What does QIBLAH mean? It literally means the direction of attention. Qiblah means prayer direction
Allah (SWT) says in Surah Al-Baqarah # 115
And to Allah belong the east and the west, so wherever you turn yourself or your faces there is a face of Allah. Surely! Allah is All sufficient for His creatures’ needs, All Knowing.
It seems that no particular direction needs to be fixed to worship one God. If there was no fixed direction physically speaking, anyone could face any direction at any time.
What is the wisdom in fixing a QIBLAH? We know that fasting and remembrance of Allah (SWT) are individual acts of worship. Salat and Hajj are congregational acts of worship. In fixing QIBLAH, it was intended to point out and teach the manners and etiquettes of group dynamics. The most important principle for the unity and solidarity of a group is having one sense of direction, which is above racial, tribal, geographic, linguistic and country of origin. Allah (SWT) chose the QIBLAH to solve this issue since other choices divide rather than unite the nations. Islam is the religion of all prophets. Hence one and only one direction of worship points out the oneness of the teaching of all the prophets.
The oneness of the QIBLAH for all people of the world brought about unity and uniformity among them. This instruction was very easy to follow by men and women, educated and uneducated, rural or urban, rich and poor alike. This shows how simple and beautiful Islam is.
Note if this decision had been left to the people there would have been great disagreements. But Allah (SWT) through His mercy decided this once for all, to help unite and bring about uniformity in muslim nations. Hence, when Adam (AS) came to earth, the foundation of the House of Allah (SWT) was laid down by the angels. The QIBLAH for Adam and his progeny was this very QIBLAH. Allah (SWT) says in Surah Al-Imran # 96.
Verily, the first House (of worship) appointed for mankind was that at Bakkah (Makkah), full of blessing, and a guidance for Al-Alamin (mankind and jinn).
Everyone followed the QIBLAH until the time of Prophet Noah (AS). It was destroyed during the floods at the time of the Prophet Noah (AS). Later, Ibrahim (AS) and Ismail (AS) reconstructed it under the command and guidance of Allah (SWT). It was also the QIBLAH for them and their followers. Later Al-Quds was fixed as the QIBLAH for some of the prophets from Israelites. These prophets while praying in Al-Quds used to face it in such a way that both Al-Quds and house of Allah (SWT) were right in front of them.
Again as narrated by Al-Qurtabi, when prayers were made obligatory for Prophet Mohammad (SAS) and his followers, initially, the QIBLAH was the same as for his forefather, Ibrahim (AS). After Hijra to Medina, and according to some scholars just before Hijra to Medina, Allah (SWT) ordered him to face Al-Quds. Prophet Mohammad (SAS) used to stand between Hajr-e-aswad and Rukn-e-yameni so that both the House of Allah (SWT) and Al-Quds were in front of him. According to a hadith in Bukhari, Prophet Mohammad (SAS) offered salah in Medina facing towards Al-Quds for sixteen or seventeen months. He (SAS) was totally submitted to the commands of Allah (SWT). However, he wished that the QIBLAH would be the one as it was for Adam (AS) and Ibrahim (AS). Allah (SWT) fulfills the wish of His chosen people. Prophet Mohammad (SAS) was very hopeful that this wish of his would be fulfilled. He used to wait for revelations and looked towards the sky again and again for it. Allah (SWT) says in Surah Al Baqarah # 144
Verily! We have seen the turning of your face towards the heaven. Surely, We shall turn you to a Qiblah (prayer direction) that shall please you, so turn your face in the direction of Al-Masjid-Al-Haram (at Makkah).
In this way, Allah (SWT) fulfilled the wish of Prophet Mohammad (SAS). Note here the word ‘shatar’ means that the people praying in other countries should try their best to face towards this mosque but do not have to be exactly towards the cubic structure. However, those who are seeing the house of Allah (SWT) must face exactly towards it during salat.
