I’ve been praying in the wrong direction

I’ve recently found out that, for years, I’ve been praying in the wrong direction! What’s the ruling on that? Would I have to repeat all my salats (prayers)?

You did not do it on purpose, did you? Then it will be accepted, insha-Allah (God willing). The scholars have agreed that sins are not counted if done by mistake, forgetfulness or coercion. By the same token, one would conclude that good deeds will not be discounted if they haven’t been done correctly because of a mistake, forgetfulness or coercion. We know, for instance, that if you’re fasting in Ramadhaan and you eat something without thinking, then remember that you were fasting, that you do not have to compensate for that day and can continue the fast.

I follow the Shaafi`i school of thought, and I looked up his ruling on this matter. I found out that he had two different rulings: one says that the prayer direction must be as accurately determined as can be, and another that says that the important thing is to face the Ka`ba in Mecca and not turn your back to it.

If you have a means to accurately determine the Qibla (prayer direction), then you should. But if you don’t, then your best estimate is sufficient. The scholars have ruled that a traveler who cannot determine the Qibla may estimate the direction to the best of his ability. Remember that the verses that mandate facing the Sacrosanct Mosque all say to face “the half where the mosque is”, e.g., 2:144 and 2:149-150.

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