Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Chapter 2, Verse 115
And to God belongs the east and the west. So wherever you turn, there is the Face of God. Indeed, God is all-Encompassing and Knowing. (Chapter 2, Verse 115)
In the previous verse God informed us of the punishment in store for those who intend to destroy mosques and prevent people from the remembrance of their Lord. Here Allah explains that they can never succeed in this task, because He made the entire earth as a mosque. In other words. we are free to worship God and meet with Him in every place, at any time, and that can never be taken away. God says 'So wherever you turn, there is the Face of God. Indeed, God is all-Encompassing and Knowing.' meaning that you cannot limit the places of meeting with your Lord; He is with you everywhere in this universe and beyond. To Him belongs all directions: East, West, North, North East, South East and any direction you can think of.
Here you may ask: Why did the verse specify east and west only? This is because all other directions are determined by sunrise and sunset. The east and the west are known instinctively by people without the need of any compass or device. Even a child is aware of the directions of sunrise and sunset. From their all other directions - such as north-east, south-east, and so on- are determined.
Similarly, ' And to God belongs the east and the west.' does not mean that His ownership is limited to these two directions. Keep in mind that the east is not the same for every location. In fact its direction changes according to where you are on earth. Every piece of land has an east and a west. When the sun is rising in a country, it is setting in another. And after a few minutes, it rises on another nation. If you consider the east and the west in relation to sunrise and sunset, you quickly realize that sunrise and sunset never stop and they cover every spot on the surface of this earth. So Allah is telling us that He is the exclusive owner of all directions, thus, He alone can change the direction of prayer -Qibla- from Jerusalem to the Ka’ba.
Setting a Qibla is done for the purpose of unity so that all Muslims face one direction during prayers. In fact, we should distinguish ourselves by our direction during prayer and outside prayer. During prayer we all face a specific place which God has selected for us. All over the world, every Muslim directs him or herself to the Holy Ka’ba. Some of us may face south towards the Ka'ba, while some may face east or west. But, in the end- we are all united in our destination. Similarly, outside prayers, we should have the same goal of high morals and help for others.
‘Indeed God is all-Encompassing and knowing’ of everything in existence. One thing does not occupy him from another. Once Imam Ali (may God be pleased with him) was asked: how will God take everyone to account at the same time on the day of judgment? He replied: "just as He provides for everyone at the same time in this world". Thus, God is never occupied with one thing while forgetting about another. He says: ‘be' and it becomes.
In an earlier session, we touched on the way we should approach Quranic expressions like 'God's Face.' Perhaps it is worth revisiting at this time.
Whenever you read about one of God actions or attributes, such as 'wherever you turn, there is the Face of God' you should always remember the following verse: God says:
There is nothing whatever like Him. (42:11)
When matters are related to God’s Being, always keep in mind, that nothing is like Him. His Being, actions and attributes are nothing similar to yours or to any other creation. Let's look at this point in more detail. God is alive, and you are alive. Is your life similar to His? God has knowledge and so do you, but is your knowledge like His? God is capable and you are capable, Does your ability resemble that of God's? Of course not! Thus, when you recite verses such as 'He turned to the sky' or ' The East and the West belong to God: wherever you turn, there is His Face.' do not regard them with your logic and worldly understanding, rather, always remember the verse 'There is nothing whatever like Him'.
The human mind, even our collective knowledge as mankind, can never understand, or encompass the reality of God’s Being. Therefore, we take verses of the Quran such 'the hand of Allah is above their hands.' exactly as God intended. We take the prophet's narrations that relate to God's being and actions exactly as God intended. In each of these instances, take a moment to stop and recite the verse: ‘There is nothing whatever like Him'.
Another issue to consider is God’s attributes…..attributes such as the most merciful, the creator, the generous, the truth and many more. These are attributes of perfection that are ever present and never change. In fact, these attributes existed before the existence of creation. Let's clarify this point with a few examples. Allah is the provider, and always has been. This is true even before the existence of those to whom He provides. If God had not been a provider, then how was He able to provide for the first creation? Similarly, Allah is the most merciful even before any creation was present to receive this mercy. He created this universe with the perfection of all His attributes, and these attributes will remain long after all creation ceases to exist. Most importantly, the attribute of oneness and the attribute of lordship were ever present even before Allah created those who worship Him. God says:
God bears witness that there is no god but Him, as do the angels and those who have knowledge. He upholds justice. There is no god but Him, the Almighty, the All Wise. (3:18)
Allah testified that there is no deity except Him before any other creation witnessed the Oneness of His Divinity. Allah is in no need for the testimony of humans, angles or any other beings. Glorified is our Lord, indeed:
There is nothing whatever like Him.