World-maps for Finding the Direction and Distance to Mecca

Innovation and Tradition in Islamic Science


Two remarkable Iranian world-maps were discovered in 1989 and 1995. Both are made of brass and date from 17th-century Iran. Mecca is at the centre and a highly sophisticated longitude and latitude grid enables the user to determine the direction and distance to Mecca for anywhere in the world between Andalusia and China. Prior to the discovery of these maps it was thought that such cartographic grids were conceived in Europe ca. 1910. This richly-illustrated book presents an overview of the ways in which Muslims over the centuries have determined the sacred direction towards Mecca ( qibla) and then describes the two world-maps in detail. The author shows that the geographical data derives from a 15th-century Central Asian source and that the mathematics underlying the grid was developed in 9th-century Baghdad.

Biographical Note

David A. King, Ph.D. (1972) in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, Yale University, is Professor of the History of Science at the J.W. Goethe University in Frankfurt. He has published extensively on medieval Islamic astronomy and astronomical instruments.

Review Quotes

' Science historian David King wrote a monumental book about [a] cartographical miracle.' Dirk van Delft, NRC Handelsblad, 2000. ' …impressive volume…This is an important reference book full of suggestions for further studies.' Roser Puig, ISIS, 2001. ‘ …King has written a fascinating, beautifully illustrated book that should be read by any person interested in Islamic science or the history of mathematical geography.’ Benno van Dalen, Royal Asiatic Society, 2002.


All those interested in Islamic civilisation, Islamic science, history of carthography, history of mathematics, roles of science and religion, educated Muslims generally.