16 August 2010

Surah 2:139-158 -- Changing holy directions (qiblah)

One of the peculiar things about Muslims is that they have to pray in a particular direction: toward the Kaaba in Mecca. It is also the direction that the faces of dead Muslims point towards, and the direction that the head of an animal is supposed to be aligned with when slaughtered.

It wasn't always that way, though. Originally Muslims prayed toward Jerusalem. But then, for no apparent reason, Allah told Muhammad to start praying toward a black cube-shaped building in Mecca (the Kaaba). The Kaaba, according to Islamic tradition, was the first building on earth. Built by Adam and re-built later by Abraham and Ishmael, the Kaaba is the direction that all Muslims pray toward five times day, and is the holy site that all Muslims are supposed to visit once in their lifetime.

It's all complete bullshit, of course. There was no Adam to build the Kaaba. Abraham probably didn't exist either, but if he did, he didn't visit Mecca. The stories in Islam are as messed up as they are made up. But that doesn't stop 1.3 billion people from believing them.

Allah changed the holy direction in verse 2:143-144 of the Quran. And he blathers on about it in the rest of the verses in this section of Surah 2.

And We appointed the qiblah which ye formerly observed only that We might know him who followeth the messenger, from him who turneth on his heels. In truth it was a hard (test) save for those whom Allah guided. ... We have seen the turning of thy face to heaven (for guidance, O Muhammad). And now verily We shall make thee turn (in prayer) toward a qiblah which is dear to thee. So turn thy face toward the Inviolable Place of Worship, and ye (O Muslims), wheresoever ye may be, turn your faces (when ye pray) toward it. 2:143-4

But Allah, of course, knew that there would be scoffers (like me) that would complain about Muhammad's arbitrary change of holy directions.

The foolish of the people will say: What hath turned them from the qiblah which they formerly observed? Say: Unto Allah belong the East and the West. He guideth whom He will unto a straight path. 2:142

Yeah, Allah guides whoever the hell he wants on a straight path. And once in a while he changes the direction of the path for no reason whatsoever.

Allah is Responsive, Aware. Arbitrary.


Bogging the Quran
Surah 2:159-189 -- Hiding the Quran, cursing unbelievers, eating pork, retaliating, the death tax, and Ramadan sex

16 comments:

Xaratherus said...

Reading those passages, it seems to me that whomever was 'Mohammed' at the time was trying to reaffirm Islam's uniqueness from Christianity.

What better way to do that than shifting the focus away from Jerusalem to an important location within the region?

Steve Wells said...

Yeah, I think you're right about that, Xaratherus. It was already a famous holy pagan site, and by adopting it as the holy site of Muslims, it made the new religion popular with the locals and seem ageless, as well.

Muhammad was illiterate, but he was also a genius.

Nathan said...

I guess if you're taking the Bible literally (which I don't at all, mind you, but just for the sake of argument), Abraham could have stopped in Mecca on his way from Ur to Canaan.

busterggi said...

Of course if Allah had really wanted worshippers to face the kabbah he'd have made the meterorite in it magnetic.

Damned forgetful deities.

twillight said...

@Nathan
I don't think in (the supposed) Abraham's time there was no Mecca to turn towards...

@busterggi
Is there a meteorite in that building?
As far as I know it is completly closed, so that "meteorite" can be as real as the Arc of the Covenant in that stupid other building...

@Steve
According to my experience 70% of the Quran is about "doom on unbelievers", and the remaing 30% is divided in 2:1 between teling rules to muslims and saying they are the aria race.

Do you feel the same?

Jane said...

What I want to know, if you stumble into a Muslim prayer meeting (or whatever they have) can you turn around 180 degrees?
After all, you'd still be facing towards it.
And if you're on the other side of the Earth, do you have to look down?
Allah doesn't really think things through.

Why wasn't the Kaaba built on the moon? It would be easier to see, and would be a darn sight more impressive.

Steve Wells said...

twillight,

Well, it's probably not as high as 70%, but the idea that is repeated the most often (in one of the most repetitive books ever written) is "And for the unbelievers, Allah has prepared a painful doom" (or words that that effect.

I don't know which would be shorter: the condensed version of the Quran or of the Book of Mormon. They're both pretty much nothing but filler.

Markus said...

To take Jane's excellent comment a step further, what if you're Muslim and working/living on an orbital space station?

I guess one would pray "down to Mecca" every 24 hours or so, except the station might be rotating like a mofo.

Man, if only we could step outside our safe earthly boxes for a moment or two and laugh at our primitive selves.

Nope, out of the question. Back to what the illiterate but genius guy has to say....

twillight said...

Well, not turning DOWNWARD you'll surly not turn towards the Kaba. The Earth is not flat, so if you bow down anywhere farther then a couple of meter, you will bow towards a completly different direction obviously (somewhere towards the stars).

Matthew Blanchette said...

Muhammad was as gifted a prophet as Joseph Smith... except that, because Muhammad existed 1200 years earlier, he can't be insulted without angry followers threatening to bomb you. :-P

Shame that no one ever tried to look into the whole "72 grapes" thing...

Charles said...


Markus said...what if you're Muslim and working/living on an orbital space station?


Please see A Muslim Astronaut's Dilemma: How to Face Mecca From Space.
I also found it interesting that Indonesian Muslims (blessed be their name) have been told to change prayer direction.

kat said...

havn't visited for a while.....

Kaaba was a sacred place for the various tribes in the area who had their Gods there. It was apparently also a place of pilgrimage for some Christian tribes of the region. When the Prophet (pbuh) first began to pray in Mecca, he would face the Kaba but towards Jerusalem. However, in Medina, they were in different directions, so he faced Jerusalem when praying.(symbol of monotheism)
Surah 2 is a Medina Surah and this change of direction was a test, as the Quran says, because at this point, the monotheist Muslims were asked to pray towards the Kaba which still housed the Pagan Gods.
The point of having a single direction or focul point during prayers (which Muslims do 5 times a day) is to remind Muslims that we are all a single brotherhood.(Umah)---which is also partially the point of the hajj istelf---that it does not matter the color of your skin, the nationality, or sect or any other differences----our brotherhood in humanity trancends and unites.

kat said...

Prophet Abraham(pbuh) of the Quran is an important yet interesting character. He grew up in a community of idol worshippers and rather than blindly following the beliefs of his community---he used his own intellectual efforts to discover the One, Unique, Creator.

skanksta said...

The Satanic Verses is an awesome read and with the help of wikipedia, helps you get a feel for the early Islamic milieu.
Mo was a masterful business man and the return of his pilgrims yearly to Mecca he ended his feud with the chieftans who derived the money and prestige from all the other stupid idols of 'false' gods they had.

Can't recommend it enough..

Erich said...

@Steve

as-salaamu alaikum.

yes, indeed as you stated, 'but the idea that is repeated the most often (in one of the most repetitive books ever written)' is in fact quite true. And by design as well.


Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta'ala states:

"Allah has sent down the Supreme Discourse, a Scripture consistent in its FREQUENT REPETITIONS.... " Az-Zumar 39:23

It is necessary for human beings to be told the same thing over and over in order for them to learn, remember and follow through with ( hopefully positive ) action.

As for the book of mormon...well...your blog has broadened my knowledge on the hilarity of that cult. thank you.

Sebby said...

"As for the book of mormon...well...your blog has broadened my knowledge on the hilarity of that cult. thank you."

Irony never fails to amuse me.