Changing the Qiblah or Religious Authority??
Muslims usually welcome the month of Shabaan with various religious activities. The Prophet ﷺ used to fast much during the month of Shabaan as narrated by A’isha (radhiyallahu anha).
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 did not draw full attention of Muslim historians and biographers.
Amid the events related by the great historian Ibn Hisham after the Prophet’s ﷺ emigration to Madinah, he says in no more than two lines in his outstanding book on the biography of the Prophet ﷺ:
“It is narrated that the qiblah was changed in Shabaan after 18 months of the Prophet’s ﷺ emigration to Madinah.”
However, using this 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 inportant that the Jewish tribes in Madinah waged a 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 ﷺ 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 the 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.
Now, let us start the story from the beginning…
The One Original Qiblah
The Prophet ﷺ dealt with the Jews who ised to live around Madinah in a distinguished manner. This stemmed from the fact that the Jews were closer to the divine revelation than any other nation at that time.
After Hijrah, a divine decree that the Prophet ﷺ as well as Muslims should direct their faces in prayer towards Jerusalem was revealed. Most scholars maintain the view that this decree was designed tp test Muslims’ response to the last message as well as its honourable 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 changed momentous, except to those guided by Allah.” [Surah 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. Secondly, 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 Bakkah; 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 they deny faith, Allah stands not in need of any of His creatures.” [Surah Aal’ Imran 3:96-97]
Religious Glory Lost
After the Prophet ﷺ 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 ﷺ special treatment to them, fancied he would pursue their very steps. However, after that Divine decree, it became apparent to them that this was nothing but mirage and that the Prophet’s ﷺ 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.
Th Jews’ self-deceit that they would be guardians of the Muslim faith and that Jerusalem should be the permanant qiblah, made them forget the fact that the Ka’bah is the sole qiblah as stated in the Qur’an and that there should be no qiblah other than this.
However, this intentionally forgotten fact as far as the Jews were concerned, did not escape the mind of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. As he yearned for the Ka’bah all the time and used to turn his face to 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. 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.” [Surah al-Baqarah 2:144]
Consequently, the Prophet ﷺ 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 ﷺ.
As the Jews lost their last hope that they would continue as holders of the divine message, they waged a fierce psychological against Islam and Muslims. They started to circulate rumours and raise false questions such as why did Muhammad ﷺ 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 (alayhimussalaam) 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 circumambulate it, or use it as a retreat, or bow, or prostrate themselves (there in prayer).” [Surah al-Baqarah 2:125]
Explicitly, the Qur’an defies the rumours 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 east and west. He guideth whom He wills to Straight Way.” [Surah 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 Prophet Muhammad ﷺ 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 moving the Prophet ﷺ with the Qur’anic aayahs (Arabic for: verses) that reveal the truth about the whole issue. Uninterruptedly, the ayahs were revealed to remove the pain caused by the rumours 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 its followers.
In doing so, 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,
“And to Allah belongs the east and the west. So wherever you (might) turn, there is the Face of Allah. Indeed, Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.” [Surah 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,
“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteousness is that one believes in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Book and the Prophets, and gives wealth, despite its love, to relatives, and to orphans, the helpless, the wayfarer, and to those who ask, and (spends) in (freeing) slaves and observes the prayers and pays the Zakah; and those who fulfil their promise when they promise and, of course, the patient in hardships and sufferings and when in battle! Those are the ones who are true and those are the God-fearing.” [Surah al-Baqarah 2:177]
These Qur’anic ayahs and the like put to an end to the psychological warfare launched by the Jews against Islam and Muslims.
Losing the banner of the divine message, 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.” [Surah al-Baqarah 2:109]