In the following verses of the Quran, we are informed that during Muhammad’s life that the believers were commanded to change their direction of prayer, Qiblah ( قِبْلَة ). In 2:142, it states that the fools will say, “why did they turn from their direction of prayer, Qiblah, that they used to have.” This informs us that the followers of the Quran had an original Qiblah but then were commanded to change it.

[2:142] The fools among the people would say, “Why did they change the direction of their Qiblah?” Say, “To GOD belongs the east and the west; He guides whoever wills in a straight path.”

 سَيَقُولُ السُّفَهَاءُ مِنَ النَّاسِ مَا وَلَّاهُمْ عَنْ قِبْلَتِهِمُ الَّتِي كَانُوا عَلَيْهَا قُلْ لِلَّهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ يَهْدِي مَنْ يَشَاءُ إِلَىٰ صِرَاطٍ مُسْتَقِيمٍ

The Test

We are informed that the reason for this change was that it was a test for the believers.

[2:143] We thus made you an impartial community, that you may serve as witnesses among the people, and the messenger serves as a witness among you. We changed the direction of your original Qiblah only to distinguish those among you who readily follow the messenger from those who would turn back on their heels. It was a difficult test, but not for those who are guided by GOD. GOD never puts your worship to waste. GOD is Compassionate towards the people, Most Merciful.

 وَكَذَٰلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ وَيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ عَلَيْكُمْ شَهِيدًا وَمَا جَعَلْنَا الْقِبْلَةَ الَّتِي كُنْتَ عَلَيْهَا إِلَّا لِنَعْلَمَ مَنْ يَتَّبِعُ الرَّسُولَ مِمَّنْ يَنْقَلِبُ عَلَىٰ عَقِبَيْهِ وَإِنْ كَانَتْ لَكَبِيرَةً إِلَّا عَلَى الَّذِينَ هَدَى اللَّهُ وَمَا كَانَ اللَّهُ لِيُضِيعَ إِيمَانَكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ بِالنَّاسِ لَرَءُوفٌ رَحِيمٌ

Impartiality

The followers of the Quran were meant to be impartial between the Jews and the Christians. In the previous verses leading up to the announcement regarding the change in Qiblah, we read the following verses regarding the criticism towards the Jews and Christians in their personal biases towards their religion.

[2:111] Some have said, “No one will enter Paradise except Jews or Christians!” Such is their wishful thinking. Say, “Show us your proof, if you are right.”

 وَقَالُوا لَنْ يَدْخُلَ الْجَنَّةَ إِلَّا مَنْ كَانَ هُودًا أَوْ نَصَارَىٰ تِلْكَ أَمَانِيُّهُمْ قُلْ هَاتُوا بُرْهَانَكُمْ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ صَادِقِينَ

[2:113] The Jews said, “The Christians have no basis,” while the Christians said, “The Jews have no basis.” Yet, both of them read the scripture. Such are the utterances of those who possess no knowledge. GOD will judge them on the Day of Resurrection, regarding their disputes.

 وَقَالَتِ الْيَهُودُ لَيْسَتِ النَّصَارَىٰ عَلَىٰ شَيْءٍ وَقَالَتِ النَّصَارَىٰ لَيْسَتِ الْيَهُودُ عَلَىٰ شَيْءٍ وَهُمْ يَتْلُونَ الْكِتَابَ كَذَٰلِكَ قَالَ الَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ مِثْلَ قَوْلِهِمْ فَاللَّهُ يَحْكُمُ بَيْنَهُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ فِيمَا كَانُوا فِيهِ يَخْتَلِفُونَ

[2:120] Neither the Jews, nor the Christians, will accept you, unless you follow their religion. Say, “GOD’s guidance is the true guidance.” If you acquiesce to their wishes, despite the knowledge you have received, you will find no ally or supporter to help you against GOD.

