Refugee Cycle

As always there is a lot going on in the Muslim world, assuming you agree there is such a thing as “the Muslim world” (not sure what colour pill you need to take to get there). Consequently many articles have been written, and continue to be written, by many a journalist on a variety of Islamic-related topics. To save you time I have read many of these articles and present to you below my favourite ones currently doing the rounds.

Yet again it has been a bit of an up-and-down time for us Muslims. We lost a Zayn Malik but we gained a Sinead O’Connor. But I have not chosen any articles below about this subject matter at all. Nor have I chosen any articles about the ongoing fallout over the death of Jamal Khashoggi. Yemen and Palestine also fail to get a mention. And neither have I chosen any articles about Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan saying there is no historical evidence for the existence of the Christian Jesus. My initial reaction upon hearing this? Can you just get on with it! Can you just govern the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and not get side-tracked with nonsense such as this. I can imagine Khan at a rally saying something like “People of Pakistan, I know you are suffering from poverty, from disease, from power shortages, from food shortages, and from domestic terrorism. But I say this to you, and I say it with the utmost confidence…the Christian Jesus did not exist!…So sleep well tonight knowing this…” Just get on with it Khan!

Instead you will find articles below about the state of drinking water in Pakistan, the chaos and stupidity surrounding the “blasphemer” Asia Bibi (again in Pakistan), the mercy (rahma) of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslims now being granted permission to keep their beards in the American air force, Christian charitable shoeboxes that in reality are “gift-wrapped Islamophobia,” and a mosque in Turkey where for nearly 40 years they were praying in the wrong direction.

As a bonus, the cartoon image presented above is a simple yet effective way of describing how the refugee cycle works in many parts of the world, a picture definitely speaking a thousand words in this instance. And again, to save you time clicking here, there, and everywhere, each article is presented in full. Happy reading, hope you enjoy!

Let Them Drink Bottled Water

Mohammed Hanif, 23 Nov 2018, nytimes.com

Bottled Water

Karachi, Pakistan — Twice a week every week, I lug four empty bottles of Nestlé Pure Life water to a shop near my home and lug back, one by one, four full bottles of Nestlé Pure Life. Each bottle contains 18.9 liters of safe drinking water. The labels on the bottles advise me to drink at least eight glasses of water every day.

This is our drinking water, our tea-making water, the water we use for cooking, the water we make ice with. Drinking tap water in Pakistan — if you are lucky enough to have a tap with running water — would mean putting your family’s health at some serious risk. For our other water needs — washing ourselves, laundry and house cleaning — we have to buy a tanker that holds 5,000 liters. Deliveries are so unpredictable that the tanker might arrive at 3 a.m. But even then, it’s welcome.

Sometimes I get to travel to Europe, and one of the unapologetic joys of this privilege is to be able to open the tap and gulp down a glass of water or even slurp without fear from a public fountain. That’s the taste of civilization.

Water scarcity is a subject of serious debate in Pakistan, of the occasional riot and sometimes of long queues at rare public wells or sources. The chief justice of the Supreme Court has set up a fund to build two dams and is asking for donations.

Public drinking water here wasn’t always poisonous. Even toward the end of the 1990s, bottled water was reserved for the ultra-elite — for heads of state hosting other heads of states or for posh Pakistanis who vacationed on the French Riviera.

But today, thanks to pollution and a lack of investment in infrastructure, if you don’t drink bottled or filtered water, you are condemning yourself and your little ones to horrible diseases and maybe even to a new form of the ancient affliction called death by contamination. According to one estimate, 53,000 children in Pakistan die of diarrhea every year after drinking water containing dangerous bacteria. According to another estimate, 40 percent of all deaths in Pakistan are caused by water contaminated with sewage, industrial waste, arsenic or diseases.

You would think that those figures alone would be a national health emergency, and that making sure people have access to clean water would be the priority of every single political party. But in any footage of a high-level political or administrative meeting, you see rows and rows of water bottles, one for every official. Our elites have already solved Pakistan’s water problem: Spend 30 rupees (about 20 cents) and pick up a half-liter.

The previous government, which lost the latest general election this summer, takes credit for mega energy projects, shiny airports and new motorways and seaports. But the major water-filtration project it launched turned out to be a scam. When it comes to the basic human need for clean drinking water, we have essentially been told to fend for ourselves.

