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The Unlettered Prophet (25)
Khalid Masud
(Tr. by:Nikhat Sattar)


The purpose of the debates with the Jews of Madinah immediately after the Prophet (sws)’s arrival was to remind them of the forgotten status they had possessed in the system of divine guidance which could have enabled them to move forward and  grasp the torch of guidance once again. They were capable enough to become the right hand of the Prophet (sws) and thus regain the position of God’s preferred nation. But the biographies of the Prophet (sws) tell us that with the exception of a few Jewish scholars, the Israelites in general and a large majority of converted Jews did not accept Islam. Hence the Qur’an, after addressing all their objections through solid arguments, clearly stated that if they did not profess belief in the Prophet (sws), they would be considered damned and accursed for all time to come. This was their last chance to recover and take the right decision. If their minds were deluded by the belief that it was their familial right to gain prophethood in order to establish vice-regence for God, it was best that they removed this misunderstanding as quickly as possible.


Establishment of the Muslim ummah  

Looking at the arguments with the Jews, it appears that the Qur’an had rejected the claim of the Jews that they were the upholders of the leadership of the world and that prophethood was their national right. This is why when the Qur’an reiterated the prophethood of the Prophet (sws), it also clarified that the time had come for divine acceptance of the supplication made by Abraham (sws) in favour of the children of Ishmael (sws) and that his progeny had taken the reins of the Muslim ummah. This ummah had been struggling to survive in Makkah, but God provided them the wherewithal in Madinah. It found a place where it could breathe with safety and peace; establish God’s religion; introduce and implement instructions of a collective nature and structure the society according to the norms of God given guidance. Thus, just within a few months of migration, it became clear that a new state that would have its own systems and power was emerging. It members were committed and had the ability to shape their conditions according to their needs and wishes. Their opinions would count in this new state and those opposing them would not be able to retain their hold.

Only a year had passed since migration when Muslims were given instructions related to fasting and hajj after being instructed on prayer. The Abrahamic concepts of what was halal (legitimate) and haram (not allowed) were highlighted. Values underlying good practices that were necessary for the new society were identified. People were informed of the qualities of character that were required for sustainability of the ummah, acquiring which Muslims could fulfill the requirements of the status of leadership of the world.

The Prophet (sws) did not just rely on reciting the revealed instructions. He outlined the paths through which these instructions could be implemented. He kept an eye on how the companions were following the instructions. Wherever he found an error or negligence, he would correct it and explain the right action. If the Qur’anic injunctions needed detailed interpretation, he explained these too, because the aspect of providing shari‘ah instructions was also his responsibility. In this way, the new religion became the focus of all attention and believers were communicating it far and wide. Before this, the people on whom God had bestowed the status as guides had broken their covenant, lost sight of the right path and made changes in God’s shari‘ah according to their wishes. Now, it was the need for humanity that the teachings brought by the last Prophet (sws) were entrusted to those who would protect them at the cost of their lives. They would be witness to the new religion in every period of time, every country, every language and never lose sight of their responsibility in this respect. The companions were fulfilling this responsibility in a befitting manner.  

And it is thus that We appointed you to be the community of the middle way so that you might be witnesses to all mankind and the Messenger might be a witness to you. (143:2)  

This work was extremely difficult and, given the dangers surrounding the Muslims, each and every individual was an important contributor. All believers who lived amongst various tribes and were scattered across the country were thus instructed to migrate to Madinah immediately so that the numbers of believers would be enhanced and they could receive training directly from the Prophet (sws) in order to understand the requirements of their faith. This order remained in effect for several years. People who did not migrate despite having the resources to do so were accused of being hypocrites. The journeys made to Madinah by believers were termed hijrah (migration) until the victory at Makkah. After this, people who expressed a desire to shift to Madinah were stopped from doing so.

In order to highlight the special status of the Muslim ummah and establish its relationship with the ummah of Abraham (sws), it was necessary to declare the House of God constructed by him as the Qiblah in the prayers of Muslims and instruct the Prophet (sws) to give up praying towards the Bayt al-Muqaddas.


