The schools concur that the Ka’bah is the qiblah of the one who is near it and is able to see it. They differ regarding the qiblah of one who is away from the Ka’bah and unable to see it.
The Hanafis, Malikis, Hanbalis and a group of Imami legists observe: The qiblah of one at a distance is the direction of the Ka’bah and not the Ka’bah itself.
The Shafi’is and most Imamis state: It is wajib for one who is near the Ka’bah as well for one at a distance, to face the Ka’bah itself. Thus, if it is possible to ascertain that one is facing the Ka’bah itself, one must do so; otherwise the probability (zann) that one may be facing it, is sufficient. It is obvious that one who is far away from the Ka’bah is in no way capable of ascertaining that he is facing the Ka’bah, considering that the earth is spherical. Consequently, the qiblah of one away from the Ka’bah will be the direction of the Ka’bah and not the Ka’bah itself.
It is wajib for a person ignorant of the qiblah to inquire and strive to determine its exact or approximate direction1, and in case neither of the two is possible, the four Sunni schools and a group from among the Imamis say: He may perform salat in any direction; his salat will be valid and it will not be wajib for him to repeat it except in the opinion of the Shafi’is.
Most Imamis observe: He will perform Salat in four directions to comply with the command for salat and to ascertain its proper performance. But if there isn’t sufficient time for performing salat four times or if one is incapable of performing it in four directions, he may perform salat in the directions that he can.
If a person prays not facing the qiblah and comes to know about his mistake, the Imamis state: If the error is known during the salat and the correct qiblah lies between his two hands, the part of the salat already performed will be valid and he will have to correct his direction for the remaining part of the salat. But if it is known that he has been praying facing the east, or the west, or the north with his back towards the qiblah (this is with reference to Lebanon where the qiblah lies to the south), the salat will be invalid and he will perform it anew.
If the error is known after performing the salat, it should be performed again if its time is still there, not otherwise. Some Imamis say: The salat will not be repeated if there is only a little deviation from the qiblah, irrespective of whether its time is still there or not.
But if it has been performed facing east or west [the right or the left (90 degrees off)], it should be repeated if its time is there, not otherwise. If the salat is performed with one’s back to the qiblah (180 degrees off), it should be repeated regardless of whether its time is still there or has passed.
The Hanafis and the Hanbalis observe: If after inquiring and striving to find the qiblah one is unable to ascertain its approximate direction and performs salat in a direction which turns out to be wrong, he must change his direction accordingly if the mistake is known during the salat, and if it is known afterwards his salat is valid and he has no further obligation.
The Shafi’is say: If it becomes certain that there has been a mistake in determining the qiblah, it is wajib to repeat the salat, but if there is only a likelihood of mistake, the salat is valid irrespective of whether the probability arises during the salat or after it.
As to one who neither makes an inquiry nor an effort to determine the qiblah, but by chance performs the salat in the right direction, the Malikis and Hanbalis consider his salat to be invalid (batil).
The opinion of the Imamis and the Hanafis is that his salat is valid provided he has no doubts while praying and was sure about the direction of the qiblah at the time of starting the salat, because, as pointed out by the Imamis, in such a situation it is correct for him to make the niyyah of acquiring nearness (qurbah) to God.
- 1. The command to face Masjid al-Haram has come in verse 144 of Surat al-Baqarah (...So turn your face towards Masjid al-Haram), and the leave to turn in any direction in verse 115: (To God belong the East and the West; where ever you turn there is the Face of God). Some scholars have held that the former verse abrogates the latter.
Others disagree and point out that there is no abrogation involved here, nor is it a case of one being particular and the other general. The way to reconcile the two verses, they point out, is that the former verse applies to those who know the direction of the qiblah and commands them to turn towards it. The latter verse specifically applies to one who is at a loss regarding its direction and orders him to perform salat in any direction he wants. This opinion seems to be more credible.