Direction of prayer

Prayer in a certain direction is characteristic of many world religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Baháʼí Faith.[1]


A Mizrah wall hanging; the word Mizrah (Hebrew: מזרח, "East") appears at the center.

Jews traditionally pray in the direction of Jerusalem, where the "presence of the transcendent God (shekinah) [resided] in the Holy of Holies of the Temple."[2][3] Within the Holy of Holies lay the Ark of the Covenant that contained the Ten Commandments tablets given to the prophet Moses by God; this is the reason that the Temple of Solomon became the focal point for Jewish prayer.[4] In the Bible, it is written that when the prophet Daniel was in Babylon, he "went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open to Jerusalem; and he got down upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously" (cf. Daniel 6:10).[3] After the destruction of the Temple of Solomon, Jews continue to pray facing Jerusalem in hope for the coming of the Messiah whom they await.[3]

The Talmud (Berakhot 30a) instructs Jews outside the Land of Israel to face the Holy Land while praying; Jews residing in Israel should turn towards the city of Jerusalem; those living within Jerusalem should orient themselves towards the Temple Mount, and those next to the Temple Mount should turn towards the former site of the Holy of Holies.[5] The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) thus specifies that in synagogues, the Ark should be placed such that "worshipers may pray in the direction of the Holy Land and the place of the Sanctuary in Jerusalem".[6] When synagogues are erected, they are built to face Jerusalem.[4]

The Mizrah (literally, "East") is a plaque or other decorative wall hanging which is placed on the eastern wall of many homes of Jews in the Diaspora to the west of Israel, in order to mark the direction of Jerusalem towards which prayer is focused.[7][8][9] A Mizrah plaque is often an artistic, ornate piece, being written in calligraphy and featuring a panorama of Jerusalem. Mizrah wall hangings typically feature the Hebrew word Mizrah (Hebrew: מזרח), and may include the verse from the Torah which states, "From the rising of the sun unto its going down, the Lord's name is to be praised" (cf. Psalm 113:3).[9][7]


Throughout history, believers hung a Christian cross on the eastern wall of their homes to indicate the eastward direction towards which they focused their prayers.[10][11][12]

Since the time of the early Church, the eastward direction of Christian prayer has carried a strong significance, attested by the writings of the Church Fathers.[13] In the 2nd century, Syrian Christians hung a Christian cross on the eastern wall of their house, symbolizing "their souls facing God, talking with him, and sharing their spirituality with the Lord."[10] Two centuries later, Saint Basil the Great declared that one of the unwritten commandments of the Church was to pray facing east.[14] Nearly all Christian apologetic tracts published in the 7th century AD in the Syriac and Arabic languages explicated that the reason that Christians prayed facing the east is because "the Garden of Eden was planted in the east (Genesis 2:8) and that at the end of time, at the second coming, the Messiah would approach Jerusalem from the east."[15]

Throughout Christendom, believers have hung or painted a Christian cross, to which they prostrated in front of, on the eastern wall of their home in order to indicate the eastward direction of prayer, as an "expression of their undying belief in the coming again of Jesus was united to their conviction that the cross, 'the sign of the Son of Man,' would appear in the eastern heavens on his return (see Matthew 24:30)."[10][11][16] Communicants in the Oriental Orthodox Churches today (such as those of the Coptic Orthodox Church and Indian Orthodox Church), and those of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church (an Oriental Protestant denomination) pray the canonical hours contained in the Agpeya and Shehimo breviaries, respectively (a practice done at seven fixed prayer times a day) facing the eastward direction.[17][18][19][20]


The mihrab of a Umayyad Mosque in Damascus; this niche in the masjid's wall orients Muslims in prayer towards Mecca.[21]

In Islam, the direction of prayer is known as the qibla and this direction is towards the Sacred Mosque (al-Masjid al-Ḥarām) of Mecca. Originally the qibla of Muhammad and his followers in Medina was towards Jerusalem, but it was changed to Mecca after the Quranic verses (Al-Bakarah 2:144, 2:145) were revealed in the second Hijri year (624 CE), about 15 or 16 months after Muhammad's migration to Medina.[22][23][24]

If a person does not know which direction they are facing, that individual should pray in the direction that he/she feels is towards Mecca.[25] All mosques are supposed to be designed to be oriented towards the qibla.[26] A niche known as the mihrab is built into the wall of a mosque that faces Mecca so that Muslims know in which direction to pray.[21]

The determination of qibla has been an important problem for Muslim communities throughout history. Muslims are required to know the qibla to perform their daily prayers, and it is also needed to determine the orientation of mosques. Originally, various traditional methods were used to determine the qibla, and from the eighth century onwards Muslim astronomers developed methods based on mathematical astronomy, especially computations techniques based on spherical trigonometry using a location's latitudes and longitudes. In the fourteenth century, the astronomer Shams al-Din al-Khalili compiled a table containing the qibla for all latitudes and longitudes.[27][28] Scientific instruments, such as the astrolabe, helped Muslims orient themselves for prayer facing the city of Mecca.[26]

