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How to Read the Sky to Find the Qibla

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وَعَلامَاتٍ وَبِٱلنَّجْمِ هُمْ يَهْتَدُونَ

“And landmarks. And by the stars they are [also] guided.” [16:16]

You’re on a road trip and it’s time to pray Maghrib and ‘Isha. You pull into a rest area and make wudu. How do you know which direction to face?

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Most of us would probably pull out a smartphone and use our qibla app. But there’s a much cooler way of finding the Qibla.

Before we had smartphones, Muslim sailors and merchants developed the art of reading the stars for navigation. If you’ve never looked up at the sky, you might not have realized that stars don’t stay in the same place. As the earth rotates, stars appear to be in different positions.

Except one.

Muslim sailors called it al-Qiblah and it is found in the constellation they named al-Rakabah. We know it as the North Star, found in the Little Dipper.

Once you do this a few times, it becomes really easy to spot the north star and know the qiblah. You’ll find it even faster than the time it takes to open up the app on your smartphone. Plus you’ll get major coolness points for doing this in front of other people.

image-1

Step 1- Locate Banat Naash al-Kubra (The Big Dipper)

The easiest way to find the north star is by first finding the Big Dipper. This is one of the easiest constellations to find. Look for a large spoon shaped constellation. Three stars in the handle, four stars in the head.

See it?

image-2

Now?

Step 2-Trace a line to al-Qiblah (the north star)

Imagine a line that connects the front two stars of the Big Dipper. If you follow that line, about five times the distance will be the north star. It’s the first bright star you’ll run into that’s close to this vector.

image-3

Step 3-Trust but verify

You don’t want to accidentally be praying in the wrong direction so make sure that you’re actually at the north star. The north star is part of the constellation the Muslims called al-Rakabah, or, as we commonly know it, the Little Dipper. The north star is the last star in the handle. The Little Dipper floats above the Big Dipper, as if it is pouring water into the Big Dipper.

Try it out:

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Once you know where north is, finding the Qibla is pretty easy. If you’re in America, it’s North East, so face the north star and it’s half a turn to your right (i.e., clockwise).

Unfortunately, this only works in the northern hemisphere. If you’re in Australia, stay tuned for how to find the Qibla in the southern hemisphere!

 

“Hailing from the Midwest, YetAnotherParaclete is a 4th year medical student preparing for a career in psychiatry. He completed his undergraduate studies with a triple major in Biology, History, and Psychology. YetAnotherParaclete hosts a blog aimed at cultivating holistic Muslim men at http://www.idealmuslimman.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

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22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Yousuf

    October 12, 2016 at 9:18 PM

    Great article! Thanks for the info. One thing I’d add is, the little dipper might not necessarily be “above” the big dipper, since the stars are rotating around the North Star then their positions would be rotated as well.

  2. Aisha

    October 12, 2016 at 9:41 PM

    This is great! Never had much luck understanding constellations, but this helped a lot. Will definitely try when I’m travelling inshAllah. JAK!

  3. Engineer MK

    October 13, 2016 at 3:41 AM

    Its better u try locating d Qibla before travelling…. So that u can be sure u understand the process by compairing your result and the Known Qibla in your present location.
    May Allah help Us.

  4. ihafidh

    October 13, 2016 at 9:59 AM

    Awesome!!! Nice illustrations to make it easy to spot the north star.

  5. .....

    October 13, 2016 at 1:49 PM

    An astraunaut once said he couldnt find Allah in the heavens!

    Knock knock….please let me in.

    Whether amongst the last in or out….ya Allah and please forgive me…..why are you also laughing….

    So much to do before then….

    Excuse got to go and do the tidying up and hoovering….if can do that is….

    my light has gone……As to the remaining stars…..keep on….

    Peace

  6. Brittney Slavonjack

    October 13, 2016 at 2:32 PM

    this is good, hopefully I can see through the smog tonight.

