Al-Fatāwā al-Sirājiyyah on the Shāfiʿī Qiblah


Ml Mohammad Taha Karaan


In the chapter on facing the qiblah, the Ḥanafī fatwā collection, al-Fatāwā al-Sirājiyyah, states:

  قبلة الشافعية عندنا خطأ  

By us, the qiblah of the Shāfiʿīs is wrong.

The Shāfiʿī position, of course, is that one should face the actual qiblah (ʿayn al-qiblah), while the Ḥanafīs take the more indulgent position of the general direction of the qiblah (jihat al-qiblah). With the Ḥanafīs having taken a position of greater latitude it becomes difficult to understand why the Shāfiʿī qiblah comes to be described as “wrong”, since one would naturally expect the narrower position to be subsumed within the broader one.


What is described as “wrong” in al-Fatāwa al-Sirājiyyah is not the ijtihād of Imam al-Shāfiʿī on ʿayn al-qiblah as compared to jihat al-qiblah, but rather a particular situation that obtained in Transoxania during the 6th century.

In a treatise on the qiblah, the Ḥanafī jurist, Fakhr al-Islām al-Bazdawī (died 482/1089) speaks of four different conventions followed in 6th century Samarqand in setting the qiblah[1]. These four conventions were:

  • due west: followed by the Ḥanafīs; based upon the direction of the road departing Samarqand to Makkah.
  • 30° south of west: based upon the winter sunset and used in the Great Mosque.
  • 40° south of west: based upon a value underlying a table for the altitude of the sun in the azimuth of the qiblah. Al-Bazdawī advocated this position.
  • due south: ascribed by al-Bazdawī to the Shāfiʿīs.[2]

With a degree of divergence as stark as 90°, it becomes easy to see why a Transoxanian Ḥanafī jurist like Sirāj al-Dīn al-Ūshī, (author of al-Fatāwā al-Sirājiyyah who died 87 years after al-Bazdawī) would describe the qiblah of the Shāfiʿīs as incorrect.

However, contemporary cartography gives the qiblah for Samarqand as 239.47°, almost exactly 30° south of due west, which is 270°. It emerges, therefore, that the most correct position among the four outlined by al-Bazdawī is the second one.

And Allah knows best.

[1] The manuscript of this treatise is preserved in Cairo’s Dār al-Kutub al-Miṣriyyah. A critical edition was published by David King in vol. 7 of the Journal for the History of Arabic Science in 1983 under the title, “Al-Bazdawī on the Qibla in Early Islamic Transoxania.”

[2] King, David A, World Maps for Finding the Direction and Distance of Mecca: Examples of Innovation and Tradition in Islamic Science, p. 125, EJ Brill, 1999