 وَلَنْ تَرْضَىٰ عَنْكَ الْيَهُودُ وَلَا النَّصَارَىٰ حَتَّىٰ تَتَّبِعَ مِلَّتَهُمْ قُلْ إِنَّ هُدَى اللَّهِ هُوَ الْهُدَىٰ وَلَئِنِ اتَّبَعْتَ أَهْوَاءَهُمْ بَعْدَ الَّذِي جَاءَكَ مِنَ الْعِلْمِ مَا لَكَ مِنَ اللَّهِ مِنْ وَلِيٍّ وَلَا نَصِيرٍ

The Religion of Abraham

God resolves this dispute between the Christians and Jews by indicating that both of their religions come from Abraham.

[2:135] They said, “You have to be Jewish or Christian, to be guided.” Say, “We follow the religion of Abraham—monotheism—he never was an idol worshiper.”

 وَقَالُوا كُونُوا هُودًا أَوْ نَصَارَىٰ تَهْتَدُوا قُلْ بَلْ مِلَّةَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ حَنِيفًا وَمَا كَانَ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ

[2:140] Do you say that Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Patriarchs were Jewish or Christian? Say, “Do you know better than GOD? Who is more evil than one who conceals a testimony he has learned from GOD? GOD is never unaware of anything you do.”

 أَمْ تَقُولُونَ إِنَّ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ وَإِسْحَاقَ وَيَعْقُوبَ وَالْأَسْبَاطَ كَانُوا هُودًا أَوْ نَصَارَىٰ قُلْ أَأَنْتُمْ أَعْلَمُ أَمِ اللَّهُ وَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّنْ كَتَمَ شَهَادَةً عِنْدَهُ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَمَا اللَّهُ بِغَافِلٍ عَمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ

Qibla Restored to Mecca

Then after this momentary confusion for the believers regarding the change in Qiblah, we are informed that moving forward, the followers of the Quran are to face the Sacred Masjid ( الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ ), one of severl names used in the Qruan for the Ka’aba.

  • The House (Shrine) / الْبَيْتِ / l-bayti (2:125, 2:127, 3:96, 3:97, 8:35, 11:73, 33:33, 52:4, 106:3)
  • Sacred Masjid / الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ / l-masjidi l-ḥarām (2:144, 2:149, 2:150, 2:191, 2:196, 2:217, 5:2…
  • [Your] Sacred House / الْبَيْتَ الْحَرَامَ / -bayta l-ḥarama (14:37, 5:97)
  • The Sacred House (Shrine) / الْبَيْتَ الْحَرَامَ / l-bayta l-ḥarām (5:2)
  • The Ancient House (Shrine) / الْبَيْتِ الْعَتِيقِ / l-bayti l-ʿatīqi (22:33)

[2:144] We have seen you turning your face about the sky (searching for the right direction). We now assign a Qiblah that is pleasing to you. Henceforth, you shall turn your face towards the Sacred Masjid. Wherever you may be, all of you shall turn your faces towards it. Those who received the previous scripture know that this is the truth from their Lord. GOD is never unaware of anything they do.

 قَدْ نَرَىٰ تَقَلُّبَ وَجْهِكَ فِي السَّمَاءِ فَلَنُوَلِّيَنَّكَ قِبْلَةً تَرْضَاهَا فَوَلِّ وَجْهَكَ شَطْرَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ وَحَيْثُ مَا كُنْتُمْ فَوَلُّوا وُجُوهَكُمْ شَطْرَهُ وَإِنَّ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ لَيَعْلَمُونَ أَنَّهُ الْحَقُّ مِنْ رَبِّهِمْ وَمَا اللَّهُ بِغَافِلٍ عَمَّا يَعْمَلُونَ

[2:145] Even if you show the followers of the scripture every kind of miracle, they will not follow your Qiblah. Nor shall you follow their Qiblah. They do not even follow each others’ Qiblah. If you acquiesce to their wishes, after the knowledge that has come to you, you will belong with the transgressors.

 وَلَئِنْ أَتَيْتَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ بِكُلِّ آيَةٍ مَا تَبِعُوا قِبْلَتَكَ وَمَا أَنْتَ بِتَابِعٍ قِبْلَتَهُمْ وَمَا بَعْضُهُمْ بِتَابِعٍ قِبْلَةَ بَعْضٍ وَلَئِنِ اتَّبَعْتَ أَهْوَاءَهُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَكَ مِنَ الْعِلْمِ إِنَّكَ إِذًا لَمِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ

[2:146] Those who received the scripture recognize the truth herein, as they recognize their own children. Yet, some of them conceal the truth, knowingly.

