Qiblah: Why Jerusalem and then Makkah

Q532 :A Christian friend of mine argues that the city of Jerusalem is to be preferred to Makkah, even by Muslims for two reasons: the fact that it was the first qiblah (direction of prayer) and that it was the place from where the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) ascended to heaven. In reply I mentioned several points including the fact that the Kaabah in Makkah was the first sanctuary ever to be dedicated to Allah and that Allah has guaranteed to protect Makkah against His enemies. Moreover, it was at the Kaaba that the angel Gabriel taught the Prophet how to offer his prayers. May I ask, however, why were the Muslims required at first to pray toward Jerusalem? Is there any historical background to that? May I also ask: Who decided the direction of prayer when the Prophet was first commanded to pray? Please comment.

A532 : As you realize, Jerusalem was for quite a long time center of the divine faith as it witnessed the efforts of Prophet Abraham and his descendants to establish Allah's message as the constitution which people were required to follow. However, it was at Makkah that Allah had commanded Prophet Abraham to build the first temple to be dedicated to Allah's worship. Abraham's grandson, Prophet Jacob, was the one to build the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The preference between the two cities should not be of any great concern to us, because it is Allah alone who decides whether a certain place has any special value. It is He who has chosen that those who believe in Him must face the Kaaba in Makkah when they pray. It is He who has decided to reward His servants for each prayer they offer in Haram in Makkah what He normally gives a reward for one hundred thousand prayers. Nevertheless, the Prophet says, "The sanctity of a believer is far greater in Allah's sight than the sanctity of the Kaaba itself." It was Allah who decided that the Muslims should first turn toward Jerusalem when they pray. He later changed that direction and commanded them to pray towards the Kaaba. The reason for that was the fact that the Arabs, in their days of ignorance when they were worshipping idols, attached great importance to the sanctity of the Kaaba. To them, it was a symbol of national pride. By removing that attachment temporarily from the minds of the Muslims, Allah wanted them to dedicate themselves toward Him. There must be no confusion in their minds that their submission is to Allah alone and that they would hold as valid only that which He tells them to be valid. Therefore, they prayed toward Jerusalem, knowing that 'that' was Allah's will and that they had to abide by His orders. When they had demonstrated their total dedication and that they did not have any lingering national preferences or loyalties, He put them back on the track that He had chosen for them. They now faced the Kaaba, knowing that it was Allah's orders to do so. That gesture had no historical or national overtones. To them, now the Kaaba was the house Abraham built, not the one held sacred for centuries by the Arabs. It was the symbol of faith in the Oneness of Allah, not the symbol of historical sanctity. This is a very important factor and it was achieved through the decision by Allah to order Muslims to turn in their prayer away from the Kaaba toward Jerusalem, until their hearts had been purged of any national or tribal loyalty.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )