THE QIBLA CHANGE
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The Arabic word 'Qibla' is formed from its root word 'QAF-BA-LAM' and means to face or front something, to advance, to encounter or to confront face to face. It forms words such as 'istaqbalahu' which means that he faced him or it, that he turned his face towards him or it or indeed met him.
Other word derivates are also formed such as 'qubalatahu' which means opposite to, in a position so as to face him or it. Other words are also formed which imply a direction, point, place or something which is in front of another thing.
The Quran consistently uses the word 'Qibla' in the context of a direction of devotion or prayer (
THE QIBLA CHANGE
In the main, four verses of the Quran (2:142-2:145) deal with the incident in question. Through an analysis of these verses God willing, an attempt will be made to ascertain how much information one can extract and infer with regards the event in question.
THE FIRST CHANGE
It is clear from the above verse that a change has already been made. It is also clear that some assertions had been made by a section of the community who clearly questioned the Qibla change. Therefore from the first verse, we note that ONE Qibla change had occurred and therefore TWO separate directions are involved. One direction from which the change occurred and a second direction to which the change was made.
What is not immediately obvious from the verse at this stage is (a) What the original direction was and (b) the location of the new direction.
Illustration - Joseph Islam
The audience are clearly a section of the community described as 'foolish' (sufahau minal-nasi) and a very telling statement is captured which gives one a strong indication of the identity of the original 'Qibla'. "What has turned them from the Qibla which they were used to (allati kanu ayaha)?". The centre of devotion of the Prophet's community had always clearly been the Ka'ba which was also the Pagan sanctuary and a place of worship since the time of 'Jahliyya' (ignorance). Therefore, from the verse it is likely that a change had been made from the original sanctuary (the Ka'ba) which prompted the question from a section of the community.
This change must have indeed been momentous. A place of worship that had been utilised by generations as a centre of Pagan worship had now become challenged by a monotheistic preacher and his followers. The reason for the change is noted in the very next verse. This was to reveal those who were sincerely prepared to follow the teachings of the Prophet and to expose those that may not have truly believed or followed his message with sincerity. These individuals were possibly from those who were prepared for partial compromises such as retaining certain rituals and those beliefs that did not necessarily compromise their existing beliefs such as their particular direction of devotion and rejecting others.
Albeit the location of the new direction is unclear from the verses, there are further inferences that can be drawn. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) at this stage was clearly associating himself with Prophet Abraham (pbuh) in faith. The message that had now been revealed to him in Arabic speech was a confirmation and continuation of the guidance from the previous scriptures and united him in faith with those to whom the previous scriptures had been revealed (Jews and Christians). There is also some affiliation noted with the Holy Lands in verse 17:1 where a journey was made to the Holy Lands, an area which had clearly been blessed. It is very likely therefore, that the new 'Qibla' was consistent with those of the previous scriptures and pointed towards the Holy Lands given that the revelation united him in faith with the followers of those Prophets to whom inspiration had also been sent.
This view is further supported by the statement made by the section of the community that questioned this change (2:142). God responded by informing them that all directions belonged to Him and that in effect, He was Omnipresent and God of them all.
THE SECOND CHANGE
A second change is noted in the above verse and confirmed as one towards the Sacred Mosque (the Ka'ba). It is also clear that this location was a separate Qibla from the followers of the previous scriptures. The separation of the two Qibla's is now clearly emphasised. It's emphatic tone supports the earlier suggestion that the first Qibla change was indeed made towards a direction of the Holy Lands and this second change amounted to a change from the Holy Lands back to the original sanctuary at Makkah (i.e. the Ka'ba). It is also quite significant to note the expression "
From the verse it is also noted that the Prophet was clearly subject to some anguish. The exact reason for the anguish is not elaborated but this could be a part of his personal struggle, one resulting from the pressures of his community or a mixture of both. However the nature of the anguish seems to be associated with the direction of prayer that was being currently followed. God's response came to alleviate this distress '... '.
Given the Prophet's background and his association with the Ka'aba, it is not surprising to note that the direction was reinstated back to the Sacred Mosque (Masjid Al-Haram) which throughout the Quran is only a reference to the Makkan sanctuary. The People of the Book clearly would not have followed this Qibla and the status quo now constituted of two different directions of prayer. There would have remained one direction for the followers of the previous scriptures and a second for the followers of the final message (i.e. The Quran). God could never be restricted to any one direction (all directions / everything belonging to him) therefore the linkage was now to remain by virtue of faith as opposed to direction.
Illustration - Joseph Islam
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