World Maps for Finding the Direction and Distance to Mecca

Innovation and Tradition in Islamic Science

By David A. KingEdited by H. Daiber and D. Pingree
SKU: 100246 Categories: , Date: 1999Language: EnglishEdition: 1ISBN: 9789004113671Format: HardbackNo. of Volumes: 1No. of Pages: 638Weight: 2.757kg


With supporting images, this book gives an overview of the methods employed by Muslim scholars throughout history to locate the correct direction of the Holy Shrine of Makkah and the distances to it. The book then describes in detail two world maps discovered in Iran between 1989 and 1995. The author shows that the geographical data used in the maps were drawn from works in Central Asia and date back to the fifteenth century. As for the mathematical data, the author traces them back to Baghdad in the ninth century.




Preface 1- The sacred direction in Islam in modern scholarship

Preface 2- The rediscovery of the Mecca-centred world-maps

On transliteration and the rendering of names of places and persons

      On Muslim personal names

      On the Timurids, Safavids and Qajars

      On numerical notation

      Abbreviations and symbols used

      Notes added in proof (June, 1999)

Part 1: First orientations

Chapter 1: Aspects of Islamic science

1.1.        Introduction

1.2.        Folk astronomy

1.3.        Mathematical astronomy

1.4.        Mathematical methods

1.5.        Astronomical instrumentation

1.6.        Mathematical geography

1.7.        Mathematical cartography

1.8.        Some Muslim scientific personalities

Chapter 2: The determination of the sacred direction in Islam

2.1.        The sacred direction (qibla) in Islam

2.2.        The determination geography of the qibla by the methods of folk astronomy

2.3.        The sacred geography of Islam

2.4.        The determination of the qibla by mathematical methods

2.5.        Tables for finding the qible

2.6.        Geographical tables giving qibla-values

2.6.1.         Al-Khāzinī's geographical table 

2.6.2.        A 13th-century Iranian geographical table attributed to Naşīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī

