Where’s Mecca ?

Introduction

For more than 1,400 years, Islamic civilization has taken the direction of sacred space more seriously than any other civilization in human history. The sacred direction towards the sacred Kaaba in Mecca is called qibla in the languages of the Muslim Commonwealth. The way in which Muslims have determined qibla over the centuries is a complicated history, but several facts are known:

  • Arabs before Islam had a complex system of what we now call “folk astronomy” based on what can be seen in the heavens.
  • The Kaaba has a rectangular base that is aligned astronomically; its main axis points to the rise of the Canopus, the brightest star in the southern sky, and its minor axis is defined by the summer sunrise and the Winter sunset. Its four corners point roughly in the cardinal directions.
  • Muslims developed a sacred geography in which, over the centuries, various schemes were developed in which segments of the perimeter of the Kaaba corresponded to sectors of the world that had the same qibla, defined in terms of montages and astronomical contexts. The first such schemes appear in Baghdad in the 9th century.
  • At the beginning of the 9th century, Muslims had access to the geographic and mathematical knowledge of their predecessors, which meant that for the first time they could calculate qibla using geographic coordinates (medieval) and mathematical procedures. (Of course, this would not mean that they could find the MODERN direction of Mecca.)
  • From the 7th to the 9th century and sometimes thereafter until the 19th century, muslims used astronomical alignments to trace the qibla. From the 9th century to the present day, Muslims have also used mathematical methods to calculate qibla.

Few people know anything about it these days. Indeed, most Muslims think that all mosques face Mecca. Yet if they only investigated some historical mosque orientations, they would be surprised. For medieval mosques face Kaaba rather than Mecca. There is a subtle, but very significant difference. How can they “face” a distant building that is not visible? The way these mosques “face” the Kaaba is something we need to learn from the modern. And the question of qibla is not only about mosques: it is about every Muslim, in his country and at the foreigner, in life and in death, which follows the prescriptions relating to the sacred direction of Islam.

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Over the past 50 years, one of my concerns has been trying to document — mainly for the first time — how Muslims have used astronomy to serve their religion over centuries:

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  • to regulate the lunar calendar through the observation of the crescent;
  • organize the hours of the five daily prayers;
  • to determine the qibla or sacred direction towards the Kaaba.

To do this, I first read what my professors Karl Schoy (1877-1925) and Ted Kennedy (1912-2010) had written on these subjects using medieval Arabic sources. Kennedy’s translations and comments on the writings of al-Bīrūnī, the greatest Scientist of the early days of Islamic history, were particularly important, dealing with the second and third of these topics.

I have spent many years looking at thousands of medieval Arabic manuscripts and hundreds of scientific instruments in libraries and museums around the world. Since no one had ever looked at most of these manuscripts for centuries, I inevitably found things that were new. Some of my results took some Muslim colleagues by surprise. Western colleagues are less and less interested in everything related to classical Islamic studies. And this area is plagued by revisionists who believe that no medieval Arabic text is trustworthy and who are eagerly rewriting a chapter in Islamic history relying instead on ramblings of a primitive Christian bishop in Armenia (I exaggerate, but not much).

Some of my publications on the history of Islamic astronomy include studies on the following topics:

  • astronomical alignments of the rectangular base of the Kaaba;
  • the methods with which Muslims from the first period could determine qibla by simple popular astronomy;
  • the notion of sacred geography on the Kaaba, with sectors of the world having the same qibla defined by astronomical phenomena on the horizon; the methods by which Muslim scientists could calculate qibla for a given locality;
  • geographical tables showing the longitudes and latitudes of hundreds of localities from al-Andalus to China, and their qiblas in degrees and minutes;
  • mathematical tables extraordinarily sophisticated displaying the qibla for any locality with which the user enters his longitude (medieval) and latitude in the table and reads the value of the qibla (medieval);
  • The remarkable map grids produced by Muslim scientists allowing the user to read the qibla (medieval) on a circular scale and distance to Mecca on a diametric scale.
  • medieval Arabic texts discussing pallets of accepted directions for qibla and mosque orientations in specific localities, which partly explains the wide range of directions of mosques in these places (including Córdoba, Cairo and Samarqand).