And people do just that. Those who can’t afford to buy bottled or filtered water drink whatever comes out of the nearest tap, source or pond and leave the rest to the doctor they can’t afford either or to Allah, whom everyone can afford.

Anyway, those of us who can pay for water may only be buying some of the poison that the water we’re paying for was supposed to save us from. Earlier this year, the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources announced that at least eight brands of bottled water — brands with fancy names like Aqua Fine, Pure Aqua, Aqua Gold, Pure 18 and Aab-e-Noor (Water of Light) — were contaminated.

Even when that little plastic bottle contains clean water, it isn’t saving us from death or disease so much as condemning us to a future where we can’t even think of public access to drinking water as everyone’s birthright.

Increasingly, both in Pakistan and elsewhere, when you go to a public event as a speaker or a panelist, the first thing that appears in front of you is a bottle of water. Sometimes you hold onto it as if it might save you from the wrath of the audience. I have heard of writers demanding warm raki at their event, but never of a writer saying, “Can you please take this bottle away and give me some tap water instead?” When hotels automatically stock your room with a complimentary bottle and restaurants greet you with “Still or sparkling?” asking for tap water would mean outing yourself as a miser or a fusspot.

I know that people have refined tastes, including for this or that healthy mineral in their water. But the array of bottled waters available on the market is a testament to the fact that humans can be conned into buying anything. And this con may be the most basic one in the world: I steal your water and then I sell it to you. And you’ll buy it because, surely, you don’t want your children to die a painful death.

By now, people who want to help solve this problem seem hopelessly earnest. The Supreme Court’s chief justice has asked banks, the media and the government to help him raise funds for his dams. He has ordered some petitioners in his court to contribute. There are ads on the radio and TV that go “Ao Dams Banain Hum” (Let’s Build a Dam).

Building a big shiny structure that makes a mark on the scenery probably seems like making history. But beyond the inherent absurdity of crowdfunding what should be a public infrastructure project — as one critic has said, “the state cannot be run like a charity” — it would be cheaper than building those dams to make existing water supplies drinkable and disease-free. Yet there’s little discussion about that.

In 2010, I witnessed the devastation caused by floods in Sindh, a southern province. The civic-minded went out there to help the affected, and the first thing they did was to throw truckloads of bottled water at the people who had nothing left — no home, nothing to eat or drink — except the tattered clothes on their bodies. It was a perfect image for a planet in its death throes. And the people fleeing the deluge took the little plastic bottles of water, as much for the bottles as for the water.

Mohammed Hanif (@mohammedhanif) is the author of the novels “A Case of Exploding Mangoes,” “Our Lady of Alice Bhatti” and “Red Birds.” He is a contributing opinion writer.

True Islam Does Not Kill Blasphemers

Mustafa Akyol, 21 Nov 2018, nytimes.com

The Quran has 6,236 verses, none of which tell the faithful to stifle blasphemy by force.

The agony of Asia Bibi, a 54-year-old Roman Catholic and mother of five, shows there is something rotten in her country, Pakistan — and in the broader world of Islam.

She was arrested for blasphemy in 2009 after Muslim co-workers on a destitute farm denounced her for merely drinking from the same cup and, during the subsequent quarrel, for “insulting Prophet Muhammad” — a charge Ms. Bibi always denied. Yet she was convicted in 2010 and spent the next eight years in solitary confinement, on death row.

Luckily, Pakistan’s Supreme Court last month saved her from execution, clearing her of the charges and also setting her free. But Pakistan’s militant Islamists, especially those in the notorious Tehreek-e-Labbaik religious party, which is obsessed with punishing blasphemers, were enraged. They forced the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to accept a court petition to reverse the case and bar Ms. Bibi from leaving the country. She and her family, fearing vigilante violence, went into hiding.

I am hoping that the traumatized family will be able to leave Pakistan safely, to find asylum in some free nation. As a Muslim, I feel ashamed of the cruelty they have suffered at the hands of people who act in the name of my faith.

Of course, in this story there are righteous Muslims to be proud of as well. They include the Supreme Court judges, whose prudent decision that saved Ms. Bibi noted the Prophet Muhammad’s tolerance for Christians. They include Punjabi politician Salman Taser, who stood up for Ms. Bibi in 2011, only to be assassinated for that by his own bodyguard. They include three British imams, who recently joined the campaign to grant asylum to Ms. Bibi in Britain.

