Exercise in Futility - Replacing Greenwich Mean Time with Makkah Mean Time
Islamic Voice, June 1, 2008

A conference of Muslim scientists and theologians held in Doha (Qatar) on April 21, 2008 has advocated replacing Greenwich Mean Time with Makkah Mean Time. In their own wisdom, the participants conceive that the holy city of Islam is the centre of the earth. Though such irrational proposals were aired even earlier, the theory is likely to gain credence with sizeable sections, now that it is coming from seemingly wise people at a scientific conclave. Curiously, the call was issued at a conference held in Doha under the title 'Makkah, the Centre of the Earth, Theory and Practice'.

While each nation is entitled to its own arrangements pertaining to time, calendar, measurements within its national boundaries, any plea for religiously oriented standard time is bound to add to the complexity of human activity. Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) has been the standard measure ever since it was fixed in 1884 and all times zones are determined accordingly. No one has ever claimed Greenwich to be the centre of the earth or spiritual centre of a religious community other than Muslims. Of course, an element of United Kingdom's imperial dominance over a considerable part of the globe must have lent it the necessary confidence in clinching a global consensus. Few now question its origin.

To demand a different standard in as vital an aspect of life as time, merely for the sake of belief, is something that should not go unquestioned. In the same vein, the Muslim scientists' theory that Makkah lies exactly at the centre of the earth also needs to be probed. Spherical as the earth is, every point on its surface has the equal claim to being its centre. As for the real center of the earth, it must lie in the center of the core of the earth. It is therefore debatable, if Makkah alone has the unique distinction of being the central point. If the proponents of the theory are attempting to determine the center of the land portion of the earth (excluding the watery surface), they need to explain as to how they redraw the land map of the earth. Any such exercise in draughtmanship will be essentially laboured and is susceptible to the accusation of being contrived. Even if it is presumed that designation of Greenwich at zero degree was an arbitrary imperial decision during the British empire's halcyon days, it remains beyond one's ken as to how a city like Makkah, lying far away from the Equator could justifiably lay claim to centrality on the planet earth. All these only prove that the very exercise of determining the center of the earth on the surface is an exercise in futility and bears no scientific value or basis.

All standards whether in time, weight, or measurements are incidental to the time and context in which they were fixed. No greater purpose will be served by dubbing them arbitrary today. In a fast globalising world, recognition and conformity to these standards will only facilitate things. In fact the world has been moving towards French metric system in preference to the British Foot-Pound-System during the last few decades for the sake of uniformity and its ease in calculation. Any attempt at fixing a new mean time as the advocates of Makkah Mean Time propose, will rather compound the confusion. The wise men who gathered at the scientific conference at Doha would have served the community more, had they deliberated on issues such as desertification, water harvesting, computerisation of academic activity, induction of information technology into various sectors of life, translation of Western knowledge into Arabic and other languages spoken in the Muslim world.