2.6.3.         Some Egyptian geographical tables based on western-Islamic sources

                        A table on an astrolabe bearing Coptic numerals

                        The geographical table of Najm al-Dīn al-Mişrī

                        Three more Egyptian geographical tables

2.6.4.        A table from mid-14th-century Damascus

2.6.5.        A monumental table from Timurid Central Asia

2.6.6.         An anonymous Ottoman geographical table

2.7.        Gazetteers on Instruments with qibla-values for different localities

2.8.         Maps for finding the qibla

2.9.         Instruments for finding the qibla

2.10.         On the orientation of Islamic religious architecture

Chapter 3: The main sources of safavid mathematical geography

3.1.        Astronomy and mathematical geography in Timurid Central Asia and Safavid Iran

3.1.1.        Safavid interest in the qibla problem—the al-Karakī affair

3.1.2.         Contacts with Europeans 

3.1.3.         The end of the Safavid dynasty and the demise of the Isfahan school of instrument-makers

3.2.        Some Iranian maps with coordinate grids

3.3.         A monumental geographical table displaying the direction and distance to Mecca

3.3.1.        The sources of the data in the Timurid geographical table

3.3.2.         Excursus: On scribal errors in medieval tables

3.3.3.         Excursus: Mathematical considerations

3.4.        Geographical data in distress—the Damascus qibla-bowl

3.5.         The geographical data on various Safavid astronomical instruments

3.5.1.        The qibla-quadrants on the backs of Safavid astrolabes

Part 2: New discoveries – Two Mecca-centered world-maps from Safavid Iran

Chapter 4: The instruments on which the maps are engraved

4.1.         Introducing the two world-maps

4.2.        On the size of the world-maps

4.3.        The magnetic compasses

4.4.        The appendages for a sundial

Chapter 5: The geographical data on the maps

5.1.        A Timurid (?) and Safavid vie of the world 

5.2.         The localities featured on the world-maps and their positions

5.2.1.        The coordinates of Lar

5.3.         The errors on the maps

5.4.         The scales for the climates

Chapter 6: The cartography grids

6.1.        Basic description

6.2.        The diametrical rules

6.3.        The mathematics underlying the grids

6.4.        The construction of the cartographic grids – some first thoughts

6.5.        Second thoughts

6.6.        A ruler and compass construction for the grids

6.7.        Reflections on the errors on the grids

Chapter 7: The makers of the Safavid instruments

7.1.        The maker of B (signed) -- Muḥammad Ḥusayn

7.2.        The maker of A (unsigned)

7.3.         A related instrument-maker—pseudo-Ḥasan Ḥusayn

7.4.        The school of the makers

7.5.        Some unresolved problems

Chapter 8: Traces of European influence on the instruments 

8.1.         The medium, the screws and the feet, and the compasses

8.1.1.        The medium

8.1.2.        The screws

8.1.3.        The feet

8.1.4.        The compasses

8.2.        Aspects of the sundial on B

8.2.1.         The numbers on the hour-scale on B

8.2.2.         Reflections on the mechanical technology in Iran

8.2.3.        The universal inclining sundial on B

8.2.4.        Reflections in Islamic gnomonics

8.3.        Aspects of the world-maps

8.3.1.        The orientation of the world-maps

8.3.2.        The geographical data

8.3.3.        The combination of the world-map and sundial

8.3.4.        The information on the climates on B

8.3.5.        The cartographic grids

8.3.6.        Reflections on contemporaneous French cartography

8.3.7.        Reflections on European loxodromic maps

8.4.        Instruments made by Père Raphaël du Mans in Isfahan 

8.5.        Some Islamic instruments from 17th-century Isfahan displaying European influence

8.6.        European interest in the qibla-problem (1790-1925)

Chapter 9: Further reflections on Mecca-centred world maps

9.1.         Another look at the Safavid instruments featuring the world-maps

9.2.         The genius behind the Safavid Mecca-centred world-maps

9.3.         Traces of earlier Mecca-centred world-maps

9.3.1.        The standard approximate method associated with al-Battānī

9.4.        al-Bīrūnī on projection preserving direction and distance

9.5.        Ḥabash al-Ḥāsib on an astrolabe based on a projection preserving direction and distance

9.5.1.        Ḥabash and trigonometry 

9.5.2.        Ḥabash and the navicula

9.6.        Later Mecca-centred world-maps and grids for finding the qibla

9.6.1.         The Oxford qibla-indicator---a simplified version of the Safavid world-maps

9.6.2.         The treatise of Ḥaydar-Qulī ibn Ḥusayn-Qulī al-Nīshābūrī

9.6.3.        An Ottoman world-map centred on Mecca

9.7.        Concluding remarks

Chapter 10: Epilogue

Bibliography and bibliographical abbreviations

List of abbreviations used for museums and libraries

List of abbreviations used for geographical sources

List of instruments cited

List of manuscripts cited



A.        Partial reconstruction of the Timurid table presented by ʿAbd al-Raḥim ibn Muḥammad

B.        The geographical information on various Safavid astrolabes and other instruments

B1 The geographical information on the Damascus qibla-bowl (DMS)

B2 The gazetteer on the astrolabe of Muḥammad Amīn ibn Amīrzā Khān al-Qummī, dated 996 H [= 1587/88] and dedicated to Shāh ʿAbbās I (QMM)

B3 The gazetteer on an astrolabe by ʿAbd al-Razzāq Kīlānī dated 1051 H [= 1641/42] (KLN)

B4 The gazetteers on two astrolabes made by Muḥammad Muqīm Yazidī

a)        The gazetteers on an astrolabe made by Muḥammad Muqīm Yazidī and decorated by Muḥammad Mahdī Yazidī dated 1052 H [= 1642/43] (MQH)

b)        The gazetteer on the astrolabe made by Muḥammad Muqīm Yazidī for Shāh ʿAbbās II in 1057 H [=1647/48] (ABB)

B5 Comparison of the gazetteers on two undated astrolabes made by Muḥammad Mahdī and by Muḥammad Muqīm Yazidī (MH&MQ)  

                B6 The gazetters on three astrolabes by Muḥammad Khalīl (MKL)

a)        An astrolabe dated 1104 H [= 1692/93] (MKLT)

b)        An astrolabe dated 1109 H [= 1687/88] (MKLB)

c)        An astrolabe reworked by Muḥammad Khalīl in 1110 H [= 1688/89] (MKLF)

           B7 Extracts from the geographical data of Muḥammad Zamān (MZM)

a)        An undated astrolabe (MZB) 

b)        An astrolabe dated 1062 H [= 1651/52] (MZNY)

c)        An astrolabe dated 1088 H [= 1677/78] (MZT)

d)        The geographical table in the Tuḥfa-yi Sulaymānī (MZZ)

B8 The gazetteers of the astrolabes of Qāsim ʿAlī Qāyinī (QYN) and Muḥammad Hāshim (HSH)

a)        An undated astrolabe by Qāsim ʿAli Qāyinī (QYNW)

b)        An astrolabe by Qāsim ʿAli Qāyinī dated 1093 H [= 1682] (QYNX)

c)        An astrolabe by Muḥammad Hāshim dated 1187 H [= 1773/74] (HSH)

            B9 Geographical information recorded by ʿAbd al-Aʾimma (AIM) 

a)        The gazetteer on an astrolabe by ʿAbd al-Aʾimma (AIMX)

b)        The gazetteers on two sundials by ʿAbd al-Aʾimma (AIMA and AIMB, combined as AIMQ)

                   B10 The gazetteer on a qibla-compass by Muḥammad ṬāHIR (THR)

B11 The qibla-values on the unsigned Graz qibla-plate (GRZ)

B12  The gazetteer on two astrolabes made by ʿAbd-i ʾAlī

a)        An astrolabe made in 1124 H [= 1712] for Shāh Ḥusayn (HUS)

b)        An astrolabe dated 1119 H [= 1707/08]

