Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verse 125..........Part 2
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)
Prophet Abraham’s story reveals his desire to perform worship at the highest level and to carry it to perfection. His effort is an example for all the believers to follow till the Day of Judgment. God says in the 97th verse of chapter 3:
There are clear signs in it; it is the place where Abraham stood (03:97)
The standing place of Abraham (peace be upon him) is the rock he stepped on after God commanded him to raise the foundations of the Ka'ba. Here, we need to pause and look at an important historical point: How old is the Ka'ba? There is a difference of opinion among the scholars as to when the sacred mosque was built. Some believe that it was first built during the time of Abraham, while others argue that it was first built during the lifetime of Adam. And a third group says that it existed before Adam. Let's look at the evidence from the Quran. God says:
As Abraham raised the foundations of the House with Ishmael: ‘Our Lord, accept it from us! Indeed You are the All-hearing, the All-knowing. (02:127)
What is meant by raising the foundation? To ‘raise’ is to elevate or to move something to a higher position. All architectural structures have a specific length, width and height. Abraham was commanded to raise the foundation, suggesting that the length and width were already determined, and all he had to do was to increase the third dimension: height. So we can understand that the house existed before Abraham but its structure was lost -probably after the flood in Noah’s time-. Thus, God wanted it to be rebuilt so its location could be known by people again.
The Ka’ba is not the house; rather it is the landmark that guides us to the location of the house. Those who deduced from this verse: ‘As Abraham raised the foundations of the house’ that he was the one who built the house are mistaken. The house existed before Abraham and he was only appointed to raise its foundations so that it is easier for people to see. Another proof of this are the many extensions and levels that have been added to the sacred house since. If you are blessed with a visit to Mecca, and you pray on the top level, you may not be directly prostrating to the Ka'ba, because it is seemingly below you. But your prayer and everyone else's are perfected because all you have to do is face in the direction of the foundation of the Ka'ba. The strongest evidence that the sacred house existed before it was raised by Abraham and Ishmael can be found within the Quran. Listen to the supplication of Prophet Abraham when He left his wife and then infant son, Ishmael, near the sacred mosque:
Our Lord, I have established some of my offspring in an uncultivated valley, close to Your Sacred House, Lord, so that they may keep up the prayer. Make people’s hearts turn to them, and provide them with produce, so that they may be thankful. (14:37)
Clearly, this supplication was made many years prior to raising the foundation of the Ka’ba (recall that Ishmael was a young man helping his father raise the foundation). Yet, in his prayer Abraham (peace be upon him) mentioned that he left his wife and an infant Ishmael near the sacred house of God. This means that the house existed when Ishmael was an infant and only the foundation was elevated once Ishmael grew up. God says:
We showed Abraham the site of the House, saying, ‘Do not assign partners to Me. Purify My House for those who circle around it, those who stand to pray, and those who bow and prostrate themselves. (22:26)
God says in another verse about the Ka’ba:
The first House to be established for the good of mankind was the one at Mecca. It is a blessed place; a source of guidance for all people (03:96)
This verse relates that the house was established for mankind. Mankind refers to Adam and his descendants until the end of time. The verse also states that the house was appointed for mankind by Allah, and people did not establish it. This clearly indicated that the house existed before the creation of Adam. God Almighty legislated repentance and established the house before He sent Adam to earth so that people would seek His house to ask forgiveness from their Lord, offer prayers and worship.
Perhaps the most important point to learn from all the above is: in order to form a correct opinion, it is always necessary that all verses in the Quran regarding a subject matter be studied thoroughly.
When prophet Abraham elevated the foundations of the house, it would have been sufficient to raise it up to his height and reach. But, out of love and dedication, he (peace be upon him) stood on a rock to elevate it further up. The standing place of Abraham was made significant and a place of prayer because Allah wants you to remember that He honours those who perform religious obligations whole-heartedly. That is why, it is always preferable to voluntarily increase your worship beyond the obligation. The existing rock -which is the standing place of Abraham- highlights his love for Allah, and his eagerness to go beyond what was asked of him. Abraham’s footprints appear on the rock he stood on. Some people believe that because of this larger-than-life moment, the rock had softened so Abraham's feet were imprinted in it. Another opinion says that Abraham carved holes in the shape of his feet in the rock to keep his balance as he lifted heavy stones up high.
God’s command ‘and purify My house’ suggests that there were no clear signs distinguishing the location of the house from its surroundings. The area was becoming like any other part of the land where people slaughtered their animals and dumped their rubbish. So God asked Abraham and his son to clear up the mess, and clean the place for three groups of people: the first are those circling the house of God (also known as performing tawaf). The second group are those who take time to retreat, and devote themselves for worship for a specific period. And lastly: those who bow and prostrate in prayer. It is also purified because, in the future, it would become the qibla for all Muslims performing prayers until the last hour.