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Finding the qibla by the sun and stars - A survey of the sources of Islamic sacred geography

King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.20181
Finding the qibla by the sun and stars
A survey of the sources of Islamic sacred geography
ﺔﻠﺒﻘﻟا ﻞﺋﻻد ﺐﺘﻛ ﺢﺴﻣ
David A. King
!Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt
Keywords: Islam, sacred geography, folk astronomy, Kaaba / Kaʿba, !
Mecca / Makka / Makkah, Canopus, winter & summer sunrise and sunset, !
cardinal directions, solstitial, qibla, mihrab, mosque orientation,!
، ءاﻮﻧﻷا ﺐﺘﻛ ، ﺔﻠﺒﻘﻟا ﻞﺋﻻد ﺐﺘﻛ ، يﺪﯿﻠﻘﺘﻟا ﻚﻟﺎﻔﻟا ﻢﻠﻋ ، ﺔﻠﺒﻗ ، ﺔﻜﻣ ، ﺔﺒﻌﻛ ، مﻼﺳﻻا !
ﺐﯾرﺎﺤﻤﻟا تﺎھﺎﺠﺗا ، ﺪﺟﺎﺴﻣ ﺪﺠﺴﻣ ، بﻼﻘﻧﻻا ، لاﺪﺘﻋﻻا ، ﺲﻤﺸﻟا بﺮﻐﻣ ،ﺲﻤﺸﻟا ﻊﻠﻄﻣ ، ﻞﯿﮭﺳ
©David A. King 2019©"
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.20182
ﺎھﺎﺿﺮﺗ ﺔﻠﺒﻗ ّﻨﯿّﻟﻮﻨﻓ ءﺎﻤﺴﻟا ﻲﻓ ﻚﮭﺟو ّﻠﻘﺗ ىﺮﻧ ﺪﻗ
... هﺮﻄﺷ ﻢﻜھﻮﺟو اﻮّﻟﻮﻓ ﻢﺘﻨﻛ ﺎﻣ ﺚﯿﺣو ماﺮﺤﻟا ﺪﺠﺴﻤﻟا ﺮﻄﺷ ﻚﮭﺟو ّلﻮﻓ
“We (God) may see the turning of thy face (in confusion and seeking
guidance) to the Heavens. So We shall indeed turn thee toward a
(sacred) direction (qibla) that shall please thee. So turn thy face toward
the sacred Mosque: wherever ye may be, turn your faces toward it.”
Qur’ān II.144.
نوﺪﺘﮭﯾ ﻢھ ﻢﺠﻨﻟﺎﺑو
“ ... and by the star(s) they (Man) will be guided. ... ”
Qur’ān XVI.16.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.20183
“The Kaʿba is the qibla for the Sacred Mosque, the Sacred Mosque is the qibla for
the sacred precincts (of Mecca and its environs), and the sacred precincts are the
qibla for the inhabitants of the whole world from where the sun rises to where it
sets.” Ibn al-Qāṣṣ (ca. 975).
“The inhabitants of al-Qadisiyya, Kufa, Baghdad, Hulwan, Hamadhan, Rayy,
Nishapur, Marwarrudh, Khwarazm, Bukhara, Tashkent, Farghana, and localities
lying in the same direction, face (the section of) the Kaʿba between the Muallā of
Adam - may peace be upon Him - and its Door. So whoever is in one of those
localities or in a line with them (and the Kaʿba) and wants to face the qibla,
should have the Banāt Naʿsh (stars of the Plough) rising behind his right ear, (the
lunar mansion) al-Hanʿa (rising) directly behind him, the Pole Star at his right
shoulder, the East wind at his left shoulder, the North wind between the right side
of his neck and the nape of his neck, the West wind at his right cheek, and the
South wind at his left cheek. Anyone who uses one or some of these prescriptions
in these localities or (others) in the same direction will be facing the (appropriate)
section (jiha) of the Kaʿba.” Ibn Surāqa (ca. 1000).
“Every challenge calls for the right men. ... ... When (some people) were asked to
determine the direction of the qibla they were perplexed, because the solution of
this problem was beyond their scientific powers. You see that they have been
discussing completely irrelevant phenomena, like the directions from which the
winds blow, and the rising points of the lunar mansions. ... ... Of the majority of
people (who write about the qibla in non-mathematical terms) none are closer to
the truth than those who use (ʿitabarahu bi-) the Pole Star known as al-Judayy.
By means of its fixed position the direction of a person travelling can be specified
approximately.” al-Bīrūnī (ca. 1025).
“The science of star nomenclature, the appearances of the stars, their risings and
settings, ... , the finding of the direction of the qibla by means of the stars, and the
knowledge of the times of prayer and the hours of the night by the appearances
and the settings of the stars.” al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī, the 11th-century religious
scholar and historian, outlining the acceptable aspects of astronomy in his treatise
against astrology (slightly modified from Heinen, Islamic Cosmology, p. 25).
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.20184
Introductory remarks
Some colleagues have asked me ( ... ناﻮ
ﺧﻹا ﺾﻌ
) to identify some
medieval Arabic texts which advocate the use of astronomical horizon
phenomena for the qibla or sacred direction toward the sacred Kaʿba in
Such texts offer an approach completely different from that of the better-
known texts on the mathematical determination of the qibla. In the latter, a
basis of mathematical geography and a knowledge of the longitudes and
latitudes of the locality in question and of Mecca is assumed and then a
mathematical procedure, geometric or trigonometric, is required to calculate
the qibla. This tradition produced not only a range of mathematical
procedures and tables displaying the qibla for the whole world, but also
geographical tables giving qibla-values for hundreds of localities, and even
highly ingenious world-maps centred on Mecca, with which one could
simply read off the qibla and distance to Mecca with a circumferential
graduated scale and a diametral graduated rule.
The texts and diagrams presented here are of a very different nature, for they
deal with a quite distinctive kind of sacred geography, or, should we say,
sacred folk geography, involving a world divided in sectors around the
Kaʿba. Each sector is associated with a segment of the perimeter of the
Kaʿba and the qibla in each sector is the direction in which one stands in
front of the Kaʿba facing that segment of its perimeter.
In spite of the considerable documentation already available, there seems to
be some incredulity that qiblas were actually determined using astronomical
risings and settings, not least because the historical mosque orientations,
which are often curious to moderns, have persuaded some ill-informed
writers to claim that the mosques were not oriented toward Mecca at all, but
rather to some alternative cult-site. These authors overlook the fact that the
qibla is toward the Kaʿba not toward Mecca there is, as we shall see, a
See King, World-Maps for finding the direction and distance of Mecca (1999),
which includes a survey of qibla-determinations by both folk-astronomical and
mathematical techniques, as well as editions of all known medieval lists of qibla-
values for cities.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.20185
subtle difference. These authors, although they essentially seek to denigrate
Islam, are not revisionists in the traditional sense because, having no idea
about historical qibla determinations, they revise nothing; rather, they
simply generate “false news” about the qibla (see the Appendix to this
I therefore present here a brief list of such medieval sources that have come
to my attention. To this list, now made available for the first time, could
surely be added many other texts on Islamic law and folk astronomy, as well
as encyclopaedias. These materials are not the kind that one can identify
from the frequent designations of manuscripts by “author, title, date”. In this
brief introduction to the sources, the bibliographical references to the authors
have been removed, not only because these needed updating but also
because there are ample bio-bibliographical sources available for that
Even though the sources listed below are unrelated at least in methodology
to the substantial medieval Islamic sources on the determination of the qibla
as a problem of mathematical geography, they have, of course, the same
goal, to determine the qibla. Roughly, one could maintain that the sacred
geography texts favour using folk astronomical techniques to face the walls
and corners of a distant sacred edifice, the Kaʿba, and the scientific texts
favour using mathematical techniques to face the distant city where that
edifice is situated, namely, Mecca. It is not surprising that some of the most
significant sources are or Yemeni origin for in the colourful medieval
Yemeni tradition of astronomy both the mathematical and the folk traditions
of astronomy were practiced, in certain cases, even by the same scholar.
The sources on Islamic sacred geography are also unrelated to the ancient
and medieval tradition of the geographical ‘climates’ (
ﻗا .ج
ﻗا ), the
importance of whose extensive influence in Islamic astronomy and
geography and instrumentation has been stressed elsewhere.
King, World-Maps for finding the direction to Mecca, pp. 23-28 & 230-234; and
In Synchrony with the Heavens, XVI: pp. 925-932. On the basic notion see the EI2
article “Ilīm [climate]” by André Miquel.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.20186
The texts listed below belong to the tradition of folk science that flourished
in Islamic civilization alongside mathematical science. Inevitably, the former
tradition, based mainly on pre-Islamic Arabian folk science, preceded the
latter, based on Hellenistic, Indian and Iranian science. Also inevitably, the
latter alone has attracted the attention of historians of science, with a few
notable exceptions, that being a discipline often mainly concerned with what
the Muslims took from the Greeks and what ‘we’ took from the Muslims.
Several of the works cited belong to a class of literature that is little known
nowadays. The genre was called ﺔﻠﺒﻘ
ﺋﻻد ﺐﺘ
, kutub dalā’l al-qibla, or
books on the ways of finding the qibla by simple (non-scientific) means.
Other works belong to the better-known genre ءاﻮ
ﻧﻷا ﺐﺘ
, kutub al-anwā,
dealing with the seasons and general folk astronomy.
Our sources on sacred geography contain two kinds of information:
(1)instructions on how to find the qibla using the risings and settings of the
sun and certain qibla-stars (and in some cases, the winds) or the Pole Star
for a specific region; or
(2)details in words or in diagrams on the way in which the medieval Islamic
world was thought to be divided in sectors around the Kaʿba, each sector
associated with a segment of the perimeter of the edifice, with an
associated qibla derived from the orientation of that wall-segment.
One of the reasons why this sacred geography developed as it did was
because the rectangular base of the Kaʿba itself is astronomically aligned,
and its corners roughly face the cardinal directions. The main axis of the
Kaʿba points toward the rising of Canopus, the brightest star in the southern
sky, and the setting of the stars of the Plough; its minor axis points toward
summer sunrise and winter sunset – for the latitude of Mecca these two
directions happen to be more or less perpendicular. Since the pre-Islamic
folklore surrounding the Kaʿba also involved each of the four ‘cardinal’
winds hitting the appropriate wall of the Kaʿba head-on, some of the
instructions for facing the Kaʿba involve the way in which a person stands
See three overviews of the history of Islamic astronomy by C. A. Nallino (1921),
DAK (1996), and Robert Morrison (2010).
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.20187
with respect to the winds, in addition to the way he/she stands with respect
to astronomical risings and settings. This information was first rediscovered
in modern times in the writings of the 13th-century Yemeni astronomer
Muammad ibn Abī Bakr al-Fārisī, a man well versed in both mathematical
astronomy and folk astronomy; the astronomical alignments stated in the
text were confirmed by satellite images. The very distinctive orientation of
the Kaʿba is now known to be mentioned in several other medieval sources.
It would be naïve to think that it has ever been changed over the centuries;
additional proof that it has not is provided by the fact that the corners
roughly face the cardinal directions and the existence of the low semi-
circular wall (ﺮﺠﺤﻟا , al-ijr) attached to the NW Wall. "
See Hawkins & King, “Orientation of the Kaʿba” (1982). (The basic information
in this article has been hijacked by several authors so that, for example, it is not
mentioned in the article “History of the Kaaba” in Wikipedia.)
In the article “ibla. Legal aspects” in the 1st edition of the Encyclopedia of
Islam, reprinted in the 2nd edition, the qibla is defined as “the direction of Mecca
(to be exact of the Kaʿba or the place between the water-spout (mīzāb) and the
western corner) ... ”. This definition actually applies only to a specific region, the
information being originally derived from some scheme of sacred geography. A
modern fiction is that the qibla is toward the Black Stone in the SE corner of the
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.20188
Black Stone
rising of
The orientation of the Kaʿba mentioned in medieval texts and
confirmed by satellite images, taking into consideration the
surrounding skyline. Canopus (!"#$ , Suhayl) is the brightest star in
the southern sky. The direction of the rising of Canopus is conveniently
perpendicular to the axis between summer sunrise and winter sunset
for the latitude of Mecca. The ratio of the major axis of the edifice to
the minor axis is actually about 8:7.
In pre-Islamic folklore the walls of the Kaʿba were associated with the
four ‘cardinal’ winds. Note that if one is standing in front of the SW
wall one is facing (!%&'$(, istaqbala) the )*%+ , qabūl wind, also called
,%- , abā’; in this position one is facing summer sunrise with
(formerly) fortunate Yemen (./"0( , al-Yaman) on the right and (forever)
ominous Syria (1230(, al-Sha’m) on the left.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.20189
The following is an extract from the 8-sector scheme of Ibn al-Surāqa
(Yemen and Basra, ca. 1000):
“The inhabitants of Medina ... , and of the Hejaz, Ramla, Jerusalem,
Palestine, and places in the same direction pray toward the Waterspout
of the Kaʿba (at the middle of the NW Wall). ... Anyone in these places
who stands so that the Banāt Naʿsh (stars of the Plough) set behind him,
Canopus rises directly in front of him, Vega rises at his left ear and sets
behind his right ear, the East Wind is at his left eye, the North Wind is
behind his left ear, the West Wind is behind his right ear, or the South
Wind is at his right side, will be facing the direction of the Kaʿba.”
