The Quranic command to turn the face towards the Masjid Al-Haram
By: A. Muhammad

One of the well-founded Muslim rituals related to the Salat is to turn the face towards the Masjid Al-Haram (Kaaba) while observing the Salat. It has been suggested by some believers that although the word "qiblah" is mentioned in the Quran in connection to the Masjid Al-Haram, yet the relevant Quranic verses do not mention the word Salat, but only to "turn the face" towards the Masjid Al-Haram. From that, they inquire whether we have a legitimate reason to instate the act of facing the Masjid Al-Haram as a mandatory requirement for the Salat.

Since the Quran is promised to contain the explanations of all things (16:89), we expect to find all answers in the Quran, one of which is the question of the 'qiblah'.
As per the Arabic dictionary, the word "qiblah" means the direction to face during the Salat. This word is a derivative of the Arabic word 'qibal' which means 'towards'. However, in our analysis, we need Quranic evidence and not just the dictionary verdict.
It is also worthwhile to note that the concept of facing a set direction during the prayer is found in the Torah (Old Testament). The following is such example:

"Now when Daniel knew that the writ has been signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber
toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime" (Daniel 6:10)

The above Torah verse denotes the existence of the concept of
"qiblah", as a direction for prayer, well before the revelation of the Quran.

Once again, the only absolute evidence is the Quran. Any verses from the Old Testament (Torah) can only be regarded as indications but they do not provide indisputable evidence, but at the same time, when such references from the Torah do not violate the Quran, we would have no reason to label them as absolutely unauthentic.

While the above were no more than indications, now we come to the Quranic evidence of this matter:

FIRST:

In 3:7, we read that the Quran contains two kinds of verses: the clear-cut verses and the multi-meaning verses. The clear-cut verses, which are the foundation of the Book, are the verses that contain the Law of God which we must follow. God made sure that these verses are clear-cut and straightforward in meaning because God will hold us accountable to their law. It would not be an act of justice by God if He gave us ambiguous law-giving verses or multi-meaning verses then hold us accountable to follow their instructions.
The first Quranic verse to turn our attention to is the following:

Indeed, from wherever you set off, turn your face towards the Masjid Al-Haram. And wherever you may be, turn your faces towards it.
2:150

1-
The above words contain a clear command to turn the face towards the Masjid Al-Haram. Thus, verse 2:150 is a law-giving verse.
Since we have established that all law-giving verses in the Quran are clear-cut and not of the multi-meaning type, this obliges us to accept nothing but the straightforward and direct meaning of these words in 2:150 and not any ambiguous far fetched interpretation. If God commands us to turn our faces, then this can only mean the physical act of turning the face. If we accept any other indirect meaning we would be violating the truth in 3:7.
As a result, we should reject all other interpretations. One such interpretation that is being suggested is: seeking to go to the Masjid Al-Haram. Needless to say, the words above do not say (seek to go there). They clearly say 'turn your face'.

2-
In the Quranic verses that address the concept of the "qiblah" (2:144-150), the words "wherever you may be" indicate that God is addressing all believers all over the globe. Naturally, God would not command all believers to do something that is impossible for them to do. Apart from the locals who live in Mecca, the rest of the believers are not able to go to the Masjid Al-Haram to observe their daily prayers! Even for the locals of Mecca, there is no Quranic command for them to observe their Salat in the Masjid Al-Haram and not at any other Masjid in Mecca! Nor is there any indication in the Quran that offering the Salat at the Masjid Al-Haram earns the believer a greater reward from God than offering the Salat at other Masjids. If that were the case, then God would have been unjust towards believers who live far away from the Masjid Al-Haram, while giving the locals of Mecca a blessing not shared by all believers.

3-
The only command given in the Quran, where believers must go to the Masjid Al-Haram, is for the purpose of observing the Hajj and Umrah:

Pilgrimage to the House is a duty owed by the people to God
, for those who find the means to get to it. 3:97

4-
When God commands us to turn our faces towards the Masjid Al-Haram, wherever we may be, this cannot be a command to have our faces turned to the Masjid Al-Haram every second and every minute of our days! This is physically impossible, and so the command must be applicable to certain times only.
This obliges us to search the Quran for when exactly should we be turning our faces in the direction of the Masjid Al-Haram.

SECOND:

In 10:87 we are given a number of important enlightenments which resolve the impending questions presented above:

We inspired Moses and his brother: "Appoint for your people homes in
Egypt and make of your homes a Qiblah, and observe the Salat and give good news to the believers." 10:87

Within the above glorious words, God provides us with important keywords which help us resolve this important matter:

1-
The first observation we note is that the words "Qiblah" and "observe the Salat" are used in sequence in the same verse which is quite significant. This deliberate arrangement of words confirm the connection between the "Qiblah" and the Salat.