In recent decades, many colleagues have published articles on various mathematical procedures proposed by individual Muslim scholars to find the qibla, and some of my colleagues and alumni have written about procedures involving popular astronomy and astronomical alignments. The interested reader may consult what has been written about the historical determinations of qibla-in in the bibliography annexed to this article.

We have left others to write on such controversial topics as the Qibla conflict — is it from the southeast or the northeast? — among the Muslims of North America. Often, over the years, other people have introduced the factor that Earth is not a sphere in the discussion about qibla, which is not useful.

In 1999, I published a book about how Muslims determined sacred direction for about 1,400 years. This gave an overview of the first procedures for using astronomical alignments to deal with an astronomically aligned Kaaba, with different ways of calculating qibla using geographic coordinates and trigonometric or geometric methods. But the book focuses on mathematical tables that have been designed to give the qibla as an angle in degrees and minutes to the local meridian for the whole Muslim world; the geographical tables giving for the main localities of the Muslim world the qibla and distance to Mecca; and Mecca mapping centered grids that allow the user to read the qibla and distance to Mecca for any locality in the world (classical and medieval).

None of these materials was known 50 years ago. And inevitably none of them are mentioned in the popular uninformed Qibla accounts as found in Wikipedia. I’ve never thought about preparing all my research that someday someone would announce that all the first mosques are directed to a place other than Mecca. No serious scholar, Muslim or non-Muslim, would ever think that mosques could have been deliberately directed to places other than Mecca. If they had done so, they would rightly be considered disturbed.

Figure 2. The orientation of the Kaaba mentioned in medieval texts and confirmed by satellite images, taking into account the surrounding skyline. Canopus (Suhayl) is the brightest star in the southern sky. The direction of the Canopus climb is conveniently perpendicular to the axis between the summer sunrise and the winter sunset for the latitude of Mecca. In pre-Islamic folklore, the walls of the Kaaba were associated with the four “cardinal” winds. Note that if you stand in front of the southwest wall, you face (istaqbala) the wind qabūl, also known as ṣabā’; in this position we face the summer sunrise with (formerly) lucky Yemen (al-Yaman) on the right and disturbing Syria (al-sha’m) on the left. Some revisionists have claimed that the orientation of the Kaaba (with al-ḥijr!) may have been modified on one of many occasions when the building was rebuilt after destructive flooding. Revisionists must be very innovative when confronted with such an ancient building as Kaaba. Not to scale. (Source)

Revisionist fascination for Northwest Arabia

Fifty years ago, some London Arabists too enthusiastic — John Wansbrough and his students Michael Cook & Patricia Crone — came to the idea that Islam started not in Mecca but somewhere unspecified in Northwest Arabia. It was a curious idea, especially because there were no obvious potential sites. One of the main and most convincing arguments to justify their bold assertion was the “fact” that the oldest mosques in Egypt and Iraq are not confronted with Mecca, but rather a locality in North-West Arabia. About 25 years ago, I pointed out to Michael Cook the madness of this statement, explaining that the oldest mosque in Egypt faces the winter sunrise and the oldest mosque in Iraq facing the winter sunset; so, of course, these mosques do not face (the MODERN direction of) Mecca. Nor were they deliberately aligned to anywhere in Northwest Arabia. They were deliberately aligned to face the Kaaba. Cook responded to this information by saying, the most appropriate: “It’s a little late”.

Yes, the first Muslims in Egypt and Iraq used winter sunset and winter sunrise, respectively, for qibla, not because they were stupid, but because they were smart. How to deal with a building they could not see: all wise ancient peoples used astronomical alignments for one reason or another. From al-Andalus to Central Asia, the first mosques were built in astronomical directions later called qiblat al-ṣaḥāba or qiblat al-tābiʿīn, “the qibla of the first or second generation of Muslims”.