In these instructions the stars and winds are used as indicators (
ﺋﻻد ,
dalā’il); in other texts it is the actual risings and settings of the sun and stars
which define the qibla. In not a few texts the instructions are mutually
inconsistent with regard to the direction that one should be facing. One of
the reasons for this is that the texts were conceived by authors themselves in
Mecca standing in front of the Kaʿba. Thus they may advocate a qibla for a
locality such as Syria or al-Andalus toward the rising of Canopus when that
southern star cannot be seen in those regions. Particularly problematic are
the winds, because it is the ‘cardinal’ winds at Mecca that underly these
recommendations. The safest procedure for the non-mathematically inclined,
as noted by the great scientist al-Bīrūnī (Ghazna, ca. 1025), was to orient
oneself with respect to the Pole Star.
This obviated the need to determine
the meridian by day and to catch up
with the sun, as well as to get
involved with stars which moved
across the sky. It was al-Bīrūnī who
authored the most sophisticated book
ever compiled by a Muslim on
mathematical geography and the
determination of the qibla by
mathematical means. "
References are given below and in more detail in “Bibliography of books, articles
and websites on the determination of the qibla” (2018).
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201810
A diagram in the treatise on finding the qibla by non-mathematical means by the 12th-
century Egyptian legal scholar al-Dimyāṭī. The qiblas in the four major Mamluk cities
are toward a particular segment of the perimeter of the Kaʿba, here shown more or less
correctly aligned in its actual orientation. Elsewhere al-Dimyāṭī presents a complicated
13-sector scheme of sacred geography. This text is the most significant treatise on the
subject in the known sources on Islamic sacred geography but both the author and his
work were unknown before the unique manuscript was rediscovered in 1982. From MS
Oxford Bodleian Marsh 592, fol. 88v, courtesy of the Bodleian Library.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201811
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201812
The diagram on the right is a particularly important 8-sector scheme of
sacred geography because although it is found in an 18th-century
Ottoman Egyptian manuscript it is in fact many centuries (6? 7?) older.
On the left is a rather primitive ‘map’ showing various cities on a
longitude-latitude grid with their positions relative to the Kaʿba in the
upper left. The city of Bursa in the lower right is joined by a line to
Medina with Mecca beyond. The Kaʿba is appropriately shown as a
rectangle inclined to the meridian. In judging this somewhat flawed
attempt to merge two traditions of sacred geography, mathematical and
folk, of which this is the only known example, it should be borne in mind
that the vast majority of medieval maps have no coordinate grid at all.
Those world-maps which did have such a grid with cities correctly
marked according to their (medieval) coordinates have mainly
disappeared without trace, but fortunately, not all of them. From MS
Cairo alʿat majāmīʿ 811,7, fols. 60v-61r, !
courtesy of the Egyptian National Library.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201813
For another example we turn to Ibn al-Ajdābī (Ajdabiya, Libya, ca. 1225):
“In the Eastern sector to the South of the parallel of Mecca the qibla is
towards summer sunset and what is close to this, which is (the
direction) facing the wall of the Kaʿba going from the Yemeni Corner
to the Black Corner (that is, the Eastern corner with the Black Stone).
The localities in this sector are the Eastern parts of the Yemen, al-Shir,
India, and the parts of Southern China beyond.”
Here the qibla proposed for the Yemen is toward summer sunset, about 30°
N of W, which seems to have been used for the earliest mosque in China. It
is at variance with the orientation of the Great Mosque of Sanaa at about 60°
N of W, perhaps originally aligned toward the SE Wall of the Kaʿba.
Consistency is not a feature of the 20 different schemes of Islamic sacred
geography formulated over the centuries, and the information about the qibla
contained in them should not be used willy-nilly to interpret mosque
The major scholars responsible for the development of serious Islamic
sacred geography were Ibn Surāqa (Yemen & Basra, ca. 975), Ibn Raḥīq
(Mecca, ca. 1050) and al-Dimyāṭī (Cairo, ca. 1175), whose names are totally
unfamiliar to mainstream Islamic studies, as well as the better-known
astronomer al-Fārisī (Aden, ca. 1275). Some of the later schemes of sacred
geography show only localities in sectors surrounding the Kaʿba, without
giving any information on the associated qiblas. Such are the schemes of the
well-known authors Yāqūt (Hama, ca. 1225) and al-Qazwīnī (Syria & Iraq,
ca. 1250), as well as the splendid multi-coloured scheme in the navigational
atlas of al-afāqusī (Sfax, ca. 1550), which was destined to adorn the covers
of several coffee-table books on Islamic civilization long before it was ever
seriously studied. At least the two known copies of al-afāqusī’s scheme
have a circumferential scale, albeit with unnumbered divisions, surrounding
The information in these texts explains how it comes to be that some
historical mosques are not aligned in the qibla-directions we moderns might
expect. For the qiblas advocated in these texts are necessarily different from
those derived by Muslim astronomers from the 9th century onwards based
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201814
on medieval geographical coordinates and some mathematical procedure,
exact or approximate. Each set is also necessarily different from the modern
qibla-direction, based on modern geographical coordinates and exact
mathematical procedures. For this reason, it is not sensible to investigate
historical mosque orientations using modern criteria for the qibla. Those
who have done that have inevitably overlooked the use of astronomical
alignments even in the most important early mosques, sometimes replacing
earlier religious edifices themselves astronomically aligned (as in Córdoba,
Kairouan, Cairo, Jerusalem, Damascus, Samarqand, to name just a few). On
some of these situations, publications based on medieval texts have been
published elsewhere. To unravel the complexities from mosque orientations
alone without medieval texts which more or less explain it all would have
been much more difficult.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201815
Various qibla-directions and mosque orientations accepted in medieval
cities of (a) Córdoba, (b) Cairo, and (c) Samarqand. These include
astronomical directions, cardinal and solstitial, and qiblas determined by
mathematical procedures.
In Córdoba there is no accurately-computed qibla attested, only one
derived by an approximate formula (113°), which competed with winter
sunrise (120°). The striking orientation of the Grand Mosque (150°)
results from the street-plan of the Roman suburb where it was built, and
it is ‘parallel’ to the main axis of the Kaʿba.
In the case of Cairo, the qibla of the Companions of the Prophet was
winter sunrise (117°) and in the 10th century the qibla of the astronomers
(127°) started to become popular. Some Mamluk mosques are aligned
with the Fatimid city plan on the outside and the qibla of the astronomers
on the inside. In some suburbs any direction between the rising and
setting of the star Canopus (156°/204°), favoured as a south indicator,
was used.
In Samarqand the qibla of the Companions was toward winter sunset
(240°) but the qibla of the Shāfiʿīs was due south (since the Prophet had
prayed due south in Medina) and that of the anafīs was due west (since
the road to Mecca left Samarqand in a westerly direction).
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201816
These materials constitute the only known tradition in world history of
written and pictorial evidence of the use of astronomical alignments for
sacred architecture. As such, they have been welcomed with enthusiasm by
colleagues in ethnoastronomy and archaeoastronomy, if not yet by those in
the history of Islamic architecture.
The theme of sacred geography in Islamic civilisation has not previously
been accorded due attention. Two schemes from published texts were
illustrated by Konrad Miller in his monumental Mappæ arabicæ (1931). In
the mid 20th century, it was overlooked entirely but in all innocence by two
of the leading scholars of the history of Islamic geography, S. Maqbul
Ahmad on geographical literature and André Miquel on human geography.
More recently it has been ignored altogether for different reasons by my
colleague Fuat Sezgin in his monumental history of mathematical geography
and cartography in Islamic civilization. The same scholar also edited some
318 volumes of reprints and facsimiles on Islamic geography and
cartography, but sacred geography both highly sophisticated maps centred
on Mecca and splendid diagrams of the world centred on the Kaʿba seem
to have escaped his attention. Our subject has indeed little to do with
cartography, but it is aptly referred to as sacred geography. The first
independent book on Islamic geography to seriously mention this notion of
the world around the Kaʿba is Medieval Islamic maps – An exploration
(2004) by Karen Pinto.
I first announced the existence of these then newly-discovered materials in
the 1980s at various conferences (A.O.S. & M.E.S.A.) in the U.S. I
published several articles describing the materials of this kind, notably, the
illustrated article “Makka as centre of the world” in the Encyclopaedia of
Islam (1987). My colleague Richard Lorch was preparing a chapter on the
mathematical determination of the qibla for The History of Cartography, and
the editors readily agreed to include a section on the new materials.
When commissioned to write the article “ibla (astronomical aspects)” (ibla
being a perverse rendering of qibla) for the Encyclopedia of Islam, which was
published in 1979, I had only a vague idea of the existence of the material
presented here.
Lorch & DAK, “Qibla charts, qibla maps, and related instruments’ (1992).
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201817
I also prepared a book-length manuscript introducing the materials in
chronological order, presenting the Arabic texts and manuscript illustrations,
and concluding with an analysis thereof and a surveying their implications
for mosque orientations. This work, provisionally entitled The Sacred
Geography of Islam, was alas shelved when I moved from New York
University (Near Eastern Languages & Literatures) to Frankfurt University
(History of Science). What follows here is the information on the sources for
the study of Islamic geography, taken from the original introduction to that
work. Only the most basic biographical information has been included here,
and no descriptions or analyses of the schemes. Various studies documented
in the bibliography, in particular, studies of the folk-astronomical treatises
containing elaborate schemes of sacred geography and considerable
discussion of the determination of the qibla by non-mathematical
procedures, are available to the interested reader.
Another genre of Islamic literature also investigated for the first time in the 1980s
the ﺖﯿ
ﻟا ﺐﺘ
, kutub al-mawāqīt, books on the determination of the times of
prayer by non-technical procedures reveals the reasons why the times of the
daytime prayers are defined in terms of increases over the minimum shadow at
midday, definitions that are not mentioned in neither the Qur’ān nor the Prophetic
adīth nor the earliest legal texts. See King, In Synchrony with the Heavens, esp.
IV: 529-622 on the development of the definitions of the times of prayer, and III:
457-527 on simple shadow-schemes for reckoning the time of day.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201818
List of authors on Islamic sacred geography
Note: Surely numerous specialists on Islamic law and on folk astronomy
could surely be added here.
ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib 0
Ibn Khurradādhbeh 1
Pseudo-al-Muqaddasī 2
Ibn al-Qāṣṣ 3
Ibn Surāqa al-ʿĀmirī 4
Muyi ‘l-Dīn al-Nawawī 5
Ibn Raḥīq 6
al-Dimyāṭī 7
al-Marghīnānī 8
Yāqūt al-Rūmī 9
Ibn al-Ajdābī 10
al-Qazwīnī 11
al-Qarāfī 12
al-Dīrīnī 13
al-Fārisī 14
Sultan al-Ashraf 15
Anon. Yemeni ephemeris 16
Ibn Falallāh al-ʿUmarī 17
al-Sarūjī 18
Anon. / Ibn Jamāʿa 19
al-Yāfiʿī 20
Muṣṭala Zīj 21
Ibn al-Qāṣi 22
Ottoman astrol. almanac 23
amdallāh Mustawfī 24
al-Qalqashandī 25
Anon. Egyptian 26
Anon. Yemeni 27
al-Maqrīzī 28
Pseudo-Ibn al-Wardī 29
Ibn Mājid 30
ʿAbd al-Bāsi al-Malaṭī 31
ʿAlī al-Sharafī al-afāqusī 32
Mamūd Khaṭīb Rūmī 33
Ghars al-Dīn al-alabī 34
Anon. Ottoman 35
al-Qalyūbī 36
Anon. Egyptian 37
al-Ṭūlūnī 37
Anon. Egyptian 38
Anon. Maghribī (?) 39
Ottoman navigation 40
Anon. Ottoman 41
Misc. instruments 42-50"
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201819
Texts on Islamic sacred geography
0) The earliest prescription to finding the qibla by means of the Pole Star
is attributed to the fourth Caliph ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib but its authenticity, as in
the case of most of the scientific or pseudo-scientific utterances attributed to
him (on which see King, “Algebra in Zabid”, pp. 226-227, esp. n. 14), must
be viewed with some scepticism.
1) The Kitāb al-Masālik wa-‘l-mamālik ( = Book on the routes and regi-
ons (of the Islamic world)), is a geographical work by Ibn Khurradādhbeh,
who worked in al-ʿIraq in the 9th century. His simple scheme of sacred
geography is described in words on p. 5 of the published text. See “Makka
as centre of the world” in EI2 and the detailed study by Herrera & Schmidl.
An interpretation of the simple scheme of
Ibn Khurradādhbeh.!