In other words, the militant Islamists who want to kill all blasphemers, real or perceived, do not define Islam. But they do define a fanatic, ferocious, dangerous strain within Islam.

This strain has led to various attacks on freedom of expression, the bedrock of civilization, over the past three decades. The first one was the Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s infamous 1989 “death fatwa” calling for the execution of the author Salman Rushdie for his irreverent novel, “The Satanic Verses.” Then came the violent reactions to cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005. Terrorist attacks on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo followed. And among nations like Pakistan, Iran, Sudan and Saudi Arabia, Ms. Bibi is only one of the many victims of blasphemy laws.

Muslims who support such violent or oppressive responses to blasphemy are missing two important points. One is that it is them, not the blasphemers, who are defaming Islam, by presenting it as an immature tradition that has little room for civilized discourse. The second point is that their zealotry is not as religiously grounded as they think.

To see this, one must look at the Quran — the most fundamental and only undisputed source of Islam. Most notably, throughout all of its 6,236 verses, it never tells Muslims to silence blasphemy with force. It tells them only to respond with dignity.

This appears in the Quranic verses that addressed the tensions between the earliest Muslims and other communities nearby. “You are sure to hear much that is hurtful from those who were given the Scripture before you and from those who associate others with God,” one such verse tells Muslims, only to add, “If you are steadfast and mindful of God, that is the best course.” [3:186]

Another Quranic verse holds up as model Muslims “those who walk humbly on the earth, and who, when the foolish address them, reply, ‘Peace.’” [25:63] Yet another verse addresses the issue of mockery, telling Muslims that when they hear people who ridicule “God’s revelations,” they should just “not sit with them.” [4:140]

However, as Islamic jurisprudence developed over the centuries, much was added to the spirit of the Quran, based often on dubious reports about the words and deeds of the prophet. Blasphemy, in particular sabb al-rasul, or “insulting the prophet,” gradually became a capital crime — but only with objections from prominent jurists like Abu Hanifa, the eighth-century founder of one of the four main Sunni schools. A bigger sin than insulting the prophet is disbelief in God, he reasoned, but Islam decrees no punishment for that.

Today, Pakistan’s liberals, most of whom are faithful Muslims, are referring to such sources in the Islamic tradition to argue against blasphemy laws. They are right. Those laws should be abandoned — in Pakistan and elsewhere.

At the same time, Muslim opinion leaders should help their societies understand that these laws serve not the honor of Islam, but much more mundane interests — for example, persecuting non-Muslim minorities out of greed or jealousy, or silencing Muslims themselves who criticize and challenge the powers that be.

And all Muslims of good faith should stand up more forcefully for people like Asia Bibi, who is falsely accused of blasphemy. Also, they should tolerate those who really do blaspheme and at most “not sit with them,” as the Quran counsels.

They should walk away, saying, “Peace.”

Mustafa Akyol is a senior fellow on Islam and modernity at the Cato Institute and the author, most recently, of “The Islamic Jesus.”

Happy Birthday, Muhammad

Haroon Moghul, 20 Nov 2018, nytimes.com

The prophet was an outsider. Just like me.

Tuesday is the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. It’s the 12th of Rabi al-Awwal, the day most Muslims believe he came into the world some 1,400 years ago.

I first met Muhammad in August 1998. I was fresh out of high school in Somers, Conn., and my brother and I made the road trip from Jidda, where he was working for the summer, to Medina to pay our respects at Muhammad’s tomb.

I must have looked ridiculous. I was drowning in elephantine JNCO jeans and carried a backpack with a Pearl Jam patch ironed on. I was probably wearing the boisterous baseball cap of some snowboard manufacturer; I hope I left the wallet chains at home.

I was on my way out of Islam when I made my way with the rush of tens of thousands of pilgrims shuffling from the prayer hall southward toward his tomb. I was headed to atheism. Or Catholicism. I was 18 years old and hadn’t decided which way of life would give me the warmth I felt my faith lacked, and the freedom I believed it denied me.

But I showed up in Medina that summer because I thought I’d give Islam one more chance. I hadn’t expected the moment to mean much to me, because Islam didn’t mean much to me. But there I was, facing the resting place of the prophet, overcome with emotion.

I’d memorized Muhammad’s life story in Sunday school, cramming facts, dates, lineages into my head as if I was preparing for an A.P. exam, a good Muslim like my parents wanted me to be. But it had thus far been so much data — cold, abstract and inhuman.

