May 18, 2024
Makkah Prime Meridian
Islamic Hijri Calendar is based on the Makkah Prime Meridian. Let's explain, how Islamic Hijri Calendar is based on Makkah Prime Meridian?

Most educated Muslims know that the Islamic Hijri calendar is a purely lunar calendar based on the lunation periods of the moon. The Islamic Hijri calendar was adopted by the Muslim community in the reign of Umar ibn Khattab (May Allah be pleased with him). But very few people know that the Islamic Hijri Calendar is based on the Makkah Prime Meridian. How? Let’s explain.

Imam ibn al-Jawzi al-Hanbali (May Allah have mercy on him) observes in his treatise Al-Muntazam (an abridged and refined version of Tarikh al-Tabri):

Imam Saeed ibn al-Musayyib (May Allah have mercy on him) said: “Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) gathered the people and asked them, ‘On which day should we begin the calendar?’ Ali ibn Abi Talib (May Allah be pleased with him) said, ‘From the day the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, migrated and left the land of polytheism.’ Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) acted upon this.”

Uthman (May Allah be pleased with him) said: “Date the first of Muharram as the beginning of the year.”

The author of the book (Imam Ibn al-Jawzi) said: “They started dating ahead of two months or more because the Messenger of Allah, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him and his family, arrived in Medina on the 12th of Rabee’ al-Awwal.”

The Messenger of Allah (Peace and blessings be upon him and his family) reached Medinah on the 12th of Rabi al-Awal, as Imam Ibn al-Jawzi described with confidence. But Sahabah began the Islamic Hijri calendar from the 1st of Muharram. Why? Very few scholars on earth know the reason behind this decision. It was not merely the advice of Uthman ibn Affan (May Allah be pleased with him) but there was a scientific reason behind their consensus.

Some scholars suggest that it was the practice of pre-Islamic Arabs and Jews to start the lunar year from the commencement of Muharram. It is not the case, because the Companions of the Prophet wanted to design a flawless calendar that is not contaminated with undue respect of kings or commemoration of wars. Starting the Islamic Hijri calendar from the first of Muharram signifies the importance of Makkah al-Mukarramak in Islamic traditions.

Significance of Makkah Prime Merdian

1st of Muharram, 1 Hijri corresponds to the 15th of July 622. It is the day when the sun is at 90 degrees of altitude with respect to the Meridian of Makkah. It means on 15th July the sun’s rays fall on Makkah exactly perpendicular to the Meridian of Makkah. What was the significance of 90 degrees altitude of the sun for timekeeping and calendars?

Solar noon (Nisf al-Nahar) is used as a reference point for setting local time through a method known as “sundial time.” Here’s how it works:

  1. Solar Noon Definition: Solar noon is the moment when the Sun reaches its highest point in the sky for the day at a particular location. Currently, the Sun is directly overhead (or at its highest altitude) for observers along the same longitude.
  2. Sundials: Sundials are ancient timekeeping devices that use the position of the Sun’s shadow to indicate the time of day. A typical sundial consists of a flat or angled surface with a vertical stick called a gnomon. As the Sun moves across the sky, its rays cast a shadow from the gnomon onto marked divisions on the dial’s surface.
  3. Local Solar Time: The position of the Sun’s shadow on the sundial corresponds to the local solar time at that location. When the Sun’s shadow aligns with the mark indicating solar noon on the sundial, it signifies that it is precisely noon local solar time. The hours before and after solar noon are indicated by the position of the shadow relative to the hour marks on the sundial.
  4. Setting Clocks: Before the widespread use of standardized time zones and mechanical clocks, people relied on sundials to determine the time of day based on the position of the Sun. By observing when the Sun reached its highest point in the sky (solar noon) and adjusting their clocks accordingly, they could establish local time for their region.
  5. Variations in Local Time: It’s important to note that local solar time determined by sundials may differ slightly from clock time, especially in regions with large longitudinal spans. To create a more uniform system of timekeeping, standardized time zones were introduced, with each zone representing a specific offset from Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). However, solar noon remains a fundamental reference point for setting local time.