My current intention is simple: it is to warn the unsuspecting reader that the only other person who has written in general on the subject of the directions of the mosque

( a) does not have the necessary qualifications to correctly interpret the available data;

b) does not understand that MODERN directions from one place to another cannot be used to study the reasons underlying the orientation of PRE-MODERN architecture;

( c) seems unconscious of the fact that there is a well-established discipline called archaeoastronomy and does not include astronomical alignments;

d) committed a monumental error in its interpretation of mosques built on pre-existing religious architecture or in accordance with the plans of the pre-Islamic city;

e) does not understand how mosques have been built over the centuries;

(f) has no control over any of the many medieval Arab sources — legal, astronomical, folk astronomical, mathematical, geographical — relating to the determination of qibla;

( g) Prefers to refrain from citing the extensive existing bibliography on the subject.

Worse still,

h) settled in a rather pleasant locality, Petra, as a center of primitive Islam where at the beginning of the 7th century there were neither Arabs, Muslims, nor Jews, and, in short, there was not much.

And worse than that,

( i) his activities in an area that he does not control and its false conclusions have already contributed to somewhat doubtful causes.

Figure 3. A schematic representation of the Cook & Crone error. They observed that the first mosques in Egypt and Iraq seemed to be aligned towards a square in North-West Arabia rather than towards Mecca. This, they mistakenly thought, confirmed their theory that the origins of Islam were somewhere in North-West Arabia rather than in Mecca. In fact, mosques are aligned with the Kaaba in Mecca by astronomical horizon phenomena, namely the sunrise in winter in Egypt and the winter sunset in Iraq. The first generation of Muslims knew what they were doing when it comes to the directions of mosques, and later generations developed over several centuries remarkable and more sophisticated ways to find the sacred direction. We modern people only have to learn how they dealt with the need to align mosques in the sacred direction towards the sacred Kaaba in Mecca. This is not something that can be imitated or investigate with an iPhone, and no Google map will help much.

Precise directions of the mosque towards Petra

To give faith to his Petra theory, Gibson needs to rewrite the history of science, a subject on which he is singularly ill-informed. He wants us to accept this when the first generation of Muslims expanded out of Petra (!) they knew everything about astrolabs (!) and spherical trigonometry (!) and others. When they wanted to build mosques around the world from al-Andalus to China facing Kaaba in Petra, they used these advanced mathematical techniques to calculate pibla (my word) towards Petra and they were able to do so to a degree or two. In fact, the “real” Muslims used simple astronomical alignments to find the direction of the Kaaba, and there was no need for a mathematical system. (However, as part of the Greco-Roman world, the Nabateans long before the advent of Islam had devices such as sundials.)

Orientation of the mosque before Gibson

Gibson’s claim to Petra deliberately ignores everything modern erudition has discovered about how Muslims over the centuries have determined the sacred direction. His first book Qur’ânic Geography (2011) made no reference to a serious book or article about qibla. His later works were supplemented by a few references to my works, but they deliberately omit any reference to five articles that gave a glimpse of what was known before Gibson appeared on the stage:

  • “ On the astronomical orientation of the Kaaba” (with Gerald S. Hawkins) (1982);
  • “ Astronomical alignments in Medieval Islamic Religious Architecture” (1982);
  • “ The Orientation of Medieval Islamic Religious Architecture and Cities” (1995);
  • “ The first Islamic mathematical methods and tables to find the direction of Mecca” (1996);
  • “ The Sacred Geography of Islam” (2005).

For me, I am quite confident that Islam began in Mecca and Medina, and that all the first mosques were deliberately aligned to face the Kaaba in Mecca. These guidelines were implemented by the early Muslims with considerable success within their capabilities, mainly by using astronomical alignments or by relying on previous foundations that were inevitably aligned also on the astronomical level. Subsequent mosques were aligned either in calculated qiblas based on geographic data available through mathematical procedures, although the old procedures continue to be used.

