I have come across a claim that in early Islam, the focal point of orientation for prayers was not Mecca but was originally supposed to be Petra, and that originally Qiblas used to point in that direction.

I found this book by Dan Gibson that makes this claim: Early Islamic Qiblas: A survey of mosques built between 1AH/622 C.E. and 263 AH/876 C.E (WorldCat). He is the only person I could find that says this.

How credible is this claim and how credible is Dan Gibson as a historian?

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    Which mosques he uses as reference? It would not be the same if he is refering to mosques in Spain or Afghanistan (where the mistake could be a matter of calculus error) than if he were refering to mosques just in the middle of Saudi Arabia. – SJuan76 Jul 4 '19 at 23:36

First, there’s a Wikipedia article on Dan Gibson, and it says he is not a professional historian, and is criticized by them. The article also contains links to critical reviews you may want to read. For example, here’s a criticism from David King and Gibson’s response.

However, it’s a traditional knowledge in Islam that before Mecca, Jerusalem was Qibla. The switch happened in Muhammad’s lifetime, actually, they switched mid-prayer. See Wikipedia article for the mosque where it happened. But I never heard of any other surviving mihrab pointing to Jerusalem.

In addition to that, I’d say that early mosques were likely built with much rougher directions than later when Islamic scholars honed their astronomy for this very purpose.

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  • As Gibson is within the revisionist school of thought his intentions are quite different than what you seem to address here. The claim in his book addresses this 'revelation' explicitly and also places the other early qiblas after Mohammeds death (actually from 622 to 867). – LаngLаngС Jul 4 '19 at 17:54
  • @LangLangC I’ve added a link to David King’s criticism. In essence it agrees with what I said: the directions were imprecise. – Neith Jul 4 '19 at 18:02
  • Please also look at the actual data provided by Gibson. The early mosques were not just imprecise. Either he is way off with all he does, or theer is more to it than just some 'imprecision'. According to him, some directions are quite grossly off. I'd greatly prefer to see both arguments presented and weighed here with a bit more detail instead of just pointing at outside resources and 'read all about it there'. Have you eg compared Crone or Cook to King's argument? – LаngLаngС Jul 4 '19 at 18:55
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    @LangLangC Is this data publicly available anywhere? I am not going to buy this book. – Neith Jul 4 '19 at 19:15
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    @jwenting In Medina (the capital of Islam in 622-656, between Prophet’s Hijra and the death of third caliph Uthman), Mecca and Jerusalem are nearly opposite directions. – Neith Jul 5 '19 at 5:58

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