Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
and We made the House a place of return and a sanctuary for people, saying, ‘Take the spot where Abraham stood as your place of prayer.’ We commanded Abraham and Ishmael: ‘Purify My House for those who walk round it, those who make it a retreat, and those who bow and prostrate.’ (Chapter 2:Verse 125)
The previous verse explained that you can have the closest and most beautiful relationship to God's prophets and messengers when you uphold their values. At the same time, those who abandon God's values, alter religion, and focus on materialistic greed lose their ties with Abraham and all heavenly messages. Being a descendant of Isaac, or Ishmael -the sons of Abraham- holds no value if you do not honour their message.
Now we come to the story of Jerusalem and the changing of the direction of prayer -Qibla- towards the Ka’ba. It was inscribed even before the creation came into existence that the Ka’ba will be the Qibla for all those who worship God. Allah starts the verse with: 'and We made the House a place of return and a sanctuary for people' Let’s look into the meaning of the words ‘house’ and ‘a place of return’. A House is a refuge from life; it is where you live and rest with your loved ones. The Ka’ba was named the ‘house of God’ because people go to it for comfort and tranquillity.
‘a place of return’ is best understood by those who visit Mecca. You always leave with the strong desire to return again and again. There is an unshakable experience of comfort and sweetness that leaves you wanting to revisit your Lord’s house.........to revisit the place of exclusive devotion to the remembrance of God, the recitation of the Quran, and prayers. When you see the Ka’ba before you, all life's troubles depart your heart. This feeling keeps you wanting to come back again and again. God says in the 37th verse of chapter 14 about the Ka'ba and holy mosque:
Then make the hearts of the people yearn towards them
Note that God mentioned the hearts yearning to, and falling in love with this place. It is from our Lord's mercy He helps each pilgrim forget his or her worldly affairs. When you are in the sanctified house of your Lord, your distress and anguish melts. Look at the Muslims around you, you will find that Hajj is often the only act of worship that people try their best to perform. Some people who do not have the means -and therefore are not required to perform Hajj- resort to borrowing money, or cutting their basic expenses to visit the Lord's sacred House. Even those who are absolved of this duty by having already performed Hajj, still desire to perform it again and again.
God says that His house is 'a sanctuary for people' meaning that it makes those who are in it feel safe. Prior to Islam, even the pagans -who abandoned the religion of Abraham and his descendants- believed in making pilgrimage to the sanctified house. They used to guarantee the safety of those visiting the Ka'ba. One of them would encounter his father's killer in the house of God and would not exchange any words with him until they both left the place.
Here is an important question to ask: In this verse, is God informing us that His sacred house is a safe sanctuary? or is He commanding us to make it a safe sanctuary? Allah is not informing us that the house is a safe place; He is in fact commanding us to make whoever enters it feel safe. It is the religious obligation and duty of the believer to assure that the pilgrims are safe and secure. Thus, when violent groups use the House of God as a shield for their actions; this indicates our failure as believers in carrying out God's commands.
Allah legislates that which keeps people away from conflict and helps preserve their dignity and pride. Take the example of the four sacred months each year, where fighting is prohibited so perhaps tensions would ease and nations would not return to war after experiencing peace.
The verse continues ‘Take the spot where Abraham stood as your place of prayer.’ The phrase 'spot where Abraham stood' is translated from the Arabic origin ‘Maqam مقام’. It is specifically talking about the place where prophet Abraham stood when raising the foundation of the house of God. The rock on which Abraham stood is preserved in this place.
Why did God command us to take the standing place of Abraham a place for prayer? In the early days of Islam, Muslims felt uncomfortable praying behind the stone Abraham stood on because it was a barrier between them and the Ka’ba. They used to leave the standing place of Abraham unoccupied during prayers. Omar ibn al-Khattab -bothered by seeing a gap in the prayer lines where the rock is- asked Muhammad(peace be upon him): should we not take the standing place of Abraham a place for prayer? Upon this God revealed this verse: ‘Take the spot where Abraham stood as your place of prayer.’