In summary, solar noon serves as a natural reference point for setting local time using sundials, allowing people to establish the midpoint of the day and adjust their clocks accordingly based on the position of the Sun’s shadow.

Makkah Prime Meridian and Makkah Time


The Greenwich Meridian, often referred to as the Prime Meridian, holds today a pivotal role in the global system of timekeeping and navigation. Established as the line of 0 degrees longitude, it serves as the reference point from which all other longitudes are measured, dividing the Earth into Eastern and Western Hemispheres.

One of the key concepts associated with the Greenwich Meridian is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which represents the mean solar time at the Royal Greenwich Observatory in England, located along the Prime Meridian. GMT was historically used as the standard time in Great Britain and served as the basis for timekeeping across the British Empire and later globally.

MAKKAH clock tower
MAKKAH clock tower

The formal adoption of Greenwich Mean Time as the international standard occurred at the International Meridian Conference, held in Washington, D.C., United States, in October 1884. During this conference, representatives from 25 nations agreed to adopt the Greenwich Meridian as the Prime Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time as the standard for reckoning time. It was the time when the sun did not set on the Great British Empire.

But before Great Britain, there was a global Islamic state named Khilafah, when the sun did not set on Islamic lands. It was the time when Umar ibn Khattab (May Allah be pleased with him) set Makkah Meridian as the Prime Meridian and its Local Time as the Universal Time for the world.

Discrepancies in Greenwich Mean Time

Indeed, Greenwich is now a part of London. Greenwich is a district located in southeast London, England, and it is situated on the south bank of the River Thames. Historically, Greenwich was a separate town, but over time, as London expanded, it became absorbed into the Greater London area.

In London, located at approximately 51.5 degrees North latitude, the Sun does not reach an altitude of 90 degrees above the horizon at any time of the year. This is because London is situated at a high latitude, relatively far from the equator, where the Sun’s angle of elevation is lower compared to locations closer to the equator.

At latitudes around 51.5 degrees North, such as London, the maximum altitude that the Sun can reach above the horizon is typically around 60 to 70 degrees during the summer solstice, which occurs around June 21st. During this time, the Sun’s path across the sky is relatively high, resulting in longer daylight hours and shorter nights compared to other times of the year.

Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is indeed a calculated time standard rather than a real-time observed time. GMT is based on the mean solar time at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, which is located near London at approximately 51.5 degrees North latitude.

As mentioned earlier, due to its high latitude, London does not experience the Sun reaching an altitude of 90 degrees above the horizon at any time of the year. Therefore, the concept of solar noon, when the Sun is at its highest point in the sky, varies throughout the year in London.

To establish GMT, astronomers at the Royal Observatory Greenwich calculate the mean solar time based on observations of the Sun’s position relative to the Prime Meridian (0 degrees longitude) passing through Greenwich. This calculated mean solar time serves as the basis for GMT, which is then adjusted for various factors such as the Earth’s irregular orbit and axial tilt.

Why Equation of Time?

The equation of time is a concept in astronomy that describes the difference between two types of solar time: apparent solar time and mean solar time. The term “equation” here refers to the reconciliation or adjustment needed to account for the variation between these two-time measurements.

The precise definition of the equation of time is:

EOT=GHA−GMHA{\displaystyle \mathrm {EOT} =\mathrm {GHA} -\mathrm {GMHA} }

The quantities occurring in this equation are:

  • EOT, the time difference between apparent solar time and mean solar time;
  • GHA, the Greenwich Hour Angle of the apparent (actual) Sun;
  • GMHA = Universal Time − Offset, the Greenwich Mean Hour Angle of the mean (fictitious) Sun.
  1. Apparent Solar Time: Apparent solar time is based on the actual position of the Sun in the sky as observed from a specific location on Earth. It directly tracks the Sun’s diurnal (daily) motion across the celestial sphere, accounting for factors such as the Earth’s axial tilt and its elliptical orbit around the Sun. Apparent solar time can be determined by measuring the Sun’s hour angle, which is the angular distance between the current position of the Sun and its position at noon.
  2. Mean Solar Time: Mean solar time, on the other hand, is a theoretical concept that assumes the Sun moves with uniform motion along the celestial equator throughout the year. In other words, it represents the time that would be indicated by a clock that ticks at a constant rate, without accounting for the variations in the Sun’s apparent motion due to factors like the Earth’s orbit and axial tilt.

The equation of time arises because apparent solar time and mean solar time do not always match perfectly due to the eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit and the tilt of its axis. These factors cause the Sun to sometimes appear ahead of or behind its mean position in the sky, resulting in discrepancies between the two types of solar time.

To reconcile these differences, astronomers use the equation of time to calculate the correction needed to convert apparent solar time to mean solar time or vice versa. This correction varies throughout the year and is typically expressed as a curve on a graph or as a table of values. By applying the equation of time, astronomers and timekeepers can accurately adjust clocks and sundials to account for the variations in the Sun’s apparent motion and maintain synchronization with mean solar time.

In summary, the equation of time provides a means to reconcile the differences between apparent solar time, which tracks the Sun’s actual motion in the sky, and mean solar time, which represents a uniform theoretical standard. This reconciliation allows for precise timekeeping and celestial navigation in astronomy and related fields.

Why Makkah Real-Time?

Using Makkah Real-Time based on solar noon could indeed minimize discrepancies compared to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), especially for regions closer to Makkah. Here’s how:

  1. Solar Noon Alignment: Makkah Real-Time would be based on the solar noon observed in Makkah, which is the moment when the Sun reaches its highest point in the sky for that location. Solar noon is determined by the local apparent solar time, which directly tracks the Sun’s position in the sky. By using solar noon as the reference point, Makkah Real-Time would closely align with the natural rhythm of the Sun’s motion, providing a more direct and immediate representation of local time.
  2. Minimized Discrepancies: Unlike GMT, which is based on a theoretical mean solar time that averages out variations in the Sun’s motion over the year, Makkah Real-Time would reflect the actual solar time observed at Makkah. This could lead to minimized discrepancies, especially for regions within a similar longitudinal range as Makkah, where the variations in solar time would be relatively consistent.
  3. Cultural and Religious Significance: Makkah holds immense cultural and religious significance for Muslims worldwide, being the holiest city in Islam and the direction (qiblah) towards which Muslims pray. Adopting Makkah Real-Time could resonate deeply with Muslim communities, enhancing the connection to their religious and cultural heritage.
  4. Practical Considerations: For regions outside Makkah’s longitudinal range, adjustments may still be necessary to account for differences in solar time. However, these adjustments could be relatively straightforward compared to the complexities involved in reconciling GMT with local solar time variations.

In conclusion, while using Makkah Real-Time based on solar noon could minimize discrepancies compared to GMT, its widespread adoption would require careful consideration of practical, cultural, and logistical factors. Nonetheless, the idea underscores the importance of local astronomical observations and cultural contexts in defining timekeeping standards.

Advantages of Makkah Prime Meridian

The Prophet’s Companions (May Allah be pleased with them) set Makkah Meridian as the Prime Meridian to resonate the Islamic Calendar with natural astronomical observations. In our article, ‘Makkah: Center of the Earth’s Surface‘ we proved that Makkah al-Mukarramah is the center of the Earth’s surface.

So, declaring Meridian of Makkah, as Prime Meridian is not initially a political or religious requirement, but it is a geographic and astronomical requirement. Choosing the Meridian of Makkah as the Prime Meridian could also be perceived as a neutral and inclusive gesture, avoiding associations with specific political or colonial legacies that might accompany other Prime Meridian candidates. By prioritizing geographic and astronomical criteria over political considerations, the selection of Makkah’s Meridian could promote inclusivity and cooperation in the international community.

