In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Tafseer Al-Baqarah Ayah 142
In the Qur’an, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala tells us that the first House of worship to be established on the earth is situated in Bakkah (Makkah). We learn from the traditions that this House (Ka’abah) was first built by the angels; it kept being renovated by messengers over the time. Later, it was damaged in the Nuh’s flood and Ibraheem ‘alayhi salaam was instructed to raise it again on the same foundations. The House (Ka’abah) remained the direction of prayer for the people of Makkah regardless of what they believed in.
1300 years later when prophethood came to the Children of Israel, Prophet Suleiman ‘alayhi salaam constructed the Bayt Al-Maqdis (Jerusalem). There onward, it became the Qiblah of the Jews.
In Makkah, the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam offered his prayers between the two corners of the Ka’abah such that the Ka’abah would be between him and Bayt Al-Maqdis. But when he migrated to Madina, this practice was no longer possible. He then started praying in the direction of Bayt Al-Maqdis on the instructions of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.
One of the signs of the Last Prophet, however, were that his Qiblah would be different from the Qiblah of the People of the Book. One day when the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was leading the prayer in Madina, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala revealed to him that he should turn toward Ka’abah. While being in the prayer, the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam obeyed the command and changed his direction and the people praying behind him followed. Such was their obedience to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. The Masjid where this revelation came is known as Masjid Al-Qiblatain i.e. the mosque of the two Qiblahs.
Imam Bukhari reported that Al-Bara’ bin ‘Azib narrated: Allah’s Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam offered his prayers facing Bayt Al-Maqdis [Jerusalem] for sixteen or seventeen months, but he wished that he could pray facing the Ka’abah. The first prayer which he offered (facing the Ka’abah) was the ‘Asr [afternoon] prayer in the company of some people. Then one of those who had offered that prayer with him, went out and passed by some people in a mosque who were in the bowing position [Rukuh’] during their prayers (facing Jerusalem). He addressed them saying, “By Allah, I bear witness that I have offered prayer with the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam facing Makkah (Ka’abah).” Hearing that, those people immediately changed their direction toward the House (Ka’abah) while still as they were (i.e., in the same bowing position).
When this happened, Ibn Katheer writes those inflicted with hypocrisy and mistrust, and the disbelieving Jews, both were led astray from the right guidance and fell into confusion. They said, “What has turned them (Muslims) from their Qiblah to which they used to face in prayer?” Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala revealed this ayah and answered them.
The command, the decision and the authority are for Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala Alone. He can decide whatever He wills. Our duty is to obey Him and say: We hear and we obey. We cannot challenge His choices. We must humbly submit to whatever He chooses for us.
We have studied previously, why people make arguments. It is either due to their lack of knowledge or lack of intellect. Lack of knowledge and intellect make one commit mistakes in their life. They make senseless arguments and take decisions which only harm them later. It is also said that when one does not want to follow a command then they raise questions, criticize and make objections. The Jews desired that the Muslims too pray in the direction of their Qiblah. But by revealing these ayaat Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala clearly stated that the Muslims are not subservient to the Jews. We are an independent Ummah and we have our own guidelines and practices. It is because of this reason that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam discouraged his Companions radhiAllahu ‘anhum, and after them us, from following the People of the Book. We must follow only the guidelines of the Qur’an and Sunnah.
Why were they called the foolish? It is because praying in a certain direction in itself does not mean anything. Rather, it is a mean to maintain discipline and unity. If every Muslim had picked his own direction to pray, how would we have offered our prayers in congregation? Therefore, it was said, “To Allah belong both, east and the west…” In another ayah, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said, “…wherever you turn (yourselves or your faces) there is the Face of Allah (and He is High above, over His Throne),” [Al-Baqarah 2: 115].
It means the best act is to adhere to Allah’s commands. Hence, wherever He commands us to face, we should face. Also, since obedience requires implementing Allah’s commands, if He commands us every day to face different places, we are His servants and under His disposal, and we face whatever He orders us to face. Certainly, Allah’s care and kindness towards His servant and Messenger, Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and certainly, his Ummah is profoundly great. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has guided them to the Qiblah of Prophet Ibraheem ‘alayhi salaam – Allah’s Khaleel (intimate friend). He has commanded them to face the Ka’abah, the most honorable house (of worship) on the face of the earth.
This is why Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said afterward:
قُل لّلَّهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ يَهْدِى مَن يَشَآءُ إِلَى صِرَطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ
“Say: To Allah belong both, east and the west. He guides whom He wills to the straight way.”