In every major center of the medieval Islamic world there was a palette of several Qibla-accepted directions by one interest group or another. There could be a qiblat al-ṣaḥāba, a direction chosen by the first generation of Muslims who settle in this locality, usually a defined astronomical direction, and subsequently favored; there could be different directions favoured by different law schools; there could be another level astronomic.define the direction that has been favored by some; and there could be two mathematical qibla-determined directions, one based on approximate methods and the other based on an exact procedure. The modern qibla, based on accurate geographic data given and derived by exact mathematical methods, is not relevant for the study of the motivation behind the orientation of a historical mosque.

I consider it necessary to respond to Dan Gibson’s latest statements for three main reasons:

  • People seem to forget that the sacred direction in Islam is not towards Mecca but towards the Kaaba in Mecca. There is a significant difference between facing a building that cannot be seen but known to be astronomically aligned and facing a distant city. We must remind people, because what was obvious to a medieval mind is not obvious to us the modern. All Gibson mosques are aligned towards the Kaaba in one way or another. Since the ninth century, when mathematical geography and mathematical methods became available, mosques have usually been aligned to Mecca, usually, but not always, using mathematical methods. In large centers, there was sometimes a palette of qibla-covering directions like a quadrant of the horizon — used by different interest groups.

Figure 3. A brilliant geometric construction to find the qibla proposed by Habash al-Hasib, Baghdad’s leading astronomer of the 9th century. The complex modern formula can be derived directly from the Habash diagram.

Without knowing it, it is somewhat precarious to try to explain an early orientation of the mosque.

  • The concept of qibla does not only concern lawyers who separate hair or mathematicians performing calculations or architects building mosques, it is millions and millions of Muslim faithful who for more than a millennium on much of this planet have exercised their utmost to pray towards the physical center of their religion, a symbol of the presence of their God. What they do or have done in their mosques, but also in their homes and at work and while traveling. In addition, in death, the faithful are put to rest in the same direction in which they pray during their lives. No Muslim needs an ill-informed Besserwisser to tell them that they and their ancestors have been praying in the wrong direction for more than a millennium and that they should have prayed to a city in Jordan that has absolutely nothing to do with early Islam.
  • There are very few people — Muslims, non-Muslims and independent — who know anything about the historical determinations of qibla, let alone who would be in to counter Gibson’s fundamentally absurd “new” theories that seem to be based on “scientific evidence”.
  • I am well aware of the potential damage that Gibson has done or can do to our land. But more seriously, Gibson’s writings contribute to Islamophobia among those who have no idea of the one and only civilization that really took the directions seriously for more than 1,400 years.

Criticism of reviews

Most people are either digital, which means they love numbers and know how to handle them, or unnumbered, in the sense that they don’t like numbers and challenge themselves. These people shivering when faced with a direction such as 292°, because they have no idea that modern use measures directions from 0° clockwise to 360° = 0°; these people prefer to read 22° N of E. Now, Gibson’s book is all about numbers, some real (mosque measurements) and others irrelevant (MODERN Directions of Petra and Mecca). Alas, most of the criticisms of Gibson’s qibla extravaganza were made by poorly versed people in numbers.

In his thanks to his first Islamic qiblas, Gibson thanked two scholars Rick Oakes and Ahmed Amine who we will mention below. (He also thanks one of the greatest archaeoastronomers in the Middle East, and from Petra, my colleague Juan Antonio Belmonte, who was even more surprised than me to find his name in Gibson’s thanks, because Gibson never mentions ethno- or archaeoastronomy.)