In Medina I realized I actually believed all the stories about him. That he buried the least loved of his fellow Arabs with his own hands. That he put two of his fingers together and promised that he and the orphan would be that close in the life to come. That he so loved the vulnerable that God loved him in turn.

Sitting facing his tomb, pilgrims pressing against me on every side, I honest to God missed him. I still feel that way today, as absurd as it might sound. He is a living presence in my life.

My connection to him was — and is — peculiarly American. It was initiated by my parents’ piety, inflected by my numerous ailments, was thrown into relief by extremism and today inspires me to help build a United States to which all of us belong.

It began with the troubled circumstances of my birth: I had a malformed intestinal tract. Had I been born a few decades earlier, I would have died very early on. As a sick child, I spent much of my time indoors, with books my parents encouraged, many of which were about Muhammad.

He was an outsider like me. Being an orphan from age 6 in a very patrilineal, very patriarchal and very tribal society must have been a social death sentence. Muhammad could have reacted by seething with resentment and lashing out at the world. He could have turned on himself. Instead he became a paragon of compassion.

When he first proclaimed prophecy, even his own uncle laughed at him, but he never laughed back. His followers were reviled, beaten and killed. He didn’t strike back. Rather he ran from one town to another, like Hagar at Paran, desperate to find his people refuge. Twelve years into his religious mission, in the year 622, he was forced to flee his native Mecca and arrived a refugee in Medina — but the people who chased him there didn’t leave him be. Not long after finding safe harbor, he was forced to take up arms, time and again, to defend his faith, his community, and himself.

But even as he did, he remained dedicated to building a society that would provide the inclusion he (and his followers) had been deprived of. The old Muslims from Mecca had just met the new Muslims from Medina, and Muhammad paired them off, each responsible for the other as they worked to make Medina flourish. This was hard work, and represents the most misunderstood part of Muhammad’s life: Taking Jesus as their template, many critics wonder how a leader who pursues politics can still be a religious model.

When terrorists struck New York and Washington in 2001 I was horrified, scared and bewildered. The Muhammad I revered bore no resemblance to the Muhammad they claimed. In their view, Muhammad was a conqueror first, a politician and a general second, and a man of faith last, and least.

This is a gross misunderstanding of his life, and an inversion of the message he actually preached. When he had nowhere else to turn, when he couldn’t find anyone to protect his community, then — and only then — did he take up arms to defend his faith.

But the politics he attempted are instructive. In one of his first pronouncements in Medina, he pledged that the Muslim community would defend the native Jewish community from any of its enemies, and declared Medina to be one nation of two faiths, a profound and unusual gesture of pluralism and tolerance.

This vision that Muhammad offered for Medina is the one that drives my life’s work, especially in the years since Sep. 11. I’ve dedicated my time, my energy and often my reputation to building bridges between Jewish and Muslim communities. We don’t have to agree about everything to respect each other. And we don’t have to see eye-to-eye to look out for each other. I believe such work to be a sacred calling, good for Jews and for Muslims, but good for America, too.

On the occasion of his birthday, we Americans would do well to study Muhammad’s life: He preached and attempted a politics of tolerance, which is not what people of faith are associated with today. Muslims could stand for re-examining his life, too. Muhammad is called a “rahmah,” a mercy. He is often addressed as “habib Allah,” the beloved of God. If these are not words our communities are associated with, we should take a long look in the mirror and wonder why.

Muhammad was rahmah for me more than two decades ago in Medina. We could all use a little mercy these days.

Haroon Moghul is a fellow in Jewish-Muslim relations at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America and the author of “How To Be A Muslim: An American Story.”

Air Force Grants Beard Waiver To Muslim Airman

Corey Dickstein, 20 Nov 2018, stripes.com


US Air Force Staff Sgt. Abdul Rahman Gaitan, an 821st Contingency Response Squadron aerial porter at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., has become the first Airman to be granted a religious accommodation for a shaving waiver based on his Muslim faith. Liliana Moreno/US Air force.

Washington — The Air Force has quietly approved a request by a Muslim airman to grow a beard, making it one of the service’s first such religious accommodations for a follower of Islam, Air Force officials said.

Staff Sgt. Abdul Rahman Gaitan, 30, was granted the appearance exception in August to grow a beard in keeping with his Muslim faith, officials said, but the Air Force only publicly announced his waiver two weeks ago in a public affairs-produced article published on the service’s website. Gaitan is an aerial porter assigned to the 821st Contingency Response Support Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., according to the Air Force.

