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OnIslam.net

Changing the Qiblah or Religious Authority?

By Ali Al-Halawani
Deputy Editor in Chief — English IslamOnline.net
  
15247
Qiblah Changing

Muslims usually welcome the month of Sha`ban with various religious activities only few of which are based on valid religious textual proofs; whereas, the bulk is groundless. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to fast much during the month of Sha`ban as narrated by `A'ishah (may Allah be blessed with her). This is a valid ritual. However, besides one valid ritual there are many other baseless practices in which many Muslims get involved. This is particularly true in reference to the midnight of Sha`ban, as some Muslims perform special prayers after Maghrib asking Allah to increase their sustenance, prolong their lifespan and grant them happiness. 

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However, a great event which can be regarded as a turning point in the history of Islam has taken place in this blessed month. Though this event might indicate many crucial things, and the surrounding conditions might attest to its deep impact, it never drew the attention of Muslim historians and/or biographers.

Amid the events related by the great historian Ibn Hisham after the Prophet's emigration to Madinah, he says in no more than two lines in his outstanding book on the biography of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him): "It is narrated that the qiblah was changed in Sha`ban after 18 months of the Prophet's advent to Madinah". However, using the phrase, "It is narrated ", indicates that the event did not draw much attention so that historians become keen on verifying its exact date.

Notwithstanding, the event was so important that the Jewish tribes in Madinah waged a fierce psychological warfare against Islam and its first teacher. It is to be noted here that before this event takes place, there was a covenant between the Jews and the Prophet which they did not even respect. In fact, though they realized the ramifications of the event well, they went astray in their reaction and opened fire against the true religion of Islam.

They realized that it is not only a matter of changing the qiblah in Prayer from one direction to another. Rather, the divine message and consequently religious authority has completely shifted from the Children of Israel to those of Isma`il. Accordingly, their claims of religious glory, being the sole mediator between heaven and earth, and being the only guided nation among an ocean of astray ones; all these allegations have ended.

After Hijrah, a divine decree that Muslims should direct their faces in prayer towards Jerusalem was revealed
Now, let us start the story from the beginning…

The One Original Qiblah

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) dealt with the Jews who used to live around Madinah in a distinguished manner. This stemmed from the fact that the Jews were closer to divine revelation than any other nation at that time. After Hijrah, a divine decree that the Prophet as well as Muslims should direct their faces in prayer towards Jerusalem was revealed. Most scholars maintain the view that this decree was designed to test Muslims' response to the last message as well as its honorable Messenger. This is evidenced by the Qur'an as the Almighty says, 

{…and We appointed the Qiblah to which thou wast used, only to test those who followed the Messenger from those who would turn on their heels (from the Faith). Indeed, it was (a change) momentous, except to those guided by Allah.}  (Al-Baqarah 2: 143)

This divine ayah implies a well-established fact that should be borne in the minds of all, that the Sacred House (i.e. Ka`bah) is the qiblah and there is no other qiblah whatsoever in the true faith but this one. Accordingly, facing Jerusalem in Prayer for about 18 months does not defy this fact and does not mean that Jerusalem has become the qiblah regardless of its sanctity. Though Jerusalem was a landing place for many divine revelations and the abode of many sent prophets, facing it in Prayer was a two-purpose test. First, it was designed to test Muslims' readiness to desert all their personal or traditional attachments. Second, to test the Jews' willingness to follow the true religion and the seal of all prophets without questioning or objecting to the divine decrees he brings with him.

To make sure that this fact - that the Ka`bah is the original qiblah - the Qur'an does skip it and thus asserts,

{The first House (of worship) appointed for men was that at Bakka: Full of blessing and of guidance for all kinds of beings: In it are Signs Manifest; (for example), the Station of Abraham; whoever enters it attains security; Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to Allah,- those who can afford the journey; but if any deny faith, Allah stands not in need of any of His creatures. }  (Aal `Imran 3: 96-97)

Religious Glory Lost

 

The Jews realized something which rigorously upset them; namely, the fading of their religious glory.
After the Prophet was commanded to direct his face in Prayer towards the Ka`bah, the Jews realized something which rigorously upset them; namely, the fading of their religious glory. As they, in the very beginning and due to the Prophet's special treatment to them, fancied he would pursue their very steps and constantly ask for their advice. However, after that divine decree, it became apparent to them that this was nothing but mirage and that the Prophet's message was a corrective one. Truly, it was revealed to correct and amend what they have falsified of the religion of Allah and the distortions and confusion they have attributed to it.

