In this thread we look at the following interrelated questions:
1. Does Salat need direction?
2. If the answer to the above question is yes, then, is this direction physical or spiritual and ideological?
Please note the first occurrence of both Salat and Qibla during the time of prophet Moses. Reviewing 10:75 onward, one finds that many people during Moses’ time did not believe in him fearing Firaun’s persecution, except some offspring/youth among his people [10:83]. Moses goes on to advise his followers to rely on Allah if you believe and are Muslims [10:84], they responding with affirmation and making supplication to Lord that (i) they may not be the object of trial for the wrongdoers and (ii) God may save them through His mercy [10:86-87]. Please note the apprehensions and anxiety felt by these individuals, and the pulpable atmosphere they were in. It is thus obvious that this time was of severe hardship and persecution for Moses, his brother, and their followers. Then [10:87]:
[10:87]: And We inspired to Moses and his brother, "Settle your people in Egypt in houses and make your houses Qiblah and establish Salat and give good tidings to the believers."
1. Through 10:87, God is asking Moses and his brother to do this: (i) settle your followers in their houses (make them calm, collected, composed, and restful; no confrontation with Firaun and his people, etc.), (ii) ask them to make their houses Qibla and establish salat therein, and (iii) reassure them glad tidings from God if they remain believers.
2. Before Moses asks them to do Salat, Qibla is mentioned. People at the time of Moses knew (i) what is “Qibla” and that (ii) there is a relationship between the Qibla and Salat. Therefore, Qibla (the direction) and Salat are essential for each other.
3. It could be that their houses were to become places of salat without really bothering about a particular direction to avoid any confusion and arguments between them.
4. It could also be that no particular Qibla was yet established for this nation as no directions were yet given to Moses about the final form of the Deen and its central symbol towards which they may face eventually. Please note at this stage the only demand on Firaun is “Let Children of Israel go with me.”
5. One may also note that there is only one command given to the people of Moses, and that is: after belief, rely on God. Thus, Salat was the main mechanism through which this reliance was to be cemented. Salat was the mechanism through which they prayed to God, sought His help, and remained steadfast against the increasing persecution they were subjected to. Please compare this with our beloved prophet and Muslims with him in 2:153.
The word “Qibla” is from root letters qāf bā lām and occurs 7 times in Quran as a noun qib'lat. The meanings of this word relevant to our discussion are: facing a particular direction; Its typical use is facing towards a place during Namaz, the place to be kept in front. From here Allama Parwez in Lughat-ul-Quran concludes that Qibla is a distinctive symbol of Deen which is Kaaba, and its evident and manifest form is gatherings of Salat facing Kaaba. [pages 1324-25].
6. From above, it is obvious (i) when people do Salat, they need a direction – a Qibla, and (ii) that this Qibla is “Masjid Al-Haram, Ka’ba” for Muslims.
[2:142]: The foolish among the people will say, "What has turned them away from their Qiblah, which they were used to on it ?" Say [O’ Muhammad], "To Allah belongs the east and the west. He guides whom He wills to a straight path."
7. From [2:142] we learn that (i) Muslims used to face a particular Qibla, (ii) that this Qibla was known to all people, particularly the ones called “foolish” in 2:142, (iii) that Muslims switched this Qibla after/around the time of these verses, and (iv) that the people referred “foolish” in 2:142 have seen and observed this switching of the Qibla.
8. Please note the last two clauses of 2:142, namely, East/West belongs to Allah, and He guides to the straight path. Thus, making it abundantly clear for us mortals that facing “east and west” or for that matter “south and north” by themselves don’t provide any guidance, rather guidance is following God’s commands without ifs and buts.
[2:143]: … And We did not make the qiblah upon which you were (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. …”
9. God’s purpose to make this switch of Qibla was to (i) separate the one who follows the messenger from who doesn’t, and that (ii) this switch was difficult for some if not rightly guided by God. Please make the connection between the end of 2:143 and the end of 2:142. This should inform us the difficulty that some had at this switching of the Qibla, and they stood exposed. Thus, God separated the guided ones from the unguided ones.
[2:144]: 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. ….
10. From [2:144] we learn that (i) Prophet himself was not happy/content with the old/previous Qibla before the switch and was hoping to see Masjid-Alharam to be the Qibla, and (ii) verdict from God to turn your face toward this Qibla, Masjid Alharam, not only for prophet but all Muslims [2:149-150].
In summary, (i) Salat and Qibla - a physical direction are tied together. (ii) This Qibla is Masjid Al-haram for Muslims, and (iii) they are required to face towards this wherever and whenever they do salat. Please note, in clear submission to God’s commands, Muslims throughout the world face this Qibla whenever they do salat. This Qibla- Masjid Alharam is also a distinctive and ideological symbol of Deen-Al-Islam.