By Nastik Durrani, New Age Islam
16 July, 2014
Going by the Islamic terminology, (Quiblah is the direction that should be faced when a Muslim performs Namaz or Salat (1).
According to the scholars of religions, (Quiblah is the direction that a worshipper faces at his/her home; place of worship or in an open area during his/her prayer. It is not left to the description of an individual but, rather, it is determined by the Sharia and religious edicts. It has been mentioned in the Torah: "When your people go to war against their enemies, wherever you send them, and when they pray to the LORD toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name” (2). And again, it has been mentioned in the chapter of Daniel: “When Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house (now his windows were open in his room towards Jerusalem) and he kneeled on his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did before. Then these men assembled together, and found Daniel making petition and supplication before his God (3). Therefore, Jerusalem has been declared as the (Quiblah of the Jews. They turn their faces towards this direction during their prayers. Their places of worship or synagogues are built in such a way that they are directed towards the same (Quiblah.
The (Quiblah for Muslims towards which they turn their faces when performing the Salah is Masjid al-Haraam in the city of Makkah. It is incumbent on every Muslim to turn to the very direction during his/her prayer, wherever he/she may be. The holy Quran enjoined it: We have certainly seen the turning of your face, [O Muhammad], toward the heaven, and We will surely turn you to a (Quiblah with which you will be pleased. So turn your face toward al-Masjid al-Haram. And wherever you [believers] are, turn your faces toward it [in prayer]. Indeed, those who have been given the Scripture well know that it is the truth from their Lord. And Allah is not unaware of what they do (5).
The prayer direction or (Quiblah for the Muslims in early period of Islam was the Bait ul Muqaddas or Masjid al-Aqusa. When the Islamic (Quiblah was changed by the above-mentioned Qur’anic verse, unaware people questioned it hurling insults at Muslims. Before the migration to Madinah, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) turned to the Ka’bah as his (Quiblah. As long as he lived in Makkah, all his prayers were directed to the Ka’bah. Ibn Juraij narrated that “Initially, the Prophet of Allah (pbuh) directed his face to the Ka’bah during his prayers, then he turned to the Bait ul Muqaddas. Therefore, the Ansar (helpers) of Madinah used to turn to the Bait ul Muqaddas before the advent of the Prophet (pbuh) in Madinah. After the Prophet’s arrival in Madinah, they prayed towards the same direction for sixteen months. Afterwards, Allah enjoined upon them to turn to the Ka’bah” (6)
It has also been narrated that al-Bara’ bin Ma’rur who was one of those who had been present at al-‘Aqaba and did homage to the Prophet (pbuh), returned to his people and said to them: "I have come to a conclusion and I don’t know whether you will agree with me or not. I think that I will not turn my back on this building" (meaning the Ka‘ba), "and that I shall pray towards it." We replied that so far as we knew our prophet prayed towards Syria and we did not wish to act differently. He said, "I am going to pray towards the Ka‘ba." We said, "But we will not." When the time for prayer came we prayed towards Syria and he prayed towards the Ka‘ba until we came to Mecca. We blamed him for what he was doing, but he refused to change. When we came to Mecca he said to me, "Nephew, let us go to the apostle and ask him about what I did on our journey. For I feel some misgivings since I have seen your opposition." So we went to ask the apostle… Al-Bara’ said, "O prophet of God, I came on this journey God having guided me to Islam and I felt that I could not turn my back on this building, so I prayed towards it; but when my companions opposed me I felt some misgivings. What is your opinion, O apostle of God?" He replied, "You would have had a Qibla if you had kept to it," so al-Bara’ returned to the apostle’s Qibla and prayed with us towards Syria. But his people assert that he prayed towards the Ka‘ba until the day of his death; but this was not so” (7).
According to another Hadith report, the Prophet of Allah (pbuh) used to pray towards the Ka’bah with the Hajr-e-Aswad (black stone) placed before him. He did not direct his face towards the Bait ul Muqaddas until the daily five prayers were made obligatory (8).
Some scholars opine that when the Islamic prayer (Salah) was enjoined upon Muslims, the Prophet (pbuh) turned to the Bait ul Muqaddas until he migrated to Madinah. And even in Madinah, the Prophet (pbuh) prayed towards the Bait ul Muqaddas until the change of the Islamic (Quiblah by the verse of the Quran (9). The scholars of this view quote a statement attributed to Hazrat Abdullah Ibn Abbas in support of it (10).
Thus, we have dissenting views on this issue. Some say that the Prophet (pbuh) continued to turn to the Ka’bah until he migrated to Madinah, while others say that the Prophet (pbuh) had transformed his (Quiblah from the Ka’bah to the Bait ul Muqaddas in Makkah itself shortly before his migration to Madinah. In my view, the former opinion is comparatively more accurate, as the majority of the Islamic scholars and Ulema unanimously agree that the Prophet (pbuh) prayed towards the Bait ul Muqaddas when he entered the city of Madinah (11). They agree upon the report that the Prophet (pbuh) prayed Salah towards the Baitul Muqaddas for sixteen months (12). Similarly, they all endorse the report that people of Ansar prayed towards the Bait ul Muqaddas before the Prophet’s arrival in Madina and that the Prophet (pbuh) himself turned to this direction for sixteen months after his migration to Madinah. Afterwards, Allah changed their (Quiblah to the Ka’bah (13). Ulema have also mentioned that the period in which the Prophet (pbuh) prayed towards the Bait ul Muqaddas was limited.