According to the author Dan Gibson early Islamic Qiblas pointed towards the city of Petra and not Mecca.[29] [30]

Baháʼí FaithEdit

In the Baháʼí Faith, the Qiblih is the direction of prayer towards which adherents focus.[31] It is a “fixed requirement for the recitation of obligatory prayer”.[31]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Danielou, Jean (2016). Origen. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-4982-9023-4. Peterson quotes a passage from the Acts of Hipparchus and Philotheus: "In Hipparchus's house there was a specially decorated room and a cross was painted on the east wall of it. There before the image of the cross, they used to pray seven times a day ... with their faces turned to the east." It is easy to see the importance of this passage when you compare it with what Origen says. The custom of turning towards the rising sun when praying had been replaced by the habit of turning towards the east wall. This we find in Origen. From the other passage we see that a cross had been painted on the wall to show which was the east. Hence the origin of the practice of hanging crucifixes on the walls of the private rooms in Christian houses. We know too that signs were put up in the Jewish synagogues to show the direction of Jerusalem, because the Jews turned that way when they said their prayers. The question of the proper way to face for prayer has always been of great importance in the East. It is worth remembering that Mohammedans pray with their faces turned towards Mecca and that one reason for the condemnation of Al Hallaj, the Mohammedan martyr, was that he refused to conform to this practice.
  2. ^ Peters, F. E. (2005). The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition, Volume II: The Words and Will of God. Princeton University Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-691-12373-8. At first, the prayers were said facing Jerusalem, as the Jews did – Christians faced toward the East – but later the direction of prayer, the qibla, was changed toward the Kaaba at Mecca.
  3. ^ a b c Lang, Uwe Michael (2009). Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer. Ignatius Press. pp. 36–37. ISBN 978-1-58617-341-8. Jews in the Diaspora prayed towards Jerusalem, or, more precisely, towards the presence of the transcendent God (shekinah) in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. For instance, Daniel in Babylon 'went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open to Jerusalem; and he got down upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously' (Dan 6:10). Even after the destruction of the Temple, the prevailing custom of turning towards Jerusalem for prayer was kept in the liturgy of the synagogue. Thus Jews have expressed their eschatological hope for the coming of the Messiah, the rebuilding of the Temple, and the gathering of God's people from the Diaspora.
  4. ^ a b Taylor, Ina (2001). Judaism with Jewish Moral Issues. Nelson Thornes. ISBN 978-0-7487-5685-8. In ancient times the Jews' most sacred possessions were the two tablets of stone carrying the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses. These stones were originally kept in a box called the aron hakodesh, or holy ark, and carried around by the Jews during their years in the desert. When they eventually settled in Israel the aron hakodesh was housed in the Temple of Jerusalem. Because of its precious contents, the Temple became the focal point for prayers. Today Jews still face that direction when they pray, and all synagogues are built facing Jerusalem.
  5. ^ Shurpin, Yehuda. "Why Do We Face East When Praying? Or Do We? – How to calculate mizrach". Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  6. ^ Appel, Gershon (1977). The Concise Code of Jewish Law. KTAV Publishing House, Inc. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-87068-298-8. The Holy Ark should be in the east, so that worshipers may pray in the direction of the Holy Land and the place of the Sanctuary in Jerusalem. Where the Ark is not in the east, one should nonetheless pray in the direction of the Ark.
  7. ^ a b Frankel, Ellen; Teutsch, Betsy Platkin (1992). The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-87668-594-5. In many Jewish homes, a calligraphic design called a mizrah hangs on the eastern wall to aid meditation and prayer, much like an oriental mandala. ... Traditionally, a mizrah has the Hebrew word מִזְרָח – "mizrah," written on it, as well as the biblical verse: "From the rising (mi-mizrah) of the sun unto its going down, the Lord's name is to be praised."
  8. ^ Landman, Isaac; Cohen, Simon (1942). The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia ...: An Authoritative and Popular Presentation of Jews and Judaism Since the Earliest Times. Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, Incorporated. p. 601. MIZRAH (originally 'the rising of the sun,' then 'the east'), the direction in which most Jews face during prayer.
  9. ^ a b Frojimovics, Kinga (1999). Jewish Budapest: Monuments, Rites, History. Central European University Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-963-9116-37-5. In some Jewish homes a panorama of Jerusalem or a mizrah plaque is found on the eastern wall, not only a piece of decoration, but also to mark the direction to be faced during prayers.