From the article “Makka as centre of the
world” in EI2.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201820
2) Another early scheme we can attribute to a Pseudo-al-Muqaddasī,
who has been confused with the famous geographer al-Muqaddasī, born in
Jerusalem around 945. Neither the printed version of the Asan al-taqāsīm fī
maʿrifat al-aqālīm (= The best divisions concerning the knowledge of the
geographical climates) of this late-10th-century scholar nor the splendid MS
Istanbul Aya Sofia 2971 (bis),1, copied 658 H / 1260, contains any qibla
diagram. However, another manuscript of this work, namely, MS Berlin
Deutsche Staatsbibliothek Ahlwardt 6034 ( = Sprenger 5), copied in the year
899 H / 1494, does contain an 8-sector diagram (fol. 34r). The details are
extremely corrupt, and although the scheme cannot securely be attributed to
al-Muqaddisī, it is clearly very early. See “Makka as centre of the world” in
EI2 , World-Maps for finding the direction of Mecca, p. 52, and the detailed
study by Herrera & Schmidl.
3) The Kitāb Dalāʿil al-qibla ( = Book on ways to find the qibla) was
compiled by the 10th-century legal scholar Ibn al-Qāṣṣ of Tabaristan on the
south-eastern shores of the Caspian Sea. The author is mentioned
disparagingly by the great 11th-century scientist al-Bīrūnī in his monumental
treatise on chronology (pp. 59 & 239), and it is probable that he was the
target of al-Bīrūnī’s treatise against those who used astronomical alignments
for the qibla.
The treatise Dalā’il al-qibla was in the 1980s available only in two
fragments preserved in MS Cairo Dār al-Kutub mīqāt 1201 (27 fols., copied
ca. 1100 H / ca. 1700) as well as a later anonymous work based on it pre-
served in MS Istanbul Veliyüddin 2453,2 (fols. 147r-169r, copied 845 H /
1441-42). The Cairo and Istanbul manuscripts are quite different in content,
the former dealing with qibla stars and the latter with geography.
Another manuscript was described by Safa in 1913 in the catalogue of his
private collection and obviously bore some resemblance to the Istanbul
manuscript; however, the Librarian of St. Joseph’s informed me in 1981 that
he was unaware of the fate of the manuscript. In 1989, my former colleague
Fuat Sezgin published a facsimile of MS Cairo Dār al-Kutub buldān 103 (81
pp., copied 781 H / 1379-80), which appears to be that “missing” Beirut
manuscript. In this there is a division of the world into seven sectors about
the Kaʿba (the author presents them as four). Ibn al-Qāṣṣ also gives
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201821
information on finding the qibla using the Pole Star, as well as an account of
the practice of some of his predecessors. See further a series of publications
by Jean-Charles Ducène.
4) The Yemeni legal scholar Ibn Surāqa al-ʿĀmirī studied in Basra and
then returned to his native Yemen, where he died in the year 1019. He
appears to have compiled three different qibla schemes, one with 8 sectors,
another with 11, and a third with 12. The work or works in which he
described these schemes are not known to have survived. Their title or titles
were Kitāb Dalāʿil al-qibla ( = Book on ways to find the qibla). The need to
expand these early 4- and 8-sector schemes resulted from the fact that
Greater Syria had wide span of qibla-directions, and even more so, the
sector featuring Yemen and S. China.
Ibn Surāqa’s 8-sector scheme is described by Ibn Raḥīq (§6) in MS Berlin
Ahlwardt 5664, fols. 23r-25v. His 11-sector scheme is described in al-
Sarūjīs commentary to al-Marghīnānī’s Hidāya (§8 & §18); in Ibn
Falallāh’s encyclopaedia (§17); and in an anonymous Mamluk source
(§19). A 12-sector scheme due to Ibn Surāqa appears to underlie the 13-
sector scheme of al-Dimyāṭī (§7). Only Ibn Raḥīq records the attribution to
Ibn Surāqa; in the other sources the authors introduce the material as if it
were their own. On Ibn Surāqa’s three schemes see already King, “Makka as
centre of the world”.
5) al-Dimyāṭī (see §7) in his shorter treatise (fols. 11r-11v and 12v of the
Ẓāhirīya manuscript) states that one Muyi ‘l-Dīn ibn Yayā of Khurasan
(see fol. 12v) explained the qibla directions of different regions of the world
in his treatise al-Muḥīṭ, which was a commentary on the legal treatise al-
Wasīṭ by the celebrated scholar al-Ghazzālī. The scholar is the famous 13th-
century scholar of tradition and sacred law, Muyi ‘l-Dīn ibn Yayā al-
Nawawī (see also §9).
6) Ibn Raḥīq, whose full name was Abū ʿAbdallāh Muammad ibn
Raḥīq ibn ʿAbd al-Karīm, is apparently known only from the unique copy of
his treatise on folk astronomy, preserved in MS Berlin Deutsche
Staatsbibliothek Ahlwardt 5664 (71 fols., copied ca. 700 H / ca. 1300). From
internal evidence in this work it is clear that he lived in Mecca. Ibn Raḥīq
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201822
describes in words the 8-sector system of Ibn Surāqa. On his treatise see
Schmidl, Volkstümliche Astronomie.
7) The legal scholar Abu ‘l-Manṣūr Fat al-Dimyāṭī, a native of
Damietta who worked in Cairo in the latter half of the 12th century,
compiled two treatises on the qibla that are amongst the most significant
works on the subject compiled by any Muslim legal scholar in the entire
medieval period, if not the most significant. It seems that both the author and
his book have fallen through the cracks in both the medieval and the modern
bio-bibliographical sources.
The shorter of the two works is extant in the unique copy MS Damascus
Ẓāhirīya 5579 (18 fols., copied 802 H / 1399-1400). This contains some
material on an earlier scheme associated with Muyi ‘l-Dīn ibn Yayā (al-
Nawawī) (§5). al-Dimyāṭī also presents a scheme of his own: the qibla chart
on fol. 14r of this manuscript. In the text of the treatise the author mentions a
longer work of his on the same subject entitled Kitāb al-Tahdhīb fī maʿrifat
dalāʿil al-qibla wa-nab al-maḥārīb ( = The Book of instruction on the ways
to find the qibla and to set up prayer-niches), a title not listed in any of the
bibliographical sources known to me.
An incomplete and disordered copy of the Tahdhīb was located in the
Bodleian Library in July, 1982, namely, MS Marsh 592 (120 fols., copied
592 H / 1196). In this magnum opus al-Dimyāṭī presents (fols. 97v-101v +
26r-28r) what appears to be a 12-sector scheme due to Ibn Surāqa, with one
additional sector to make 13, as well as a diagram of his 13-sector scheme.
See King, “Cairo orientations”, where al-Dimyāṭī’s treatise is introduced for
the first time.
He is called Zayn (al-Dīn) al-Dimyāṭī by al-Qarāfī (§12, p. 499). On fol. 113v of
the Oxford manuscript he is identified as Najīb al-Dīn Nāṣir al-Sunna Abu ‘l-
Manṣūr Fat ibn Muammad ibn ʿAlī ibn Khalaf al-Dimyāṭī. On the title folio of
the Damascus manuscript he is incorrectly named as both Nūr al-Dīn and Sharaf
al-Dīn. Our author is not to be identified with any of the scholars named al-
Dimyāṭī (i.e. from Damietta in the Nile Delta) listed in Brockelmann, GAL, or in
EI2. However, he is known to have written a treatise refuting Christianity which
was not appreciated by the Coptic Ibn al-ʿAssāl family.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201823
8) ʿAlī ibn Abī Bakr al-Marghīnānī was a anafī legal scholar who died
in 593 H / 1197. He is best known for two works, the Bidāyat al-
mubtadi’ ( = A Beginning for the beginner), an introductory work on anafī
law, and a much more extensive compendium on the same entitled al-
Hidāya, Guidance. The latter was one of the most influential works on
anafī law, as can be judged by the dozens of commentaries written on it
over the centuries This notwithstanding, the work contains no information
on prayer in general or on the qibla in particular. A fragment of a
commentary by al-Sarūjī (§18) quotes Ibn Surāqa (§4) without mentioning
his name.
9) The geographical dictionary entitled Muʿjam al-buldān (= Dictionary
of localities) was compiled by the celebrated scholar Yāqūt al-Rūmī in
Hama during the period 1215-1229. The work was edited by F. Wüstenfeld
in 1866-73, and uncritical editions have been published in Cairo and Beirut.
It contains a simplified 12-sector qibla chart, reproduced by Wüstenfeld; the
same chart reappears in the Beirut edition (I, p. 33). Yāqūt states that his
chart shows how one can face the Kaʿba approximately and remarks that
there is some controversy about it. Unfortunately he gives no indication of
its provenance. The published chart contains not a few errors. But several
manuscripts of Yāqūt’s work are available, and of these I have inspected
two. MS Istanbul Topkapı Arabic 6530 = Ahmet III 2700, copied in an
elegant hand ca. 825 H / 1425 has a qibla chart on fol. 23r. MS Istanbul Ha-
midiye 990 (785 fols.) purports to be in the authors hand and dated 621 H /
1224 but in fact it is a late Ottoman copy from about 1800; the qibla chart
occurs here on fol. 11r.
10) The treatise on folk astronomy entitled Kitāb al-Azmina wa-‘l-
anwā ( = Book on the seasons and associated astronomical phenomena) by
Ibn al-Ajdābī, a philologist from Ajdābiyya in Libya who lived in the early
13th century, contains a description in words of an 8-sector system of sacred
geography (pp. 120-125 of the published text).
11) The celebrated scholar al-Qazwīnī, who was born in Qazwin ca. 1205
and worked in Syria and Iraq where he died in 1283, wrote two major works
on geography and cosmography. A simplified 12-sector qibla chart is
contained in the former, the Āthār al-bilād ( = Book about the monuments (?)
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201824
of the countries (of the world)), but not the latter, the ʿAjā’ib al-makhlūqāt
( = Book on the wonders of creation). al-Qazwīnī’s scheme is slightly
different from that of Yāqūt (§9).
12) A scheme for finding the qibla in nine regions of the world by means
of the Pole Star is presented by the distinguished 13th-century Egyptian
legal scholar Shihāb al-Dīn al-Qarāfī. The scheme is described in words in
his major treatise entitled al-Dhakhīra ( = The Treasure), the first part of
which was published in Cairo in 1961 (pp. 489-508).
13) iyā al-Dīn al-Dīrīnī, an Egyptian mystic of the early 13th century
who spent part of his life wandering around the Nile Delta as a dervish,
wrote a lengthy poem on folk astronomy entitled al-Yawāqīt fī maʿrifat al-
mawāqīt ( = Sapphires for finding the times of prayer), which is extant in
several manuscript copies. The poem concludes with a section on the qibla
and an 8-sector qibla diagram.
14) A treatise on folk astronomy entitled Tufat al-rāghib ... ( = The Gem
for the person who seeks... ) by the late-13th-century Yemeni astronomer
Muammad ibn Abī Bakr al-Fārisī survives in a unique complete copy,
MS Milan Ambrosiana X73 sup. (unfoliated, copied ca. 900 H / ca. 1500).
This manuscript contains a total of three 12-sector qibla schemes. One is de-
scribed verbally in the 11th chapter of al-Fārisī’s text. The other two are
represented on diagrams found at the end of the treatise and separate from it.
See Schmidl, Volkstümliche Astronomie, for a full treatment. In al-Fārisī’s
Tufa we find a statement concerning the orientation of the Kaʿba (see
Hawkins & King, “Orientation of the Kaʿba”). In his other astronomical
works, he presents mathematical methods for determining the qibla.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201825
15) The Rasulid Yemeni Sultan al-Ashraf authored a compendium on
mathematical astrology entitled al-Tabira fī ʿilm al-nujūm ( = The Book of
instruction in astrology) at the end of the 13th century. It survives in the
unique MS Oxford Bodleian Hunt. 233 (166 fols., copied ca. 700 H / 1300),
the copy in Tehran being late and corrupt. A 12-sector diagram of sacred
geography occurs on fol. 116v of the Oxford manuscript. A detailed analysis
of this work is being conducted by Dr. Petra Schmidl.
16) An anonymous Yemeni almanac and ephemeris for the year 727
Hijra ( =1326-27) is preserved in MS Cairo Dār al-Kutub mīqāt 817,2 (fols.
A description in words of a 12-sector scheme of sacred geography is contained in
al-Fārisīs treatise on folk astronomy. Appended to the treatise in the only known
copy are these two diagrams which contain different information. From MS Milan
Ambrosiana X73 sup., courtesy of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana. See Schmidl,
Volkstümliche Astronomie, for details.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201826
55r-84v, copied probably in 1325). It contains a 12-sector diagram of sacred
17) Ibn Falallāh al-ʿUmarī (1301-1349) was a distinguished author and
administrator of the Mamluk period, who served in the chanceries of Cairo
and Damascus and compiled important works on the organization and
administration of the Mamluk state. One of his two major works was an
enormous encyclopaedia entitled Masālik al-abṣār fī mamālik al-amṣār ( =
The roads of vision concerning the empires of cities), arranged in 27
volumes dealing with literature, history, geography, religion, law and
politics, as well as with administration. The work is extant in its entirety,
some volumes even in the author’s hand, and a facsimile based on a
multiplicity of manuscripts has been published (Frankfurt, IGAIW). The
discussion of the qibla is to be found in vol 2, of which apparently the only
available copy is MS Istanbul Süleymaniye yazma bağişlar 2227 (no date of
copying, but clearly early). The material merits more thorough treatment
than is possible here (as is the case with the writings of al-Dimyāṭī and al-
Maqrīzī), and I restricted attention to the following.
