English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran (2010)

by Maulana Muhammad Ali

Chapter 2: Al-Baqarah — The Cow (Revealed at Madinah: 40 sections, 286 verses)

Section 17 (Verses 2:142–2:147): The Ka‘bah as the Spiritual Centre

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Translation:

Part 22:142 The fools among the people will say: What has turned them from their qiblah which they had? Say: The East and the West belong only to Allah; He guides whom He pleases to the right path.1
2:143 And thus We have made you an exalted nation2 that you may be the bearers of witness to the people and (that) the Messenger may be a bearer of witness to you.3 And We did not make that which you would have to be the qiblah4 but that We might distinguish him who follows the Messenger from him who turns back upon his heels. And it was indeed a hard test except for those whom Allah has guided. Nor was Allah going to make your faith to be fruitless. Surely Allah is Compassionate, Merciful, to the people.
2:144 Indeed We see the turning of your face to heaven, so We shall surely make you master of the qiblah which you like;5 turn then your face towards the Sacred Mosque. And wherever you are, turn your faces towards it. And those who have been given the Book certainly know that it is the truth from their Lord.6 And Allah is not heedless of what they do.
2:145 And even if you should bring to those who have been given the Book every sign they would not follow your qiblah, nor can you be a follower of their qiblah, neither are they the followers of each other’s qiblah.7 And if you should follow their desires after the knowledge that has come to you, then you would indeed be from among the wrongdoers.
2:146 Those whom We have given the Book recognize him as they recognize their sons,8 but some of them surely conceal the truth while they know.
2:147 The truth is from your Lord, so do not be from among the doubters.9

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Commentary:

  1. Qiblah means the direction or point towards which one turns his face. In its religious usage it means the direction towards which a person turns his face when saying his prayers, and the qiblah is thus the Spiritual Centre of a people. The change here referred to is the change which took place at Madinah about sixteen months after the Prophet’s flight to that city. While the Holy Prophet was at Makkah among the idolaters, he used to pray with his face to the Holy Temple at Jerusalem, but when he came to Madinah, where the Jewish ele­ment was strong and powerful, he was directed by Divine Revelation to turn his face to the Ka‘bah as his qiblah. If Abraham’s seed was to be blessed in Ishmael’s progeny, it was necessary that the new Spiritual Centre should be the house puri­fied by Abraham and Ishmael, the First House appointed for mankind, the temple at Jerusalem being only the spiritual centre of the Israelites.
  2. The word wasaṭ (“exalted”) signifies the middle part of anything; and therefore, as being removed from either extreme, it signifies the best part of a thing. The commentators explain wasaṭ as meaning equitable and exalted. By making the Ka‘bah their qiblah, Allah had made it known that they were the people, the Muslim nation, for whom Abraham had prayed (v. 128), and therefore they were the inheritors of all those Divine blessings which had been promised to the seed of Abraham.
  3. The bearers of witness are the persons who carry knowledge to others, bearing testimony to its truth in their own persons. Some commentators explain the word shahīd (“bearer of witness”) as meaning a purifier. But it also means an Imam or a leader, and the significance is that just as the Prophet deli­vered the message of truth to the Muslims and was their purifier and leader, the role of the Muslim community was to deliver the message of truth to the whole of humanity and to be its purifiers and leaders.
  4. The words “that which you would have to be the qiblah” mean on which you had firmly set your heart that it should be your qiblah. It thus appears that the Prophet longed that the Ka‘bah should be his qiblah, yet he did not take any step until he had received the Divine Revelation. If his revelations had been the outcome of his own desires he would not have waited for sixteen months for a revelation from on high to change the qiblah.
  5. The Holy Prophet is here told that the Ka‘bah will not remain an idol temple, as he will soon be master of it, and idolatry will forever be swept off from the new Spiritual Centre of the world.
  6. The truth of the Prophet was manifest so far as the Jews and the Christians were concerned. There was a clear prophecy for the appearance of a Prophet who was to be the like of Moses; see Deut. 18:15–18. They also knew that God had promised to bless Ishmael, but that no prophet had up to this time appeared from among the Ishmaelites. They also knew that Ishmael was left in Arabia, and they identified his son, Kedar, with the Arabs. Isaiah 21:13 speaks in clear words of a prophecy about “Arabia” and of the Prophet’s Flight. The Bait Allah (Ka‘bah) was the only Beit-el that the world knew.
  7. Every sign of the Prophet’s truth had been given to them already but their hearts were so hardened that they did not pay any attention to the clearest signs. But they were not agreed even among themselves. Although the Jews and Christians both looked to the temple at Jerusalem as their central temple, they were not agreed upon it as their qiblah or Spiritual Centre.
  8. All the prophets of Abraham’s seed had hitherto appeared among the Children of Israel, and hence as they know their sons is equivalent to as they know the Israelite prophets, the significance being that the Israelites or the Jews recog­nized the Prophet who appeared among the Children of Ishmael, as they recogni­zed the prophets who appeared among the Children of Israel.
  9. It is the reader who is addressed here.

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