Q. I was asked by non Muslims about the changing of the qiblah from Jerusalem to Makkah. I can remember the story vaguely, and do not want to give false information because of my lack of memory and literature pertaining to the subject. I would very much like if you can email me back as to the situation the Prophet (pbuh) was in at the time, the reason for changing the qiblah, and if possible citation of any trustworthy books that I may be able to direct them for their own (and mine) personal reference.
A. With respect to what you have requested, we are forwarding the following information which will be beneficial to you. It is an explaination of the issue given by the great scholar Allama Shibli Nomani (AR) in his book ‘Siratun Nabi’- Life of the Prophet (SAS) vol. 1 pgs. 245-248).
CHANGE OF QIBLAH
There is a distinguishing mark with which every people, every community and every religion is recognised. Without that mark, their individuality is not established. The symbol of Islam is the qiblah, the direction a Muslim faces when he offers salaah (prayers). Apart from this known purpose, there is much wisdom behind it. The chief characteristic of Islam is equality of its adherents, democracy and unity of purpose, so that all Muslims appear like one and have one aim and one direction before them. Salah or prayer is the most important part of Islam. A Muslim observes it five times every day. The real spirit of Salah is that it should be observed in a congregational form with a very large attendance, thousands-nay, hundreds of thousands of men lose their individual character to a single, united identity. This is why the congregational prayer is led by one Imam to whose every slight movement the muqtadees submit in unision. The purpose of action, therefore, should be the same of everyone of them. It is this principle that led to a qiblah for salah and this symbol is given such a great significance that a mere facing of the qiblah means coming out of the darkness of disbelief. It remained to be decided which direction should be declared the qiblah. The Jews and the Christians regarded the Bayt al-Maqdis as the qibla because their own identity and their religions were linked to the Bayt al-Maqdis, but for the successors of Sayyidina Ibrahim (A.S.), only the ka’bah could have been the qiblah. It is the kabah that is a reminder of the great monotheist and the biggest centre of unadulterated monotheism.
As long as the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) was in Makkah, he had to accomplish two things. He had to consolidate and to revive the creed of Sayyidina Ibrahim (A.S) for which it was necessary to turn towards the ka’bah. But, the real purpose of the qiblah could not be achieved and it could not be a distinguishing mark of the Muslims because the polytheists and the disbelievers had regarded the ka’bah as the qiblah. This is why the Prophet (S.A.W) offered prayers before the Maqam Ibrahim which faced the Bayt al Maqdis. In this way, he faced both the qiblahs.
In Madinah there were two communities, the polytheists who regarded the Ka’bah as their qiblah and the People of the Book who turned towards the Bayt al-Maqdis in their prayers. Judaism and Christianity, either of them was preferred to polytheism. Therefore, the Prophet (S.A.W) turned towards the Bayt al-Maqdis for a length of time, about 16 months, in his prayers. Once Islam was well established in Madinah, there was no more the necessity to turn to any side other than the real qiblah. Thus, the following verse was revealed and the qiblah was changed at once.
(…..turn your face towards (the Sacred mosque, the Ka’bah); and wheresoever you may be turn your faces towards it…..) (A1-Baqarah 2: 150)
The change of the qiblah upseted the Jews very much. They had always claimed religious superiority over the polytheists, and the polytheists had acknowledged their religious distinction until Islam was introduced to them. They had regarded the Jews so sacred that (according to a narration in Abu Dawood) those of them whose children died in infancy vowed that if the children survived, they would convert them to Judaism. Islam caused a setback to their religious identity. As long as Islam observed Bayt al-Maqdis as a qiblah, the Jews were proud that even Islam followed their qiblah, but when Islam changed the qiblah, their displeasure and anger knew no bounds. They gave vent to their feelings by accusing Muslims, ‘Because Muhammad (S.A.W) contradicts everything we do, he has changed the qiblah with the intention of contradicting us’. Two-sided and weak Muslims could not understand the reason and they said that the qiblah was not something to change and it was a’ sign of restlessness and wavering belief. To explain the reasons a few verses were revealed perchance such Muslims would understand:
(The fools among the people will soon say: “What has turned them away from the qiblah which they had?” Say: “To Allah belong the East and the west…….”
And we appointed not the qiblah which you have had except in order that we might know who followed the Messenger from him who turned back on his heels. And it was a hard thing save for those whom Allah has guided.) (Al-Baqarah, 2: 142-143)
(It is not virtue that you turn your faces to the East and to the west; but true virtue is of him who believes in Allah, and the Last Day, and the angels, and the book (Divine revelations), and the Prophets, and gives his wealth, for the love of Him to the kindred, to the orphans and the needy, and the wayfarer, and to those who ask, and to set slaves free……) (Al-Baqarah, 2: 177)
Allah has explained in these verses that qiblah itself is not the objective. The directions – east or west – are all the same when worship of Allah is concerned. All directions belong to Allah.
Next, He explains why the qiblah must be determined. It is the distinguishing symbol. It separates the real Muslim from the fake who only makes a superficial demonstration of his faith.
There were many Jews who called themselves Muslims but were hypocrites. They even accompanied the Muslims in prayer but were dangerous as snakes in grass for Muslims. However, they were found out immediately when the qiblah was changed from the Bayt al-Maqdis to the Ka’bah. No Jew could agree to forsake his national and religious identity (the Baytal-Maqdis), for that would sever his relations with him.
Allah has made it clear that true virtue lies not in facing any direction (as qiblah). True piety and reward lies in faith and righteous deeds.
And Allah knows best.