Commentary of the Quran (Chapter 2:142-143)
By: Mohammad Sobhanie
History of Changing Qiblah
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
سَيَقُولُ السُّفَهَاءُ مِنَ النَّاسِ مَا وَلَّاهُمْ عَن قِبْلَتِهِمُ الَّتِي كَانُوا عَلَيْهَا قُل لِّلَّـهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ يَهْدِي مَن يَشَاءُ إِلَى صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ ﴿١٤٢﴾
2:142: The foolish among the people will say: “What has turned them (Muslims) from their Qiblah [prayer direction (towards Jerusalem)] to which they used to face in prayer.” Say (O Prophet): “To Allah belong both, east and the west. He guides whom He wills to the straight path.”
وَكَذَلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِّتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ وَيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ عَلَيْكُمْ شَهِيدًا وَمَا جَعَلْنَا الْقِبْلَةَ الَّتِي كُنتَ عَلَيْهَا إِلَّا لِنَعْلَمَ مَن يَتَّبِعُ الرَّسُولَ مِمَّن يَنقَلِبُ عَلَى عَقِبَيْهِ وَإِن كَانَتْ لَكَبِيرَةً إِلَّا عَلَى الَّذِينَ هَدَى اللَّـهُ وَمَا كَانَ اللَّـهُ لِيُضِيعَ إِيمَانَكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ بِالنَّاسِ لَرَءُوفٌ رَّحِيمٌ ﴿١٤٣﴾
2:143 Thus We have made you Ommata Wasatan, that you be witnesses over mankind and the Messenger be a witness over you. And We made the Qiblah which you used to face, only to test those who followed the Messenger from those who would turn on their heels (i.e., disobey the Messenger). Indeed, it was great (heavy, difficult) except for those whom Allah guided. And Allah would never make your faith (prayers) to be lost (i.e., your prayers offered towards Jerusalem). Truly, Allah is full of kindness, the Most Merciful towards mankind.
Commentary: One of the major developments in the second year of the Islamic calendar was changing the direction of Qiblah from the Al–Aqsa Masjed [Arabic: (المسجد الاقصى)] in Jerusalem towards the Kaaba [Arabic: (الكعبة)].
When the Prophet (SAWA) was in Mecca, the tribes of Quraish [Arabic: (قريش)] placed their idols in the Kaaba and worshipped them there. The Prophet’s direction of prayer towards the Kaaba in that era would have implied that he was worshipping those idols like the infidels. Hence, the Prophet and his companions prayed towards Al–Aqsa Masjed, although the Kaaba was the most preferred direction of prayer.
One of the goals of Prophet Ibrahim (AS) by rebuilding the house of Kaaba was the establishment of the prayers, [Ibrahim 14:37]. The Kaaba was the rightfully intended and ultimate direction of prayers. Unfortunately, however, the Kaaba became a place to house idols. Thus, praying towards Al–Aqsa Masjed helped early Muslims to separate themselves from the idolaters.
After the migration of the Prophet (SAWA) to Medina, circumstances changed. First, worshipping towards the Kaaba no longer implied that the Prophet was worshipping the idols of Kaaba. Second, the descendants of the Children of Israel in Medina began to taunt the Muslims that they had learned the concept of Qiblah from them and that Muslims following this concept were giving testimony to the truthfulness of the Jews.
One day, while the Prophet was leading a noon congregational prayer, the angel Jibril (AS) descended and ordered the Prophet to change the direction of his prayer from Al-Aqsa towards the Kaaba:
… فَوَلِّ وَجْهَكَ شَطْرَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ ۚ وَحَيْثُ مَا كُنتُمْ فَوَلُّوا وُجُوهَكُمْ شَطْرَهُ ۗ … ﴿١٤٤﴾
2:144 So turn your face towards the Sacred Masjed. And wherever you may be, turn your faces towards it. …..
The descendants of the Children of Israel in Medina were displeased with this change in the direction of Qiblah. They questioned the Muslims: which Qiblah was authentic then? If praying towards Al–Aqsa Masjed was correct, then why did they change the direction of Qiblah towards the Kaaba? If praying towards the Kaaba is correct, then why did they pray in the wrong direction previously? The aforementioned verses reply to those critiques.
The verse 2:142 implies that the universe belongs to Allah (SWT); this includes any land to the east and to the west of us [(قُل لِّلَّـهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ)] and Allah (SWT) is omnipresent [Al-Baqara 2:115 (فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّوا فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللَّـهِ)]. That is, He sees and hears prayers regardless of the direction we pray. Allah (SWT) nevertheless, for the guidance of believers towards the straight path [(يَهْدِي مَن يَشَاءُ إِلَى صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ)], changed the direction of prayer from Al-Aqsa Masjed towards the Kaaba. The key element of worship is submission to the direction that He asks us to pray towards.
The change in the direction of Qiblah was also an opportunity for the true believers to show their unquestioning obedience and sincere loyalty to the Prophet (SAWA) [(مَن يَتَّبِعُ الرَّسُولَ)] and discern their rank from hypocrites who constantly opposed, questioned and challenged the Prophet’s (SAWA) decisions [(مِمَّن يَنقَلِبُ عَلَى عَقِبَيْهِ)].
…. وَمَا جَعَلْنَا الْقِبْلَةَ الَّتِي كُنتَ عَلَيْهَا إِلَّا لِنَعْلَمَ مَن يَتَّبِعُ الرَّسُولَ مِمَّن يَنقَلِبُ عَلَى عَقِبَيْهِ …. ﴿١٤٣﴾
2:143 …. And We made the Qiblah which you used to face, only to test those who followed the Messenger (Muhammad) from those who would turn on their heels (i.e., disobey the Messenger)
The change in the direction of Qiblah was not a big deal for those whom Allah (SWT) guided:
…..وَإِن كَانَتْ لَكَبِيرَةً إِلَّا عَلَى الَّذِينَ هَدَى اللَّـهُ ….﴿١٤٣﴾
2:143 ….. Indeed, it was great (heavy, difficult) except for those whom Allah guided. ….
At the end, Allah (SWT) assures the believers that their previous prayers offered towards the direction of Jerusalem would not go waste; indeed, He is kind and merciful to mankind.
….وَمَا كَانَ اللَّـهُ لِيُضِيعَ إِيمَانَكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ بِالنَّاسِ لَرَءُوفٌ رَّحِيمٌ ﴿١٤٣﴾
2:143 And Allah would never make your faith (prayers) to be lost (i.e., your prayers offered towards Jerusalem). Truly, Allah is full of kindness, the Most Merciful towards mankind.
اللَّهُمَّ أَحْسِنْ عَاقِبَتَنَا فِي الْأُمُورِ كُلِّهَا وَأَجِرْنَا مِنْ خِزْيِ الدُّنْيَا وَعَذَابِ الْآخِرَة
وَلِلَّـهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ ۚ فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّوا فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللَّـهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ ﴿١١٥﴾
2:115 To Allah belong the East and the West. Whichever way you turn, there is God’s presence. God is Omnipresent and Omniscient.