2- We note that when God gave Moses the instruction (in verse 87) his people were being persecuted by Pharaoh (10:83), which means that they were already living in
Egypt. It follows that God was not instructing Moses to move his people to Egypt and build homes for them there. Their homes were already in Egypt at that time. So what did God mean by instructing Moses and Aaron to appoint homes for his people in Egypt?
The answer is given light with the words "and observe the Salat". In other words, these appointed homes were not for the purpose of dwelling, since the people of Moses already had their own dwellings in Egypt, but were for the purpose of observing their prayers. These "homes" were to be appointed for the purpose of worship and the observance of the Salat.

3-
Since the instruction to Moses and Aaron was to appoint places for his people where they would "observe the Salat", why did God instruct Moses and Aaron to appoint "homes" rather than appoint 'temples' or 'synagogues'? To arrive at the Quranic answer, we need to refer once again to 10:83:

Out of fear that Pharaoh and his leaders would persecute them, no one believed in Moses except some offspring from among his people.
10:83

These words tell us that Pharaoh was persecuting the Children of Israel and stopping them from practising their religion. Pharaoh considered himself to be the highest god (79:24). As a result, the Children of Israel were afraid to join with Moses, who preached the One True God, for fear of persecution on the hands of Pharaoh.
What this meant was: if Moses was to build synagogues or temples for his people to worship in, these places would have invariably been easy targets for Pharaoh to destroy. In contrast, appointing normal homes, yet using them specifically for prayer, would have been less conspicuous.

4- Another very significant observation from 10:87 is that God used the word
"homes" in the plural form, yet God used the word "Qiblah" in the singular form. If the Quranic word "Qiblah" simply meant a place for worship, then surely the appropriate word to use in 10:87 would have been 'Qiblahs' (plural), since each of the appointed homes would be a "Qiblah" in that sense.
However, the instruction given to Moses and Aaron was to appoint homes (plural) to worship in but to appoint only a single "Qiblah" from among these homes. In other words, they were to pray in any of those homes but to regard only one of them as the direction to face in prayer, that would be their "Qiblah".
This subtle and indeed very significant use of the singular "Qiblah", together with the plural "homes", is a valuable piece of evidence for the correct meaning of the word "Qiblah".

5- To conclude, Moses and Aaron were told to appoint a number of homes for their people in which they may observe their prayers, away from Pharaoh's eyes, and that they should appoint one of these homes as their
"Qiblah".

THIRD:

The above evidence facilitates for us the understanding of the following words:

We have seen your face (O Muhammad) turning about the sky, and so We will direct you towards a Qiblah that you are content with. So turn your face towards the Masjid Al-Haram. And wherever you may be, you shall all turn your faces towards it.
2:144

The immediate question that concerns our inquiry is: Why was prophet Muhammad turning his face about the sky in indecision?
Obviously, the prophet was not looking for a location where he could observe the Salat. He already knew the exact location of the Masjid Al-Haram. Rather, his indecision could have only been related to the direction to face while observing the Salat.
The words from God to Muhammad
"We will direct you towards a Qiblah that you are content with" confirm that Muhammad was undecided as to which "Qiblah" to face out of the many that existed at that time "for every one there is a direction that he faces" (2:148).
Muhammad, who was then being inspired the Quran from God, did not wish to follow the ways of the previous people
"nor will you follow their Qiblah" (2:145), and so he was turning his face in indecision as to which direction to face in his Salat. For that, God appointed for him a "Qiblah" which he would be pleased with; that being the Masjid Al-Haram which he was born in its vicinity, and which was his own local Masjid. This would be more pleasing to him than any far away "Qiblah" that belonged to other people and that had little to do with the new Quranic revelation he was receiving.
From that day, God appointed the Masjid Al-Haram as the new "Qiblah" for Muhammad and for all Muslims to follow from that day onwards.

CONCLUSION:

The Quranic evidence presented in this article should provide us with certainty with regards to the correct meaning of the word "Qiblah". The evidence also confirm that the word "Qiblah" is closely connected to the Salat. Therefore, we should reject all interpretations that ignore the direct meaning of the words "turn your face" and instead adopt any indirect meaning. It follows that when God told prophet Muhammad:

We will direct you towards a Qiblah that you are content with.
2:144

God was speaking specifically about a direction for the Salat which the prophet and all believers are to turn their face towards during the Salat. The words in the same verse go on to state that this new
"Qiblah" is the Masjid Al-Haram.