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Wednesday, 23 April 2008


It's time for Motime!

Believe it or not, there are these chaps calling for Greenwich Mean Time to be dumped, on religious grounds, in favour of Mecca Time. Our old friend Yusuf al-Qaradawi (although the name's spelled differently almost everywhere you look), wants it, too, because he and some chums say the Saudi city of Mecca aligns with magnetic north and is therefore the true centre of the Earth.

"Centre"? Isn't that the core? A seething mass of molten rock and fire? Hell? And, anyway, can't many places be said to be in alignment with magnetic north?

"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," says this BBC story. "One geologist argued that unlike other longitudes, Mecca's was in perfect alignment to magnetic north."

Mecca is also the place Muslims aim to face, wherever in the world they are, when it comes time to prostrate themselves five times a day to talk to their imaginary friend Ali, er, Allah, whoever. Could that have something to do with this call for the entire world to change its standard reference?

This geologist chappie says the English imposed GMT when they were in charge of the world. Well, someone had to impose a standard. Britain was an important maritime nation at the time, which is just historical fact. If some other nation had been cracking the whip, it would have presented the world with a standard, and we might now have Gofer's Ass Mean Time running through a hick little town in Arkansas.

But it happens to be Greenwich. That was how it began. As British sailors travelled the globe, they kept one eye on GMT so they could calculate their longitude from the Greenwich meridian, which, by convention, was considered to have zero degrees. And why do we need to fix something that ain't broke?

The Beeb story goes on to say, "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."

His point being? And how does he arrive at the notion that this is proof of the greatness of the qibla? And why is magnetic north so important, when the Earth doesn't rotate about its magnetic poles, but its true, that is to say rotational, poles? It makes no sense to put timelines through points around which the Earth doesn't rotate. Or am I missing something?

It seems it's all part of Muslims' attempts to prove that stuff in the Koran has been borne out by modern science. Here's a whole article devoted to that – if you can be bothered to look up the dozens of references in it, which merely give sura numbers but no textual analysis.

Anyway, this idea is "not without its critics", says the BBC story, "who say that the notion that modern science was revealed in the Koran confuses spiritual truth, which is constant, and empirical truth, which depends on the state of science at any given point in time".

And is spiritual truth constant? I hear you ask. Have there not been shifts in that over the years, depending on which religion or which branch of which religion you care to give credence to? If any.

But I fear we could discuss this in ever-decreasing circles till we disappear up our own argument. Time to nip down to the Mecca Ballroom, perhaps, for a good time, not a mean one.

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