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala tells us that all directions are His. He is not confined to one place; He is everywhere.
Why did He say: He guides whom He wills? It is because when Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala abrogates one command and replaces it with another some people humbly submit while others criticize. Some people are guided to the truth while others get lost in their debates and arguments. They engage in the irrelevant and lose their path.
In the ayah, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala tells us that He is not being Unjust by misguiding people. Rather, those who seek guidance and the pleasure of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala are awarded guidance. On the other hand, those who have a flaw in their intention and engage in the irrelevant and unnecessary are misguided.
He who wants to please Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala will not raise objections or make excuses, but rather he would say: We hear and we obey. Our goal should be seeking the pleasure of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and not what others say or do. Whether it’s difficult or easy, we must submit to His commands. When He tells us to do something we should immediately respond, not procrastinate.
In Surah Al-Baqarah ayah 177, He says, “It is not Al-Birr [piety, righteousness] that you turn your faces towards east and (or) west (in prayers); but Al-Birr is the one who believes in Allah,” (2: 177). Our obedience or reverence is not to a specific person or a building rather we accept whatever Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has chosen for us. In the west, many of the Islamic centers are built at places which were previously churches or music studios. The people who pray there do not go there because the mosque was previously a church or a music studio. They go there because Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is remembered there.
A building in itself is not sacred. It is the act done in the building that raises its sanctity. For example, the Ka’abah is a place that the Muslims dearly love because it is the House of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. There is no place in the world where we can circumambulate. Following the footsteps of our beloved Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, we perform our Hajj and ‘Umrah there. When ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab kissed the Black Stone (Hajr Aswad) he said: No doubt, I know that you are a stone and can neither benefit anyone nor harm anyone. Had I not seen the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam kissing you, I would not have kissed you.
This was best displayed by the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and his Companions radhiAllahu ‘anhum. When they were in Makkah, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala commanded them to pray in the direction of the Ka’abah. When they moved to Madinah, He commanded them to pray in the direction of Bayt Al-Maqdis. No one made arguments that why they should face Bayt Al-Maqdis and not the Ka’abah. They turned wherever Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala directed them.
– A believer does not confine himself to a place or a person. He does not worship them. If he does so, then he will be committing shirk. He remains connected to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala no matter where he is. When people move to a non-Muslim country, they cannot have an excuse for not worshiping Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala because there are no mosques or Muslims nearby. It is the weakness of our emaan that when we are among the disbelieving people we give up our religious teachings and follow them instead.
– A Muslim remains a Muslim no matter where he is. The five daily prays remain obligatory for him whether others offer them or not. He has to pray, fast, give the obligatory charity and perform Hajj (if he meets the conditions). He has no excuse to slack.
Similarly, the sisters that cover themselves up from head to toe in a Muslim country or in a religious gathering cannot transform themselves into something else when they are in a different environment. We must abide by the Qur’an and Sunnah whether we are in a Muslim-majority country or a non-Muslim country. The ‘obligation’ to cover up remains valid no matter where on earth a Muslim woman is. The obligation to stay away from all the prohibitions remain valid. The obligation to ‘watch your friends’ remains valid. The obligation to earn a lawful earning remains valid. We cannot work in a restaurant that sells pork and alcohol and arranges dance parties stating there are no jobs. We should have carefully planned our migration. Why did you migrate when you knew you will fall for the haram?
This is what being Rabbani is, you are colored in the Color of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala [(Sibgahtallah) see ayah 138?]. People look at you and are reminded of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala make us Rabbani and protect us from losing our path, ameen.
Imam Ahmad reported that ‘A’ishah radhiAllahu ‘anha said that Allah’s Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said about the People of the Scripture (Jews and Christians):
إنَّهُم لا يَحْسِدونَنَا عَلَى شَيْء كَمَا يَحْسِدونَنا عَلَى يَوْمِ الْجُمُعَةِ الَّتِي هَدَانَا اللهُ لَهَا وَضَلُوا عَنْهَا وَعَلَى الْقِبْلَةِ الَّتِي هَدَانَا اللهُ لَهَا وَضَلُّوا عَنْهَا وَعَلَى قَوْلِنَا خَلْفَ الإِمَامِ: آمِين
“They do not envy us for a matter more than they envy us for Jumu’ah [Friday] to which Allah has guided us and from which they were led astray; for the (true) Qiblah to which Allah has directed us and from which they were led astray; and for our saying Ameen behind the Imam [leader of the prayer].”
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