Many years ago I relocated from Johannesburg to Cape Town for a work contract. On my arrival in Cape Town, I found a place to stay in a predominantly non-Muslim neighbourhood since it was close to the office, and there were mosques within driving distance. This was before the time of magnetometers in mobile phones, and I didn’t have a compass of my own yet either. So I used the rudimentary method of finding the direction of the Qibla relative to the position of the sun.
I stood in my living room, plotted the path of the setting sun with my left hand, held my right arm out in front of me perpendicular to the position of the sun, and adjusted it slightly to the right to cater for the average of seven degrees east of north for the direction of the Qibla in South Africa. Seemed simple enough, so I performed my salaah at home facing this direction. I recall clearly using the gap between two mountains (Lion’s Head and Table Mountain) to note the position of the sun.
Over the next few days, I found myself inclined to shift my direction to the right whilst performing salaah. Each time I completed my salaah, I felt a strong urge to move the prayer mat which I did. After about three or four days, this feeling settled, with my prayer mat now almost thirty degrees further to the right than where I had originally started.
That weekend I made a point of getting myself a decent compass. So I bought one in the Suunto range, which according to a friend that is an avid hiker, was a good choice. Upon using it to confirm my direction for the Qibla, I discovered that it was indeed in the direction I stopped at after moving my mat based on that feeling I had, and not the direction I had originally calculated with my arms. That moment was a truly memorable one for me. As simple as it was, it made me feel connected with Allah in a way I had never imagined. I felt guided. It felt good.
Later that year, as the seasons changed, I noticed that the sun didn’t set in the same spot as it did when I first moved into that apartment. I suddenly realised how little I knew of the wonders of nature, and how vague the statement is regarding the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. I guess more accurately, it generally rises in an easterly direction and sets in a generally westerly direction. 🙂