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Indonesian clerics: Our mistake _ you're facing the wrong direction during Islamic prayers

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — People in the world's most populous Muslim nation have been facing Africa — not Mecca — while praying.

Indonesia's highest Islamic body acknowledged Monday it made a mistake when issuing an edict in March saying the holy city in Saudi Arabia was to the country's west. It has since asked followers to shift direction slightly northward during their daily prayers.

"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 prominent cleric of the Indonesian Ulema Council, or MUI. "We've revised it now to the northwest."

He said Indonesians need not worry, however: The miscalculation did not affect God's ability to hear their prayers.

"God understands that humans make mistakes," he said. "Allah always hears their prayers."

Indonesia is a secular nation of 237 million people, 90 percent of whom are Muslim, most of them moderate. The influential Ulema Council often issues fatwas, or edicts, including several controversial rulings against smoking and yoga.

Many devote Muslims follow such decrees, because ignoring them is considered a sin.