First, on pp. 229-230 there is an example of the use of the Pole Star for
finding the qibla in Iran, quoted from the 13th-century Shāfiʿī jurist Muyī
al-Dīn al-Nawawī (§5, see also §9) together with a critique thereof by the
mid-14th-century Damascene astronomer Ibn al-Shāṭir. Second, there is a
qibla diagram on p. 243 (< fol. 142r). There is no indication of the
provenance of the scheme; it is of the simple 12-sector variety but unrelated
in detail to any other that has come to my attention. I find it hard to imagine
that Ibn Falallāh, familiar with what Ibn al-Shāṭir had written about such
schemes, would have dared present one of his own. Third, immediately
following this diagram (pp. 244-247) by a description of Ibn Surāqa’s 11-
sector scheme (§4), without mention of its provenance. Again Ibn Falallāh
had no qualms about presenting this scheme without critical comment.
Finally, the author continues with some historical remarks about the qibla in
various locations, also found in al-Sarūjī (§18).
Ibn Falallāh influenced al-Qalqashandī (§25), but the latter’s description of
the world about the Kaʿba is independent.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201827
(It has been claimed that the world-map presented by Ibn Falallāh
reproduces the world-map of the ʿAbbāsid Caliph al-Ma’mūn, but this is
based on an illusion, not least because the latter was rectangular and Ibn
Falallāh’s later map is semi-circular. Also without foundation is the claim
that al-Ma’mūn had a spherical world-map.)
18) Amad ibn ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Sarūjī is known to us only as a
commentator on the Hidāya of al-Marghīnānī (§8). His work is extant in a
manuscript in Istanbul (not consulted) and a fragment in MS Cairo Dār al-
Kutub Muṣṭafā Fāḍil majāmīʿ 183, 5 (fols. 107r-114v, copied ca. 1150 H /
1750, anonymous). By good fortune the latter just happens to deal with our
subject. It contains the opinions of various early authorities on the qibla in
different localities, also found in Ibn Falallāh (§17); a statement on the
orientation of the Kaʿba; information on the stars used for finding the qibla
and on the winds; a diagram of the Kaʿba (fol. 111r), as well as what
concerns us more here: a full description (fols. 111r-114r) of the 11-sector
scheme of Ibn Surāqa (§4) without any attribution. The other material in this
source merits detailed investigation.
19) A short fragment of an anonymous Egyptian treatise on the qibla is
preserved in MS Milan Ambrosiana II.75 (A75),20 (fols. 174r-177v, copied
ca. 1000 / ca. 1600). The text describes in words a 12-sector qibla scheme
attributed to the early-14th-century legal scholar ʿIzz al-Dīn ibn Jamāʿa ʿan
abīhi, that is, on the authority of his father Badr al-Dīn ibn Jamāʿa, who was
also a celebrated legal scholar. The father was born in Syria and worked in
Damascus and Cairo, whereas the son worked in Cairo. Only descriptions of
four sectors are contained in this fragment. The author then presents a
different 11-sector scheme due to Ibn Surāqa (§4), his description being
preserved in its entirety.
The corrupt 12-sector qibla diagram in the printed version of the
Cosmography of Pseudo-Ibn al-Wardī (§29) is attributed to Ibn Jamāʿa, but I
have not noticed this association in any of the available manuscripts of his
treatise examined.
20) The early-14th-century scholar ʿAbdallāh ibn Asʿad al-Yāfiʿī was
born in the Yemen and began his studies in Aden, but he spent most of his
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201828
life in Mecca and Medina. His treatise is entitled Sirāj al-tawḥīd ... , ( = The
lamp of belief in the unity of God ... ) and survives in several copies. I have
used MS Cairo Dār al-Kutub Taymūr riyāḍa 322 (79 pp., copied 877 H /
1472-73), where the relevant passage occurs on pp. 20-23. al-Yāfiʿī is of
especial interest for his critique of the 11-sector scheme of Ibn Surāqa (§4).
His remarks were lifted in toto by the author of the Ottoman navigational
text (see §41).
21) A diagram of sacred geography is contained amidst some notes at the
end of a Yemeni copy of a recension of the anonymous 13th-century
Egyptian Muṣṭala Zīj ( = The popular astronomical handbook), preserved
in MS Paris Bibliothèque nationale de France ar. 2513 (copied ca. 750 H /
ca. 1350), esp. fol. 94r. No such diagram appears in other manuscripts of this
Zīj or related commentaries, and there is no reason to suppose that this
diagram was original to the Zīj. Furthermore, no other Islamic zījes currently
known to me contain such qibla diagrams (though see §26 and §35 below).
22) The late-14th-century Cairo legal scholar Ibn al-Qāṣi wrote inter
alia two separate treatises on the use of the astronomical instruments called
the sine quadrant and the astrolabic quadrant. Both treatises survive in
unique contemporaneous manuscripts and both contain information relevant
to our study. They also contain a discussion of the astronomically-aligned
ventilators of medieval Cairo, which has been analyzed elsewhere: see
“Cairo orientations”, pp. 111-112.
Ibn al-Qāṣi’s treatise on the use of the sine quadrant is extant in MS Vatican
ar. 317,4 (fols. 95r-113v, copied ca. 800 H / 1400). In Chapter 63 he
discusses the determination of the qibla by the standard approximate geo-
metric construction (see King, “Earliest methods for finding the qibla”).
Then in Chapter 64 he presents an 11-sector division of the world about the
Kaʿba which is in fact based on the scheme of Ibn Surāqa (§4), and in
Chapter 65 he discusses the winds and their relationship to the corners of the
Some remarks by Ibn al-Qāṣi on the qibla sector for Egypt and the Maghrib
are also recorded in his treatise on the use of the astrolabic quadrant, which
is extant in MS Cairo Dār al-Kutub mīqāt 26 (29 fols., copied ca. 800 H / ca.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201829
1400). The author mentions that he had written “a short compilation on the
ways to find the direction of the Kaʿba by the blowing of the four winds”.
No copies of this treatise are known to me, and the Milan fragment
mentioned in §19 is probably not due to Ibn al-Qāṣi because it corresponds
to Ibn Surāqa’s 12-sector scheme and not his 11-sector one.
23) MS Leiden Universiteitsbibliotheek Or. 563 (ca. 50 fols., copied 760
H / 1358-59) is a beautifully-executed Persian astrological almanac full of
tables of a non-numerical kind. The copy was (apparently?) prepared for the
treasury of the enigmatic ruler ʿAlā’ al-Dīn Beg (d. 1333), son of ʿUthmān,
the founder of the Ottoman State. On fols. 37v-38r there is a diagram of the
world about the Kaʿba in nine sectors.
24) amdallāh Mustawfī was a scholar of early 14th-century Qazwin
who compiled works on history and geography. In the geographical section
of his treatise entitled Nuzhat al-qulūb ( = Recreation for the hearts ... ),
which has been edited and translated by Guy Le Strange, he presents a
section on finding the qibla in different parts of Iran (text, pp. 22-23, and
trans., p. 24). MS Istanbul Fatih 4517 (354 fols., copied 881 H / 1476-77),
has the relevant passage on fols. 222v-223r.
25) The encyclopaedia entitled ub al-aʿshā ( = The daybreak of the
night-blind) by the early-15th-century Egyptian scholar al-Qalqashandī
contains a description of the Kaʿba (IV, pp. 251-255). al-Qalqashandī
describes in words the 12 divisions of the perimeter and the sectors of the
world that are associated with them with qibla indications.
26) A qibla chart with 12 sectors is found in MS Cairo Dār al-Kutub
mīqāt 637, fol. 46v, copied ca. 850 H / ca. 1450. It occurs at the end of a
copy of the astronomical handbook (zīj) entitled al-Lumʿa fī all al-kawākib
al-sabʿa ( = The Flash for finding the positions of the sun, moon and
planets), which was compiled in Cairo ca. 800 H / ca. 1400 by the muwaqqit
(official mosque timekeeper) Shihāb al-Dīn al-Kawm al-Rīshī. The chart is
copied in a different hand from the rest of the manuscript, and there are no
such diagrams in any of the numerous other copies of this zīj.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201830
27) An anonymous 12-sector qibla chart is found in MS Berlin Deutsche
Staatsbibliothek Ahlwardt 6071 (Wetzstein 1098) (1 sheet, copied ca. 1000
H / ca. 1600).
28) The celebrated historian al-Maqrīzī, who worked in Cairo in the early
15th century, discussed the problem of mosque orientation in Egypt in his
book known as the Khia ( = The City-Sectors (of Cairo)). In the course of
his discussion (I, pp. 257-258 of the 1853 Cairo edition) he mentions various
qibla sectors and their positions relative to the Kaʿba. al-Maqrīzī’s writings
on this subject were doubtless inspired by al-Dimyāṭīs Tahdhīb (§7), but
they are only partly derived from this earlier work. See King, “Cairo
orientations”, for al-Maqrīzīs comments.
29) The cosmography entitled Kharīdat al-ʿajāʿib wa-farīdat al-gharāʿib
( = The unbored pearl of wonders and the solitaire of marvels) was compiled
in Aleppo ca. 1420. The author was Ibn al-Wardī, a government secretary.
Because of the problems associated with the identification of this individual,
We shall refer to him as Pseudo-Ibn al-Wardī. What is not in question is
the fact that the treatise was the most popular work of its genre from the 16th
to 19th centuries. Dozens of manuscript copies, mostly of Egyptian, Yemeni
and Turkish provenance, but also some in Maghribi script, survive in
manuscript libraries around the world. Various kinds of qibla schemes are
contained in the twenty or so copies that I have examined.
According to Carl Brockelmann (GAL, II, p. 163), Pseudo-Ibn al-Wardīs
Cosmography was largely plagiarized from the encyclopaedia entitled Jāmiʿ
al-funūn ( = A compendium of the arts) compiled by the early-14th-century
Egyptian scholar Najm al-Dīn al-arrānī. MS Istanbul Aya Sofia 3834
(176 fols., copied ca. 900 H / ca. 1500) of this work contains no schemes of
sacred geography. It is not clear from my examination of the manuscripts of
Pseudo-Ibn al-Wardīs treatise which scheme or schemes, if any, he proposed
himself. I have not investigated the possibility that the different schemes
derive from different recensions of the work.
The uncritical edition of this work published in Cairo in 1863 contains two
extremely corrupt diagrams (pp. 70-71), one with 12 sectors and the other
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201831
with 8. The former is specifically attributed to ʿIzz al-Dīn ibn Jamāʿa (§19).
The latter is so corrupt that it can barely be recognized.
The 12-sector chart in the printed text is of the simplified variety. A different
12-sector diagram with prescriptions for the qibla in each sector, yet more
corrupt than the one in the published text, occurs in MS Paris BnF ar. 2188,
fol. 25r, which is of Maghribi provenance. (Another such chart is in MS
Princeton Yahuda 667, copied 1014 H / 1605-06, fol. 49v.)
In the following six manuscripts, the qibla chart has only 11 sectors: MS
Istanbul Laleli 2121, copied 995 H / 1586-87 in an elegant hand, fol. 61r;
MS Laleli 2122, copied ca. 1100 / ca. 1700, fol. 49v (smeared); MS Istanbul
Topkapı Arabic 6552 ( = Ahmet III 3020), copied 984 H / 1576 in an elegant
hand, fol. 52v; MS Topkapı Arabic 6554 = A. III 3022, fol. 86v; MS Istanbul
Yeni Cami 789, copied 998 H / 1589-1590, fol. 49v; and MS Princeton
Garrett 267B-770, 16th century, fol. 45v.
An 8-sector qibla chart occurs in MS Paris B.N. ar. 2186, fol. 44r, of an early
ʿIrāqī (Mosul?) or Syrian copy of Pseudo-Ibn al-Wardīs treatise. The same
scheme is recorded by Ibn al-Ajdābī and al-Dīrīnī (§§10 & 13).
A different 8-sector scheme is attested in two manuscripts, namely, MSS
Istanbul Topkapı Ahmed III 3025, fol. 30v, and 3021, fol. 40r.
