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Changing the kiblah

Changing the kiblah

While living in Mecca and some time after Hegira, the Holy Prophet used to pray facing the direction of Jerusalem. After the Jews surfaced their enmity, they used this issue as a means to oppose him; they said, “Mu¦ammad is not independent in his religion; he uses our kiblah through different techniques.” They over exaggerated this issue. Now, the Holy Prophet was under undue pressure. At nights, he used to stare at the skies, waiting for some revelations so that the Jews’ propaganda could be stopped. Seventeen months after Hegira,[1] while he was performing the Noon (²uhr) Prayer with Muslims facing Jerusalem, the Angel of Revelation came to the Holy Prophet and ordered him to change the direction of kiblah towards Kaaba; therefore, he faced the Kaaba at that very prayer. This was God's command:

Indeed, We see the turning of your face to heaven, so We shall surely turn you to a kiblah which you shall like; turn then your face towards the sacred mosque. And wherever you are, turn your face towards it, and those who have been given the Book most surely know that it is the truth from their Lord; and Allah is not at all Heedless of what they do. (2:144)

The change of kiblah, which brought forth independence for Muslims, brought disastrous consequences for the Jews. They looked for another excuse and asked, “Why have Muslims put aside their previous kiblah?” Prior to the change of kiblah, God made the Holy Prophet realize their position; He told him that east or west, everywhere belonged to God and people should face any direction which He orders when they perform their prayers. God told the Holy Prophet that no place on the earth has any innate honor of its own:

The fool will say: what has turned them from their kiblah which they had? Say: The east and the west belong only to Allah; He guides whom He likes to the right path. (2:142)

With this answer, the Jews had no excuse to delve into negative propaganda and with the change of kiblah, the common grounds between the two old and new religions were gone and the relationship between the two weakened:

And even if you bring to those who have been given the Book every sign, they would not follow your kiblah nor can you be a follower of their kiblah; neither are they the followers of each other's kiblah; and if you follow their desires after the knowledge that has come to you, then you shall most surely be among the unjust. (2:145)

What is understood from the Qur'¡n is to stop the Jews' nagging and to test Muslims as to what degree they are obedient to Allah:

And thus We have made you a medium (just) nation that you may be witnesses over the people and that the Apostle may be a witness over you; and We did not make that which you would have to be the kiblah but that We might distinguish him who follows the Apostle from him who turns back upon his heels, and this was surely hard except for those whom Allah has guided aright; and Allah was not going to make your faith to be fruitless; most surely Allah is Affectionate, Merciful. (2:143)

In some narrations, this test of faith has been interpreted in the following way: Meccan people preferred the Kaaba; but God made Jerusalem the kiblah to distinguish the true and genuine believers who, contrary to their own wishes and only for God's sake, worship Him in this issue from those acting obstinately. For the people of Medina who preferred Jerusalem, God made the Kaaba the Muslims' kiblah so that these two could be identified.[2]

[1] Ibn W¡¤i¦, T¡r¢kh al-Ya`q£b¢ 2:34; Ibn Sa`d, op cit, 1:242; al-°urr al-`ªmil¢, Was¡'il al-Sh¢`ah, pp. 216; ±ab¡§ab¡'¢, al-M¢z¡n 1:331.

The date of the change of kiblah is reported to have been between seven and eighteen months after the migration. See Waf¡' al-Waf¡' 1:361-364; Bi¦¡r al-Anw¡r 19:113. As for `All¡mah ±ab¡§ab¡'¢, he confirms that it was seventeen months after the migration.

[2] ±ab¡§ab¡’¢, al-M¢z¡n 1:333. Based on some reports, the Holy Prophet never turned his back to the Kaaba throughout his residence in Mecca. See Was¡'il al-Sh¢`ah 3:216.

However, the Holy Prophet considered the Kaaba to be equal to Jerusalem; therefore, he used to face both directions in prayer. See °alab¢, al-S¢rah al-°alabiyyah 2:357.

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