“And landmarks. And by the stars they are [also] guided.” [16:16]
You’re on a road trip and it’s time to pray Maghrib and ‘Isha. You pull into a rest area and make wudu. How do you know which direction to face?
Most of us would probably pull out a smartphone and use our qibla app. But there’s a much cooler way of finding the Qibla.
Before we had smartphones, Muslim sailors and merchants developed the art of reading the stars for navigation. If you’ve never looked up at the sky, you might not have realized that stars don’t stay the in the same place. As the earth rotates, stars appear to be in different positions.
Muslim sailors called it al-Qiblah and it is found in the constellation they named al-Rakabah. We know it as the North Star, found in the Little Dipper.
Once you do this a few times, it becomes really easy to spot the north star and know the qiblah. You’ll find it even faster than the time it takes to open up the app on your smartphone. Plus you’ll get major coolness points for doing this in front of other people.
Step 1- Locate Banat Naash al-Kubra (The Big Dipper)
The easiest way to find the north star is by first finding the Big Dipper. This is one of the easiest constellations to find. Look for a large spoon shaped constellation. Three stars in the handle, four stars in the head.
Step 2-Trace a line to al-Qiblah (the north star)
Imagine a line that connects the front two stars of the Big Dipper. If you follow that line, about five times the distance will be the north star. It’s the first bright star you’ll run into that’s close to this vector.
Step 3-Trust but verify
You don’t want to accidentally be praying in the wrong direction so make sure that you’re actually at the north star. The north star is part of the constellation the Muslims called al-Rakabah, or, as we commonly know it, the Little Dipper. The north star is the last star in the handle. The Little Dipper floats above the Big Dipper, as if it is pouring water into the Big Dipper.
Try it out:
Once you know where north is, finding the Qibla is pretty easy. If you’re in America, it’s North East, so face the north star and it’s half a turn to your right (i.e., clockwise).
Unfortunately, this only works in the northern hemisphere. If you’re in Australia, use your smartphone.
Update: Or you can try our handy Qibla in the Southern Hemisphere guide.