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The Change in Qiblah Direction in Islamic History

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Islam is a religion that has a rich history, with various events that have shaped its beliefs and practices. One of the most significant events in Islamic history is the change in the direction of the Qiblah, or the direction Muslims face when performing daily prayers.

Before the change, Muslims used to face Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem when performing prayers. However, after the revelation of verse 144 of Surah Al-Baqarah in the 2nd Hijri year, the Qiblah was changed to the Kaaba in Mecca. This change in Qiblah direction is considered a significant event in Islamic history. It has been the subject of much discussion and interpretation among Islamic scholars and theologians. In this article on Islam4u, we will look into the change of Qiblah in Islamic history.

Change of Qiblah: A Divine Decision

Shia and Sunni Muslims alike view the change in Qiblah direction as a divine decision made by Allah. They believe that it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (s) through divine inspiration and represents a move towards greater unity and solidarity among the Muslim community. The Kaaba in Mecca became the focal point of worship for all Muslims, symbolizing the centrality of this holy site in Islamic worship.

According to historical accounts, the change in Qiblah direction took place in the Qiblah Mosque during the Zuhr prayer. A notable aspect of this event was the 180-degree turn made during the communal prayer. This turn symbolized the change in direction and demonstrated the power and sovereignty of Allah.

The change in Qiblah direction is an important event in Islamic history. It is considered a significant aspect of Muslim worship and beliefs. It serves as a reminder of the centrality of the Kaaba in Islamic worship and the unity of the Muslim community. Muslims around the world continue to face the Kaaba in Mecca when performing daily prayers, and the Qiblah direction remains a fundamental aspect of Islamic worship.

Verse of the Direction of the Qiblah

Allah the Almighty said:

“Indeed, we have seen your face turned towards heaven. So we will surely turn you towards a Qiblah that you will be pleased with. So turn your face towards al-Masjid al-Haram. And wherever you are, turn your faces towards it. And indeed, those who were given the scripture know that it is the truth from their Lord. And Allah is not unaware of what they do.” (2:144)

This verse, which contains the ruling on the direction of the Qiblah, is known as the verse of the Qiblah. Some have mentioned that verses 142, 143, and 150 of Surah al-Baqarah also indicate this intention, and some interpreters considered verses 142 to 144 to have this meaning.

After this ruling, some Jews and some Muslims who did not have a critical eye on the matter mocked and criticized this ruling. So this verse was revealed to them: “The foolish among the people will say, ‘What has turned them away from the direction they were facing before?’ Say, ‘To Allah belong the east and the west. He guides whom He wills to a straight path.’ (2:142)

The Reason for the Change of Direction of the Qiblah

Interpretative sources indicate that the reason for the change of direction of the Qiblah from the Aqsa Mosque to the Kaaba was due to the conversion of the Muslims’ Qiblah from the Aqsa Mosque to the Kaaba. After the Muslims migrated from Mecca to Medina, the Jews of Medina saw the direction of the Muslims towards the Aqsa Mosque as evidence of the unauthenticity of Islamic law. They would say, “If the Prophet of Islam came with a separate law, why are the Muslims heading towards our Qiblah?”

Based on some narratives, these reasons and other reasons prompted the Prophet (peace be upon him) to consider changing the direction of the Qiblah towards the Kaaba as was appropriate. However, the Prophet’s manners did not allow him to openly express this in front of a large audience until the verse was revealed: “We have seen your face turning towards the heaven, so We shall surely turn you to a Qiblah that you shall like,” to indicate this intention.

Why Did the Prophet Turn Towards Heaven?

Two opinions have been stated regarding the reason the Prophet faced heaven. One of them is that there was a promise to change the direction of the Qiblah from the Aqsa Mosque, so he did this in expectation and anticipation of the promise, as whoever is waiting for something directs his gaze towards the direction from which he expects and anticipates the arrival.

The second is that he disliked the Qiblah of the Aqsa Mosque and favored the Qiblah of the Kaaba, but he did not ask Allah for this. After all, it is not permissible for the prophets to ask Allah for anything without being granted permission for it because it may not be in their best interest, and they will not respond to it, which will cause a trial for their people. Based on some narratives, the Prophet’s face being turned towards heaven was to show his love and devotion to Allah and that the Qiblah was not just a physical direction but a symbol of obedience and submission to Allah.

Time of Revelation

The time of revelation of the verse is a matter of disagreement among scholars. Some believe that it was revealed after six months or after nine months of the migration, based on the fact that it occurred in the month of Rajab during the second year of migration. However, another group of scholars believes that the correct view is that it occurred 17 months after the migration. There are also disagreements regarding whether this change occurred between the dawn and noon prayers or between the noon and afternoon prayers.

The Location of Revelation

Historical accounts have discussed the location of the revelation of this verse and its implementation. Some of these include:

  • Masjid Bani Salma in the northwest of the city, known as the Masjid al-Qiblatain
  • Masjid Qiblah Bani Salim bin Awf, where the Prophet (peace be upon him) first led the Friday prayers
  • Masjid of the Prophet (peace be upon him)

The History of Qiblah

When it comes to the history of Qiblah, several narratives exist. Some of these include:

  • Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) is believed to have built the first Qiblah, and Prophet Ibrahim Al-Khalil (peace be upon him) rebuilt it. Later, as commanded by Allah, Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) made the Kaaba the Qiblah to protect the holy mosque from polytheism, deviation, and disbelief.
  • Prior to the second year of the Hijra, the Qiblah was directed away from the Kaaba, as it was a place of idol worship, and prayer facing it was considered a form of worshiping the idols.
  • Some reports suggest the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to combine the prayers facing both Qiblahs when possible, and if not, he would pray facing Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa. However, the geographical location of the city did not allow for both Qiblahs to be faced in the same direction.
  • Based on verse 115 of Surah Al-Baqarah: “And to Allah belong the east and the west, so wherever you turn, there is the face of Allah,” some exegetical sources indicate that the Prophet and the Muslims had the choice to pray in either direction of the Qiblah. They based their decision on the fact that the Prophet did not go against the precedents set by al-Bara’ ibn Ma’rur during his pre-Hijra trip to Mecca and his prayers facing the Kaaba. Some reports consider this verse to apply to recommended prayers during travels.