 الَّذِينَ آتَيْنَاهُمُ الْكِتَابَ يَعْرِفُونَهُ كَمَا يَعْرِفُونَ أَبْنَاءَهُمْ وَإِنَّ فَرِيقًا مِنْهُمْ لَيَكْتُمُونَ الْحَقَّ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ

[2:147] This is the truth from your Lord; do not harbor any doubt.

الْحَقُّ مِنْ رَبِّكَ فَلَا تَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْمُمْتَرِينَ

[2:148] Each of you chooses the direction to follow; you shall race towards righteousness. Wherever you may be, GOD will summon you all. GOD is Omnipotent.

وَلِكُلٍّ وِجْهَةٌ هُوَ مُوَلِّيهَا فَاسْتَبِقُوا الْخَيْرَاتِ أَيْنَ مَا تَكُونُوا يَأْتِ بِكُمُ اللَّهُ جَمِيعًا إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

[2:149] Wherever you go, you shall turn your face (during Salat) towards the Sacred Masjid. This is the truth from your Lord. GOD is never unaware of anything you all do.

وَمِنْ حَيْثُ خَرَجْتَ فَوَلِّ وَجْهَكَ شَطْرَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ وَإِنَّهُ لَلْحَقُّ مِنْ رَبِّكَ وَمَا اللَّهُ بِغَافِلٍ عَمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ

[2:150] Wherever you go, you shall turn your face (during Salat) towards the Sacred Masjid; wherever you might be, you shall turn your faces (during Salat) towards it. Thus, the people will have no argument against you, except the transgressors among them. Do not fear them, and fear Me instead. I will then perfect My blessings upon you, that you may be guided.

وَمِنْ حَيْثُ خَرَجْتَ فَوَلِّ وَجْهَكَ شَطْرَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ وَحَيْثُ مَا كُنْتُمْ فَوَلُّوا وُجُوهَكُمْ شَطْرَهُ لِئَلَّا يَكُونَ لِلنَّاسِ عَلَيْكُمْ حُجَّةٌ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا مِنْهُمْ فَلَا تَخْشَوْهُمْ وَاخْشَوْنِي وَلِأُتِمَّ نِعْمَتِي عَلَيْكُمْ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ

Previous Scripture

The previous verses inform us that the individuals who received the scripture, Jews and Christians, know that this was the original shrine established by Abraham. This is most notably depicted in Pslam 84 of the Bible.

How lovely is your dwelling place/tabernacle (מִשְׁכָּן / mishkan),
    Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
    for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house ( בֵיתֶ֑ךָ / ḇê·ṯe·ḵā);
    they are ever praising you.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka ( בָּכָא ),
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
    till each appears before God in Zion.

Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
    listen to me, God of Jacob.
Look on our shield, O God;
    look with favor on your anointed one.

10 Better is one day in your courts
    than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
    from those whose walk is blameless.

12 Lord Almighty,
    blessed is the one who trusts in you.

The use of the name Baka for Mecca, is also utilized in the Quran accordingly, as the location of Abraham’s shrine.

[3:96] The most important shrine established for the people is the one in Bakka; a blessed beacon for all the people.

 إِنَّ أَوَّلَ بَيْتٍ وُضِعَ لِلنَّاسِ لَلَّذِي بِبَكَّةَ مُبَارَكًا وَهُدًى لِلْعَالَمِينَ

[3:97] In it are clear signs: the station of Abraham. Anyone who enters it shall be granted safe passage. The people owe it to GOD that they shall observe Hajj to this shrine, when they can afford it. As for those who disbelieve, GOD does not need anyone.

