What does a Muslim do if s/he doesn't know the direction to Mecca, and can't know?

In general, if a Muslim doesn’t know which way Mecca is, and has no hope of knowing for sure, what next? Like, for example, if he or she is lost in wilderness and dying. Or jailed in a less accommodating country. Are they to abstain from prayer? Do they pray anyway, and it’s not a big deal?

I’m talking about the average Muslim here. Is there a commonly held belief in the Muslim community about what to do in this type of situation that the majority agrees on?

Depends how seriously lost this person is. If he’s been blindfolded, driven around for an hour, spun around fifteen times, and unblindfolded on an overcast day, then I have no idea and can’t answer your question.

However, assume a Muslim who at least knows which country he’s in, and where north is, I have been told by a Muslim friend that a very rough approximation (ie. the nearest of the four main compass points at a pinch) will suffice.

My friend maintains that although Islam has a lot of requirements regarding prayer, fasting, and other duties, compared to say, Christianity, it is practical about the way they are carried out and real world obstacles, so you are cut a lot of slack, so long as your intentions are good. For example, pregnant women, the sick, and the elderly are exempt from fasting, and apparently this leeway goes for prayer if you can’t reasonably be expected to know where Mecca is.

FWIW, I’ve heard a story about a Muslim astronaut aboard the International Space Station who asked what he should do about prayer. For him, the direction would be constantly changing. His spiritual adviser told him that any direction would be fine.

IIRC, travellers are exempt from the direction requirement. The logic being, I suppose, that they wouldn’t know directions or their location west or east of Mecca. This same logic would apply to a prisoner who had no way of ascertaining directions.

Here’s Cecil on a related topic:

How do Muslims know which way to face when praying?

This is a sort of ridiculous question, but does Islamic law recognize two different directions one can turn in order to face the kaaba? For example, if you’re on the same latitude, could you turn to either the east or the west? Or is the closest ‘route’ the only acceptable one?

The Cecil link I gave in the post above answers that question. In short, you’re supposed to face the closest route.

So I guess an ideal place for a Muslim to live would be on the exact polar opposite side of the Earth from Mecca. No worries, no stress.

In theory, maybe. In actual practice, that’d be the worst place, since the sensitivity to position is highest there. Just a few thousandths of an inch off, and the direction changes 180 degrees!

Except for the comparatively minor problem of being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Nitpick: Lines of latitude aren’t the shortest paths on the sphere, since they don’t coincide with “great circle” routes. Lines of longitude are great circles, though.

I flew on Gulf Air from Bahrain to London, and along with the usual in-flight information (speed and altitude) they would periodically show the direction to Mecca on the cabin TV screens. I don’t remember seeing any Muslims taking advantage of this data, however.

NO Problem to find Jerusalem, why not Mecca?

** The Jerusalem Compass **

No reason not to make and market one for Mecca!

OTOH The whole thing may be nothing but a deciet, a fraud and/or a deceit.
[Check it out w/Google.]

Assuming that that Jerusalem Compass isn’t a complete fraud, the only way it could possibly work would be if it contained a standard compass needle attached to the display needle at an angle, and if you go elsewhere in the world you need to manually adjust the angle. A genuine “Jerusalem Compass” could be made using a GPS, an internal compass, and some electronic processing, but the linked site says that the Jerusalem doohickey is not electronic, so that’s not it.

And even if such a device existed, it wouldn’t answer the OP, since the hypothetical unjust captor probably wouldn’t let the prisoner keep a pretty piece of brasswork, if they’re not even going to tell him what country he’s in and which way is north.

Emirates do this too, and on the way to Dubai I saw one guy using the data in the back of the plane.

(As an aside, almost all Episcopalean and Catholic churches in England point to “the Holy Land”. Is this true elsewhere?)

Actually, the antipodal point of the Kaaba is fairly close to Mururoa (also spelled Moruroa), an island that the French used for testing nuclear bombs. :eek: I’m not sure what the significance of this is.

But from what I gather, the island closest to the antipodes of the Kaaba is Tematangi. I’m not sure how close the island is, though.