B13 Solar altitudes in the azimuth of the qibla on various Safavid astrolabes

B14 The gazetteers on the three qibla-indicators by pseudo-Ḥasan Ḥusayn (HSN)

B15 The gazetteer on an astrolabe by ʾAbd al-Ghafūr dated 1198 H [= 1783/84] (AGH)

B16 The gazetteer on an undated astrolabe by Ḥājjī ʾAlī (HALI)

  B17 Geographical data on various late Iranian instruments 

a)        An unsigned, undated sundial (PTR) 

b)        The gazetteer on a Safavid (?) / Ottoman (?) armillary sphere (HLQ)

c)        An unsigned, undated qibla-indicator with a Mecca-centred map (SFH)

B18 Directions of Shīʿite shrines from Isfahan on various instruments (SHT)

a)        An unsigned sundial [by ʿAbd al-Aʾimma] and a qibla-compass by Muḥammad Tāhir (SHTAB)

b)        The treatise of ʿAbd  al-Raḥīm ibn Muḥammad (SHTC)

B19 Extract from the gazetteer on the Lahore astrolabe of the sons of ʿĪsā ibn Ilāh-dād of Lahore (FRK)

                 B20 The gazetteers on a various astrolabes with Sanskrit inspections

a)        Latitudes in a late-14th-century Sanskrit treatise on the astrolabe, partly derived from Persian sources (MAH)  

b)        Coordinates in 17th- and 18th-century Sanskrit sources from Benares (BNR)

c)        An undated Indian astrolabe (HNDA)

d)        A gazetteer in Sanskrit added to a 13th-century Islamic astrolabe (HNDB)

B21 Geographical data on European instruments for the Near Eastern market

a)        A compass by Nicholas Bion of Paris, with Arabic inscription (BION)

C.        Localities and coordinates featured on the Safavid world-maps A and B

D.        The geographical table of al-Khāzinī (KHZN)

E.        Miscellaneous Iranian sources

E1 The qibla-values on two astrolabes by Muḥammad ibn Ḥāmid al-Işfahānī and a later Iranian astrolabes (ISF)

E2 A geographical table attributed to Nāşīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, reconstructed from (an Ottoman recension of) the treatise on the astrolabe by Nāşīr al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī entitled Irshād (NDS) and an astrolabe by Jalāl al- Kirmānī dated 796 H [= 1393/94] (NDSF)

E3  The geographical data in the gazetteers of the astrolabes of the al-Kirmānī  family (KRM)

              E4 The gazetteers on two astrolabes by Muḥammad Ṣaffār (SFR)

E5 The coordinates of Iranian cities from the Kitāb al-Aṭwāl wa-ʾl-ʿurūḑ recorded by Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (TAV)

              E6 The coordinates of cities in Iran presented by Jean Chardin (CHR)

F.        Miscellaneous Egyptian, Syrian and Ottoman Turkish sources 

F1 The gazetteer of an astrolabe bearing Coptic numerals, made by Ḥasan ibn ʾUmar al-Naqqāsh in 681 H [= 1282/83] (HUN)

             F2 The geographical table of Najm al-Dīn al-Miṣrī (NJM)

             F3 The qibla-values presented by Ibn Simʾūn (SIM)

               F4 An anonymous Egyptian geographical table (LYD)

               F5 A table said to be based on the observations of the Egyptians (MSR)

               F6 The qibla-values on ibn al-Shāṭir's compendium (SHAQ)

F7  The geographical table of al-Mizzī with qibla-values computed by al-Khalīlī (MIZK)

               F8 An anonymous Ottoman table of qibla-values (OTTQ)

G.        Indexes of place-names

                G1 Timurid and Safavid sources (TMR, WM, etc.)

                G2 The geographical table of al-Khāzinī (KHZN)

                G3 Miscellaneous Iranian sources

                G4 Egyptian sources (mainly originally based on Western Islamic sources)

                G5 Syrian sources

                G6 Ottoman tables

About the Author(s)

David A. King is a British-born orientalist who after a long academic career continues to be active: his latest publication is “Astronomy in medieval Jerusalem”. He studied at Cambridge (Mathematics, 60-63) and Oxford (Education, 63-64) and then worked for the Sudan Government Ministry of Education (64-67). Thereafter he studied at Yale (Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, 68-72) and directed the Smithsonian Institution Project in Medieval Islamic Astronomy at the American Research Center in Egypt (72-79). He was Professor of Near Eastern Languages at New York University (79-85) and Professor of History of Science at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt (since 85). His numerous publications include five Variorum volumes: Islamic mathematical astronomy; Islamic astronomical instruments; Astronomy in the service of Islam; Medieval Islamic astronomy and geography; and Astrolabes from medieval Europe. His major works are World-Maps for finding the direction to Mecca (1999, in part published by Al-Furqan Foundation), and In Synchrony with the Heavens – Astronomical timekeeping and instrumentation in Islamic civilization (2004-05). His publications can be downloaded at


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Weight 2.757 kg
Dimensions 29 × 21 × 6 cm
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By David A. King

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Edited by H. Daiber and D. Pingree









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