Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
We have seen you turn your face about towards the heavens, so We are turning you towards a prayer direction that pleases you. Turn your face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque: wherever you may be, turn your faces to it. Those who were given the Scripture know with certainty that this is the Truth from their Lord: God is not unaware of what they do. (Chapter 2:Verse 144)
This verse paints for us a picture of how our beloved prophet Muhammad deeply desired for the Holy Ka’ba to be the Qibla of the Muslims instead of the sacred mosque in Jerusalem. The Prophet was accustomed to receiving revelation from the heavens. Thus, he -peace be upon him- would turn his eyes towards the heavens awaiting such revelation. And he would not have done so unless this matter had preoccupied him.
Allah was well aware of the prophet’s desire. Thus, He responded to Muhammad to direct himself and all Muslims to the Ka’ba during prayers. God says: ‘We have seen you turn your face about towards the heavens, so We are turning you towards a prayer direction that pleases you.’ Does that mean that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was unhappy with the Qibla of Jerusalem which he was initially commanded to face? The answer is simply: no. There is a difference between emotional love by the heart, and intellectual love by the mind. The messenger (peace be upon him) faced towards the sacred mosque in Jerusalem out of obedience and love for God’s command, while his heart had strong feelings of love for the Ka’ba. The prophet put compliance with God’s command before his personal desires and feelings. So when God said to His Messenger ‘We are turning you towards a prayer direction that pleases you.’ He was referring to the feelings of love. The Prophet (peace be upon him) yearned for this change and his emotions laid down the foundations for it.
God continued: ‘Turn your face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque.’ Wherever the face turns, the body follows. Allah wants you to turn your entire being towards the sacred mosque. The word ‘Mosque’ is translated from the Arabic origin ‘Masjid’ which is derived from the verb ‘sajada’ referring to a act of prostration. Prostration shows utmost submissiveness to God. Thus, the places where prayer is performed are called Masjid. But there is a difference between a place where one prays, and a place which is exclusively designated for prayers. God made the whole earth pure for prostration, so you can pray and meet with your Lord whenever and wherever you like. A Mosque, on the other hand, is specified for prayer, worship, and no other activity.
The Ka’ba is the house of God that is chosen by God. All other mosques on earth are the houses of God that were chosen by people. That is why the house of God chosen by Him is the direction –Qibla- to which all other Mosques face.
This verse was revealed when the Prophet and his companions were offering prayer in the Bani-Salamah mosque in Medina. Thus, God added ‘wherever you may be, turn your faces to it’ so it is clear to everyone that turning towards Mecca is not specific for this particular mosque, but to all Muslims in any place.
The verse continues: ‘Those who were given the Scripture know with certainty that this is the Truth from their Lord: God is not unaware of what they do.’ The people of the book –be it Jews or Christians- tried to raise doubts about the Messenger (peace be upon him). Priests and rabbis knew that Muhammad was the last Messenger because they had his description in their books. Moreover, He was described to them as the prophet of two Qiblas, meaning that He would face two different directions in his prayers. Thus, if Muhammad was not commanded to switch the direction of prayer from the Aqsa Mosque to the Ka’ba, then they would have argued that he was not the prophet mentioned in the Torah and Gospel. Sadly, the change of Qibla which confirmed the Jewish and Christian prophecies did not strengthen the faith of their followers, rather it was used by the elites as a wedge to cause division and spread hatred. Allah responds with ‘God is not unaware of what they do.’ reassuring His Messenger and all the Muslims not to preoccupy themselves with the actions of those who oppose them. The purpose behind their questions and doubts was not to seek the truth, or to clarify an issue, rather it was to spread division and distract from the truth.