As soon as the Jews of Medina found that the QIBLAH for the Muslims is Masjid-al-Haram and not Al-Quds, they not only joked and made fun of it, but also were alarmed by this change. As long as Muslims were using the QIBLAH used by the Jews, Muslims were somewhat acceptable to the Jews. Now separated, the QIBLAH meant that muslims were a separate and distinct nation. Hence, the Jews accelerated their opposition against the Muslims and regarded them as enemies. Allah (SWT) says Al-Baqarah # 177
Turning your face to the east or the west is not piety but the real piety is submission to the will of Allah (SWT).
The characteristics of both Al-Quds and Masjid-il-Haram are none other than what Allah (SWT) has given them, dignity and status.
Even among the prophets, Allah (SWT) has made some excel above others in certain ways. Allah (SWT) says in Al-Baqarah # 253
Those Messengers! We preferred some to others.
Hence these two holy places have no other qualifications except that Allah (SWT) exalted and excelled them over others. Again Allah (SWT) says in surah Al-Baqarah # 115
And to Allah belong the east and the west so wherever you turn there is the Face of Allah. Surely! Allah is All sufficient for His creatures’ needs, All knowing.
Hence it is not the direction, but the demonstration of submission to the will of Allah (SWT) that is important in following a direction.
This change of QIBLAH further brought out clearly that the
Al-Quds or Masjid-al-Haram are not some form of idols, but the real purpose is to submit to the will of Allah (SWT). The will of Allah (SWT) may direct to Al-Quds or Masjid-al-Haram. Submission to this command with full mind and heart is must.
Another major benefit in the change of the QIBLAH was to sort out the hypocrites from the sincere Muslims. Allah (SWT) says in Al-Baqarah
“And we made a Qiblah which you used to face, only to test those who followed Prophet Mohammad from those who would turn on their heels.”
According to a Hadith in Musnad Ahmed which is narrated by Aisha (RU) Prophet Mohammad (SAS) said, “The people of the Book are jealous of the Muslims for three reasons:
First of all, Allah (SWT) has fixed a day for worship each week for all the previous ummah. Saturday for Jews and Sunday for Christians and hence Friday was chosen for the Muslims. Secondly, this change of the QIBLAH. Thirdly, to say Ameen after the Imam. The people of the Book are deprived of all of these features.”
Note sometimes the Sunnah is canceled by the Quran, and if it is not canceled then the validity of the Sunnah is the same as the Quran. For example, initially the direction of the QIBLAH is not mentioned in the Quran. Muslims followed the Sunnah. Then it was changed by the Quran. But the Quran asserts that the prayers offered by the Sunnah are not lost.
According to a Hadith in Bukhari and Muslim, the change of the QIBLAH took place while Mohammad (SAS) was praying ASR, though some narrations say Dhur (as mentioned in Ibn-Katheer).
Some companions finished their salat with Prophet Mohammad (SAS). They noticed that their brothers were praying in their neighborhood mosque facing Al-Quds. The companions loudly informed them that we have just prayed with Prophet Mohammad (SAS) facing Bait-allah. They turned their direction during prayer, without any fussing or questioning whatsoever. This incident brings out an important point that, in Islam, the credibility of one person as a witness is sufficient in some cases.
The change of the direction of the QIBLAH reached Quba the next day. As mentioned in Bukhari and Muslim that the people of Quba also changed their direction during the prayer on hearing the announcement even from one individual. It also shows how much mutual respect, confidence and trust the companions of Prophet Mohammad (SAS) enjoyed and practiced.
According to a Hadith in Bukhari narrated by Ibn-e-Azib when the QIBLAH was changed to Masjid-al-Haram, the people asked the Prophet (SAS) about the Muslims who had passed away and followed Al-Quds as the QIBLAH. Allah (SWT) answered it in the following verse verifying that their prayers are not lost rather fully accepted by Allah (SWT). Al-Baqarah # 143
And Allah would never make your faith (prayers) to be lost.
It is interesting to note that the word ‘Eeman’ is used in place of salat in this verse. Hence there is no Eeman (or Islamic faith) without establishing the salat. In other words salat is the indicator of Eeman of a person.
May Allah (SWT) enable us to establish salat regularly and thereby strengthen our Eeman. May Allah (SWT) unite all muslims of the world who follow the one same QIBLAH. Ameen.