Considering Makkah as the Prime Meridian for establishing time zones could potentially offer several advantages in terms of accuracy and minimizing discrepancies. Here’s how:

  1. Geographic Centrality: Makkah’s Prime Meridian is located at the heart of the Islamic world, making it geographically central for a significant portion of the global population. This central position could facilitate the establishment of time zones that are more evenly distributed and aligned with the natural day-night cycles experienced by people in different regions.
  2. Cultural and Religious Significance: Makkah holds immense cultural and religious importance for Muslims worldwide, serving as the holiest city in Islam and the direction (qiblah) towards which Muslims pray. Adopting Makkah as the Prime Meridian could resonate deeply with Muslim communities, enhancing their connection to their religious heritage and fostering a sense of unity and inclusivity.
  3. Astronomical Alignment: Makkah’s Prime Meridian could be aligned with astronomical observations conducted from Makkah, leveraging the city’s historical association with celestial observations for determining prayer times and religious events. This alignment could enhance the accuracy of timekeeping systems based on astronomical principles and minimize discrepancies between observed and calculated times.
  4. Reduced Discrepancies: By aligning time zones with Makkah’s Prime Meridian, discrepancies between local solar time and standardized time could potentially be minimized, especially for regions within a similar longitudinal range as Makkah. This could lead to smoother transitions between time zones and reduce the need for frequent adjustments or corrections to local timekeeping systems.
  5. Global Relevance: While Makkah’s Prime Meridian may have particular significance within the Islamic context, its adoption could have broader global relevance, reflecting the diversity of cultural perspectives and geographical considerations in establishing time standards. This inclusivity could promote international cooperation and understanding in the development of standardized timekeeping systems.

In summary, considering Makkah as the Prime Meridian for establishing time zones could offer advantages in terms of accuracy, cultural relevance, and global inclusivity. While implementing such a change would require careful planning, coordination, and international consensus, it could represent a significant step towards developing timekeeping standards that better reflect the diverse needs and perspectives of people around the world.

In Saudi Arabia, the current Arabia Standard Time (AST) is set with a reference meridian (45 E). There is a difference of 18 minutes in Makkah Real-Time and Saudi Standard Time. According to Greenwich Meridian, Makkah Merdian lies 40 E (approx.) According to Makkah’s geographic location and Makkah Prime Meridian set by Umar ibn al-Khattab (May Allah be pleased with him), Makkah Meridian is standard for all nations.

Indeed, by setting Mkkah Prime Meridian a standard for mankind, they followed the following Qur’anic narrative:

جَعَلَ اللَّهُ الْكَعْبَةَ الْبَيْتَ الْحَرَامَ قِيَامًا لِّلنَّاسِ

Allah has made the Kaaba, the Sacred House, a standard for mankind.” [5:97]

Does Makkah Clock Tower Display Makkah Time?

The Makkah Clock Tower, also known as the Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower, does not display Makkah Time but rather Arabia Standard Time. Arabia Standard Time (AST) is the official time used in Saudi Arabia and is set to be 3 hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC+3).

It is worth noting that AST is not exactly synchronized with the local solar time observed in Makkah. Instead, it is based on a uniform standard time offset applied across the entire country. This means that AST may deviate from the local solar time in Makkah and other regions of Saudi Arabia.

However, Muslim scientists and clerics have called for the adoption of Makkah Time to replace GMT, arguing that the Saudi city is the true center of the Earth. BBC News (April 21, 2008) reported:
The call was issued at a conference held in the Gulf state of Qatar under the title: Mecca, the Centre of the Earth, Theory and Practice……….A prominent cleric, Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawy, said modern science had at last provided evidence that Mecca was the true centre of the Earth; proof, he said, of the greatness of the Muslim “qibla” – the Arabic word for the direction Muslims turn to when they pray.

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