Indonesia's Muslims miss Mecca (by about 1,500 miles)

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The Independent Online

For more than 200 million Muslims in Indonesia, Mecca just moved. Instead of facing Islam's most holy city, a clerical error of astronomoical proportions has seen the faithful directing their prayers towards Kenya and southern Somalia.

The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the country's highest Islamic body, has admitted that they made an error in an edict issued in March regarding the direction of the sacred Kaaba site in Mecca. Originally they had said that the Saudi Arabian city – where Muslims turn towards during their daily prayers – was due west of Indonesia, but they have now corrected themselves and are instead instructing followers to face a bit further to the north.

"After a thorough study with some cosmography and astronomy experts, we learned they've been facing southern Somalia and Kenya," said Ma'ruf Amin, a senior MUI cleric.

"We've revised it now to the north west," he said. Despite the mistake, Mr Amin reassured Muslims that any prayers made looking towards Africa will not have been wasted. "God understands that humans make mistakes," he said. "Allah always hears their prayers."

The chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Islamic organisation, blamed the mistake on the MUI rushing to make a decision on the issue. "It's good that the MUI realised their mistake and took steps to rectify it," Said Aqil Siradj told The Jakarta Globe, "but let this be a lesson to them not to churn out edicts in such haste."

Mosques in the country will not have to be rebuilt, according to MUI councillor Umar Shihab who said there was "no need to change the building structure... Just make a minor adjustment by rotating the prayer mats slightly".

With 90 per cent of its 237 million population followers of Islam, Indonesia has more muslims than any other country.