The revelation enjoining change of (Quiblah was the first abrogating Quranic verse. It is narrated by Ikrimah and Al-Hasan Al-Basri that “the first abrogation in the holy Quran is the change of (Quiblah. For the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to turn towards the stone of the Bait ul Muqaddas, the (Quiblah of the Jews. Prophet (pbuh) prayed towards the same direction for seventeen months with an aim to invite the Jews to his faith. Allah the Almighty said in the holy Quran: And to Allah belong the east and the west, so wherever you turn yourselves or your faces there is the Face of Allah (and He is High above, over His Throne). Surely! Allah is All-Sufficient for His creatures' needs, All-Knowing (14).
The Reason behind Choosing Bait ul Muqaddas as (Quiblah):
Before the Quranic commandment for the change of (Quiblah to the Ka’bah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would pray towards the Bait ul Muqaddas. Imam Tabri explains the reason why the Prophet (pbuh) did so: “Scholars have different opinions about it. Some of them hold the view that this was the Prophet’s personal choice, while some others opine that the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions chose to do it because it was a divine commandment (15).” Imam Tabri has also produced their arguments. The former group of scholars figured out the reason stating that: “the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to pray towards the stone of the Bait ul Muqaddas, the (Quiblah of the Jews. He did it for seventeen months with an aim to invite the Jews to his faith and so that they would also preach it to the ignorant people of the Arabia” (16) and that “the Prophet (pbuh) was asked to choose between the two directions, so he chose to turn to the Bait ul Muqaddas so that he could endear himself to the people of the book” (17).
Producing the argument of the latter group of scholars, Imam Tabri writes: “When the Prophet (pbuh) migrated to Madina where the Jews inhabited in a fair number, Allah commanded him to turn to the Bait ul Muqaddas. This commandment pleased the Jews. Prophet (peace be upon him) continued it for a few months. But he had inclination towards the (Quiblah of the Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) and therefore he would pray looking up to the sky, whereupon Allah the Almighty revealed this verse: “We have certainly seen the turning of your face, [O Muhammad], toward the heaven, and We will surely turn you to a (Quiblah with which you will be pleased. So turn your face toward al-Masjid al-Haram. And wherever you [believers] are, turn your faces toward it [in prayer]” (18).
Return to Makkah
It is not agreed upon among the Ulema whether how long the Prophet (pbuh) prayed towards the Bait ul Muqaddas. Different views from different scholars. Some said the Prophet (pbuh) kept praying towards the Bait ul Muqaddas for nine months, while some others mentioned ten months. A group of scholars mentioned thirteen months, while another group stated that the number of months was sixteen, seventeen or eighteen. (19).
It is reported that the change of (Quiblah happened in the Islamic month of Rajab or Sha’ban (20), as has been narrated in a Hadith: “while the Prophet (peace be upon him) was performing the Zuhar prayer in Madina and had completed the two cycles of the prayer, in the direction of the Bait ul Muqaddas, he turned his face towards the Ka’bah” (21). According to another report, the Prophet (peace be upon him) went to meet Umm Bashar bin al-Bara’ bin Ma’ruz at the place of “Bani Salmah”. As Umm Bashar prepared meal for him, the time for the Zuhar prayer approached. Prophet (peace be upon him) offered the two-Raka’h prayer along with his companions. Then, God revealed to him the commandment of changing the (Quiblah and, therefore, he turned towards the Ka’bah. This is why the mosque in which the Prophet (pbuh) was praying was named “Masjid al-Quiblatain” (meaning, the mosque of the two prayer directions). This incident took place on Monday, in the month of Rajab and the fasting of Ramadan was enjoined upon Muslims eighteen months later in the month of Sha’ban.” (22)
Scholars of Islam have done extensive research on the reasons why the Prophet (pbuh) had to turn to the Ka’bah after he prayed towards the Bait ul Muqaddas. Imam Tabri offers an account in conclusion: “The Prophet turned towards the Bait ul Muqaddas for sixteen months, and then it reached his ears that the Jews were saying, "By God, Muhammad and his companions did not know where their (Quiblah was until we directed them." This displeased the Prophet and he raised his face toward Heaven, and God changed the (Quiblah”. (23) The Jews also said about the Prophet (pbuh) that “he prays his Salah towards our prayer direction and still he opposes our religion” (24). This displeased the Prophet and God changed the (Quiblah.
It has also been said that the since Arabs had deep love and great veneration for the Ka’bah, the change of (Quiblah was ordained in order to attract their hearts to the prayer so that they could be punctual of Salah. The Prophet (peace be upon him) had innate passion for calling the various pagan tribes of Arabia to the path of Allah and probably this was one the reasons behind the change of the (Quiblah” (25).
