hannah

    July 1, 2009 at 11:11 PM

    great article! good thinkin! many of us do forget to have a trusty compass. REI has a nice , miniature,strudy key chain compass for about 3 bucks.

  28. Avatar

    Stranger

    July 3, 2009 at 12:30 AM

    I have had this problem for a long time. It’s frustrating not knowing which way to pray exactly. I’d rather know for sure than be worrying in my salah of whether my qiblah is right or not. These are good viable options, jazakallah khayr. I have to say though, the compass feature on the iphone 3GS has made me want an iphone even more now.

  29. Pingback: Solving the Compass Problem for Muslims « The Muslim Voice

  30. Avatar

    Kashif

    July 12, 2009 at 7:31 AM

    As ny said above, one of the easiest methods is to find a SKY satellite dish. They point quite accurately to Makkah, and I’ve heard reports that this is valid from London in the south east to Birmingham in the midlands.

  31. Avatar

    Muadh Khan

    July 15, 2009 at 6:40 AM

    Asslamo Allaikum,

    Today is 15th of July and at 10:27 (in UK) I looked at the sun and confirmed that our Qibla direction is accurate.

    During my travels I wear my Casio Protrek watch and it is great for determining North and from then on its easy to figure out the Qiblah.

    http://www.amazon.com/Casio-Pro-Trek-Triple-Titanium-PRG110T-7VDR/dp/B000RAFUBC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=watches&qid=1247653473&sr=8-1

    Suunto is slightly more precise and user friendly but much more expensive.

    I bought my watch for backpacking but it comes in handy for Qibla too…

    Half the problem is not in the compass but “the way it’s used” e.g. I have seen many Muslims try to use a compass indoors and due to magnetic interference it’s likely that they will get it North.

    The second issue is off course buying substandard equipment particularly those sold with prayer mats (in Saudia) with a book of degrees. These compasses are often faulty and the degrees shown are decades old when the ground reality is that Magnetic declination changes over the years.
    The best way is to use the Sun and the stars, most apps on your Iphone, Cellphone and laptops use the Sun method as well.

    I was going to publish a detailed technical article on our site with pictures/videos but then thought that this isn’t really a big deal, you just figure out North and from then on pray North-East (US) and do I really want to bore people with technical details? when the Shariah hasn’t really made a big deal out of this…I mean you just face the direction of Qibla (best endeavours) and even if you are wrong, your Salah will still be valid.

    Hmm…

    Great article Masha’Allah but the best cheap compass in my humble view is the Lensatic which is recommended by someone in the comments…

    http://www.stanleylondon.com/engrlensatic2.jpg

    • Avatar

      ihafidh

      July 15, 2009 at 11:17 AM

      Does your Casio protrek watch determine the direction correctly indoors or does it have the same problem like the regular compasses do with magnetic interference?

  32. Avatar

    tabman

    December 31, 2010 at 2:21 PM

    For android I tested out this one:
    http://www.androlib.com/android.application.com-mustafaferhanakman-sensor-nmEC.aspx

    It is pretty good.

  33. Avatar

    Kamran

    March 6, 2015 at 12:58 PM

    AOA, I live in Illinois, and I find out that one of our mosque qibla is to East (exactly East, we even use the compass to make sure their mistake) when asked the imam he said he knows it, but that’s ok, it doesn’t matter. According to him when the mosque built 50 years back, they made a mistake, (coz of the less technology availability), the authority don’t want to change it. and imam said that if we raise this issue there can be fitna. so to avoid fitna we can pray to the wrong direction. My question is that can we pray there? or what should we do?
    I would really appreciate your reply. JazakAllah

  34. Avatar

    Aasia Abdullah

    August 20, 2015 at 5:17 AM

    Muslim Mate (http://www.muslimmateapp.com/) features Qibla Direction which can provide you the exact direction of QIbla based on your current location. It’s all about one Ummah!

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And yet… and yet, at this moment, your memory of that action is stark and gut-wrenching.

It is a deeply unpleasant feeling.

It is also a very necessary one.