The Air Force had reported Gaitan was the first Muslim airman to receive the religious accommodation for his beard. But Tuesday, Capt. Carrie J. Volpe, an Air Force spokeswoman, said Gaitan was not the first. Eight airmen, including Gaitan, have received the religious accommodation, with a ninth in the works, Volpe said.

Since 2014, the Pentagon has allowed servicemembers to appeal to military leadership for the right to wear certain items mandated by their religions that would not be allowed under standard grooming and appearance regulations of the services. The Army, for example, has allowed brigade commanders to determine whether soldiers may wear certain religious items, including beards and turbans for Sikh soldiers and hijabs for female Muslim soldiers. More recently, the Army approved a soldier’s request to grow a beard as part of his claim to follow a Norse Pagan religion.

While not all Muslim men wear beards, some of them believe facial hair is a requirement of the religion’s male followers.

Gaitan, who converted to Islam following an Air Force stint at a base near Izmir in Turkey in 2011, said his beard is in keeping with the following of the Prophet Muhammad.

“It is a constant reminder of our faith and who we are as Muslims,” he said, according to the Air Force article.

The airman said he had received some negative reactions since he began growing his beard, including questions from fellow airmen about whether he was a terrorist or had decided to join Islamic State. But others came to Gaitan’s defense, he said.

“The incident shot straight to the commander, like a lightning bolt, and the following morning, I was called into his office with the chief and first sergeant waiting for me,” he said in the article. “In my entire career, I’ve never had a commander look me in the eyes like he did…his look, tone, words and posture were shouting at me, ‘Don’t worry, we have your back.’ ”

After the meeting, the commander reminded the unit of the Air Force’s zero-tolerance policy on discrimination.

“I walked out of there with a feeling I had never felt as a Hispanic Muslim airman,” Gaitan said. “I finally felt like I was fully part of the Air Force family and that my peers and my leadership would fight to protect me.”

This Christmas, Beware Evangelical Christians Bearing Gifts

Polly Toynbee, 08 Nov 2018, theguardian.com

The Samaritan’s Purse charity sends gift boxes to children in Muslim countries. They contain a pernicious, hidden agenda.

All over the country, Operation Christmas Child is up and running again. The scheme urges people to pack up a shoebox with toys, pens, notebooks and treats for a poor child. Schools often join in because children love doing it: there is something romantic and mysterious about sending a secret collection of gifts to an unknown child in a faraway land.

Participating drop-off points include major companies, such as Caffè Nero, Shoe Zone, The Entertainer, Barratt Homes and some newspaper offices, such as Luton Today. The volunteer organisation Worcester Lions Club is packing shoeboxes inside Waitrose. Geoff Lewis of the club said: “It’s not known where the boxes will eventually end up at this time. But what is certain is that it will be with a child somewhere in the world that will not be receiving another Christmas present this year.” Maybe if people did know, they might hesitate.

Wales Online reports that Glamorgan cricket team and the Cardiff Blues rugby club are also supporters of the scheme, the former reporting last year that they had helped to load “over 10,000 gift boxes on to vehicles leaving the south Wales depot for a destination in Albania”.

Albania? That’s the clue – a mainly Muslim country, the kind of place where most of these shoeboxes are destined. The sort of countries that, indeed, as in the awful song, do not know it’s Christmastime at all.

Many good-hearted packers of shoeboxes know little of the organisation behind this scheme. It’s run by Samaritan’s Purse, fundamentalist American evangelical Christian missionaries. After the boxes are dispatched, they are then delivered along with a missionary book of bible stories, The Greatest Gift, with “the 12 Bible lessons offered by many of the churches distributing shoeboxes,” according to the Samaritan’s Purse website. “157 million children in over 160 countries have experienced God’s love through the power of simple shoebox gifts from Operation Christmas Child.”

A story from its website tells how a shoebox converted a Muslim family to Christianity: “Angella received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox filled with presents last year at this time. Since then she’s led her Muslim family to Christ.

“Christmas is all about the unexpected: an angel appearing to shepherds, a virgin conceiving, God becoming man…Something unexpected and wonderful began among the Kulemba family of Malawi, a country in southern Africa. That day their 12-year-old daughter Angella received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift from the local church. Angella reads the gospel booklet to her family. All are now following Christ.”