The incident of the change of (Quiblah led to questions in the minds of people of Madina. Jews and hypocrites of the city began to make mockery of it. A lot of hypocrites unveiled their hypocrisy questioning that: “what happened to Muhammad that he is asking us to turn sometimes here and sometimes there?” Even some Muslims were confused about it and said with regard to the early Muslims who prayed towards the Bait ul Muqaddas that: “Our and their deeds have been wasted and nullified”. On the other hand, the polytheists of Makkah commented: “Muhammad is confused about his religion”. Thus, it was a very tough and turbulent time for the then Muslims. Therefore, Allah the Almighty revealed this verse: And We did not make the (Quiblah which you used to face except that We might make evident who would follow the Messenger from who would turn back on his heels. And indeed, it is difficult except for those whom Allah has guided. And never would Allah have caused you to lose your faith. Indeed Allah is, to the people, Kind and Merciful (26).
It is narrated by Qutaadah that he said: “the change of (Quiblah was a really tough and turbulent time for the Ummah. Some people said that the Prophet changed the (Quiblah because he was in love with his birth place that he always remembered. So, Allah the Almighty revealed the verse: “The foolish among the people will say, "What has turned them away from their (Quiblah, which they used to face?" Say, "To Allah belongs the east and the west. He guides whom He wills to a straight path” (28).
Ibn Jurayj narrated that some people left Islam because of the change of the (Quiblah. They asked as to why they had to change the (Quiblah from one place to another. Here, if anyone objects that why Allah had to say that: “We did not make the (Quiblah which you used to face except that We might make evident who would follow the Messenger from who would turn back on his heels”. Did Allah not know who would follow the Messenger before they turned back on his heels? The answer to this objection is that Allah did know it and he knows everything even before its occurrence (29).
The Quran exegetes have mentioned that “When the Prophet (pbuh) was ordered to change the (Quiblah, the Jews said: “Muhammad has fallen in love with the city of his father. Had he been steadfast on our (Quiblah, we would have declared him the awaited Prophet (pbuh). Then, Allah revealed these verses: Indeed, those who have been given the Scripture well know that it is the truth from their Lord. And Allah is not unaware of what they do. And if you brought to those who were given the Scripture every sign, they would not follow your (Quiblah. Nor will you be a follower of their (Quiblah. Nor would they be followers of one another's (Quiblah. So if you were to follow their desires after what has come to you of knowledge, indeed, you would then be among the wrongdoers. Those to whom We gave the Scripture know him as they know their own sons. But indeed, a party of them conceals the truth while they know it (30).
1 - Lisaan 544/11.
2 - The Old Testament, First Kings, chapter 8, verse 44.
4 - Al-Baqarah 144.
5 - Al-Baqarah 142.
6 - Tafsir al-Tabari, 4/2, "bulaq".
7 - - Tafsir al-Tabari -360/2, 274/1.
8 - Insan El Auyun, or al-Seerah al-halbiyah, 299/1.
9 - Ibn Syyid al-Naas, Ayunul Aathar: 233/1.
10 - alruz alanf 274/1.
11 - Tafseer al-Tabari, 4/2.
12 - Tafseer al-Tabari, 3/3, Ibn Syyid al-Naas, Ayunul Aathar, 231/1.
13 - Tafseer al-Tabari, 4/2.
14 - Tafseer al-Tabari, 4/2.
15 - Tafseer al-Tabari, 4/2.
16 - Tafseer al-Tabari, 4/2.
17 - Tafseer al-Tabari, 4/2.
18 - Tafseer al-Tabari, 4/2.
19 - Tafseer al-Tabari, 4/2, al-Tabari 415/2, Darul Ma’arif, Sahih Muslim, 65/2, Tafsir al-Tabari 227/2.
20 - Tafseer al-Tabari, 4/2, al-yaqubi 31/2, "Najaf", Shorter Ency. of Islam, P., 260.
21 - Tafseer al-Tabari, 4/2, Ibn Sayyid al-Naas, Ayun, 230/1.
22 - Tabqaat Ibn Sa'd 241/1, al-yaqubi, 31/2, "Najaf", al-nasikh wal-mansukh 42, footnote on Asbab al-Nuzul, Shorter Ency. of Islam, P., 260.
23 - Tafseer al-Tabari, 13/2, Hibatullah bin Salama, al-nasikh wal-mansukh 408, footnote on Asbab al-Nuzul.
24 - Tafseer al-Tabari, 13/2, Tafseer al-Tabrasi 227/2.
25 - Tafseer al-Tabrasi 227/2.
26 - Tafseer al-Tabari, 8/2.
27 - Tafseer al-Tabari, 12,8 / 2, Ibn Sayyid al-Naas, Ayun 234/1.
28 - Tafseer al-Tabari 16,9 / 2.
29 - Tafseer al-Tabari, 9/2.
30 - Surah Al-Baquarah verse: 143, Tafseer Al Tabari, 16/2.
31 - Tafseer al-Tabari, 16/2. Religion, P., 129