 

The Jews' self-deceit that they would be guardians of the Muslim faith and that Jerusalem should be the permanent qiblah for all prophets including Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), made them forget the fact that the Ka`bah is the sole qiblah as stated in the Qur'an and there should be no qibah other than this. However, this intentionally forgotten fact as far as the Jews were concerned, did not escape the mind of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). As he yearned for the Ka`bah all the time and used to turn his face in the sky perhaps a divine decree comes soon taking him back to the qiblah he earnestly longs for with his guiding insight. In this regard, the Almighty says,

{ We see the turning of thy face (for guidance to the heavens) now shall We turn thee to a qiblah that shall please thee. Turn then thy face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque: Wherever ye are, turn your faces in that direction. The people of the Book know well that that is the truth from their Lord. Nor is Allah unmindful of what they do.}  (Al-Baqarah 2: 144)

Total Submission

Consequently, the Prophet directed his face towards the Ka`bah and his heart was eased, while the Jews were dying out of malice and wrath. What they feared most in the past has become true especially when Muslims hastened to carry out the divine ordinance such as the Bani Salim folk who did not even wait until they finish their `Asr prayer when they were informed of the news. Instead, they changed their direction towards the Ka`bah while in ruku` (Arabic for: bowing) as a sign of their unquestionable obedience to Allah and His Messenger.

Psychological Warfare

As the Jews lost their last hope that they would continue as holders of the divine message, they waged a fierce psychological warfare against Islam and Muslims. They started to circulate rumors and raise false questions such as why did Muhammad change the qiblah of all past prophets and messengers though he claims to be pursuing their course?

To add fuel to the fire, they wondered, "Maybe he longs for the faith of his forefathers and that is why he turned to their qiblah!" Given this, they missed the fact that it was prophets Ibrahim and Isma`il who built the Ka`bah. Moreover, the Qur'an attributes the Ka`bah to Allah Himself as Almighty says,

{ … and We covenanted with Ibrahim and Isma`il that they should sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or use it as a retreat, or bow, or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer). } (Al-Baqarah 2: 125)

Explicitly, the Qur'an defies the rumors spread by the Jews, refutes their allegations, and even describes them as foolish. Almighty says,

  { The fools among the people will say: "What hath turned them from the qiblah to which they were used?" Say: To Allah belong both east and west: He guideth whom He will to a straight way. } (Al-Baqarah 2: 142)

Moreover, the Jews misinterpreted the concept of righteousness and twisted it to mean directing one's face towards Jerusalem. Consequently, according to them, when Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) directed his face away from Jerusalem and turned it towards the Ka`bah, he went astray and took a course far from righteousness and the ethics of the divine message.

Facts vs. Fallacies

Duly, the divine inspiration kept providing the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) with the Qur'anic ayahs (Arabic for: verses) that reveal the truth about the whole issue. Uninterruptedly, the ayahs were revealed to remove the pain caused by the rumors circulated by the Jews; to defy the psychological warfare they waged against Islam and its prophet; and to refute the false allegations they perpetrated to distort the image of Islam and discourage it followers.

In so doing, the Qur'an made a general statement about ownership of the whole universe and that it is only Allah Who decides to which side one should direct his face in prayer. Almighty says,

{To Allah belong the east and the west: Whithersoever ye turn, there is the presence of Allah. For Allah is all-Pervading, all-Knowing. } (Al-Baqarah 2:115)

In the same vein, the Qur'an established the correct understanding of the concept of righteousness in a great ayah that is called Ayat Al-Birr (Arabic for: the Righteousness Verse). The ayah reads,

{It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards east or west; but it is righteousness to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the Allah-fearing. }(Al-Baqarah 2: 177)

These Qur'anic ayahs and the like put an end to the psychological warfare launched by the Jews against Islam and Muslims. However, their conspiracies did not stop; rather, they took other forms just to suit the age.

Conclusion Taking the banner of the divine message away from them, the Jews could not help divulging their hatred and grudges against Islam and Muslims. In fact, the Jews felt the fading of their religious glory upon the advent of Islam and it became a flagrant fact when the qiblah was changed through divine revelation from Jerusalem to Makkah. They knew then that the torch has irrevocably been passed over to the Children of Isma`il.

In this regard, the Almighty says,

{Quite a number of the People of the Book wish they could turn you (people) back to infidelity after ye have believed, from selfish envy, after the Truth hath become manifest unto them: But forgive and overlook, till Allah accomplish His purpose; for Allah hath power over all things.} (Al-Baqarah 2: 109)

In the end, I wish I knew what was left in the memory of Muslims pertaining to the impacts of this great event!

Nothing is left. Because if there is anything left, we would have realized that sticking to our faith, deriving lessons from our history, as well as maintaining our own distinct identity is the only way for our Ummah to regain its past glories.

Given this, is it acceptable that the month of Sha`ban which embraces this great event turns into a time in which many Muslims celebrate heresies and superstitions while they are unmindful of the conspiracies contrived by others?

Related Links:
Inner and Moral Dimensions of the Shari`ah
The Unchanging in a Changing World

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