The Act of Tawbah

Tawbah – seeking forgiveness from Allah – is something that we speak about, especially in Ramadan, the month of forgiveness. However, it is also something that we tend to speak about in general terms, or write off as something simple – “Just say astaghfirAllah and don’t do it again.”

In truth, tawbah is about much more than muttering istighfaar under your breath. It is a process, an emotional experience, one that engages your memory, your soul, and your entire body.

The first step of tawbah is to recognize the sin – whether seemingly small or severe – and to understand just how wrong it was. Each and every one of our deeds is written in our book of deeds; each and every deed will be presented to us on the Day of Judgment for us to be held accountable for. There are times when we say things so casually that it doesn’t even register to us how we could be affecting the person we’ve spoken to.

As RasulAllah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) once told A’ishah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her),

“You have said a word which would change the sea (i.e. poison or contaminate it) if it were mixed in it.” (Sunan Abi Dawud)

The second step is to feel true remorse. It’s not enough to rationally acknowledge that action as being sinful; one must feel guilt, remorse, and grief over having committed it.

Tawbah is to feel that sucker-punch of humiliation and guilt as we recall our sins: not just the mildly awkward ones, like a petty fib or mild infraction, but the genuinely terrible parts of ourselves… ugly lies, vicious jealousy, violations against others’ rights, abuse.

Some of us may be actual criminals – others of us may seem presentable on the outside, even religious, maybe even spiritual… and yet have violated others in terrible ways. Abuse comes in so many forms, and some of us are perpetrators, not just victims.

Facing that reality can be a gruesome process. 

It is a necessary process. Token words, glib recitation of spiritual formulae, those do not constitute tawbah in its entirety. Rather, it is a matter of owning up to our violations, experiencing genuine emotion over them – true humiliation, true regret – and striving not to be that person ever again. 

Much as we hate to admit it, we have our own fair share of red flags that we create and wave, even before we get into the nasty business of committing the worst of our sins. Tawbah isn’t just feeling bad for those Big Sins – it’s to recognize what led us to them to begin with.

It requires us to acknowledge our own flaws of character, of the ease with which we fall into certain behaviours, the way we justify the pursuit of our desires, the blindness we have to the worst parts of ourselves. Tawbah is to sit down and face all of it – and then to beg Allah, over and over, not just to forgive us and erase those specific actions, but to change us for the better. 

This experience is so much more powerful than a mere “I’m sorry,” or “omg, that was awful”; it is an act that embodies our submission to Allah because it requires us to make ourselves incredibly emotionally vulnerable, and in that moment, to experience a deep pain and acknowledge our wrongdoing. It is to hold your heart out to Allah and to beg Him, with every fiber of your being, with tears in your eyes, with a lump in your throat, wracked with regret, to please, please, please forgive you – because without it, without His Mercy and His Forgiveness and His Gentleness and His Love towards us, we have no hope and we will be utterly destroyed.

Surah Araf Verse 23

{Rabbanaa thalamnaa anfusanaa, wa illam taghfir lanaa wa tar’hamnaa, lanakunanna mina’l Khaasireen!}

{Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers!} (Qur’an 7:23)

This experience of tawbah is powerful, emotional, and heartbreaking. It is meant to be. It is a reminder to us of how truly dependent we are upon our Lord and our Creator, how nothing else in our lives can give us joy or a sense of peace if He is displeased with us. It is a reminder to us of how deeply we crave His Love, of how desperately we need it, of how His Pleasure is the ultimate goal of our existence.

Finally, there is the step of resolving never to commit that sin again, to redress the wrongs if possible, and to follow up the bad deed with a good one.

The vow is one we make to ourselves, asking Allah’s help to uphold it – because we are incapable of doing anything at all without His Permission; the righting of wrongs is what we do to correct our transgression against others’ rights over us, although there are times when we may well be unable to seek another individual’s forgiveness, whether because of distance, death, or otherwise; and the good deeds to undertake as penance are numerous, whether they be sadaqah or increased ‘ebaadah.

But it doesn’t end there. And it never will.

