Biblical Jerusalem is to Judaism, What Koranic Mecca is to Islam: How Prayer Direction Reveals This (Or Should)

According to a senior administration official (quoted by AFP), POTUS Trump is slated to announce from the White House at 1:00 pm (1800 GMT), today (Wednesday, 12/6/2017),

[T]he United States government recognizes that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel… He views this as a recognition of reality, both historic reality and modern reality.

Politico cited these two irrefragable observations from the Trump administration regarding POTUS Trump’s imminent announcement:

While President Trump recognizes that the status of Jerusalem is a highly sensitive issue, he does not think it will be resolved by ignoring the simple truth that Jerusalem is home to Israel’s legislature, its supreme court and the prime minister, and as such is the capital of Israel… Delaying the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has done nothing to achieve peace for more than two decades.

The directionality of daily Jewish vs. Muslim prayer illustrates, starkly, another quintessential truth willfully ignored by the uninformed discussions of Jerusalem’s so-called “highly sensitive status,” vis-à-vis Judaism, and Islam.

Normative Jewish law (see: Berakhot 30a) rules that a worshipper should face Israel and Jerusalem during prayer, invoking Biblical admonitions, such as these:

(I Kings 8:44/8:48): and when they pray to the Lord toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name…and pray to you toward the land you gave their ancestors, toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name

(II Chronicles 6:32) As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple

Koran 2:143 & 2:144 mandated changing Islam’s direction of prayer (qibla) from Jerusalem to Mecca, as a central means of affirming a Muslim’s faith in the creed, and rejecting the “disbelief” of Jews, in particular.  The most authoritative classical and modern Muslim Koranic commentaries (see below), substantiate this notion and further emphasize how praying towards Mecca, instead of Jerusalem affirms a triumphal Muslim rejection of “Jewish hostility toward Islam.”

Koran 2:143: Thus We have made you [true Muslims – real believers of Islamic Monotheism, true followers of Prophet Muhammad and his Sunnah (legal ways)], a Wasat (just) (and the best) nation, that you be witnesses over mankind and the Messenger (Muhammad) be a witness over you. And We made the Qiblah (prayer direction towards Jerusalem) which you used to face, only to test those who followed the Messenger (Muhammad) from those who would turn on their heels (i.e. disobey the Messenger). Indeed it was great (heavy) except for those whom Allah guided. And Allah would never make your faith (prayers) to be lost (i.e. your prayers offered towards Jerusalem). Truly, Allah is full of kindness, the Most Merciful towards mankind.

Koran 2:144 Verily! We have seen the turning of your (Muhammad‘s SAW) 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). And wheresoever you people are, turn your faces (in prayer) in that direction. Certainly, the people who were given the Scriptures (i.e. Jews and the Christians) know well that, that (your turning towards the direction of the Ka‘bah at Makkah in prayers) is the truth from their Lord. And Allah is not unaware of what they do;

The classical Koranic commentaries (tafsir) Tafsir Ibn Kathir, and Tafsir al-Jalalayn rivet upon how the Koranic mandate for changing prayer direction distinguished Islam from the disbelief of the Jews, who reacted with “confusion” (at best), “anger,” and “envy”.  Maariful Quran, a contemporary opus on Koranic interpretation avers that Koran 2:143-44 re-affirms the “Arabness” of Islam, and dismissal of “stubborn Jewish animus” toward the Muslim creed of Muhammad.

Ibn Kathir (d. 1373) was one of the best-known historians and traditionalists of Syria during the reign of the Bahri Mamluks, compiling an important history of Islam, as well as a Koranic commentary, still widely referenced at present. His gloss on Koran 2:143-44, states:

 