  10. ^ a b c Kalleeny, Tony. "Why We Face the EAST". Orlando: St Mary and Archangel Michael Church. Retrieved 6 August 2020. Christians in Syria as well, in the second century, would place the cross in the direction of the East towards which people in their homes or churches prayed. The direction to which Christians prayed symbolized their souls facing God, talking with him, and sharing their spirituality with the Lord.
  11. ^ a b Storey, William G. (2004). A Prayer Book of Catholic Devotions: Praying the Seasons and Feasts of the Church Year. Loyola Press. ISBN 978-0-8294-2030-2. Long before Christians built churches for public prayer, they worshipped daily in their homes. In order to orient their prayer (to orient means literally "to turn toward the east"), they painted or hung a cross on the east wall of their main room. This practice was in keeping with ancient Jewish tradition ("Look toward the east, O Jerusalem," Baruch 4:36); Christians turned in that direction when they prayed morning and evening and at other times. This expression of their undying belief in the coming again of Jesus was united to their conviction that the cross, "the sign of the Son of Man," would appear in the eastern heavens on his return (see Matthew 24:30).
  12. ^ "Sign of the Cross". Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East – Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand and Lebanon. Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East. Archived from the original on 14 April 2020. Retrieved 11 August 2020. Inside their homes, a cross is placed on the eastern wall of the first room. If one sees a cross in a house and do not find a crucifix or pictures, it is almost certain that the particular family belongs to the Church of the East.
  13. ^ Arthur Serratelli (28 February 2017). "Praying Ad Orientem". Catholic News Agency. From the earliest days of Church, Christians also faced east when at prayer. In fact, Tertullian (160–220 AD) actually had to defend Christians against the pagans who accused them of facing east to worship the sun. Many Church Fathers, such as St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Basil and St. Augustine, also speak of the practice of facing east. In the 3rd century, the Didascalia, a treatise on church order from northern Syria, set down the rule of facing east during the Eucharist. ... Before Christianity was legal in the Roman Empire, Christians worshipped in their homes. ... Writing in the 7th century, St. John of Damascus gives three explanations for the eastward stance of Christians at prayer. First, Christ is "the Sun of Righteousness" (Mal 4:2) and "the Dayspring from on high" (Lk 1:78). Facing the light dawning from the east, Christians affirm their faith in Christ as the Light of the world. Second, God planted the Garden of Eden in the east (cf. Gn 2:8). But, when our first parents sinned, they were exiled from the garden and moved westward. Facing east, therefore, reminds Christians of their need to long for and strive for the paradise that God intended for them. And, third, when speaking of his Second Coming at the end of history, Jesus said, "For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be" (Mt. 24:27). Thus, facing the east at prayer visibly expresses the hope for the coming of Jesus (cf. St. John Damascene, An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book IV, Chapter 12). Holding fast to this ancient tradition of facing eastward at prayer, the 12th century builders of the first St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna oriented this church to be in line with sunrise on the feast of St. Stephen. ... In celebration of the ancient Coptic Rite of Egypt, a deacon exhorts the faithful with the words "Look towards the East!" His age-old exhortation, found also in Greek and Ethiopian liturgies, stands as a strong reminder of the spiritual direction of our prayer.
  14. ^ Morris, Stephen (2018). The Early Eastern Orthodox Church: A History, AD 60–1453. McFarland & Company. p. 28. ISBN 978-1-4766-7481-0. The Christians faced east to pray for several reasons. Jesus was expected to come again to judge the world "as lightning flashes from the east to the west" (Matthew 24:27). Jesus was the Dawn that enlightened the world. Basil the Great wrote that facing the east to pray was among the oldest unwritten laws of the Church (On the Holy Spirit 27).
  15. ^ Griffith, Sidney Harrison (2008). The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam. Princeton University Press. p. 145. ISBN 978-0-691-13015-6. Prominent among them was what in the context of life in the world of Islam one might call the Christian qiblah, the direction the Christians faced when they prayed, and the Jews, who faced Jerusalem, Christians customarily faced east to pray. This distinctive, Christian behavior came up for discussion in virtually every apologetic tract in Syriac or Arabic written by a Christian in the early Islamic period. In their answers to the queries of the Muslims on the subject, Christian writers never failed to mention that the reason they prayed facing east was due to the fact that the Garden of Eden was planted in the east (Genesis 2:8) and that at the end of time, at the second coming, the Messiah would approach Jerusalem from the east. Consequently, they insisted all Christians face this direction when they pray.