 فِيهِ آيَاتٌ بَيِّنَاتٌ مَقَامُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَمَنْ دَخَلَهُ كَانَ آمِنًا وَلِلَّهِ عَلَى النَّاسِ حِجُّ الْبَيْتِ مَنِ اسْتَطَاعَ إِلَيْهِ سَبِيلًا وَمَنْ كَفَرَ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَنِيٌّ عَنِ الْعَالَمِينَ

Historical

While the Quran does not inform us explicitly where the Qibla was originally or where it was changed to before it was set to the Ka’aba, we read in the footnote of 2:142-145 and subtitle of 2:144 by Dr. Rashad Khalifa that the Qiblah was changed from the Ka’aba to Jerusalem, and finally restored back to the Ka’aba.

Footnote: 2:142-145 “Qiblah” is the direction one faces during the Contact Prayers (Salat). When Gabriel conveyed to Muhammad the command to face Jerusalem instead of Mecca, the hypocrites were exposed. The Arabs were strongly prejudiced in favor of the Ka’aba as their “Qiblah.” Only the true believers were able to overcome their prejudices; they readily obeyed the messenger.

This footnote informs us that the test for the believers was to see if they could be impartial when the commandment came to change their Qiblah from the Ka’aba to Jerusalem or were their tribal biases going to cause them to waver from the commandment. It is worth noting that Sura 2, was the first revelation after the Hijra, the migration from Mecca to Medina, and the start of the Islamic calendar. This must have been particularly stressful for the Muhajireen, who left Mecca, their homeland, to come to Medina. Additionally, Medina had three main Jewish tribes, the Banu Nadir, the Banu Qainuqa, and the Banu Qurayza, which caused some bad blood between the followers of the Quran and the followers of the previous scripture. So to be commanded to turn their backs to Mecca for Salat so they can face Jerusalem would have been insulting to the Muslims, who were weak in faith, and a source of ridicule for the Jews towards them.

The Masjid al-Qiblatayn ( مسجد القبلتين ), which means “Mosque of the Two Qiblahs,” is located in Medina and is believed to be the mosque where the prophet received the command to change Qiblahs and, therefore this mosque has two Qiblahs, with one facing Mecca and the other facing Jerusalem. Historically this change in Qibla occured around the year ~2 AH. From this masjid, we can determine that two of the directions of the Qiblah during the prophet’s life in Medina were the Ka’aba and Jerusalem.

According to 2:142, we are informed that the direction of the Qiblah was changed, and since we only have two known locations that are accepted as legitimate Qiblahs for the followers of the Quran, then this implies that the change was to Jerusalem, before it was restored back to the Ka’aba.

[2:142] The fools among the people would say, “Why did they change the direction of their Qiblah?” Say, “To GOD belongs the east and the west; He guides whoever wills in a straight path.”

 سَيَقُولُ السُّفَهَاءُ مِنَ النَّاسِ مَا وَلَّاهُمْ عَنْ قِبْلَتِهِمُ الَّتِي كَانُوا عَلَيْهَا قُلْ لِلَّهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ يَهْدِي مَنْ يَشَاءُ إِلَىٰ صِرَاطٍ مُسْتَقِيمٍ

Religion of Monotheism (Hanif)

In 2:135, preceding the change in Qiblah, Muhammad and the believers were commanded to say that they follow the religion of Abraham – monotheism ( مِلَّةَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ حَنِيفًا / millata ibrahim – hanif).

[2:135] They said, “You have to be Jewish or Christian, to be guided.” Say, “We follow the religion of Abraham—monotheism—he never was an idol worshiper.”

(١٣٥) وَقَالُوا كُونُوا هُودًا أَوْ نَصَارَىٰ تَهْتَدُوا قُلْ بَلْ مِلَّةَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ حَنِيفًا وَمَا كَانَ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ

The word Hanif ( حَنِيفًا ), which is used to describe the name of the religion of Abraham, comes from the root ح ن ف and has the following derivative meanings, including “one who makes Abraham’s Sacred House their Qiblah.”

This commandment to follow the religion of monotheism (Hanif), occurs twelve times in the Quran.

Several of these instances occur before the revelation of Sura 2, therefore indicating that if Muhammad was following the religion of monotheism (Hanif), his Qiblah would have also originally been directed towards the Ka’aba, the House that Abraham built.

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