Oddly Enough

Indonesian Muslims told to change prayer direction

Muslims attend prayers on the eve of the first day of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan at Istiqlal mosque in Jakarta August 31, 2008. REUTERS/Supri

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s Muslims learned on Friday they have been praying in the wrong direction, after the country’s highest Islamic authority said its directive on the direction of Mecca actually had people facing Africa.

Muslims are supposed to face the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia during prayer and the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued an edict in March stipulating westward was the correct direction from the world’s most populous Muslim country.

“But it has been decided that actually the mosques are facing Somalia or Kenya, so we are now suggesting people shift the direction slightly to the north-west,” the head of the MUI, Cholil Ridwan, told Reuters. “There’s no need to knock down mosques, just shift your direction slightly during prayer.”

Ridwan said Muslims need not fear that their prayers have been wasted because they were facing the wrong way.

“Their prayers will still be heard by Allah,” he said.

Said Agil Siradj, head of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation Nahdlatul Ulama, told English language newspaper the Jakarta Globe that the confusion showed the MUI issued edicts too fast and that this was a lesson for them.

The MUI has, in the past, issued controversial edicts banning Muslims from chanting during yoga, and from smoking.

Indonesia is a majority Muslim but officially secular country.

Reporting by Sunanda Creagh; Editing by Andrew Marshall