One of the misconceptions raised is “Jerusalem cannot be Muslims land because they pray with their backs to Jerusalem. They have Mecca”. This is another form of Zionist brainwashing in the media to discredit Muslims from having any religious claim to Jerusalem.
When a person doesn’t like Islam or Muslims they’re more prone to blindly follow the propaganda in the media. They do not make the effort to learn from authentic sources because they do not like the religion.
It was really hard for me to explain the reason behind the change of Qibla (prayer direction), so my reference for this post is Jerusalem in the Qur’an by Imran Hosein (free Ebook).
The first Qibla Muslims prayed towards was Al-Aqsa mosque (or Bait Al-Maqdis). Prophet Muhammad pbuh prayed towards Al-Aqsa before Hijrah and about seventeen months until Rajab of the second year, when Allah ordered him to pray towards the Kabah.
“And thus we have made you a just community that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you. And We did not make the qiblah which you used to face except that We might make evident who would follow the Messenger from who would turn back on his heels. And indeed, it is difficult except for those whom Allah has guided. And never would Allah have caused you to lose your faith. Indeed Allah is, to the people, Kind and Merciful.”
“We have certainly seen the turning of your face, [O Muhammad], toward the heaven, and We will surely turn you to a qiblah with which you will be pleased. So turn your face toward al-Masjid al-Haram. And wherever you [believers] are, turn your faces toward it [in prayer]. Indeed, those who have been given the Scripture well know that it is the truth from their Lord. And Allah is not unaware of what they do.” [Qur’an, 2:143-44]
This hadith from Anas (R.A) is recorded in Sahih Muslim:
Jewish religious scholarship recognised a relationship with the Holy Land, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon (as), to be matters connected with the very substance of ‘faith’. As a consequence of that belief, they concluded that the religion of Judaism would forever remain incomplete unless and until Jews returned to a liberated Holy Land, restored the State of Israel with Holy Jerusalem as the capital of that State, and reconstructed the Temple of Solomon (as).
The Qur’an declared, on the other hand, that the substance of religion resided in ‘faith’ (I.e., righteous conduct) – faith in Allah, his Angels, his revealed scriptures, his Prophets and Messengers, the Last Day, the Resurrection and Judgment, heaven and hell, etc.
Allah is greater than a Land, or a City, or a Temple. When the last prophet (as) came into the world, Jewish scholarship was incapacitated in respect of formally recognising him as a Prophet because of this fixation with the ‘external form’ of religion and inadequate recognition of the ‘internal substance’ of religion. Muhammad pbuh, the Arab, was not a Jew, hence, they argued, he could not be a Prophet to the Jews.
After the arrival of the Prophet in their very midst in the Hejazi city of Yathrib (now Madina), he fasted with the Jews on the days when they fasted and in accordance with the law of fasting in the Torah (sunset to sunset). He also performed his Salat (prescribed prayers) while facing in the direction of Jerusalem. When after seventeen months it became clear that the Jews had not only rejected Muhammad (as) as a Prophet of Allah swt and the Qur’an as the word of Allah, they were also conspiring to destroy the unity and power of the community of Muslims. Allah then ordered the Prophet to turn away from Jerusalem and turn to Mecca instead.
This change in Qibla (direction of prayer) provoked the Jews to make many critical comments. It was an affront to them that this change should have taken place since they believed that the very substance of religion was located in attachment to Jerusalem. The Qur’an responded to their criticisms with contempt:
“The foolish among the people will say, “What has turned them away from their qiblah, which they used to face?” Say, “To Allah belongs the east and the west. He guides whom He wills to a straight path.” [Qur’an, 2:142]
The Qur’an declared the Jews to be so imprisoned by the false belief that Jerusalem belonged to the heart and center of faith that nothing in the world could change it:
“And if you brought to those who were given the Scripture every sign, they would not follow your qiblah. Nor will you be a follower of their qiblah. Nor would they be followers of one another’s qiblah. So if you were to follow their desires after what has come to you of knowledge, indeed, you would then be among the wrongdoers.” [Qur’an, 2:145]
Finally, the Qur’an responded with a declaration that demolished the false belief that Jerusalem and its temple were located at the substance of the religion of Abraham (as):
“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” [Qur’an, 2:177]
No negative implication for Islam should be derived from this event of the turning away by Muslims from Jerusalem and turning to Mecca, other than the clear Qur’anic attempt to correct the religious perspective of those who located the substance of religion in a geographical framework.
The Qur’anic message to the Jews was very clear. They were informed that although Muhammad pbuh was not a Jew, although he no longer prayed in the direction of Jerusalem, and never made any attempt whatsoever to liberate Jerusalem, he was still a true Prophet, and the religion which he preached was the true religion of Abraham. And so the change in Qibla was an ominous sign for the stubborn Jew who insisted that Jerusalem was the spiritual heart of the religion of Abraham.