  7. Sharaph

    October 13, 2016 at 3:32 PM

    What about those in Europe?

    • YetAnotherParaclete

      October 13, 2016 at 8:23 PM

      Sharaph,

      It works in Europe as well. Actually, all of the northern hemisphere. It’s when you’re in Australia that you have to use a different method.

      YetAnotherParaclete

      • Tara

        November 21, 2016 at 6:25 PM

        The North Star is always due north. But If you’re in Europe, you’ll find that then turn to the southeast to pray. Ie: turn to the right until the North Star is just behind your left shoulder.

  8. Ali

    October 14, 2016 at 11:04 PM

    Assalamu alaikum,
    This is good to know, I liked the article. But I wanted to let others know that the prerequisite the article assumes is that you know the direction of the Qibla in terms of degrees from the North.

    In other words, if you know how to find a Qibla with a Non-Qibla Compass (i.e., a NORMAL compass) since you would know the bearing of the Qibla, then inshaAllah you can find the Qibla using the technique described in this article.

    Another way to find the Qibla is to wait for the Sun to be directly above the Kaaba. The idea is, that if a building were to be erected in place of the Kaaba, and if the building would be so tall that it would reach the Sun, would you not face the building since you know that is the Kaaba? This technique does not require one to know the Qibla in terms of a compass bearing, but it does require you to know what time of the year the Sun is directly above the Kaaba AND that you can see the Sun during that time from your part of the world too.

    And Allah knows best.

  9. lying....and damned

    October 19, 2016 at 3:14 PM

    Orion meter shower tonight apparently….

    Either way…30 green bottles ..standing on a wall….
    (Sorry for bulb-use candles)
    It seems…and Allah knows best….welcome..to the confusion…

    Hold tight…Allah’s rope always present…..

    Peace

  10. sabzz

    October 22, 2016 at 12:32 AM

    If you are in Australia finding the qibla in sydney and on the east coast is easy during the day it is five degrees east of the sun set so when you see the sun going down face it and turn your body five degrees you’ll find it.

    • Gotta Pray

      October 27, 2016 at 12:51 AM

      Salaam alailom,

      Excuse my ignorance, what and how do you measure degrees?

      Either way, jazak Allah khairan, took a faliq as to prayers..etc.

      Barak Allah feekom.

  11. qw

    October 23, 2016 at 4:54 AM

    thank you very much! Jazakallahu khair.

  12. muslimguy

    October 28, 2016 at 8:02 PM

    Sadly us city dwellers never see starry skies anymore. :( Good tip tho.

  13. AbuMisbah

    October 30, 2016 at 5:09 PM

    JazakAllah Khair. How to find the qibla during day time?

  14. Zia-e-Taiba

    October 31, 2016 at 6:17 AM

    Great Article! everybody can also find the Prayer Times & Qibla DirectionPrayer Timing & Qibla Direction

  15. Moin

    November 20, 2016 at 10:11 PM

    Good knowledge sharing article. Really appreciate

  16. Intrigued

    December 1, 2016 at 4:25 AM

    Very nice article… my family and I have recently moved to the countryside… and there are no city lights in our backyard…the stars are just visible and its so grand.. SubhanAllah…
    so..if all the constellations are always moving does the north star still always stay above the big dipper?

    I will take note… jzk k

  17. Fatima

    December 2, 2016 at 3:22 AM

    To find Qibla the best way I found recently was to use this amazing application using your phone.

    Please refer to the website

    http://www.Ibadatapp.com

    Download this app which has many more features such as Quran with translation to English, Malay, Indonesian, Russian, Urdu etc.

  18. Ati

    December 7, 2016 at 7:20 PM

    Subhanallah! Simply amazing. Islamic astronomy would be an interesting subject to learn more about. Jazakallah very useful. I sometimes have doubts with my smartphone apps so this way I’ll know I am using a time tested and more accurate method in sha Allah.

    I’m waiting for the Australia one! Post soon please :)

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