One copy, MS Istanbul Reisülkuttab Mustafa Efendi 1009, copied 982 H /
1584, contains a qibla diagram with 18 sectors (fol. 56v), each subdivided
into two. The chart in MS Istanbul Kılıç Ali Paşa 736/745, fol. 45r, displays
36 divisions. A 34-sector chart occurs in MS London B.L. Or. 9590 of
Pseudo-Ibn al-Wardīs treatise; this copy is in Maghribi script and has an
incorrectly-oriented plan for the Kaʿba with the ijr and mīzāb facing due
east. In MS Princeton Yahuda 326, copied 983 H / 1575-76, there is an
additional folio (14v) with a 38-sector scheme in a different and much later
hand. A similar chart in MS Milan Ambrosiana B13, fol. 80r, shows just how
corrupt these qibla charts could become after successive rehashing by
hapless copyists.
Several copies have a blank space where the qibla diagram might have been.
Either the copyists did not like drawing diagrams or they could not choose
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201832
which one to copy! In MS Princeton Garrett 39L-769 (copied 1019 H /
1610-11), there are no diagrams and no spaces left for them. But neither can
the latter possibility be ruled out: for example, in MS Istanbul Haci Beşir
Ağa 435 (copied 994 H / 1586), the copyist has included an elegant mappa
mundi (fols. 3v-4r) but left blank the page for the qibla chart (fol. 41v).
The qibla charts in two copies of a Turkish translation of the Kharīda. These
are MSS Istanbul Topkapı Revan 1088, fol. 94r, and Hazine 409, fol. 99r:
both contain only 11 sectors with prescriptions for finding the qibla, also in
Turkish. On the Turkish translation by Mamūd al-Khaṭīb al-Rūmī see §33.
In four manuscripts, the qibla chart has 11 sectors: MSS Istanbul Laleli
2121, copied 995 H / 1586-87 in an elegant hand, fol. 61r; Laleli 2122,
copied ca. 1100 / ca. 1700, smeared, fol. 49v; Topkapı 6552 ( =Ahmed III
3020), copied 984 H / 1576 in an elegant hand, fol. 52v; Topkapı 6554 ( = A
3022), fol. 86v; and Yeni Cami 789, copied 998 H / 1589-90, fol. 49v.
30) Ibn Mājid was the author of several works on navigational
astronomy. His family hailed from Oman and he was active around the year
1500. In the introduction to his major work al-Fawā’id fī uṣūl al-bar wa-‘l-
qawāʿid ( = Useful information on the fundamentals and basics of
navigation), Ibn Mājid states that his purpose in writing the book is not only
to present an overview of navigational theory but also to show his readers
how they can find directions in order to know the proper qibla.
Unfortunately, his discussion of the qibla as such does not go beyond the
expression of this hope. However, he does mention the division of the earth
proposed by (Pseudo-) Ibn al-Wardī (§29) “and others”.
31) The Egyptian anafī qāḍī ʿAbd al-Bāsi al-Malaṭī (fl. ca. 1500)
compiled a short work entitled Kitāb al-Wula li-maʿrifat al-qibla ( = The
link for finding the qibla). This is extant in the unique copy MS Istanbul
Topkapı 8653 ( = Ahmet III 527),5, fols. 90r-93v, copied ca. 950 H / ca.
1550. The author presents a diagram of sacred geography with 20 divisions
about the Kaʿba which is not found elsewhere.
32) An imposing diagram of sacred geography with mirābs of 40 sets of
localities displayed about the Kaʿba and imposed on a wind-rose is presented
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201833
in the navigational atlas prepared by the 16th-century Tunisian scholar
Amad al-Sharafī al-afāqusī. Two copies of this atlas are known, namely,
MSS Paris Bibliothèque nationale de France ar. 2273 and Oxford Bodleian
Marsh 294, both copied ca. 1000 H / ca. 1600. The localities represented are
slightly different in the two copies. For introductions to this work and its
qibla-scheme see Herrera-Casais, “The nautical atlases of ʿAlī al-Sharafī”,
and Ledger, Mapping Mediterranean Geographies.
33) In MS Istanbul Topkapı Turkish 1340 = Bağdatli 179 (260 fols.,
copied 1093 H ( = 1682) in Filibe (Plovdiv) of the Turkish translation of the
Cosmography of Pseudo-Ibn al-Wardī (§29) by Mamūd al-Khaṭīb al-
Rūmī (1562), there is a qibla chart with 72 sectors drawn about the Kaʿba.
This is independent of the schemes with 34, 35, 36 and 38 sectors in other
copies of the original Arabic work.
34) The 16th-century Egyptian astronomer Ghars al-Dīn al-alabī
mentioned the ʿIrāqī qibla-sector in his treatise on the qibla. This treatise is
extant as MS Cairo Dār al-Kutub Muṣṭafā Fāḍil mīqāt 114 (9 fols., copied
ca. 1000 H / ca. 1600), in which this information occurs on fol. 5v. See
King, “Cairo orientations”, pp. 112-113.
35) An anonymous Ottoman source: MS Paris B.N. ar. 2520 (175 fols.,
copied 1050 H / ca. 1650) is a copy of the recension of the Zīj of the
mid-14th-century Damascus astronomer Ibn al-Shāṭir by the mid-16th-
century astronomer Ibn Zurayq, also of Damascus. It is not clear whether the
manuscript was copied in Syria or Turkey, but there are indications on the
fly-leaves that it was in Istanbul ca. 1600. On these fly-leaves there are
altogether four schemes of sacred geography, two represented in circular
form and the other two crudely copied in the form of lists. There is also a
diagram for locating the mysterious rijāl al-ghayb, supposed intermediaries
between man and God (see also §37). The outline of a fourth circular
diagram, again with 8 divisions, has also been drawn. Only one of the four
schemes is attested elsewhere. (The reader can perhaps imagine my mixed
feelings upon locating these schemes in 1985 after I thought that I had com-
pleted this study and had turned my attention to other matters.)
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201834
36) The 17th-century Egyptian legal scholar Shihāb al-Dīn Amad ibn
Amad al-Qalyūbī compiled a treatise entitled Kitāb al-Hidāya mina ‘l-
alāla fī maʿrifat al-waqt wa-‘l-qibla min ghayr āla ( = Guidance from
going astray on the knowledge of timekeeping and the qibla without
astronomical instruments). It contains a section on finding the qibla in
different parts of the world by means of astronomical risings and settings.
This work exists in numerous copies, such as MSS Vatican ar. 1792 (fols.
14v-23v, copied ca. 1150 H / ca. 1750), where the discussion of the qibla
occurs on fols. 21v-22r, and Istanbul Topkapı 7131 (= Hazine 469) (18 fols.,
copied 1033 H / 1623-24), especially fols. 14v-15v.
37) An 8-sector qibla scheme is illustrated in an anonymous treatise on
the qibla and the Kaʿba preserved in the unique source MS Cairo alʿat
majāmīʿ 811,7 (fols. 59r-61r, copied 1198 H / 1783-84). The treatise follows
immediately after another on a device for finding the locations of the
mysterious rijāl al-ghayb, intermediaries between man and God (see already
§35), authored by the 17th-century Egyptian scholar ʿAbdallāh ibn ʿAbd
al-Ramān al-Ṭūlūnī, whose father was imām of the Mosque of Ibn Ṭūlūn
in Cairo. The treatises were copied in Cairo, but the one on the qibla may be
of Ottoman Turkish provenance. Certainly the qibla scheme predates the
13th century because a 12-sector Yemeni scheme from that century is based
upon it. Also it is related to a Persian scheme copied in the 14th-century
(§23). Another 8-division scheme illustrated in the same Cairo manuscript
(fol. 59v) is probably of even earlier origin. For discussions see, for
example, “Makka as centre of the world”, “Sacred geography”, and In
Synchrony with the Heavens, VIIa: p. 757, VIIb: p. 815.
38) An anonymous Egyptian treatise on the calendar, the prayer-times and
the qibla is preserved in MS Leiden Universiteitsbibliotheek 2575 (2 fols.,
copied ca. 1200 H / ca. 1800) describes a scheme for finding the qibla by the
Pole Star. This particular treatise is entitled Aqrab al-adilla fī maʿrifat al-
tawārīkh wa-‘l-awqāt wa-‘l-qibla ( = The easiest ways to know the
calendars, the prayer-times and the qibla), and is representative of a genre
of simple Egyptian treatises on these subjects compiled during the Ottoman
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201835
39) An illustration of a simple 8-sector scheme of sacred geography
without qibla indications is found in a manuscript of mixed contents mainly
in a Maghribi script but with possible Egyptian connections: MS Istanbul
Şehit Ali Paşa 2776,2, fol. 56v, copied ca. 980 H / ca. 1575). The manuscript
contains inter alia various treatises on folk astronomy (including that of al-
Tājūrī), arithmetic, as well as a solar table for Cairo (based on Ulugh Beg)
and a table of longitudes and latitudes, but the diagram does not seem to
belong to these. (Rumour has it that the manuscript is a copy of the partly
lost al-Zīj al-Mukhtaar of Ibn al-affār, the well-known astronomer who
worked in Córdoba around the year 1000; this is unfortunately false.)
The anonymous 8-sector scheme in MS Şehit
Ali Paşa 2776,2, fol. 56v, courtesy of the
Süleymaniye Library, Istanbul, which has
kindly made the entire manuscript available on
the internet.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201836
40) An anonymous Ottoman navigational manual is preserved in MS
Cairo Dār al-Kutub mīqāt 570 (ca. 150 fols., copied ca. 1300 H / ca. 1880).
It contains a series of texts, diagrams, and tables relating to navigation. The
work is written in Arabic but betrays both Turkish and European influences.
I have not found any indication of the geographical provenance of the
author, but the material can be dated to ca. 1860 (see fol. 6v). On fols.
12v-13v, the anonymous compiler presents a scheme of sacred geography in
which he purports to record his criticisms based upon his own observations.
In fact, the passage is simply lifted in toto from the treatise of al-Yāfiʿī
41) The following is an Ottoman text for marking a scheme of sacred
geography on instruments. Copied in a late hand on the back flyleaf (fol.
169v) of MS Berlin Ahlwardt 5750 (168 fols., ca. 700 H / ca. 1300) of a
recension of one of the zījes of the renowned 9th-century Baghdad
astronomer abash al-Ḥāsib, there are some tables and notes for calendar
conversion and a semicircular qibla-diagram containing 18 sectors. The
southern parts of a 36-sector scheme have been superposed on the northern
parts. The two sets of localities are separated by 10°-divisions in abjad
(alphanumerical) notation, and there is an additional set of numbers, one for
each division which make no sense. The scheme belongs to the Ottoman
tradition and was originally intended as an aid for marking qibla directions
on a semi-circular instrument.
42-50) The miscellaneous instruments listed below all display schemes of
sacred geography combined with otherwise scientifically-sound features
such as sundials or graduated circular scales. Doubtless there are many more
such instruments preserved in uncatalogued museum collections around the
world. See Lorch & King, “Qibla charts”, for an introduction to such
objects, and King, World-Maps, pp. 100-124, and Synchrony, X: 94-99, for
more details.
42) A circular instrument, consisting of a sundial and qibla-indicator,
made out of ivory, some 11 cm. in diameter is preserved in the British
Museum, London (inv. no. 1921, 625.I). It bears the signature of Bayram
ibn Ilyās and is dated 990 H / 1581-82. In the central part is a simple
pictorial representation of the Kaʿba, a wind-rose, and two sundials, one for
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201837
determining the time remaining to the afternoon prayer, and the other with a
string gnomon and circular hour-scale. Within this is an annulus with 72
equal divisions, mainly with three localities mentioned in each. On this see
DAK, World-Maps, pp. 116-117, and Synchrony, X: pp. 98-99, and an
enthusiastic account in Doyle, “Qibla indicator”.
43) An instrument resembling that of Bayram (§42), at least in spirit, is
preserved in the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek (Sammlung Sprenger) in Berlin.
It was made in Istanbul in 1179 H / 1765-66 by Ibrāhīm al-Kamālī. A
sundial showing time before sunset and the beginning of the ʿar for a
specific latitude, as well as hours before and after midday (marked around
the outer rim) is also marked with a primitive wind-rose and a ring of 36
sectors each subdivided into two parts for the qibla. The gnomon has
suffered two indignities: firstly, it has been bent, and secondly, it has been
used to attach a completely spurious astrolabic plate and rete. These have no
place on such an instrument and may obscure an inscription. On the back are
circular scales for finding the solar longitude for the Coptic and Jalālī
calendars. The names Edirne, Islāmbūl and Bursa are marked in red on the
qibla ring, which roughly pinpoints the provenance. See DAK, World-Maps,
pp. 116-117.
44) An equatorial semicircle cum qibla-indicator of the variety known as
dā’irat al-muʿaddil used to be preserved in the Museum of History of
Science at Kandilli Observatory near Istanbul. The instrument was invented
by the well-known 15th-century Egyptian astronomer al-Wafāī. This
particular example was constructed by Abu ‘l-Fat, a muwaqqit in Istanbul,
in the year 1066 H / 1655-56, and it was published by Muammer Dizer in
1986. The horizontal base of this instrument, which is 30.5 cm. in diameter,
is divided into 72 equal sectors each containing place-names. See DAK,
World-Maps, pp. 96-98.