It is important to consider Gibson’s approach to mosque directions in light of his methodology. Because it uses the MODERN geographic coordinates to calculate the directions of buildings to Petra, Mecca or Jerusalem when those who erected these buildings did not have access to these coordinates. They also did not have EXACT mathematical procedures for calculating directions from one place to another. So, when Gibson writes that a given mosque faces (the MODERN direction of) Petra, not (the MODERN direction of) Mecca, this should not be taken seriously. If I were to say this or that mosque facing Mecca and not Petra, it could be just as absurd. If one of us says that a given mosque faces exactly Petra or Mecca so that those who built it must have the geographical and mathematical knowledge to determine the pibla/qibla accurately, it would be absurd. For mosques in the first period were arranged in directions that were not calculated at all.

In my first criticism of Petra de Gibson’s thesis, I deliberately stated that I would not demonstrate his error with respect to all the mosques he had misinterpreted, but that I would present enough examples to show that not only are his interpretations wrong, but also that the whole idea ofevaluating the “errors” of medieval orientations by comparing them with MODERN directions is faulty. Some subsequent commentators did not understand this.

Rick Oakes is an American theology specialist who is interested in the history of Cor’ān and primitive Islam. He posted his assessment of my criticism of the early Islamic Qiblas on the blog of the International Coranic Studies Association (IQSA), an Atlanta based organization that claims to be “devoted to studying the Quran from various disciplines.” Oakes does not focus here on science, mathematics or astronomy that was (or, rather, was not) available to early Muslims, nor on how they could have pointed one of their first mosques in a particular direction. But rather, he naively focuses on the 17 mosques that Gibson says face (the MODERN direction of) Petra. It does not dispute whether or not they were directed to (the MODERN direction of) Petra intentionally. He does not claim that the Gibson Mosque’s guidance measures are accurate, but that Gibson’s conclusions based on these guidelines deserve to be confirmed or refuted. He neglects my refutation of all, so he repeats this call from his non-critical criticism of Gibson’s first book.

Oakes begins by omitting that I first published my Gibson magazine on my own website and later on the Muslim Heritage site. He writes that I “revised” my opinion after a small reply from Gibson, when, in fact, I just deleted a comment on his missionary link. Oakes identifies five mosques whose directions I did not even mention: the Masjid al-qiblatayn in Medina and four other very minor mosques I had never heard of. He seems so convinced of Gibson’s conclusion that 17 first mosques point to (the MODERN direction of) Petra that he challenges other scholars to offer better explanations that this was deliberate. Everything becomes a game: who does it well and who is wrong. Oakes correctly observes that my explanations on why the mosques of Amman, Fustat, Jericho and Khirbat al-Minya (only these!) are preferable to Gibson’s explanation that they point to (the MODERN direction of) Petra. Although he is right to mention that I wrote that Sanaa Mosque points to (the MODERN direction of) Petra, he missed the fact that this does not mean that he was deliberately prepared to face Petra: I also said that the axis of the mosque was “parallel” to the main axis of the Kaaba, so that the Qibla wall is “parallel” to the SE wall of the Kaaba.

In short, Oakes unfortunately neglected what I wrote about the absurdity of using MODERN guidelines to study the orientations of buildings built well over 1,200 years ago and the madness of ignoring the Cardinal and solstitial directions in the interpretation of orientations that have been laid towards astronomical phenomena of horizon or on cardinally aligned pre-Islamic foundations. He is apparently willing to believe Gibson’s claims about Petra if anyone can confirm them.

Suggestions for future research

Fortunately, nowadays, it is not necessary to go through the length and extent of the Muslim world in order to have a new look at the directions of mosques. These are not “theories” about the first directions of mosques, they are just suggestions for future research. What investigators concerned might want to do in the future with the main mosques of the medieval period (7th-15th centuries) is as follows:

( 1) determine which mosques were built on the authority of the Prophet or his Companions;

2) determine which mosques were built on the foundations of pre-Islamic religious architecture, or in accordance with the pre-Islamic religious architecture that was cardinally aligned (e.g. Jerusalem and Damascus);

