Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
The foolish among the people will say, "What has turned them away from their qibla, which they used to face?" Say, "To God belongs the east and the west. He guides whom He wills to a straight path." (Chapter 2: Verse 142)
This verse was revealed to clarify the issue of changing the direction of prayers –qibla- from Jerusalem to the Holy mosque in Mecca. This verse also highlights the first annulment of a religious ruling to occur in the noble Quran. Allah dealt with this issue with great care because it was a matter that was going to start a heated debate. It was an opportunity for the disbelievers of Quraysh, the hypocrites, and the Jewish elites of Medina to raise doubts about Islam. Thus, God wanted to inform the believers of what was about to occur. He says: ‘The foolish among the people will say, "What has turned them away from their qibla, which they used to face?" The verb ‘will’ confirms that at the time of revelation, no one had yet questioned the change. It also serves to alert the believers that the change of the Qibla will be exploited by the sceptics.
God informed us of what those in opposition will say before they even said it. This prediction further cements the label ‘foolish’ on them. All the enemies of Islam had to do was to remain silent and refrain from arguing about the change in the direction of the prayer, and they would have raised serious doubts about the Quran. The Quran which is recited and preserved until the day of judgement would have been wrong. However they argued out of ignorance, stupidity and recklessness. The disbelievers wanted to destroy the new faith and plant doubt in the hearts of the believers. Their argument was not out of concern or for seeking knowledge.
In the early days of Islam, the disbelievers of Mecca claimed that the Ka’ba was their house and the house of their forefathers. Allah commanded Muhammad to direct himself towards Jerusalem in prayers. The Jews then said: ‘he neglects our religion but follows our Qibla.’ Allah, however, had planned that Islam should embrace every heavenly religion that has come before it, and honour its sacred places. Thus, Allah made the night journey of our beloved Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Jerusalem so that the sacred mosque in Jerusalem would become a part of Islam and one of the places it considers sacred.
Even the pagans of the Arabs held the Ka’ba as sacred: it is where they chose to place their idols. This was an interesting choice because it confirms that the Ka’ba was a holy place, and they used it in an attempt bring legitimacy and sacredness to their idols and Gods. It should have been the other way around.
So when the foolish asked "What has turned them away from their qibla, which they used to face?" God gave a comprehensive response that spans all religious obligations. He says: “To God belongs the east and the west.” God’s commands and prohibitions are not based upon what you or I, this group or that one think or prefer. The only reason behind any religious obligation is that God Almighty is the commander. Had Allah told us of the reason behind changing the Qibla, then it would have no longer remained a test of our faith and worship. We do what Allah commands, and abstain from what He forbids. His command is sacred in and of itself. Take the example of the black stone placed at the corner of the Ka’ba. Allah commands you to honour the black stone, thus you honour it by facing and kissing it. At the same time, Allah commands you to throw pebbles at the stones that symbolise Satan. God does not explain the reason behind His command of honouring one stone, and not the other. If He had to explain every command to us, faith would lose all meaning and becomes a matter of persuasion for every little act.
Allah encourages you to use your intellect and reason to examine all the available evidence when you are considering the truthfulness of the message of Muhammad. However, once you declare you faith, you entrust your affairs to God and follow His commands even if a few of them do not make sense to you. Similarly, if you are sick, you should use your intellect and reason and examine all the available evidence in order to choose the best doctor and hospital for your treatment. However, once you choose a doctor and entrust your health to him or her, you should follow the doctor’s orders even if some of them do not make sense to you.
Always keep in mind the spiritual reason behind following God’s command. If you, for example, refrain from drinking wine because it is unhealthy or because it may negatively affect your family, you will receive no reward from Allah. We refrain from drinking alcohol or eating pork because God has made them unlawful. This is an act of worship that will be rewarded.
This brings us back to the verse. God says: "To God belongs the east and the west. He guides whom He wills to a straight path" meaning: if you direct yourself towards the sacred mosque or turn to the Ka’ba or towards any other place in the universe you will find God there. No place is specific for His existence. It is God’s command that grants a place its sacredness. If we turn towards the sacred mosque in Jerusalem, then it is out of obedience for God’s command. And if He orders us to turn towards the Ka’ba then we turn to it out of obedience for His command. We trust our Lord because ‘He guides whom He wills to a straight path’ A path free of bends and detours: The shortest path towards paradise.