  16. ^ Johnson, Maxwell E. (2016). Between Memory and Hope: Readings on the Liturgical Year. Liturgical Press. ISBN 978-0-8146-6282-3. Because Christ was expected to come from the east, Christians at a very early date prayed facing that direction in order to show themselves ready for his appearing, and actually looking forward to the great event which would consummate the union with him already experienced in prayer. For the same reason the sign of the cross was frequently traced on the eastern wall of places of prayer, thereby indicating the direction of prayer, but also rendering the Lord's coming a present reality in the sign which heralds it. In other words, through the cross the anticipated eschatological appearance becomes parousia: presence. The joining of prayer with the eschatological presence of Christ, unseen to the eye but revealed in the cross, obviously underlies the widely attested practice of prostrating before the sacred wood while praying to him who hung upon it.
  17. ^ Richards, William Joseph (1908). The Indian Christians of St. Thomas: Otherwise Called the Syrian Christians of Malabar: a Sketch of Their History and an Account of Their Present Condition as Well as a Discussion of the Legend of St. Thomas. Bemrose. p. 98. We are commanded to pray standing, with faces towards the East, for at the last Messiah is manifested in the East. 2. All Christians, on rising from sleep early in the morning, should wash the face and pray. 3. We are commanded to pray seven times, thus...
  18. ^ Shehimo: Book of Common Prayer. Diocese of South-West America of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. 2016. p. 5. The seven hours of prayer create a cycle that provides us with a foretaste of the eternal life we will spend in the presence of God worshipping Him. ... We pray standing upright while facing East as we collect our thoughts on God.
  19. ^ Dawood, Bishoy (8 December 2013). "Stand, Bow, Prostrate: The Prayerful Body of Coptic Christianity". The Clarion Review. Retrieved 6 August 2020. Standing facing the East is the most frequent prayer position. ... This is further emphasized in the fact that Copts pray facing the East, waiting for the return of Jesus in glory; his return as the enthroned Pantocrator is portrayed in the iconography that is placed before the worshippers.
  20. ^ Mary Cecil, 2nd Baroness Amherst of Hackney (1906). A Sketch of Egyptian History from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Methuen. p. 399. Prayers 7 times a day are enjoined, and the most strict among the Copts recite one of more of the Psalms of David each time they pray. They always wash their hands and faces before devotions, and turn to the East.
  21. ^ a b Gordon, Matthew S. (2009). Islam. Infobase Publishing. p. 102. ISBN 978-1-4381-1778-2. Muslims must pray in the direction of Mecca and in order to indicate the direction of the holy city a niche is built into the appropriate wall. This niche is the mihrab, while the direction of Mecca is known as the qibla.
  22. ^ Hadi Bashori, Muhammad (2015). Pengantar Ilmu Falak (in Indonesian). Jakarta: Pustaka Al Kautsar. p. 104. ISBN 978-979-592-701-3.
  23. ^ Wensinck, Arent Jan (1986). "Ḳibla: Ritual and Legal Aspects". In Bosworth, C. E.; van Donzel, E.; Lewis, B. & Pellat, Ch. (eds.). The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Volume V: Khe–Mahi. Leiden: E. J. Brill. pp. 82–83. ISBN 978-90-04-07819-2.
  24. ^ Heinz, Justin Paul (2008). The Origins of Muslim Prayer: Sixth and Seventh Century Religious Influences on the Salat Ritual. University of Missouri. p. 76. When Muhammad and his followers first entered Yathrib, they prayed in the direction of Jerusalem. This is clear because the Qur'an tells Muhammad and his followers to turn away from where others were praying.
  25. ^ Rizvi, Sayyid Saeed Akhtar (1986). Elements of Islamic Studies. Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania. p. 32. ISBN 978-9976-956-05-4. If a man does not know the direction and there is no way to ascertain Qibla, but has strong feeling that it must be in a certain direction, he should pray facing that direction.
  26. ^ a b Esposito, John L. (2000). The Oxford History of Islam. Oxford University Press. p. 181. ISBN 978-0-19-988041-6. Muslims are enjoined to face Mecca during their five daily prayers, and at least in theory all mosques are supposed to be oriented toward the Kaaba, in Mecca.
  27. ^ King, David A. (1986). "Ḳibla: Astronomical Aspects". In Bosworth, C. E.; van Donzel, E.; Lewis, B. & Pellat, Ch. (eds.). The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Volume V: Khe–Mahi. Leiden: E. J. Brill. pp. 83–88. ISBN 978-90-04-07819-2.
  28. ^ King, David A. (1996). "Astronomy and Islamic Society". In Rashed, Roshdi (ed.). Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science. Vol. I. London: Routledge. pp. 128–184. ISBN 978-0-415-12410-2.
  29. ^ Gibson, Dan, Early Islamic Qiblas, Independent Scholars Press, 2017
  30. ^ "Petra Mosques".
  31. ^ a b Bahá’u’lláh (1992). "The Kitáb-i-Aqdas". Bahá’í Reference Library.