Tawbah is not a once-in-a-lifetime event. It is not even a once-a-year event, or once a month, or once a week. It is meant to be a daily experience, a repeated occurrence, in the earliest hours of the morning, in the depths of the last third of the night, during your lunch break or your daily commute or in the middle of a social gathering.

Tawbah is a lifelong journey, for who amongst us doesn’t commit mistakes and errors every day?

All we can do is beg of Allah not only for His Forgiveness, but also: {Allahumma ij’alnaa min at-tawwaabeen.} – O Allah, make us amongst those who are constantly engaging in repentance!

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#Islam

Moonsighting Gone Wrong, Again.

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Moonsighting is just not working out.

Atleast not for our community here in the Toronto area. As I speak to my friends in other large (read: fragmented) communities, such as those in the UK, I hear similar tales of confusion, anxiety and horror. The problem in these communities stems from the fact that there are numerous moonsighting organizations in the same area, all following different methodologies for declaring Eid and Ramadan. This naturally results in a catastrophe and Muslims from the same family living in the same city are forced to celebrate the holidays on different days.

To give you a taste of how (and why) things went wrong in this year’s Ramadan declaration, here’s a summary highlighting the series of events as they unfolded. (Reminder: Ramadan was expected to start on Friday, April 24th or Saturday, April 25th 2020 in North America)

  • Wednesday, April 22, 10: 13 pm EST: Crescent Council of Canada (CC) declares Ramadan to start on Friday, 24th April based on the fact that it received no reports of moonsighting sighting on Wednesday night. This committee follows global moonsighting and it declared Ramadan so early because it was already the 29th of Shaban based on the lunar calendar it follows (for most of North America, the 29th of Shaban was to be on Thursday). So, starting Ramadan on Saturday was simply not an option for the group (as it would have meant observing 31 days of Shaban). Also to note is that this group gives precedence to official declarations from authorities from Muslim-majority countries, even if these declarations conflict predictions of visibility charts and astronomical calculations. It argues that testimony of witnesses takes precedence in the sharia over astronomical data.
  • Thursday, April 23rd, 7:27 pm EST : The Hilal Council of Canada (HC), another committee in the area that follows global sighting, states that there has not been any sighting of the moon in any country, including South and Central America (it is past sunset in most of the Muslim world by now). The committee decides that it will wait till sundown in California to receive the final reports before making a declaration. Confusion starts spreading in the community as one organization has already declared Ramadan while another claims no one in the Muslim world saw the moon. Note that HC does not accept moonsighting reports if they contradict astronomical data.
  • 8:39 pm: Confusion continues. The CC claims that Saudi Arabia, UAE, Malaysia, Turkey and a host of Muslim countries have declared Ramadan. The committee thus feels validated in its original declaration which it made on Wednesday night.
  • 8:48 pm: More confusion: California-based CrescentWatch.org also claims that moonsighting reports from the Middle-East and Africa are all negative. People naturally start wondering how so many countries supposedly declared Ramadan if there were no positive sightings.
  • 9:40 pm: The Hilal Committee of Toronto and Vicinity, the oldest moonsighting group in the city, declares Ramadan to start on Saturday the 25th of April. Since the committee did not receive any positive reports by sunset from areas in its jurisdiction, it declared Ramadan to commence on Saturday. This committee follows local moonsighting and doesn’t rely on reports from the Muslim-world. Two of the three major moonsighting groups in the city have declared Ramadan on different days at this time. Residents are confused whether to fast the next day or pray tarweeh as its almost Isha time.
  • 11:11 pm: The HC finally declares Ramadan to start the next day, i.e. Friday, based on confirmed reports from California. Mosques following the HC advice to pray tarawih – an hour after Isha time had already entered. After an anxiety filled and frustrating evening, residents finally know the positions of the various moonsighting groups in the city. Now they just have to decide which one to follow!
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This baffling circus of contradictory declarations is nothing new; it has become a yearly occurrence. Last year we saw the exact same series of events unfold and the same confusion spread throughout the community; it is entirely expected that the same will happen again in future years.

