The Revelation and Direction of Prayer

An unknown scholar from among the Christians of Europe, supposedly of the Roman Catholic Church, wrote the following (in bold italics).

The advertised story behind the writing of the Qur’an is as follows. Mohammed, the founder of Islam, was born in 570AD in Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, of the tribe Quraysh. He began having visions at the age of 40. According to Islamic tradition, the angel Gabriel appeared to him on Mt. Hira, near Mecca, and had him memorize the contents of a scroll.

Mecca, at the time that the first verses were revealed from the Qur’an, was not recognized as “the holiest city.” It was the central city whose temple contained the idols of idol worshippers, and it was the focal point of idol worship during the season of pilgrimage. Yet early Muslims and Jews faced Jerusalem in prayer and looked towards that site, the Masjid alMaqdis  (Hebrew: Beit HaMikdash – ‘The Holy House’), as the main holy site of that time. This is in contrast to the Christians of that era and area whose delegations came to Medina to enquire about Muhammad, may Allah praise him, and were observed facing east when they prayed. It was only later, after the migration to Medina, that Allah ordered His Messenger to change the direction of prayer (the Qiblah) from the Holy Sanctuary in Jerusalem to the Sacred Sanctuary in Mecca.

This leads me to a digression. Why did Allah change the direction of prayer? Why are there two sanctuaries? The answer to this question is quite long, and involves two traditions, not just one.

The first tradition is that Adam, the first man, placed a stone as a marker as places of worship on two sites. The first of these sites was in Paran, where Mecca lies. It is believed that Allah sent the black stone with Adam when he descended, which was on a Friday. Abu Hurairah, one of the companions of the Prophet, Muhammad, narrated that he said, “The best of days on which the sun has risen is Friday. One this day Adam was created, and on this day he was descended to earth.” There is disagreement about exactly where Adam descended. Ibn Abbas said, “Adam descended on land Dihna between Mecca and Taif.  Another tradition from Ibn Umar has Adam and Eve each arriving at different points in Mecca, on the hillocks Safa and Marwa at either end of the course that Hagar, the wife of Abraham, would run back and forth while desperately seeking help for herself and her baby, Ishmael. The black stone was the marker that Adam established.

Abraham would later return to this place with Hagar, leaving her and Ishmael there at the bequest of Allah. At a later date still, he returned to check up on them. The first time he found Ishmael married to a woman that he did not like, while the second time he found that he had changed his wife for someone he liked better. On the third occasion, he built the temple of the Kaaba with him, which was to be the centre of worship and the direction of prayer for him and his offspring.

Pertaining to this, the Qur’an says, “Verily, the First House appointed to mankind was that of Bacca, (a place) full of blessings and guidance for the worlds. Therein are signs manifest, the station of Abraham; whoever enters it attains security.” (Qur’an 3:96-7)

The story of its building is detailed in Surah 2. “And when the Lord of Abraham tried him with commands, he fulfilled them.

“He said, ‘Verily, I will make you a leader for mankind.’

“He said, ‘What about my offspring?’

“He said, ‘My Covenant does not include the oppressors.’

“And We made the House a place for mankind to rest and a have refuge. And take the station of Abraham as a place of prayer. And We commanded Abraham and Ishmael to purify My House for those circumambulating it, or secluding themselves inside, or bowing and prostrating there.

“And when Abraham said, ‘My Lord, make this city a sanctuary and provide fruit for such of its people who believe in Allah and the Last Day.’

“He answered, ‘As for the disbeliever, I shall leave him in contentment for a while. Then I will compel him to (enter) the torment of the Fire; and that is indeed the worst destination!’

“And when Abraham and Ishmael erected the foundations of the House, (they said), ‘Our Lord! Accept this service from us; Verily, You are the Hearer, the Knower. Our Lord! And make us submissive unto You, and show us our ritual tasks (for the Pilgrimage), and accept our repentance. Truly, You are the One Who accepts repentance: the Most Merciful.’” (Qur’an 2:124-128)

The second place was where Adam erected a stone at Bayt al-MaqdisJerusalem, which lies in Canaan.  According to Imam Bukhari, there was only 40 years between the erection of the black stone and the stone at Bayt al-Maqdis (or Beit ha-Mikdash in Hebrew), which raises a problem historically. If Abraham and Ishmael built the House in Mecca and David and Solomon built the House in Jerusalem, as two traditions state (in the Collections of An-Nasa’i & Al-Tabarani), then how can their construction be 40 years apart? The commentary on the second tradition offers a solution: Ibn al-Jawzi said: “The mention of 40 years concerns the first construction and the foundation of the places of prostration; it was not Abraham who built the Kaaba for the first time nor was it Solomon who built Bayt al-Maqdis for the first time. Indeed, we have narrated that the first one who built the Kaaba is Adam. Then his children spread out on earth. Therefore, it is possible that one of his progeny built it.”

Likewise, al-Qurtubi said: “This tradition does not indicate that Abraham and Solomon were the first ones to build the two places of worship. It was only a renovation of what had been founded by others.

Ibn Hajar was of the opinion that it was Adam himself who erected the second stone. The companion Abd Allah ibn Amr, from whom we have received the tradition concerning the roles of Abraham and Solomon, also said, “when Adam had prayed at the Kaaba, he was ordered to set out to Jerusalem where he built a place of worship where he prayed, so that it became the direction of prayer to a part of his progeny.”

We know that the Messenger of Allah, may he be praised, ascended a ladder into the heavens accompanied by angels. This leads to a personal belief that the stone Adam laid as the foundation to Beit ha-Mikdash, or Bet ha-El (The House of God) was the one that the Prophet Jacob laid his head on when he dreamed of a ladder upon which the angels ascended and descended to and from the earth. A further personal opinion is that the place (Bacca) where Abraham established His House was known as Bir-Lahai-Roi in Genesis 16:14, or as Bir-Sheba in Genesis 21:33. The name Bacca is also found in Psalms 84:6, referring to a valley with fountains and plantations of trees; a place to be passed through (as one does on pilgrimage) rather than stayed in.

From this, we understand that the first direction of prayer was Mecca, and this changed to Jerusalem only after the establishment of Israel with Jacob, and among the line of Prophets that descended from him. When Allah redirected the people of Ishmael’s branch of the family to face Mecca rather than Jerusalem, it was a test that would demonstrate who the real believers were. The real believers would not hesitate to follow the orders of the final Prophet, whereas those who did not believe him to be Allah’s Messenger to them would hold on to the direction of prayer (Jerusalem) that had become established.

Read on: A Sealed Scroll

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