45) A celestial globe completed in the year 1113 H / 1701-02, one of
several made by the Egyptian astronomer Riwān Efendī, is preserved in
the M. V. Lomonosov Museum in Leningrad (inv. no. 02721). It was
published by Bernard Dorn in 1865 (pp. 39-41) and has been described again
in Emilie Savage-Smith’s survey of Islamic globes (pp. 233-234). On the
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201838
horizon ring of this instrument are marked 72 equal divisions, each
containing names of localities.
46) A semi-circular qibla-indicator, made by one Muammad al-abbāgh
in ca. 1100 H / ca. 1700, is preserved in the Museum of the Institut du
Monde Arabe in Paris. It was published by Hana Chidyaq in 1989. The
feature of this instrument that concerns us here is a qibla chart based on 36
equal divisions of the horizon.
47) A qibla-indicator made by Muammad ibn Muammad al-Nīshlī in
1108 / 1696-97 is preserved in the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris (inv. AI
85-5). On the maker, whose mixed Arabic-Turkish nisba indicates that he or
his family originated in Niš, now in Serbia. The instrument bears two
different qibla schemes with 36 divisions, one on each side.
48) An unsigned equatorial dial preserved in the National Museum,
Damascus (inv. no. 11741), was evidently assembled from parts of other
instruments. The equatorial semi-circle bears a date 1050 H / 1640-41 and
the signature of ... (?) ʿAlī but the date 1140 H / 1692-93 is inscribed on the
base. There is a 72-sector qibla-scheme around the base that I have not
examined in detail.
49) A compendium consisting of an equatorial dial, a sundial, and a qibla-
indicator is also preserved in the National Museum, Damascus (inv. no.
4468). It bears the signature of ʿAbd al-asan, clearly a Shiʿite, and the date
1301 H / 1883-84. The qiblas are arranged on a semi-circular horizontal
frame below the equatorial semi-circle.
50) An anonymous Persian qibla-instrument preserved in the Maritime
Museum in Haifa bears a crude diagram of sacred geography with some
absurdities. The Haifa Museum possesses a remarkably large number of
qibla compasses but this appears to be the only one bearing a scheme of
sacred geography.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201839
Concluding remarks
We can distinguish close to 20 different traditions in the sources investigated
in this study. There are schemes with the world divided about the Kaʿba into
4, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 18, 20, 24,!
34 / 35 / 36 / 38, 40, 52, and 72 sectors.
The number and variety of these schemes indicates that the notion of a
sacred geography was accepted amongst the educated élite if not amongst
the scientists. And I do not doubt that there were other compilations on the
subject that have either escaped my notice or are now lost without trace.
It is important to stress that Islamic sacred geography is not a simplistic
notion that the world is actually centred on the Kaʿba, but rather an
ingenious response to the religious obligation to observe the sacred direction
toward the Kaʿba in all parts of the world. It is furthermore a notion that is in
complete accord with the universal spirit of Islam. In encompassing the
entire (known) world it resembles the valiant attempts by Muslim
astronomers to produce solutions to problems of spherical astronomy which
were universal, that is, serving all terrestrial latitudes.
In brief, we have found several early four- and eight-sector schemes that
were apparently without much influence. The same can be said of the seven-
sector scheme of Ibn al-Qāṣṣ. One early eight-sector scheme, however, albeit
of uncertain origin, was known in later centuries in Egypt, the Yemen, and
Iran. But with the schemes of Ibn Surāqa a tradition began that lasted almost
a millennium. What rôle Ibn al-Wardī himself played in the development of
simplified versions of these schemes with about 36 sectors we do not know.
Where al-afāqusī found the inspiration for his 40-sector scheme is a secret
that went with him. But the development of the Ottoman 72-sector schemes
from 36-sector schemes such as are found in some copies of (Pseudo-) Ibn
al-Wardīs treatise is clear: it was convenient to mark them on instruments
with a scale running from to 360° divided into intervals. The way in
On these highly impressive ‘universal’ solutions see King, In Synchrony with the
Heavens, XVI: pp. 679-739.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201840
which these detailed Ottoman schemes survived alongside the lists of qibla-
values computed for the major cities is, however, not clear. Sheer aesthetics
must have contributed to their popularity on instruments, in the same way
that the elegant engraving of the qibla-lists on Iranian astrolabes and
compass-boxes ensured their use until the 19th century. Qibla-indicators on
which directions based on calculation are illustrated graphically, of which
only one rather late example is known, are rather awkward from an aesthetic
point of view because the distribution of important localities around the
Kaʿba is not even.
No-one should be surprised that the information recorded in these two
traditions finding the qibla by means of astronomical horizon phenomena
on the one hand and by calculation on the other leads to different results.
The implications of this textual and instrumental material for the history of
Islamic architecture were considerable.
Illustrated in King, World-Maps, p. 102.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201841
Note: On historical determinations of the qibla see “Bibliography of books,
articles and websites on historical qibla determinations” (2018), available at
Published primary sources
Note: The following list of published primary sources used in this study has
not been fully updated since the 1980s. In particular, most of these works
have been eprinted in 318 volumes of the series Islamic Geography
published by the Institut r Geschichte des arabisch-islamischen
Wissenschaften in Frankfurt ( during 1992-2010.
Abu l-Fidā’: Joseph Toussaint Reinaud & (M. le Baron) Mac Guckin de
Slane, eds., Géographie d'Aboulféda, Paris: L’Imprimerie Royale, 1840.
al-Azraqī: Akbār Makka, in F. Wustenfeld, Die Chroniken der Stadt Mekka,
vol. I, 1857, repr. Beirut n.d. Also, R. Tottoli, introd. and trans., Al-Azraqī -
La Kaʿba - Tempio al centro del mondo - Akhbār Makkah, Trieste: Società
Italiana testi islamici, 1992.
al-Bazdawi: DAK, “al-Bazdawī on the qibla in early Islamic Transoxania”,
Journal for the History of Arabic Science (Aleppo) 7 (1983), pp. 3-38, repr.
in idem, Islamic astronomy and geography, Aldershot: Variorum, 2012, IX.
al-Bīrūnī, Astrology: al-Bīrūnī, Kitāb al-Tafhīm li-awā’il ināʿat al-tanjīm,
published as R. R. Wright, The Book of Instruction in the Elements of the Art
of Astrology by Abu ‘l-Rayḥān Muammad ibn Amad al-Bīrūnī, (photo-
offset reproduction of MS London B.L. Or. 8349 with translation from
manuscripts of the Persian text), London: Luzac & Co., 1934. (Repr.
Baghdad: Maktabat al-Muthannā, n.d.)
al-Bīrūnī, Chronology: al-Bīrūnī, al-Āthār al-bāqiya ʿan al-qurūn al-khāliya,
ed. by C. E. Sachau as Chronologie orientalischer Völker von Al-Bīrūnī,
Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus and Otto Harrassowitz, 1923, translated by C. E.
Sachau as The Chronology of the Ancient Nations, London: W. H. Allen Co.,
al-Bīrūnī, Geography: al-Bīrūnī, Kitāb Tadīd nihāyat al-amākin li-taṣḥīḥ
masāfat al-masākin, edited by P. Bulgakov, Majallat Maʿhad al-Makhṭūṭāt
al-ʿArabiyya (Cairo) 8:1-2 (1962), translated by Jamil Ali as The
Determination of the Coordinates of Cities: al-Bīrūnīs Tadīd nihāyat al-
amākin, Beirut: American University of Beirut, 1967, with commentary by
E. S. Kennedy, A Commentary upon al-Bīrūnīs Tadīd nihāyāt al-amākin,
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201842
Beirut: A.U.B., 1973. (The most important single medieval work on the
determination of the qibla as a problem of mathematical geography.)
Ḥājjī Khalīfa (Kātib Chelebī): Ḥājjī Khalīfa, Jihān-numā, Istanbul, 1145
Hijra ( = 1732-33).
Ibn al-Ajdābī: Abū Isḥāq Ibrāhīm known as Ibn al-Ajdābī, al-Azmina wa-‘l-
anwā, ed. I. asan, Damascus: Wizārat al-thaqāfa wa-‘l-irshād al-qawmī,
Ibn Falallāh al-ʿUmarī: Fuat Sezgin, ed., Routes toward Insight into the
Capital Empires (?), Masālik al-abṣār fī mamālik al-amṣār by Ibn Falallāh
al-‘Umarī ... , [modified facsimile “edition” of various manuscripts], 27
vols., Frankfurt am Main: IGAIW, 1988.
Ibn Khurradādhbih: M. J. de Goeje, ed., Compendium libri Kitab al-Boldān,
auctore Ibn al-Fakīh al-Hamadhānī, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1889, repr. 1967.
Ibn Mājid: Ibrahim Khoury, ed. and comm., Muannafāt Shihāb al-Dīn
Amad ibn Mājid ... : Kitāb al-Fawā’id fī uṣūl ʿilm al-bar wa-‘l-qawāʿid,
Part II, §I of al-ʿUlūm al-barīya ʿinda ‘l-ʿArab, Damascus: Majmaʿ al-
lughat al-ʿarabiyya, 1971, also Gerald R. Tibbetts, Arab navigation in the
Indian Ocean before the coming of the Portuguese... , London: Royal Asiatic
Society and Luzac & Co., 1971, repr. 1981.
Ibn al-Qāṣṣ: Fuat Sezgin, Kitāb Dalā’il al-qibla li-bn al-Qāṣṣ”, Zeitschrift
für Geschichte der arabisch-islamischen Wissenschaften 4 (1987/88), Arabic
section, pp. 7-91 (facsimile of Cairo MS); Jean-Charles Ducène, “Le Kitāb
dalā'il al-qibla d’Ibn al-Qāṣṣ : analyse des trois manuscrits et des emprunts
d’Abū Ḥāmid al-Ġarnāṭī, Zeitschrift für Geschichte der arabisch-
islamischen Wissenschaften 14 (2001), pp. 169-187, and “La carte circulaire
du Kitāb dalā'il al-qibla d’Ibn al-Qāṣṣ : représentation du monde et
toponymie originales”, Folia Orientalia 38 (2002), pp. 115-146.
Ibn al-Wardī: Ibn al-Wardī, Kharīdat al-ʿajā’ib wa-farīdat al-gharā’ib,
Cairo, 1280 Hijra ( =1863).
al-Maqrīzī: al-Maqrīzī, Kitāb al-Khiṭāṭ al-Maqrīziyya, 2 vols., Cairo, 1853.;
also available in 4 vols. (1896-98), 3 vols. (1959), and 2 vols. (repr. of 1853
ed.) (1970).
Mustawfī: G. Le Strange, ed. and trans., The Geographical Part of the
Nuzhat-al-Qulūb composed by amd-Allāh Mustawfī of Qazwīn in 740
(1340), 2 vols., Leiden: E. J. Brill & London: Luzac & Co., 1915 and 1919.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201843
al-Qalqashandī: al-Qalqashandī, ub al-aʿshā fī ināʿat al-inshā, 13 vols.,
Cairo: Ministry of Culture, 1963.
al-Qarāfī: Shihāb al-Dīn Abu ‘l-ʿAbbās Amad ibn Idrīs al-Qarāfī, al-
Dhakhīra, vol. I, Cairo: Mabaʿat Kullīyat al-Sharīʿa, 1961.
al-Qazwīnī: F. Wüstenfeld, ed., Zakarījā ... el-Cazwīnīs Kosmographie, 2.
Teil: Kitāb āthār al-buldān, Die Denkmaler der Länder, Göttingen: Diete-
rische Buchhandlung, 1848. (The 1960 Beirut edition is based on this.)
al-Sharafī: his navigational atlas is studied in Herrera-Casais, “The nautical
atlases of ʿAlī al-Sharafī (2008) & Ledger, Mapping Mediterranean
Geographies, 2016.
al-afāqusī: see al-Sharafī.
al-Suyūṭī: Heinen: Anton M. Heinen, Islamic Cosmology: A Study of al-
Suyūṭīs al-Hay’a as-saniya fi l-hay’a as-sunniyya, with critical edition,
translation, and commentary, Beirut, (in commission for Franz Steiner
Verlag, Wiesbaden), 1982.
Yāqūt: Yāqūt ibn ʿAbdallāh al-amawī, Muʿjam al-buldān, ed. by F.
Wüstenfeld as Jacuts geographisches Wörterbuch, 6 vols., Leipzig, 1866-73,
and ed. by A. A. Shinqiti, 8 vols., Cairo, 1323 H / 1906, and an anonymous
edition (based on Wüstenfeld) in 5 vols., Beirut: Dar Sader and Dar Beirut,
1955-57. See also W. Jwaideh, The Introductory chapters of Yāqūt’s Muʿjam
al-buldān, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1967.
For future research the series Islamic Geography, F. Sezgin, ed., 318 vols.,
Frankfurt: IGAIW, 1992-2010, should be consulted.
Unpublished primary sources
Manuscripts are identified in the text of the article. Many were identified in
the major collections in Istanbul and Cairo at a time when these were not
fully catalogued. The richly-illustrated volume Images of Islamic science
(coordinated by A. Beschaouch, Paris & Tehran, 2009) displaying many
illustrations from scientific manuscripts in Iranian collections contains no
materials relevant to the present study.