Our leadership has decided that it is acceptable to put the average Muslim through this nerve-racking experience every year. For Eid declarations, the experience is far worse as thousands are often waiting till midnight to decide whether to go work the next day or send their children to school. The stress and anxiety this decision causes for the average person year after year is simply unacceptable.

Popular advice in these situations has been to ‘follow your local masjid’. However, this idea is impractical for large communities where there are numerous local mosques, all following various opinions. It is also impractical for the thousands who simply don’t frequent the mosque and are not tied to a particular organization. The layperson just wants to know the dates for Ramadan and Eid; it is an undue burden on them to research the strength of various legal opinions just to know when to celebrate a religious holiday with their families.

Only one way forward: astronomical calculations

There have been numerous sincere attempts to solve these long-standing problems associated with moonsighting over the past 50 years – all have failed. I have documented in detail these attempts, the reasons for their failure and argued for the only viable solution to this problem: astronomical calculations.

Since its introduction in 2006, Fiqh Council of North America’s calculations-based lunar calendar has proven to be the definitive solution for communities struggling to resolve the yearly moonsighting debacle. An example of such a resolution is the 2015 agreement by some of the leading mosques in the Chicago area who put aside their differences and united behind FCNA’s calendar. This approach has brought ease and facilitation for the religious practice of thousands of Muslims in that community.

While the use of calculations has been a minority position in Islam’s legal history, it has a sound basis in the shariah [1] and has been supported by towering figures of the past such as Imam Zakariya al-Ansari and Imam Ramli. Given the challenging circumstances we find ourselves in now, it is incumbent on scholars of today to revisit this position as a means of providing much needed relief to the masses from this lunar quagmire.

References:

[1]  From SeekersGuidance: Scholars upholding this can be traced all the way back to the first Islamic century. The textual basis for this opinion is the hadith narrated by al-Bukhari, “When you see it [the new moon of Ramadan] then fast; and when you see it [the new moon of Shawwal], then break the fast. If it is hidden from you (ghumma ‘alaykum) [i.e. if the sky is overcast] then estimate it (fa-qdiru lahu);” (al-Bukhari, hadith no. 1900). The last verb, fa-qdiru, can be validly understood to mean calculation. Of the scholars who held this, are Abu al-‘Abbas b. Surayj (d. 306/918), one of the leading founders of the classical Shafi‘i school, the Shafi‘i scholar and renowned mystic Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 465/1072), the leading Shafi‘i judge Taqi al-Din al-Subki (d. 756/1355), the Shafi‘i legal theorist al-Zarkashi (d. 794/1392), the renowned Maliki legal theorist al-Qarafi (d. 684/1285), and some Hanafi scholars. The late Shafi‘i commentator al-Qalyubi (d. 1069/1659) held that all sighting-claims must be rejected if calculations show that a sighting was impossible, stating, “This is manifestly obvious. In such a case, a person may not fast. Opposing this is obstinacy and stubbornness.” See al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, pp. 31-4. The leading scholar of the late Shāfi‘ī school Muhammad al-Ramli (d. 1004/1596) held that the expert astronomer was obliged to follow his own calculation as was the non-astronomer who believed him; this position has been used by some contemporary Shafi’i scholars to state that in the modern world, with its precise calculations, the strongest opinion of the Shafi’i school should be that everyone must follow calculations; see ‘Umar b. al-Habib al-Husayni, Fath al-‘ali fi jam‘ al-khilaf bayna Ibn Hajar wa-Ibn al-Ramli, ed. Shifa’ Hitu (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2010), pp. 819-22. See also the fatwa of the Hanafi scholar Dr Salah Abu al-Hajj (http://www.anwarcenter.com/fatwa/معنى-حديث-لا-تصوموا-حتى-تروا-الهلال-ول) last accessed 9/5/2016) which states, after arguing against relying on calculations, “However, the position of [following] calculations is the position of a considerable group of jurists, so it is a respected disagreement in Islamic law, whereby, if a state were to adopt it, it is not rejected, because the judgment of a judge removes disagreement, and the adoption of a state is [as] the judgment of a judge.

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