The Jews sought constantly to exploit the question of changing the direction of Muslim prayer (qiblah) which meant that the Muslims faced the Kabah in prayer instead of turning towards Jerusalem. The Prophet and his Companions faced Jerusalem in their prayers for 16 or 17 months after the Prophet’s emigration to Madinah. This topic has been discussed at length in Surat Al-Baqarah. That discussion explained that to choose the Kabah as the qiblah (or direction in prayer) is to opt for the most natural and preferable alternative. When Jerusalem was chosen for a certain period, this was done for a specific reason explained by God.

The Jews, nevertheless, continued to exploit this issue, trying to raise doubts and confusion and covering truth with falsehood, in the same way as the enemies of Islam do today. God, however, foils their schemes with a new explanation:

{Say: ‘God speaks the truth. Follow, then, the creed of Ibrahim (Abraham), who turned away from all that is false and was not one of those who associate partners with God. The first House [of worship] ever set up for mankind was indeed the one at Bakkah: rich in blessing; and a source of guidance to all the worlds, full of clear messages. It is the place whereon Abraham once stood; and whoever enters it finds inner peace. Pilgrimage to this House is a duty owed to God by all people who are able to undertake it. As for those who disbelieve, God does not stand in need of anything in all the worlds.} (Aal-Imran 3:95-7) The first sentence here, {Say: ‘God speaks the truth,’} refers to what has been stated previously.

The Kabah was built by prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and Ismail (Ishmael) so that it may be a place of refuge and security for all people and to serve as a qiblah or focal point and a praying place for all those who believe in Ibrahim’s faith. Hence, the command to follow Ibrahim’s creed which is based on the belief in the absolute oneness of God, associating no partners with Him in any form or shape: {Follow, then, the creed of Ibrahim, who turned away from all that is false and was not one of those who associate partners with God.} (Aal-imran 3: 95)

The Jews claimed that they were the descendants of prophet Ibrahim. Here, the Qur’an tells them the true nature of Ibrahim’s faith, namely, the belief in the absolute Oneness of God. This is emphasized twice in succession: the first states that Ibrahim turned away from all that is false, and the second asserts that he was not one of those who associate partners with God. How can they, then, go as far as to ascribe partners to God?

{The first House [of worship] ever set up for mankind was indeed the one at Bakkah: rich in blessing, and a source of guidance to all the worlds, full of clear messages…} (Aal-imran 3: 96-97)

This verse explains that to face the Kabah is the proper choice. The Kabah is the first House ever set up for the exclusive purpose of worship. God commanded prophet Ibrahim to build it and to consecrate it for worshippers who either walk round it, spend periods of time worshipping in it and who bow and prostrate themselves there in total submission to God. God has blessed this House and made it like a beacon for mankind where they find guidance showing them the true faith acceptable to God, which is indeed the creed of Ibrahim himself. There are indeed clear signs in the Kabah which show that it is the place where Ibrahim stood in his worship.

Some scholars suggest that the Arabic term, Maqam Ibrahim, which is used in this verse and rendered in our translation as “the spot where Ibrahim stood”, refers to the ancient stone on which Ibrahim stood when he built the Kabah. It used to be stuck to the wall of the Kabah, but the second Caliph, Umar, moved it back so that people doing the tawaf (i.e., walking round the Kabah) did not disturb those who prayed behind it. We are commanded by God to make that spot a place where we pray:

{Establish the spot where Ibrahim stood as a place of worship.} (Al-Baqarah 2: 125)

One of the virtues of this House is highlighted here, namely, the sense of security it imparts to anyone who goes there.

It is a refuge for anyone who is overtaken by fear, where he can find peace and security. In this particular aspect, this place is absolutely unique. It shares this quality with no other place on earth. It has remained so ever since it was built by Ibrahim and his son Ismail. Even in the dark ages of Ignorance in Arabia, when the Arabs deviated far away from Ibrahim’s faith and no longer believed in the oneness of God, the sanctity of this House continued to be observed. Al-Hasan al-Basri and other renowned scholars explain that in that period of Ignorance, a man might commit a murder and go into the sanctuary of the House, having put a piece of wool around his neck. He might be met there by the son of the man he murdered but he would not be disturbed there until he had left the House This is part of the honour and blessings God has given to this House of His, even when people around it lived in total ignorance. He reminds the Arabs of this great favour He has done them: {Are they not aware that We have set up a secure sanctuary while people are snatched away all around them?} (Al-Ankabut 29:67)

Its sanctity is even extended to animals. Hunting is forbidden in its vicinity and no animals are scared out of their abodes in order to be captured.

It is also forbidden to cut down the trees in its vicinity. An authentic hadith, related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim on the authority of Ibn `Abbas, mentions that the Prophet (peace be upon him), said on the day when Makkah was liberated by the Muslims:

“God has made this city a sacred one ever since the day He created the heavens and the earth. It remains, therefore, inviolable by virtue of the sanctity imparted to it by God till the Day of Resurrection.
Fighting in this city was never made lawful to anyone before me. It has only been made lawful to me for an hour of one day. It continues to be sanctified by God’s order till the Day of Resurrection.
Its plants may not be cut, its game may not be scared. No one may pick up something dropped by other people unless he publicly announces it…”

This is, then, the House God has chosen to be the qiblah, or direction of Prayer, for Muslims. It is God’s House which He has made so rich in blessings. It is the first House ever set up for men to worship in. Moreover, it is the House of Ibrahim, containing clear signs that it was Ibrahim himself who built it. Islam, or submission to God, is the creed of Ibrahim. Hence, the House he built is the one which deserves to serve as the direction of prayer for Muslims. Moreover, it represents security and peace on earth. Since it is the focal point of Islam, it represents guidance for mankind.

By Sayyid Qutb

Taken with slight modifications from “In the Shade of the Qur’an” by Sayyid Qutb