3) determine which mosques were built according to the street plans of pre-Islamic cities that proved to be solstitially aligned (such as Córdoba, Tlemcen, Tunis, Kairouan);

4) determine which mosques were built towards the winter sunrise (taken as a Qibla direction from Egypt to al-Andalus), and towards the winter sunset (taken as a Qibla-direction from Iraq to Central Asia), or towards another astronomical horizon phenomenon;

5) determine which mosques face more or less south facing in Jordan and in Syria;

( 6) determine which mosques face west in India and full east in North Africa;

( 7) determine which mosques more or less north in Yemen and East Africa.

mosques that do not comply with these standards can be explained by means of information on local qibla in the treatises of popular astronomy and sacred geography (defined astronomical directions) or treatises on mathematical astronomy (qiblas calculated from geographical data using exact or approximate mathematical methods). Local topography or hydrography may also have played a role. In all these surveys, no conclusions should be drawn on the basis of qibla-calculated directions from the MODERN geographical data using some kind of mathematical procedures EXACT The. In addition, measurements and calculations to the nearest degree are adequate for investigation purposes; any attempt at greater “accuracy” is unrealistic.

To any interested party, I recommend looking at the five articles I mentioned above, especially my article on the first mathematical methods and tables to find qibla. I am convinced that these simple approximate methods have had much more influence in the alignment of the mosque than any complicated exact methods and tables. But one cannot use any of these elements without knowing what geographical coordinates were available over the centuries. The complexity of Islamic geographical tables giving longitudes and latitudes, and the basic reference work of E. S. & M. H. Kennedy, Geographic Coordinates Islamic source localities (Frankfurt, 1987), presents 14,000 series of longitudes and latitudes of some 80 Arabs and Persian astronomic and geographical sources.

To study the orientation of a historic mosque, it is important to take into account the original street plan surrounding and the various directions that have been privileged in this area in time. Without such information, it is not a bit arrogant to assume that we can make a sensible statement about the reason behind the orientation of a building built more than a millennium ago. Woe to anyone who claims to explain any medieval mosque orientation without realizing how complicated the subject of directions is.

Notes added in September 2020:

If Dan Gibson had claimed that his investigations revealed that Mosques were located precisely towards Mecca, I would have immediately declared that it was absurd, especially because he would have claimed that they are confronted with the modern direction of Mecca for each locality. In addition to the sacred direction in Islam is towards Kaaba, not towards Mecca. Modern directions from place to place were only available from the 19th century onwards.

No precision was expected in the seventh and 8th centuries, a precision of the kind we take for the modern granted. But the first generations of Muslims had all the technical knowledge they needed to face the Kaaba, because the Kaaba is aligned astronomically, that is, the major and minor axes of its rectangular base face significant astronomical horizon phenomena, and its corners are roughly oriented towards the cardinal directions. Thus, in order to confront the Kaaba in any locality, they only had to face the direction in which they stood right in front of the part of the Kaaba that was associated with that locality. Modern people would be perplexed if they were asked to face a building they do not see; the first generations do not see it as a problem.

As it is, Gibson’s data show that these mosques face precisely Petra, a very pleasant place that has nothing to do with the history of primitive Islam. The Nabataean Muslims in Gibson would never have been able to accurately determine the pibla towards Petra from places between al-Andalus and China. We have to look elsewhere in order to study the directions of these mosques. In short, they do not facing Mecca, and they do not face Petra, but they face the Kaaba, within the limits of what Muslims knew in the seventh and 8th centuries. The directions of their first mosques are not “negligent” or “inaccurate”, as many historians of Islamic architecture have claimed. But they have a lot to teach us, including that they do not face anywhere specific.

Dan Gibson should not be withheld from his claims, since he even included mosques built on pre-Islamic foundations and finds that they face Petra as well. I remember a certain man who measured the directions of many medieval cathedrals in Europe and discovered that they were facing Mecca and concluded that they should be built as mosques. As far as churches are concerned, it is absurd assertion that Medieval churches face east or face Jerusalem. If we measure the orientations of French cathedrals, we arrive with a span of 100° on the eastern horizon.

