Tafsir Zone - Surah 2: al-Baqarah (The Cow)

Tafsir Zone

Surah al-Baqarah 2:147

Overview (Verses 147 - 150)

The Final Say on the Direction of Prayer

Then the sūrah addresses the Prophet directly, saying: “This is the truth from your Lord; never, then, be among the doubters.” (Verse 147) The Prophet never entertained any doubt about the veracity of his message. Elsewhere in the Qur’ān, the Prophet is told, “If you are in any doubt regarding what has been revealed to you, then consult those who have read the Scriptures before your time.” (10:94) On hearing this verse, the Prophet said: “I entertain no doubts, and. I ask no one.” But the fact that he is here addressed directly is a clear signal to those around him, and others who would come later, who might be influenced by those who may try to undermine Islam.
It is appropriate for Muslims today to reflect on this statement. Some Muslims display remarkable naivety in relying on the authority of Jewish, Christian and Marxist Orientalists, for the interpretation and understanding of Islamic principles and texts of the Qur’ān and ĥadīth, or for the study and analysis of Islamic faith, literature, and history. It is a great pity that Muslim students have to be sent from Muslim countries to be educated in various Islamic disciplines in European and American universities, where some of them acquire a distorted and confused understanding of Islam and Islamic teachings and principles. We must never forget that the Qur’ān is the eternal book God revealed to the Muslim community, outlining what it should do and what it must refrain from. Unbelievers of any creed are not the ones to teach us our faith.
The sūrah gives us clear instructions not to rely on Jewish and Christian advice regarding Islamic principles and practices. It urges Muslims not to deviate from the path charted for them by Islam, and to compete among themselves in their pursuit of constructive and beneficial goals. They will, eventually, return to God, to whom all ‘mankind will be gathered: “Each one has a goal towards which he turns; so vie with one another in good works. Wherever you may be, God will bring you all together. God has power over all things.” (Verse 148) Thus God turns the minds of the Muslims away from the falsehood spread by the followers of other religions. They should disregard any schemes or ploys to thwart or undermine their status and role in the world. They should, instead, compete in doing what is good and beneficial.
The instruction to face the Sacred Mosque in Makkah is reiterated in the following verse: “From wherever you may come forth, turn your face [in prayer] towards the Sacred Mosque. It is indeed the truth from your Lord. God is not unaware of what you do.” (Verse 149) The point here has nothing to do with the people of earlier revelations. It is an order to the Prophet to turn towards the Sacred Mosque wherever he offers his prayers, emphasizing that what God reveals to him is the truth. But the verse also implies a warning in the words “God is not unaware of what you do”, indicating yet again that there had been some weakness among some Muslims, which called for attention and remedy.
Then comes a third reiteration of the institution of the new direction of prayer, but this new statement has a different purpose, namely to refute the argument made by the Jews and other people that taking Jerusalem as the direction of prayer was a vindication of their claim that their religion was superior to that of Muĥammad. It was also meant to counter the argument of the polytheist Arabs who had exploited the situation to turn their fellow Arabs, who venerated the Ka`bah, away from Islam. “From wherever you may come forth, turn your face [in prayer] towards the Sacred Mosque; and wherever you all may be, turn your faces towards it, so that people may have no argument against you, except those who are bent on wrongdoing. Have no fear of them, but fear Me, so that I may perfect My grace on you, and that you may be rightly guided.” (Verse 150)
This is a general order to the Prophet and the Muslims to turn in prayer towards the Ka`bah, wherever they happen to be. Thus, no one would have any argument against them. Any criticism of this decision is of no consequence, and its detractors, Jewish and Arab alike, are motivated only by stubborn hatred of Islam. But they need not be feared, because they can no longer pose any threat to Islam or Muslims. The Muslims in Madinah were reminded that God was on their side and would look after them until they were fully developed and transformed into the leading community they were destined to become.
The Muslims of that small community knew very well what God Almighty meant by the reminder: “so that I may perfect My grace on you, and that you may be rightly guided.” (Verse 150) Only a few years earlier they had been wallowing in tribal ignorance, dogged by futile internecine conflicts, and preoccupied with worldly pursuits. The Arabs before Islam were a heathen, aimless society, plagued by corruption and absurd religious beliefs and practices. They had little or no influence outside their immediate traditional territory, and no ambitions or ideals to strive for.
But Islam changed all that and transformed those erratic and wayward people into an enlightened, mature, outward-looking and powerful community, charged with the momentous and historic role of custodians of God’s message to the world, and poised to assume the leadership of mankind.
The Prophet’s generation of Muslims could see tangible proof, in their personal as well as communal life, of God’s infinite grace and favour. The reminder would raise their morale and boost their confidence and determination to move ahead.
That the instruction to adopt the new direction of prayer is mentioned three times stresses a different purpose each time. It was, first, to grant the Prophet Muĥammad his unspoken wish on this question; second, to assert that it was also the truth declared by God coinciding with the Prophet’s wish; and third, to put an end to self- serving criticism and hostility from other groups.
Apart from those reasons, we can detect that there was real cause for concern about weakness and doubt among some Muslims, which called for the instruction to be stressed and reiterated. This suggests that the campaign of false allegations was quite vicious and had gone some way towards creating disruption and confusion within the Muslim community.
Although these statements deal with the immediate issue at the time, the principles and the basic advice that they impart remain relevant and applicable in other similar situations that might arise in the perennial confrontation between the Muslims and their enemies.