Published secondary sources
Note: The bio-bibliographical sources for medieval Muslim authors are
mainly listed here only by the names of their authors: Carl Brockelmann
(general, Arabic); Heinrich Suter (scientists, Arabic); Max Krause (Istanbul
scientific manuscripts); Charles Storey (general, Persian); Fuat Sezgin
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201844
(authors on all subjects until ca. 1050, especially mathematics, astronomy,
astrology, geography & cartography); Leon A. Mayer (instrument-makers);
Boris A. Rosenfeld & Galina Matvievskaya (scientists, general); Ekmeleddin
İhsanoğlu et al. (scientists, Ottoman period); B. A. Rosenfeld & Ekmeleddin
İhsanoğlu (scientists, general); King (Yemeni astronomical manuscripts &
Cairo scientific manuscripts); articles in DSB, BEA, and EI1 & EI2. For
modern studies of Islamic instruments see AIOS and King, In Synchrony
with the Heavens, vol. 2.
Reference works
BEA: Thomas Hockey et al., eds., The Biographical Encyclopedia of
Astronomers, New York: Springer, 2007, available at http://, and now
biographies-list (2018) (This is the standard reference work on the most
significant Muslim astronomers.)
DSB: Dictionary of Scientific Biography, 14 vols. and 2 supp. vols., New
York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970-80. (Biographical articles ofter superior
to those in BEA.)
EI1: The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1st ed., 4 vols., Leiden: E. J. Brill,
EI2: The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd edn., 13 vols., Leiden: E. J. Brill,
1960-1980. (See below for relevant articles.)
Manuscript catalogues and bibliographical works (selected)
Berlin Catalogue: Wilhelm Ahlwardt, Die Handschrift-Verzeichnisse der
Königlichen Bibliothek zu Berlin, 17. Band: Verzeichniss der arabischen
Handschriften, 5. Band, Berlin: A. Asher, 1893.
Carl Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur, 2nd edn., 2 vols.,
Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1943-49, and Supplementbände, 3 vols., Leiden: E. J.
Brill, 1937-42.
Cairo Survey: D. A. King, A Survey of the Scientific Manuscripts in the
Egyptian National Library, (Publications of the American Research Center
in Egypt), Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1985.
, Mathematical astronomy in medieval Yemen: A bio-bibliographical
survey, (Publications of the American Research Center in Egypt), Malibu,
Ca.: Undena Publications, 1983.
Fuat Sezgin, Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums, V: Mathematik & VI:
Astronomie & VII: Astrologie – Meteorologie und Verwandtes, Leiden: E. J.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201845
Brill, 1974/1978/1979; and XIII: Mathematische Geographie und
Kartographie im Islam und ihr Fortleben im Abendland – Autoren, Frankfurt:
IGAIW, 2007. (Vol. VII, section “Nationale Meterologie und Astronomie der
Araber”, lists none of our authors; vol. XIII lists two of our authors, namely, Ibn
Surāqa and amdallāh Mustawfī, but does not mention sacred geography).
Islamic astronomy (general)
Carlo Alfonso Nallino, “[Islamic Astronomy]”, in James Hastings, ed.,
Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, 12 vols., Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark,
vol. 12 (1921), pp. 88-101. (Perhaps the best overview ever written.)
DAK, “Islamic astronomy”, in Christopher Walker, ed., Astronomy before
the Telescope, London: British Museum Press, 1996, pp. 143-174, repr. in
Islamic astronomy and geography, Farnham & Burlington VT: Ashgate–
Variorum, 2012, I, also available on
Robert G. Morrison, “Islamic astronomy and astrology”, in Robert Irwin,
ed., New Cambridge History of Islam, vol. 4, Cambridge, etc.: Cambridge
University Press, 2010, pp. 589-613.
Kennedy et al., Studies: E. S. Kennedy, Colleagues and Former Students,
Studies in the Islamic Exact Sciences, DAK and Mary Helen Kennedy, eds.,
Beirut: American University of Beirut, 1983. (Over 50 studies written or
inspired by the leading scholar of the history of Islamic astronomy in the
second half of the 20th century.)
DAK, Islamic mathematical astronomy, Aldershot: Variorum, 1986/1993
(contains “al-Khalīlī’s qibla table” (1975)); Astronomy in the service of
Islam, Aldershot: Variorum, 1993 (contains Orientation of the
Kaʿba” (1982),“Earliest qibla methods ... (1986) and EI2 articles ibla
& “Makka as centre of the world” & Malaʿ (rising points)”, and
A s t r on o m i ca l a l i g nm e n t s i n me d i e va l I s l a mi c r e l i g i o u s
architecture” (1982)); and Islamic astronomy and geography, Farnham &
Burlington VT: Ashgate–Variorum, 2012 (contains “al-Bazdawī on the qibla
in Transoxania” (1983) and “The sacred geography of Islam” (2005)).
, In Synchrony with the Heavens Studies in Astronomical Timekeeping
and Instrumentation in Islamic Civilization, vol. 1: The Call of the Muezzin,
& vol. 2: Instruments of Mass Calculation, Leiden, etc.: Brill, 2004-05.
(Includes new versions VIIa: “The orientation of medieval Islamic religious
architecture and cities”, pp. 741-771; VIIb: “Architecture and astronomy: the
ventilators of medieval Cairo and their secrets”, pp. 773-823; and VIIc:
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201846
“Safavid world-maps centred on Mecca – A third example and some new
insights on their original inspiration”, pp. 825-846.)
& Julio Samsó, with a contribution from Bernard R. Goldstein,
“Astronomical handbooks and tables from the Islamic world (750-1900): An
interim report”, Suhayl International Journal for the History of the Exact
and Natural Sciences in Islamic Civilisation (Barcelona) 2 (2001), pp.
9-105. (Supplements the 1956 survey by E. S. Kennedy in anticipation of the
new survey of some 225 zījes by Benno van Dalen.)
Clive N. Ruggles, ed., Handbook of archaeoastronomy and ethnoastronomy,
3 vols., New York, etc.: Springer, 2015, contains the following articles:
DAK, “Astronomy in the service of Islam”, pp. 181-196; Mònica Rius,
“Qibla in the Mediterranean’’, pp. 1687-1694; Clemency Montelle, “Islamic
mathematical astronomy‘‘, pp. 1909-1916; Tofigh Heidarzadeh, “Islamic
astronomical instruments and observatories”, pp. 1917-1926; Petra G.
Schmidl, “Islamic folk astronomy”, pp. 1927-1934; & Daniel Martin
Varisco, “Folk astronomy and calendars in Yemen”, pp. 1935-1940.
Encyclopaedia of Islam (EI2, see above), especially articles Anwā (pre-
Islamic calendrical system)”; Asurlāb (astrolabe)”; Hay’a (astronomy)”;
Kaʿba”; ibla (sacred direction)”; Layl wa-nahār (simple timekeeping)”;
“Makka as centre of the world (sacred geography and mosque orientation)”;
“Malaʿ (rising points)”; “Mīḳāt (astronomical timekeeping and times of
prayer)”; “Mizwala (sundials)”; Rubʿ (quadrant)”; “Nudjūm (star-lore)”;
Rīḥ (winds); Ru’yat al-hilāl (lunar crescent visibility)”; Shakkāziyya
(universal projections)”; Ṭāsa (magnetic compass)”; and Zīdj
(astronomical handbooks and tables)”.
The orientation of the Kaʿba
Gerald S Hawkins & DAK, “On the orientation of the Kaʿba”, Journal for
the History of Astronomy 13 (1982), pp. 102-109, repr. in DAK, Astronomy
in the service of Islam, Aldershot: Variorum, 1993, I.
The sacred direction in Islam (general)
A. J. Wensinck, article ibla. i. Legal aspects” in Encyclopedia of Islam,
1st edn., also ibid., new edn.
Karl Schoy, article “ibla. ii. Astronomical aspects” in Encyclopedia of
Islam, 1st edn.
DAK, “ibla. ii. Astronomical aspects”, in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, new
edition, vol. V, fascs. 79-80, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1979, pp. 83-88, repr. in
idem, Astronomy in the service of Islam, Aldershot: Variorum, 1993, IX.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201847
, “The sacred geography of Islam”, in T. Koetsier and L. Bergmans, eds.,
Mathematics and the Divine – A Historical Study, Dordrecht: Elsevier, 2005,
pp. 161-178, repr. in idem, Islamic Astronomy and Geography, Farnham &
Burlington VT: Ashgate–Variorum, 2012, VIII.
, “Bibliography of books, articles and websites on historical qibla
determinations” (2018), available at
Determination of the qibla by mathematical methods
Jamil Ali, The Determination of the Coordinates of Cities: al-Bīrūnīs Tadīd
nihāyat al-Amākin, Beirut: American University of Beirut Press, 1967, with
commentary by E. S. Kennedy, A Commentary upon al-Bīrūnīs Tadīd
nihāyāt al-amākin, Beirut: A.U.B. Press, 1973. (The most important single
medieval work on the determination of the qibla as a problem of
mathematical geography.)
Richard P. Lorch & DAK, “Qibla charts, qibla maps, and related
instruments’’, in J. B. Harley & David Woodward, eds., History of
Cartography, vol. 2, book 1: Cartography in the traditional Islamic and
South Asian societies, Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press,
1992, pp. 189-205.
DAK, “The earliest Islamic mathematical methods and tables for finding the
direction of Mecca”, Zeitschrift für Geschichte der arabisch-islamischen
Wissenschaften 3(1986), pp. 82-149, repr. in idem, Astronomy in the service
of Islam, Aldershot: Variorum, 1993, XIV.
, World-Maps for finding the direction and distance of Mecca: Innovation
and tradition in Islamic science, Leiden: Brill & London: Al-Furqan Islamic
Heritage Foundation, 1999. (Includes detailed overviews of qibla
determinations by mathematical and folk-astronomical methods, as well as
all known medieval tables showing qibla-directions for dozens or hundreds
of locations.)
, “Bibliography of books, articles and websites on historical qibla
determinations” (2018), available at
(Contains references to numerous studies of procedures by Muslim
Determination of the qibla based on mathematical cartography
DAK, World-Maps (see above), passim, on two 17th-century Safavid maps.
For a third example and insights into the origin of the mathematics
underlying the grids (from 10th-century Baghdad and 11th-century Isfahan)
see In Synchrony with the Heavens, VIIc: pp. 825-846.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201848
Razie Sadat Musavi, “Jām-e Gītī-namā A late Iranian qibla-indicator”,
Tarikh-e elm (Tehran) 12 (2015-2016), pp. 17-40.
Islamic sacred geography
Konrad Miller, Mappae Arabicae: Arabische Welt- und Länderkarten, V.
Band: Weltkarten, Stuttgart: K. Miller, 1931 (illustrates published diagrams
of al-Qazwīnī and Ibn al-Wardī).
DAK, “Makka. iv. As centre of the world [sacred geography and orientation
of mosques]”, in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd edn., vol. VI, pp.
180-187, repr. in idem, Astronomy in the service of Islam, Aldershot:
Variorum, 1993, X.
, “The sacred geography of Islam”, in T. Koetsier and L. Bergmans, eds.,
Mathematics and the Divine – A historical study, Dordrecht: Elsevier, 2005,
pp. 161-178, repr. in idem, Islamic astronomy and geography, Farnham &
Burlington VT: Ashgate–Variorum, 2012, VIII.
Petra G. Schmidl & Mónica Herrera Casais, “The earliest known schemes of
Islamic sacred geography”, in A. Akasoy & W. Raven, eds., Islamic thought
in the Middle Ages: Studies in text, transmission and translation in honour
of Hans Daiber, Leiden: Brill, 2008, pp. 275-300. (Detailed investigations of
schemes by Ibn Khurradādhbeh & Pseudo-al-Muqaddisī.)
Jean-Charles Ducène, “Le Kitāb dalā'il al-qibla d’Ibn al-Qāṣṣ : analyse des
trois manuscrits et des emprunts d’Abū Ḥāmid al-Ġarnāṭī”, Zeitschrift für
Geschichte der arabisch-islamischen Wissenschaften 14 (2001), pp.
, “La carte circulaire du Kitāb dalā'il al-qibla d’Ibn al-Qāṣṣ :
représentation du monde et toponymie originales”, Folia Orientalia 38
(2002), pp. 115-146.
Petra G. Schmidl, Volkstümliche Astronomie im islamischen Mittelalter. Zur
Bestimmung der Gebetszeiten und der Qibla bei al-Asbahî, Ibn Rahîq und
al-Fârisî, 2 vols., Leiden, etc.: Brill, 2007. (The first study of its kind, based
on medieval Yemeni treatises on folk astronomy compiled by legal scholars
and astronomers.)
– , “Zur Bestimmung der Qibla mittels der Winde”, in P. Eisenhardt, F.
