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Solving the Compass Problem for Muslims


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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).


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:


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



  1. 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. 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 ;)


  3. Talha

    June 29, 2009 at 3:11 AM

    Lovely article…

    Jazakallah Khair

  4. 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. 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. 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. 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.

  8. Osman

    June 29, 2009 at 8:34 AM


    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. Nihal Khan

    June 29, 2009 at 8:43 AM

    I use my watch –

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

    • 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. 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. MR

    June 29, 2009 at 9:33 AM

    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. 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.

    • ilmQuest

      June 29, 2009 at 10:47 AM


      I don’t understand the physics behind this.

      • MW_M

        June 30, 2009 at 8:48 PM

        I think he’s joking….

    • 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. ilmQuest

    June 29, 2009 at 10:52 AM


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

    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. 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

    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?

    • 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.

      • muslimsister

        June 30, 2009 at 12:21 AM

        how do you figure out north and south then?

        • Ahmad AlFarsi

          June 30, 2009 at 12:29 AM

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

    • 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.

    • 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. 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. S

    June 29, 2009 at 1:02 PM

    InshAllah they may still have the QibSat in stock here:

  18. Abdullah

    June 29, 2009 at 1:22 PM

    Assalamu alaikum,

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

    • 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 :)

      • 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.

      • 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. 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. B

    June 29, 2009 at 6:49 PM

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

    • 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. midatlantic

    June 29, 2009 at 9:29 PM

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

  22. 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. 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:

    • ibnabeeomar

      June 30, 2009 at 6:56 PM

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

  24. 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. 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. 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???

    • 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

    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.


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

    • 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. tabman

    December 31, 2010 at 2:21 PM

    For android I tested out this one:

    It is pretty good.

  33. 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. Aasia Abdullah

    August 20, 2015 at 5:17 AM

    Muslim Mate ( 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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