Question # 12: What is the shar’iah ruling for prayer (salah) concerning a person who does not know the qiblah?
bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,
Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,
All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).
First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.
Shorter Answer: If a person is bewildered concerning the qiblah while being on a journey or in a place away from people and he does not have any one whom he can ask about it, he should do his best to estimate its direction then perform prayer accordingly. Besides, he does not have to repeat the prayer if his estimation is proved to be wrong later on, simply because he is juristically ordered to seek to know the qiblah and he has already done that. (‘Al-Fiqhul-Muyassaru minal-Qur’ani was-Sunnah’ by Muhammad M. ‘Abdul-Fattah)
Long Answer: Some Jurists maintained that the obligation is for facing the Ka’ba itself, while others maintained that it is for facing its direction. The reason for their disagreement is whether in the words of the Exalted in Soorah Al-Baqarah, 2:149, “And whencesoever thou earnest forth [for prayer, O Muhammad] turn thy face toward the Inviolable Place of Worship”, an implied word is to be assumed, so as to read, “And whencesoever thou comest forth [for prayer, O Muhammad] turn thy face in the direction of the Inviolable Place of Worship”, or whether the words are to be read as they are. Those who assumed an implied word maintained that the obligation is for facing in its direction, while those who did not assume an implied word here said that the obligation is to face the Ka’ba itself. It is necessary to interpret the words in their actual meanings, unless an evidence indicates their construction in the metaphorical meaning. It is, however maintained that the evidence for an implied word here is to be found in the words of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم): al-Tirmidhi (342) and Ibn Maajah (1011) narrated that Abu Hurayrah (رضي الله عنه) said: The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Whatever is between the east and the west is the qiblah.” (Classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in al-Irwa’)
Thus, if we say that the obligation is to accurately determine the qiblah, he is to pray again if he discovers that he made a mistake (in determining the true direction). But if we maintain that the obligation is only for exerting effort, he does not have to pray again if he makes an error, and also if he had prayed before an effort to discover the direction. Al-Shafi’i thought that the obligation was for accurate determination, and if it becomes obvious to the person that he had made a mistake, he was to pray again, always. A group of jurists said that he does not pray again if he has finished praying, unless he did so intentionally (that is, prayed in the wrong direction) or prayed without making an effort to discover the direction. This was the opinion of Malik and Abu Hanifa, except that Malik recommended praying again if there was still time… The tradition is found in the report of Amir ibn Rabi’a, who said, “We were travelling with the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) on a dark night, and the direction of the qiblah became obscure to us. Each one of us prayed in a certain direction, as we guessed, but when it was morning we found that we had prayed in a direction other than that of the qiblah. We asked the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) about it and he said, ‘Your prayer was valid.’ It was then that revelation came down with the verse, ‘Unto Allah belongeth the East and the West, and withersoever ye turn, there is Allah’s countenance'” (Soorah Al-Baqarah, 2:115). (‘Bidayat al-Mujtahid wa Nihayat al-Muqtasid’ by Ibn Rushd)
Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) said: So if we see a person praying in a direction that is slightly off from the qiblah, that does not matter, because he is facing in its general direction, and this is what he is obliged to do. (Al-Sharh al-Mumti’)
In Fataawa al-Shaykh Ibn Baaz (may Allah have mercy on him) it says: If a believer does his best to figure out the direction of the qiblah, when he is in the desert or is in a city in which he is not sure where the qiblah is, and he prays on that basis, then he finds out that he prayed in a direction other than the qiblah, then he should continue to pray according to his latest estimate, if he believes that it is more correct than his first estimate. His first prayer is still valid because he did his best to work out the qiblah.
Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.