Linhard and K. Petanides, eds., Der Weg der Wahrheit. Aufsätze zur Einheit
der Wissenschaftsgeschichte. Festgabe zum 60. Geburtstag von Walter G.
Saltzer, Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1999), pp. 135-146.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201849
DAK, “Some Ottoman schemes of sacred geography”, Proceedings of the II.
International Symposium on the History of Turkish and Islamic Science and
Technology, Istanbul, 1986, 2 vols., Istanbul: Istanbul Technical University,
1986, I, pp. 45-57.
Mai Lootah, “Science and scripture: How did faith influence cartographic
methods used to determine the qibla, the sacred direction of Islam?”, Spica
Postgraduate Journal for Cosmology in Culture (Sophia Centre for the
Study of Cosmology in Culture University of Wales Trinity Saint David)
4:2 (2016), pp. 32-59 (a serious popular overview with no technicalities).
Mónica Herrera-Casais, “The nautical atlases of ʿAlī al-Sharafī”, Suhayl
International Journal for the History of the Exact and Natural Sciences in
Islamic Civilisation (Barcelona) 8 (2008), pp. 223–63. (Includes discussion
of Alī al-Sharafī al-afāqusī’s qibla-diagram.)
Jeremy Francis Ledger, Mapping Mediterranean Geographies: Geographic
and Cartographic Encounters between the Islamic World and Europe, c.
1100-1600, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, 2016. (Includes
discussion of al-afāqusīs qibla-diagram.)
DAK, “Bibliography of books, articles and websites on historical qibla
determinations” (2018), available at
Astronomical instruments for finding the qibla based on sacred
AIOS: F. Sezgin et al., eds., Astronomische Instrumente in orientalistischen
Schriften, 6 vols., Frankfurt: Institut für Geschichte der arabisch-islamischen
Wissenschaften, 1990-91. (Reprints of studies mainly from the 19th and
early 20th centuries.)
Richard P. Lorch & DAK, “Qibla charts, qibla maps, and related
instruments’’, in J. B. Harley & David Woodward, eds., History of
Cartography, vol. 2, book 1: Cartography in the traditional Islamic and
South Asian societies, Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press,
1992, pp. 189-205.
DAK, World-Maps for finding the direction of Mecca ... , pp. 89-124; and In
Synchrony with the Heavens, X: 94-101.
Hana Chidyaq, “Un indicateur de qibla signé Muammad ʿIzz al-abbāgh”,
Astrolabica (Paris) 5 (1989), pp. 27-36.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201850
Meghan Doyle, “The whole world in his hands: What a qibla indicator
illuminates about Islamic community in sixteenth-century Ottoman Turkey”,
Global Tides 12 (2018), article 8. (Enthusiastic overview with no analysis.)
Orientation of Islamic religious architecture (general)
DAK, “Astronomical alignments in medieval Islamic religious architecture”,
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 385 (1982), pp. 303-312,
reprinted in idem , Astronomy in the service of Islam, Aldershot: Variorum,
1993, XIII.
, “The orientation of medieval Islamic religious architecture and cities”,
Journal for the History of Astronomy 26 (1995), pp. 253-274 (a new version
is in In Synchrony with the Heavens, VIIa: 741-771).
Orientations in specific localities
Orientations in al-Andalus: Jiménez, “La qibla extraviada’’ (1991); Rius, La
Alquibla en al-Andalus ... (2000).
Orientations in Córdoba: see “Enigmatic orientation ... ” (2016).
Orientations in Cairo: see “Architecture and astronomy ... ” (1983).
Orientations in Morocco and Tunisia: see Bonine (1990/2008).
Orientations in Samarqand: see “al-Bazdawī on the qibla ... ” (1983).
Orientations in Turkey”: see Yilmaz & Tiryakioglu, “Astronomical
orientation of the historical Grand mosques” (2018).
DAK, “Architecture and astronomy: The ventilators of medieval Cairo and
their secrets”, Journal of the American Oriental Society 104 (1984), pp.
97-133; with a revised version in In Synchrony with the Heavens, VIIb:
, “al-Bazdawī on the qibla in early Islamic Transoxania”, Journal for the
History of Arabic Science (Aleppo) 7 (1983), pp. 3-38, repr. in idem, Islamic
astronomy and geography, Farnham & Burlington VT: Ashgate–Variorum,
2012, IX.
Michael E. Bonine, “The sacred direction and city structure: A preliminary
analysis of the Islamic cities of Morocco’’, Muqarnas 7 (1990), pp. 50-72.
– , “Romans, astronomy and the qibla: urban form and orientation of Islamic
cities of Tunisia’’, in J. C. Holbrook & R. T. Medupe & J. O. Urama, eds.,
African Cultur al Astronomy Current Archaeo a stronomy and
Ethnoastronomy Research in Africa, Berlin: Springer, 2008, pp. 145-178.
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201851
Alfonso Jiménez, “La qibla extraviada’’, Cuadernos de Madīnat al-Zahrā 3
(1991), pp. 189-209. (An important study, the first of its kind for any region
of the medieval Muslim world, presenting the orientations of all surviving
historical mosques in the Iberian Peninsula.)
Mònica Rius Piniés, La Alquibla en al-Andalus y al-Magrib al-Aqsà,
Barcelona: Institut “Millás Vallicrosa” de Història de la Ciència Àrab, 2000.
(This is the first investigation of mosque orientations in al-Andalus and the
Maghrib in the light of medieval folk astronomical and legal texts on the
Mustafa Yilmaz & Ibrahim Tiryakioglu, “The astronomical orientation of the
historical Grand mosques in Anatolia (Turkey)”, Archive for History of
Exact Sciences 72 (2018), pp. 565–590.
DAK, “The enigmatic orientation of the Great Mosque of Córdoba”, Suhayl
– International Journal for the History of the Exact and Natural Sciences in
Islamic Civilisation (2018-19), to appear, preprint available on
www.davidaking.academia since 2016. (Shows how the suburban Roman
street-plan influenced the layout of the Mosque and how schemes of Islamic
sacred geography confirmed that the Mosque was appropriately oriented
with respect to the NW wall of the Kaʿba).
, “Bibliography of books, articles and websites on historical qibla
determinations” (2018), available at
Miscellaneous significant works with some relevance to this study
Uri Rubin, “The Kaʿba: Aspects of its ritual functions”, Jerusalem Studies in
Arabic and Islam 8 (1986), pp. 97–131.
Oleg Grabar, “Upon reading al-Azraqi”, MuqarnasAn annual on the
visual culture of the Islamic world 3 (1985), pp. 1-7.
K. A. C. Creswell, “The Kaʿba in A.D. 608”, Archaeologia 94 (1951), pp.
Joseph Chelhod, “A contribution to the problem of the pre-eminence of the
right based upon Arabic evidence” (translated from the French), in R.
Needham, ed., Right & Left, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973,
pp. 239-262.
A. J. Wensinck, “The ideas of the Western Semites concerning the navel of
the Earth”, (Amsterdam, 1916), repr. in Studies of A. J. Wensinck, New York:
Arno Press, 1978. (Lest we forget.)
King: Qibla & Islamic sacred geography 29.01.201852
Richard Ettinghausen, “Die bildliche Darstellung der Kaʿba im islamischen
Kulturkreis”, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 12
(1933), pp. 111-137. (No diagrams of sacred geography.)
Geoffrey R. D. King, “The Paintings of the pre-Islamic Kaʿba”, Muqarnas –
An annual on the visual culture of the Islamic world 21 (2004), pp. 219-230.
M. Hamidullah, “Le Pèlerinage à la Mecque”, in Les Pèlerinages, Paris:
Seuil, 1960, pp. 89-138. (Contains a modern interpretation of sacred
Anton M. Heinen, Islamic Cosmology: A study of al-Suyūṭīs al-Hay’a as-
saniya fi l-hay’a as sunniya, with critical edition, translation, and com-
mentary, Beirut, (in commission for Franz Steiner Verlag, Wiesbaden), 1982.
(A study of major importance since al-Suyūṭī bases his work on early
sources which are no longer extant.)
E. S. Kennedy & Mary Helen Kennedy, Geographical coordinates of
localities from Islamic sources, Frankfurt: IGAIW, 1987. (The fundamental
research tool for the history of Islamic mathematical geography, based on
longitudes and latitudes in some 80 Islamic geographical and astronomical
lists. Some 14,000 pairs of coordinates are arranged by place-name, by
source, by increasing longitude, and by increasing latitude.)
DAK, “The invention of algebra in Zabid: Between legend and fact”, in
David Reisman & Felicitas Opwis, eds., Islamic Philosophy, Science,
Culture, and Religion: Studies in Honor of Dimitri Gutas, Leiden: Brill,
2011, pp. 223-231. (Contains new ‘scientific’ material attributed to ʿAlī ibn
Abī Ṭālib.)
Annemarie Schimmel, “Sacred geography in Islam”, in Jamie Scott & P.
Simpson-Housley, eds., Sacred places and profane spaces: Essays in the
geographics of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, New York Greenwood,
1991, pp. 163-175. (Relates to notions of sacred geography different from
those treated in this paper.)
Karen Pinto, Medieval Islamic maps An exploration, Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 2004. (Includes serious mention of sacred geography.)
... (a) Four-sector schemes of the Islamic sacred geography(King and Lorch 1992, p. 191); (b) eight-sector schemes of the Islamic sacred geography(King and Lorch 1992, p. 193). 2022. ...
Full-text available
Lindsay Jones developed the concept of “ritual-architectural event”, according to which the meaning of a sacred building depends upon the participant’s experience of it in the course of the rituals they perform. Starting from such approach, and taking the Islamic dome as my subject-matter, I examine the correlations that link architectural forms, ritual performance, and participants’ experience into a whole. I first survey a corpus of images related to domes in two types of manuscripts (poetry, and pilgrimage narratives), showing how these images suggest cosmological patterns. The second part unfolds these representations, proceeding from cosmology to ritual. The third and last part focuses on circumambulation as the ritual experience that best embodies the previously identified cosmological patterns. The connection between the three dimensions discussed here is ascertained by the fact that the combination of circle and square structures relates both to Islamic graphic representations and ritual practices. An aesthetic/spiritual experience is awakened both in the mind and in the bodily senses of the viewer/practitioner: When Muslims stand under a dome, in front of the mihrab, thus facing Mecca, and when they behold the dome under which they stand, the view of this circular space possibly translates into a kind of mental and spiritual circumambulation. The conclusion suggests that the meaning attached to sacred architecture places is triggered by a complex of interactions between patterns referred respectively to the mind, bodily actions, and cultural settings.
Sun Compass is a smartphone app that was developed to determine the Muslim qibla direction around the world. The invention of the Sun Compass is said to be a solution to the inaccuracy problem in Qibla app due to its susceptibility to magnetic interference. Based on the calibration technique of the sun’s shadow and true north reference, the Sun Compass showed a high accuracy of the Qibla direction angle. Therefore, this study was conducted to check the Sun Compass’s accuracy by comparing the Qibla direction display with the Qibla shadow. Data collection was carried out through field observation and the collected data were analysed computationally and comparatively. The results of the study found that the Sun Compass application has a deviation value of less than 0.5° with a 99%-confidence level of 0.1015 and it is still below the limit of deviation from the direction of the qibla (had al-tahawwul ‘ani al-qiblah) which, in Malaysia, is allowed for not more than 3°. This study concludes that the application of Sun Compass in assisting Muslims to determine the direction of Qibla is more accurate empirically than other Qibla apps.
Full-text available
In the ancient civilizations, the sky has been observed in order to understand the motions of the celestial bodies above the horizon. The study of faiths and practices dealing with the sky in the past has been attributed to the sun, the moon, and the prominent stars. The alignment and orientation of constructions to significant celestial objects were a common practice. The orientation was an important component of the religious structure design. Religious buildings often have an intentional orientation to fix the praying direction. In Islam, a sacred direction (Qibla) towards Kaaba located in the courtyard in the Sacred Mosque in Mecca has been used for praying and fulfilling varied ritual tasks. Therefore, the mosques had then to orientate towards the Qibla direction, being designated by a focal niche in the Qibla-wall, wherever they were built on Earth. In this study, the orientations of the historical Grand mosques in Turkey are surveyed with regard to the folk astronomy derived from pre-Islamic Arabian sources, early traditions of the Islamic period, and geometric-trigonometric computation in mathematical astronomy inherited and developed mostly from Greek sources according to the Islamic view of the World geography.
This article investigates what premodern “folk astronomy” implies and explains its Islamic characteristics.
A short survey on Islamic mathematical astronomy practiced during the period running from the eight century until the fifteenth is presented. Various pertinent themes, such as the translation of foreign scientific works and their impact on the tradition; the introduction, assimilation, and critique of the Ptolemaic model; and the role of observations, will be covered. In addition, the zīj, the dominant format for astronomical works, will be briefly explained as well as the legacy of the Islamic tradition of astral sciences to other cultures.
This chapter is a brief survey of astronomical instruments being used and developed in Islamic territories from the eighth to the fifteenth centuries as well as a concise account of major observatories and observational programs in this period.