Instruction to acquire the Custody of the Qiblah

When the Prophet (sws) was in Makkah, he would, as stated above, stand for prayer such that he would be facing both the Ka‘bah and the Bayt al-Muqaddas in its north. He chose Dar al-Arqam for collective prayers by the believers for the same reason, as it was possible to keep both these buildings in front. He did this because instructions to determine the Qiblah had not yet been revealed from God. In that situation, he adopted the practice of the People of the Book. Because their Qiblah was the Bayt al-Muqaddas, he would ensure that they faced both the mosques. When he went to Madinah after migration, Makkah was in the south and Bayt al-Muqaddas in the north. Thus it was no longer possible to combine the two while performing the prayer. Then as Surah Baqarah was revealed, the history of Abraham (sws) was related and the information was given that Abraham (sws) and Ishmael (sws)’s supplication at the time of construction of the Ka‘bah had been fulfilled then. The Prophet (sws) was following the way of Abraham (sws) and he would be given divine guidance according to those beliefs. Additionally, the Prophet (sws)’s nation was the same Muslim nation as the one for which those two sincere servants of God had prayed. After the revelation of these verses, the Prophet (sws) started to wait eagerly for the time when instructions to face the real Qiblah would be issued. But it was a requirement of God’s wisdom that he should continue to face the Bayt al-Muqaddas while praying for a while longer.  

In Makkah, the Prophet (sws) lived in an environment where people around him were deeply attached to the Ka‘bah. All these people were from the Ishmaelites. When Islam spread in Madinah, it influenced the Aws and Khazraj tribes the earliest. They also belonged to the Ishmaelites. They were also associated with the Ka‘bah, which was their centre of veneration. The Bayt al-Muqaddas was the Qiblah of the Israelites. Therefore, the Ishmaelites found it difficult to accept the Bayt al-Muqaddas as the Qiblah. However, they were successful even in this difficult trial. The Jews in Madinah were large in numbers and influential. They were attached to the Bayt al-Muqaddas. What should have happened is that, seeing that their Qiblah was the same as that of the Muslims, they should have accepted the new faith, the features of which they recognized and that had the same Qiblah as them. This did not happen. They showed disdain and generally opposed Islam. When the instruction to change the Qiblah came, it became even more difficult for the Jews to accept it. Hence, the instruction on the direction of the Qiblah became a trial for everyone who had accepted Islam in the first 15 years, and for everyone who held sympathy for the People of the Book after this period.

When 17 months had passed after the Prophet's (sws) arrival in Madinah, he was ordered to face the Abrahamic Qiblah. According to narratives, the Prophet (sws) prayed the first prayer of ‘Asr after the revelation of this instruction. A follower went to a mosque and found that believers were praying while facing the north. He spoke out loudly and declared on oath that the Qiblah had been changed and that he had just come after praying under the Prophet (sws)’s imamah. Hearing this, all those present turned and repeated their prayer facing the Ka‘bah. The memorial to this incident is the Masjid-e Qiblatayn in Madinah. Before this instruction, the Jews were under the vain impression that Islam was a faith subservient to theirs, because its Qiblah was the same as theirs. If anyone accepted Islam, he still followed the same Qiblah. After the adoption of the Ka‘bah as the Qiblah, the Jews began objecting openly, criticizing Islam for removing people from their original Qiblah when they accepted Islam; was Qiblah something to be changed frequently? In this manner, it became possible to distinguish between those who were true or false among the Jews who had accepted Islam with insincerity.

Qiblah is the spiritual centre of any nation. When we stand for prayer facing the Qiblah, we make a practical demonstration of the fact that we are turning away from the world and are connecting to our centre for spiritual purification so that we obtain some part of the blessings and favours of the next world. Those who do not pay attention to this fact wonder at the significance of the structure built of big and small stones in Makkah. They are surprised at why we circumambulate with so much devotion and are always seeking its direction, whether traveling or staying in some place. They do not see its sincerity and its connection with God, through which two of God’s favourite servants built it under instructions from Him and then populated it with their prostrations to Him. They made sacrifices for Him there and kept it as their centre of attachment. Most significantly, God declared its relationship to Himself and named it His House. What can be a more sacred and venerated place than God’s House which a nation can consider as its centre? So many good people have been associated with it in every age and its traditions are so noble that its significance in the collective system of the Muslim nation is the same as that which the heart occupies in the human body. Just as the body has no existence without the heart, so too is the Muslim nation meaningless without its Qiblah.

The change in the Qiblah was ordered in Rajab, 2nd Hijri according to some narrators, and Sha‘ban 2nd hijrah according to others. This order contained the message for the Quraysh that the House of God which they were occupying was the Qiblah of the Prophet of God and his companions and there was no reason for people who had proved themselves to be false to their promises and treacherous to remain in control. Therefore, Muslims would not refrain even from killing them to recover their Qiblah. In our view, custodianship of the Qiblah was one of the reasons for the Battle of Badr. Because preparations for the Battle of Badr had begun during the early days of Ramadan, it is likely that the instruction to take custody of the Qiblah came in Rajab.