How the Qiblah was Changed

Sources indicate that on the day of the change of the Qiblah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) prayed the Zuhr prayer facing towards Al-Aqsa Mosque, with men and women following behind him. After he had completed two rakats of the prayer, Gabriel descended upon him with verse 144 of Surah Al-Baqara and directed him to face towards the Kaaba.

There are several variations in the reports regarding the moment of the change of the Qiblah or the place where the Prophet (peace be upon him) first performed a complete prayer towards the Kaaba after the change. Some accounts suggest that the change occurred during the Asr or Fajr prayers.

The Qiblah Change Controversy

Al-Aqsa Mosque is located in the northern part of Medina, while the Haram Mosque is located in the southern region. Based on this, the Prophet (peace be upon him) changed the direction he faced during prayer.

The reports regarding the change of the Qiblah raise questions about the position of the Imam and women compared to men. However, based on existing narratives, after the Prophet (peace be upon him) changed the direction he faced towards the Kaaba, he moved towards the other direction. This was the beginning of the mosque and the followers turned towards the Kaaba as well.

In this case, the Imam of the congregation didn’t simply turn 180 or 160 degrees towards the other direction, as this wouldn’t have allowed for the formation of rows for men and women. Instead, he had to move to the other side to enable the formation of rows behind him.

The Issue of Qiblah Conversion

Scholars of the Quran have discussed the reasons behind the conversion of Qiblah.

During the time of the Prophet’s (PBUH) presence in Mecca, the Kaaba was a place for the idol worship of the polytheists. During this period, by the command of Allah and temporarily, the Prophet (PBUH) turned towards the Bayt Al-Maqdis (Jerusalem) to separate the Muslims from the polytheists who were heavily focused on the Kaaba and the worship of idols.

Reactions to the Conversion of Allegiance

There were some Muslims who were worried about the decline of their ancestors’ and past generations’ good deeds. Then, the verse was revealed: “And Allah will not waste your belief. Indeed, Allah is Merciful and Compassionate to humanity.”

The tongues of the mocking polytheists who used to ridicule the Muslims for their pilgrimage to the Aqsa Mosque were cut short. On the other hand, many of the inhabitants of al-Hijaz who were interested in the Kaaba drew closer to Islam, and the barriers that had prevented them from converting were removed. The Quran also refers to this meaning, saying: “From wherever you came out, turn your face toward the Sacred Mosque, and wherever you are, turn your faces toward it, so that people will not have any argument against you.” This resulted in the anger of the Jews, who were incited to launch a propaganda campaign against the Muslims.

The Islamic Qiblah

With the establishment of the Islamic government in Medina, the Muslim community clearly separated themselves from the rest of the population of the city. Thus, it became necessary to turn towards Bayt Al-Maqdis, leading the Prophet (PBUH) to consider converting the Qiblah. Subsequently, the Qiblah was converted to the Kaaba and the Holy House of Allah, which has always been a center for the prophets of Allah. With the revelation of the Qiblah verse and by the command of Allah, the Muslims faced the Kaaba in their prayers, differentiating themselves from the Jews and adopting the Kaaba as their Qiblah.

After the Prophet (PBUH) migrated to Medina, the Jews exploited the situation of the Muslims and took Bayt Al-Maqdis as their Qiblah. The Jews saw this as a sign of the weakness of Islam and their superiority. According to some accounts, the Jews of Medina claimed that the Muslims did not have a Qiblah, but it was the Jews who faced Bayt Al-Maqdis.

The Trial of Muslims

The underlying principle behind this issue is the trial of the Muslims. If someone is obedient and sincere in their belief in Allah, they will accept this command without any objections. However, if someone is wavering in their principles, they will have difficulty accepting it. This is why the conversion of the Qiblah was a trial for the early Muslim community. It tested their faith, obedience, and sincerity towards Allah. The conversion of the Qiblah from Bayt Al-Maqdis to the Kaaba further established the beliefs of the early Muslim community and solidified the foundation of Islam. [48]

Conclusion

In conclusion, the verse “And Allah is not going to let your faith go to waste; indeed Allah is kind and merciful to the people” (Qur’an, 2:143) was revealed to address the concerns of some Muslims who were worried about the loss of their past and present actions. The Quran also references the conversion of people from the Arabian Peninsula to Islam, as it says, “Wherever you come from, turn your face towards the Sacred Mosque; and wherever you may be, turn your faces towards it” (Quran 2:149). This led to the anger of the polytheists and Jews who criticized the Muslims for facing the Kaaba, but on the other hand, the inhabitants of the Hijaz region who were interested in visiting the Kaaba were inclined towards Islam, and the barriers that were preventing them from accepting Islam were removed.

Overall, the message of the Quran is to encourage believers to have faith and not be discouraged by the criticisms of others. The Quran also emphasizes the importance of facing the Kaaba during prayer and encourages people to embrace Islam, regardless of their background. It is a testament to the merciful and kind nature of Allah, who is always ready to guide those who seek the truth.

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