The man who runs the Samaritan’s Purse, which has a £16m annual income, is Rev Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He spoke at the inauguration of both George W Bush and Donald Trump. In an interview with Newsmax, Graham claimed that Obama had “allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to become part of the US government and influence administration decisions”.

Strongly anti-gay and anti-same-sex marriage, Graham defended Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “gay propaganda” law, praising him for “protecting children from any homosexual agenda or propaganda”. He told the Washington Post that God had intervened to cause Trump’s election: “I could sense going across the country that God was going to do something this year. And I believe that at this election, God showed up.”

On Facebook he wrote, “We are under attack by Muslims at home and abroad. We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the US until this threat with Islam has been settled. Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalised – and they do their killing to honour their religion and Muhammad.”

Most people packing up shoeboxes don’t know they are used for anti-Muslim proselytising. Or that they are backing a pro-Trump, anti-gay message. Some may be from churches sharing that evangelical brand – but I would guess most parents and children haven’t a clue what they are supporting.

Humanists UK, of which I am vice-president, has drafted a template letter that people can sign informing schools and others, urging them to reconsider their support, and offering alternative suggestions. Richy Thompson, Humanists UK’s director of public affairs and policy, says: “Those who donate to the scheme are well-intentioned and want to make an altruistic contribution, but donors in the UK should be aware of the nature of Operation Christmas Child’s activities and instead find a reputable and inclusive charity that has no ulterior motives and only has children’s best interests at heart.”

No one wants to be the Grinch: filling shoeboxes is a feelgood act of generosity. But sending stacks of boxes with Christian missionary messages to Muslim countries is unlikely to ease interfaith tensions – nor is it an economical or ecological way to give: as ever, boring old money to good charities goes further. I note, also in the Luton News, one Lewsey residents’ association is calling for people to fill shoeboxes to be distributed by their local food bank – a far better idea than what one critic called “gift-wrapped Islamophobia”.

Imam Discovers Everyone In Mosque ‘Had Been Praying In Wrong Direction’ For 37 Years

Jon Sharman, 18 Oct 2018, independent.co.uk

Key part of building is misaligned.

Congregants at a mosque in Turkey had been praying in the wrong direction for nearly four decades before its new imam realised the error, according to reports in Turkish media.

The mosque in Sugoren, in the country’s western Yalova province, had a key flaw in its construction that meant faithful Muslims – who are instructed to kneel in the direction of Mecca during prayers – had misaligned themselves by as much as 33 degrees, the Daily Sabah reported.

Hurriyet, citing the Demiroren News Agency, said imam Isa Kaya was appointed last year and that, following rumours about the alignment of a niche in the mosque’s wall indicating the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca, he decided to ask the advice of local muftis.

The officials confirmed the niche, or mihrab, had been constructed in the wrong place when the mosque was built in 1981, it was reported.

Rather than tear down the niche immediately, Mr Kaya used a temporary measure to point people in the right direction – placing arrows made of white tape on the mosque’s carpet.

“We have explained the situation to our congregation and most of them have reacted positively to our solution,” the imam told Demiroren News Agency.

An architect will be given the task of redesigning the structure.

Dr Mustafa Baig, Lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter’s Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, explained the misalignment.

“It is important to emphasise that Muslims do not worship the Ka‘ba but it is the direction (or qibla) to which Muslims pray,” he said. “Worship is to Allah.”

“In the Qur’an it states: ‘Wherever you turn, there is the countenance of Allah (2:115).’ Moreover, the direction (or jiha) is determined by a 90 degree span and not at the exact angle of the Ka’ba.”

Dr Baig added: “The Qur’an mentions: ‘Turn your face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque’ (2:149) and the word shatar in this verse has been defined as one of the four cardinal directions, giving a leeway of 45 degrees to either side of the Ka‘ba: in other any aspect of the forehead should be facing the Ka‘ba. In this particular case, the niche was ‘misaligned’ by 33 degrees so it is with the 45 degree limit.

“Even in the event of praying outside the range of direction, the jurists stipulate that if one has made an effort to determine the direction of the qibla (where due diligence was made) then if later (after the prayer time has lapsed) it becomes known that the prayer direction was completely wrong, the prayer will be considered valid and need not repeated,” the lecturer added.

“In this case, therefore, the previous prayers would not be considered invalid and the placement of the prayer niche is also not ‘wrong’, although they may want to reposition it in order to be facing in the exact direction of the Ka’ba.”

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