The Underlying Principles of Instructions for Killing

When, after the custody of the Qiblah, the Muslim nation emerged as the inheritors of the legacy of Abraham (sws), with all its distinct characteristics, the enmity and jealousy of the People of the Book increased multifold. When the Quraysh came to know of this, they saw the expectations which they had entertained for the Prophet (sws)’s failure in a strange environment being destroyed. They saw that the plant of Islam had taken root in the soil of Madinah and was about to become a strong tree. They felt that it was necessary to take corrective action there and then. Thus, both the Jews and the Quraysh began to prepare a combined strategy for war.

The Prophet (sws) and his companions were informed that since the Muslim nation had become eminent after the custody of the Qiblah, their opponents would try to suppress and destroy it. Hence issues related to fear, danger of loss of life and property and scarcity of food would arise. They were to handle these trials with patience, determination and courage. To do this would require them to intensify their prayer and develop the quality of perseverance. The Qur’an gave a plan with reference to the enemy’s attacks, so that as the situation emerged and became clear, necessary arrangements could be made according to the plan. The plan was as follows:  

Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors. And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and fitnah is worse than killing. And do not fight them at al-Masjid al-Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers. And if they cease, then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. Fight them until there is no [more] fitnah and [until] worship is [acknowledged to be] for Allah. But if they cease, then there is to be no aggression except against the oppressors. [Fighting in] the sacred month is for [aggression committed in] the sacred month, and for [all] violations is legal retribution. So whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you. And fear Allah and know that Allah is with those who fear Him. (2: 190-194).  

The summary of the plan of implementation given to the Muslims in these verses is as follows: 


1.   If the disbelievers of the Quraysh started war, Muslims too were to go to the battlefield. Their battle would be in the way of God, because the purpose of the disbelievers was to destroy God’s religion and its followers.

2.   If war was declared during the holy months, the believers were to wage a counter attack, but were not to extend it for an unnecessary period. In that war, the faithful would not hold sacred the holiness of the months one sided.

3.   Muslims were not to begin the attack within the boundaries of the Mosque. However, if the disbelievers did not refrain from it, they could be fought there as well.

4.   Killing was deemed necessary at that time and it was to be continued until Islam became supreme in the country and the disbelievers stopped opposing it.

5.   Once victory was achieved, the disbelievers were to be expelled from the country. They were to be killed wherever they were found and no asylum was to be given to them.

6.   If the disbelievers accepted defeat and mended their ways, there would be overarching amnesty for them. Those who do not desist will be acted against.

All future actions were taken in the light of this strategic plan of implementation and the Prophet (sws) kept these guiding principles in mind when dealing with the Quraysh in war or peace related matters.


Removal of a Misunderstanding 

Some of our well wishers spend their efforts at writing to prove that Islam is a religion of peace and reconciliation. Why then would it relate to war and shedding of blood? Hence, whenever the Prophet took up arms, it was in defense. All his battles were those that were imposed by the Quraysh upon the Muslims. If this had not been the case, the Prophet (sws) would not have picked up the sword. On the other hand, our enemies claim that Muslims adopted banditry after migration and that they would stand along well used highways on the lookout for caravans and would attack them to loot their wealth. The Quraysh were forced to attack Madinah to teach them a lesson. Had the Muslims lived in Madinah in peace, there was no reason for the enmity between them and the Quraysh. Both these views are neither proved from the Qur’an, nor from the incidents that have been narrated by ancient biographers.

As far as the Qur’an is concerned, it clarifies that if the teaching of Islam were that the oppressors be left free to oppress and torture people and good people be prevented from fighting them, the world would be full of the chaos and evil of bad people. The places of worship to God would have been destroyed. The churches of Christians would not have existed, neither the synagogues of Jews nor the mosques of Muslims. It was necessary to give the faithful the right to fight and kill in order to save the world from this situation. They would thus counter those who create chaos. They would arm themselves with equipment of war so that they could create awe and fear among their enemies, who may thus be prevented from oppressing others. Particularly, in the case of the Prophet (sws), it has been clarified above that he was informed while he was in Makkah that the earlier form of divine punishment for the Makkans would be they would be defeated and would run away from the battlefield. The faithful were instructed to kill at the time of migration. They were told that when the time came, they were not to avoid war but were to take revenge from the Quraysh for their oppression. 


(Translated by Nikhat Sattar


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