Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
wherever you may have started out, turn your face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque; wherever any of you may be, turn your faces towards it, so that people may have no argument against you- except for the unjust among them: do not fear them; fear Me- and so that I may perfect My favour on you so you may be guided
(Chapter 2: Verse 150)
God affirms to all the believers that their direction of prayer –Qibla- is now towards the sacred Mosque in Mecca. This is true regardless of where they are located, whether in Medina, outside Medina, or anywhere else on earth. The Ka’ba and the sacred Mosque in Mecca are the Qibla for every prayer regardless of time and place.
In the phrase: “so that people may have no argument against you”, the word ‘People’ is referring to the hypocrites, the Jews and the Christians. What was the argument about? Muslims initially faced Jerusalem in their prayers; then they were commanded to face towards Mecca. Neither Jerusalem nor Mecca are scared in and of themselves, rather it is God’s command that is sacred. God described the hypocrites, the Jews and the Christians who used this issue as a wedge to plant doubt within the believers as wrongdoers and unjust. The word ‘unjust’ refers to someone who refuses the truth, or knowingly states falsehood as the truth, and the truth as falsehood. Being unjust also implies crossing the boundaries that guard other people’s rights. Thus, those who concealed and denied the fact that changing the direction of prayers fulfils one of the Bible and Torah’s prophecies about Muhammad, were called unjust by Allah.
Then God added “do not fear them” because a believer who is in the company of his or her Lord should not fear anyone. To God belongs all the power, and when you are truthful and on the straight path, you should have peace in your heart that God is with you.
The verse continues: “do not fear them; fear Me- and so that I may perfect My favour on you and you may be guided” Which favour is God referring to? He is referring to the bounty of faith. Allah guided us to faith, and then He perfected our religion. However, for our faith to be correct, we must adhere to God’s teachings and be steadfast. It is through faith, and the correct implementation of God’s teachings that life becomes fair and upright. God’s blessing and favour do not bear fruit unless we approach His religion with love and dedication. Adhering to God’s scripture may be difficult, but when you remember the great reward for each and every action you do, then obligation becomes easy. God says:
Seek help through patience and Prayer. Indeed Prayer is burdensome, but not for those humbled by their reverence of God: those who are aware that they might meet their Lord and that they will return to Him. (02:45-46)
Those humbled by their reverence of God are the ones who associate religious obligations with reward and associate disobedience with punishment. In other words, they have the ultimate goal always present in their mind. If you find yourself skipping prayers, or not paying your alms –Zakat-, then rest assured that you have lost focus of the reward of paradise. Because when you have no goal to work for, you start to see religious obligations as difficult burdens. Similarly, if you find yourself doing one sin after another, then rest assured that you have lost focus of the accountability and punishment of hellfire in the hereafter. When you have no goal to work for, you start to see sin attractive and easy to do. Allah wants to extend you the full favour of faith and paradise, but you have to show initiative and love for God’s teachings first. God says in the third verse of chapter 5:
Today the faithless have despaired of your religion. So do not fear them, but fear Me. Today I have perfected your religion for you, and I have completed My blessing upon you, and I have approved Islam as your religion.
This verse was revealed to Muhammad (peace be upon him) during the farewell pilgrimage shortly before the prophet’s passing. It was a notification that the prophet had completed his mission to perfection. Now, it is up to each one of us to carry out God’s commandments and follow the prophet’s footsteps. Be mindful that there are some people who claim that religious obligations are too much of a burden for them. They claim that times have changed, and point to verses such as this one as an excuse to their shortcomings and procrastination. God says:
God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear: each gains whatever good it has done, and suffers its bad- (02:286)
Some people misinterpret this verse for their own benefit. They think that it is up to them to decide what they can bear and what they are not able to do. When they are faced with a religious obligation that they like, they do it. When they are faced with a religious duty that is tough, or inconvenient, they say we are not obligated to do it because 'God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear.' In other words, they want to be the judge of which of God’s commands applies to them.
The truth is exactly the opposite; Allah is the best judge and has absolute knowledge of what you and I are able to do. So, when Allah assigns a duty to you, then rest assured that it is well within your ability because ' God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear' So, do not excuse yourself from God’s teachings. In this modern and fast paced world, you may tell yourself that you are too busy to do so and so. Keep in mind that these duties have been assigned by Allah. He is well aware of what all generations from the time of Adam till the Day of Judgment are capable of doing. Don't you personally know people who fulfill all their religious obligations and do much more? Don't you know people today who are busy, yet find time to pray the obligatory prayers, and then add many more? There are those who go to Hajj many times, and those who connect with God a good part of each night. Thus, the obligations God assigned you are all well within your ability and can be easily done if you have the right frame of mind.
Moreover, Allah the Kind, the all Merciful, lessens the obligations for you in difficult circumstances. Take the examples of shortening and combining the prayers during travel, allowing the sick and the traveller to skip fasting during Ramadan and many more.
The verse ends with ‘so you may be guided.’ Guidance is highlighting the right and shortest path leading to your goal. The true goal of life is attaining the pleasures of the hereafter. In this world, Allah granted you the means to control your movement and to choose your path of life. But do not make this life and your movement within it your objective. ‘So you may be guided’ means that perhaps you become alert of your true goal and recognize what is required of you to achieve it. If you spend your life chasing after worldly and material gains using permissible and non-permissible means, you would go astray from the straight path. Allah wants to grant you guidance towards the true life and pleasures of the hereafter: Pleasures that you do not have to chase after, because they come to you. Pleasures that never depart you, nor will you depart them. Most importantly, they are pleasures that are made according to the power and knowledge of God, not by the limited power and limited knowledge of humans.