Dan Gibson’s claims were enthusiastically received by those who seek to denigrate Islam and distort Islamic history. Serious reactions from the learned world led to a laughable rhetoric on the part of a fundamentalist outfit to keep Muslims away from Islam.

The interested reader may take care of the following books to gain some control over the subject and better understand the madness of Gibson’s claims and the perversity of his advocates. Most of the nonsense they attribute to the present author is the result of their inability to understand what he wrote to counter Gibson’s assertions and their willingness to distort them.

( a) “On the orientation of the Kaaba” (1982). Without an understanding of the layout of this sacred building, one cannot begin to explain the orientation of ancient historical mosques. For this and other reasons, Gibson does not mention the orientation of Kaaba (academia.edu). A new book on many aspects of historical Kaaba, written by a knowledgeable Western researcher, Simon O’Meara, has just been published (barakat.org ).

( b) Astronomical orientations have been widely used in ancient times, including in Arabia and in particular by the Nabataeans of Petra. See J. A. Belmonte et al., “Equinox in Petra: Land‑ and and skyscape in the nabatéan capital” (2020 — (doi.org ). Gibson does not like astronomical orientations, although they have been used by his favorite Nabateans (long before the advent of Islam). His claims concerning Petra as the cradle of Islam are not taken seriously by specialists in Nabataean studies.

c) “Finding Qibla by the Sun and the Stars — Islamic Sacred Geography” (2019), a survey of about fifty medieval sources, documenting about twenty different patterns of sectors of the world on Kaaba and their qiblas as the same astronomical directions that would be confronted if we were directly in front of Kaaba (academia.edu ). Gibson claims that “dumb” people used these astronomical orientations to find “sloppy” orientations without realizing that they were the means used by the first generations of Muslims to carefully find the direction of the Kaaba oriented astronomical. In fact, they were smart to use these directions.

d) “Medieval Cairo wind sensors and their secrets” (2020), where “secrets” refer to the layout of the Fatimid city aligned astronomically along the Roman Nile Red Sea Canal and to the various qiblas used in the city from the 7th century onwards (academia.edu — text)/ ( academia.edu — illustrations). Gibson does not realize that there are whole Muslim cities facing the Kaaba, but that this can only be understood if we know what people thought was the direction of the Kaaba, which was not the modern direction of Mecca, and certainly not the modern direction of Petra!

e) “The enigmatic orientation of the Great Mosque of Córdoba” (2019), on how the mosque was laid out according to a street map of the Roman suburbs aligned astronomically, the curious orientation of the mosque is confirmed by the astronomical orientations proposed in various medieval schemes of sacred geography, that is, the divisions of the world around the astronomical oriented Kaaba (academia.edu). All major mosques in the Maghrib face the same direction for the same reason (brill.com ). In one of his most imaginative moments, Gibson proposed that these mosques are all parallel to an imaginary line between Petra and Mecca.

( f) “al-Bazdawī on Qibla in Early Islamic Transoxania” (1983/2012) on the directions of Samarqand mosques by a famous 11th-century judge (academia.edu) . Contrary to what Gibson thinks, this judge knew what he was talking about.

( g) “Bibliography of books, articles and sites web on historical determinations of qibla” (2018), listing some 150 articles (academia.edu). Gibson’s early Qibla writings did not mention any of these documents. Later, he consulted King’s article “Qibla” in the Encyclopedia of Islam, but not the King’s article “Mekka as the center of the world”, in which Islamic sacred geography is presented for the first time (academia.edu ).

It is not unfair to say that Gibson has no idea of qibla’s historical determinations, but he is much better informed than dishonest souls looking in a series of 18 or more videos to promote his hazelnut ideas about Petra and demolish his critics (www.nabataea.net ).

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by David A. King, Professor of History of Science, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt

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