[Tafsir Ibn Kathir] Ibn Abbas said: ―When Allah‘s Messenger migrated to Al-Madinah, Allah commanded him to face Bayt Al-Maqdis (Jerusalem). The Jews were delighted then. Allah‘s Messenger faced Jerusalem for over ten months. However, he liked (to offer prayer in the direction of) Prophet Ibrahim‘s [the Biblical Abraham] Qiblah (the Ka‘bah in Makkah) and used to supplicate Allah and kept looking up to the sky (awaiting Allah‘s command in this regard). Allah then revealed: ―turn your faces (in prayer) in that direction‖ meaning, its direction. The Jews did not like this change…When the change of Qiblah (to Ka‘bah in Makkah) occurred, those inflicted with hypocrisy and mistrust, and the Jews, both were lead astray from the right guidance and fell into confusion…The Jews, who did not like that you change your Qiblah from Bayt Al-Maqdis, already knew that Allah will command you (O Muhammad) to face the Ka‘bah. The Jews read in their Books their Prophets‘ description of Allah‘s Messenger and his Ummah, and that Allah has endowed and honored him with complete and honorable legislation. Yet, the People of the Book deny these facts because of their envy, disbelief, and rebellion. That is why Allah threatened them when He said: ―And Allah is not unaware of what they do.

Al-Suyuti (1445–1505) is recognized as the most prolific author in the realm of Islamic literature. A brilliant multidisciplinary scholar, al-Suyuti was a learned jurist, historian, and biographer. Among his many scholarly contributions are about twenty works of Koranic studies, including seminal Koranic commentaries (tafsir), such as Tafsir al-Jalalayn. The late, great contemporary Dutch Islamologist Johannes J.G. Jansen noted in his treatise “The Interpretation of the Koran in Modern Egypt,” Tafsir al-Jalalayn remains one of the most popular as well as the most authoritative Koranic commentaries in Egypt. Suyti’s gloss on Koran 2:143-44 reiterates the earlier interpretation of Ibn Kathir, maintaining,

[Tafsir al-Jalalayn] ―We only appointed the direction you used to face, which was the Ka‘ba towards which the Prophet had first prayed; when he emigrated, he was commanded to face Jerusalem as the Jews did, and he did so for sixteen or seventeen months, after which the qibla changed back, ― in order to distinguish manifestly ―those who follow the Messenger and confirm him ―from those who turn round on their heels and revert to unbelief, doubting the din [religion, i.e., Islam], and thinking that the Prophet…was confused about the matter. One group reverted ―Though in truth it (turning toward its) ―is a very hard thing and difficult for people—―except for those among them ―Allah has guided.

Lastly, Maulana Muhammad Shafi (1898-1976), a former grand mufti of India (prior to the August, 1947 partition), was the author of Maariful Quran, which remains the best-known Koranic commentary in Urdu. He also wrote more than three hundred books, and in addition to these literary works, broadcasted his Koranic commentary on Radio Pakistan for a number of years. Mufti Shafi’s modern gloss on Koran 2:143-44 establishes a 600-year consensus of opinion, punctuated by contemporary re-statement of traditional, canonical Islamic themes of Muslim Jew-hatred:

[Maariful Qur‘an] According to the blessed Companion Abdullah ibn Abbas, the first Qiblah was the Baytul-Maqdis, and continued to be so even after the Hijrah [emigration to Medina] for some sixteen or seventeen months, and it was only then that Allah commanded that the Baytullah [at Mecca] be taken as the Qiblah…The raison d‘etre of these changes of orientation has been explained like this. When the Holy Prophet came to Madinah, he had to deal with the Jews, and in order to familiarize them with Islam he adopted their Qiblah under divine commandment. But, by and by it became evident that a stubborn people like the Jews would not easily give up their hostility to Islam. So, Allah allowed him [Muhammad] to go back to the original Qiblah…[T]he commandment with regard to the change in orientation is a test of the faith of those who claim to be the followers of the Holy Prophet, which would openly demonstrate the distinction between those who are genuinely obedient to Allah and His Messenger, and those who follow their individual opinion. History records that after this verse had been revealed, those who were weak in their faith, or were just hypocrites, forsook Islam, and even accused the Holy Prophet of having gone back to the ways of his own people—that is, of the mushrikun [infidels]…Once the Ka‘bah had been made the Qiblah of the Muslims, the Arabs could be expected to find Islam more acceptable. As for the hope that the adoption of Baytul-Maqdis as the Qiblah would bring the Jews closer to Islam, it had been dashed by the events of the last sixteen or seventeen months, for the hostility of the Jews to Islam, fed by their vanity, had only been growing more intense

Andrew G. Bostom is the author of The Legacy of Jihad (Prometheus, 2005) and The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism ” (Prometheus, November, 2008)

You can contact Dr. Bostom at @andrewbostom.org

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