Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
Allah then mentions the supplication of His Prophet regarding the changing of the Qiblah towards Mecca, saying: (We have seen the turning of thy face to heaven (for guidance, O Muhammad)) turning your sight to heaven in anticipation of Gabriel coming down to announce the change of the Qiblah. (And now surely We shall make thee turn (in prayer) toward a Qiblah that is dear to thee) that you like, namely, the Qiblah of Abraham. (So turn thy face) when in prayer (towards the Inviolable Place of Worship, and ye (O Muslims), wheresoever ye may be) whether on land or in the sea, (turn your faces (when ye pray)) in prayer (towards it. (Lo! Those who have received the Scripture know that) the Sacred Precinct (is the Truth from their Lord) is the Qiblah of Abraham but they conceal this fact. (And Allah is not unaware) heedless (of what they do) of what they conceal.
We have seen thy face turning about in heaven. Now We shall turn thee toward a kiblah that thou shalt approve.
He had let him know that he was in the sight of the Real so that he would model his courtesy on the Real's courtesy. When he put courtesy into practice, he did not ask the Real for what his heart wanted and did no more than gaze upon heaven. Then He gave him better than what He gives to those who ask.
When the Lord is generous and the servant exalted, He keeps the servant within the stipulations of courtesy, shows him the road of deeds, and gives him success. Then He rewards him for the deeds and praises him for his veneration. He says, “How excellent is the wage of the doers!” [3:136]. “How excellent a servant he was; surely he kept on returning” [38:30].
In the same way, He reported to MuṣṬafā, “You are in My vision and My exalted witnessing. Be careful to recognize the respect due to the Presence and to ask in keeping with courtesy.” Hence when his heart was intent on the kiblah, he did not make this manifest, in keeping with courtesy. He kept that wish in his heart and then the Exalted Presence addressed him: “Now We shall turn thee toward a kiblah that thou shalt approve. We have come to know that wish in your heart and We have admired your beautiful courtesy in not asking. We will bestow upon you that of which you approve in the work of the kiblah. O MuḤammad! All the servants in the world are seeking My approval, but I am seeking your approval. All are searching for Me, but I am calling for you.
All wish for My caresses, but We are caressing you. Thy Lord shall bestow upon thee so that thou shalt approve [93:5]. Now consider the Kaabah as the kiblah of your soul and Me as the kiblah of your spirit.”
When those caresses came forth from the Presence of Unity and those generosities reached him, the tongue of his state said in his yearning,
“When your heart reaches out once in love for me,
suffering separation from You becomes easy, sweetheart.”
Abū Bakr Shiblī said, “The kiblahs are three: the kiblah of the common people, the kiblah of the elect, and the kiblah of the elect of the elect.
The kiblah of the common people is the Kaabah at the middle of the world. The kiblah of the elect is the Throne on top of heaven, upon which is sitting the God of the world. The kiblah of the elect of the elect is the heart of the desirers and the spirit of the recognizers, for they are gazing on their Lord with the light of their hearts.”
I said, “Where should I seek You, O heart-stealing moon?” He said, “My resting place is the spirit of the friends.”
It has been said that when MuṣṬafā supplicated at the beginning of revelation and the outset of messengerhood, he would speak with explicit expressions of the tongue, and the supplication would be answered immediately. Thus the Exalted Lord recounts about the Day of Badr that MuṣṬafā wanted help for the army of Islam. He says, “When you sought the aid of your Lord, He responded to you” [8:9]. Afterwards his state reached a place such that the Exalted Presence would respond to his delicate allusions without explicit expression, as He says in this verse: “We have seen thy face turning about in heaven.” Then he became such that He would respond to his mere thought, without allusion or expression. Thus it came to his mind, “What would it matter if these sinners of my community were forgiven?” This verse came in keeping with this thought: “Our Lord, take us not to task if we forget or make mistakes” [2:286]. Then the work reached the point that neither allusion nor the heart's thought was needed. Thus once it was heavy on his heart that the Companions were sitting in his room. The Lord of the Worlds sent down the verse that says, “When you have eaten, disperse” [33:53].
We have indeed (qad, ‘indeed’, is for affirmation) seen you turning your face about in the, direction of the, heaven, looking around for the Revelation and longing for the command to face the Ka‘ba: he [the Prophet] wished for this because it was the prayer-direction of Abraham and would be more conducive to the submission of the Arabs [to Islam]; now We will surely turn you to a direction that shall satisfy you, that you will love. Turn your face, in prayer, towards the Sacred Mosque, that is, the Ka‘ba, and wherever you are (addressing the [Muslim] community) turn your faces, in prayer, towards it. Those who have been given the Scripture know that it, the change towards the Ka‘ba, is the, fixed, truth from their Lord, on account of the description in their Scripture of how the Prophet (s) would re-orient himself to it; God is not heedless of what you do, O believers, when you obey His command (alternatively, ta‘malūna, ‘you do’, can be read ya‘malūna, ‘they do’, in other words [it would be referring to] the Jews’ denial of the matter concerning the direction of prayer).
We have indeed seen the turning about of your face [in the heaven], in the direction of the heaven of the spirit at the station of union upon being absorbed by the [inclusive] unity (waḥda) and being veiled by the Truth from creatures: you are oppressed by the burden of prophethood and the station of the [prophetic] call because of your not paying attention to multiplicity; it is difficult for you to return to the Truth at the beginning of the state of subsistence after annihilation before [your] stability because of the intensity of your orientation towards the Truth; now We will surely turn you to a direction that shall satisfy you: We shall make your face adjoin the qibla of the heart by the expansion of the breast, as He says: Did We not expand your breast for you, and relieve you of your burden, that which weighed down your back [Q. 94:1-3], for that is a qibla with which you shall be satisfied by virtue of the union being there in differentiated form and the unity not being veiled by the multiplicity. So you shall be satisfied with that qibla by calling creatures to the Truth while remaining in the vision of the unity. Turn your face towards the Sacred Mosque, the side of the expanded breast that is forbidden to the arrival of the attributes of the soul and the insinuations of caprice and Satan; and wherever you are, o believers and verifiers, whether you be in the direction of the rising of the spirit or that of the setting of the soul, turn your faces [towards it], to that side, so that you will find it easy to command good and forbid evil in the former [direction], that is, the eastern direction, and to rise from your state and station and to prevent yourselves from being veiled by the insinuations of caprice and Satan in the latter [western direction]. Those who have been given the Scripture, that is, the Torah, the Gospels and the Distinguishing Book of the Intellect, that is, the acquired intellect; know that it is the truth from their Lord, because of their being guided by what the Book contains in the way of the affirmation of the unity of the acts and the attributes, proof of the Muḥammadan affirmation of the Essential Oneness [of God], or [guided] by the light of the intellect illumined by the light of the Law, not [the intellect that is] veiled by the analogies of reflection [God is not heedless of what you do.]
The First Abrogation in the Qur'an was about the Qiblah
`Ali bin Abu Talhah related that Ibn `Abbas narrated: The first abrogated part in the Qur'an was about the Qiblah. When Allah's Messenger migrated to Al-Madinah, the majority of its people were Jews, and Allah commanded him to face Bayt Al-Maqdis. The Jews were delighted then. Allah's Messenger faced it for ten and some months, but he liked to face the Qiblah of Ibrahim (Ka`bah in Makkah). He used to supplicate to Allah and look up to the sky (awaiting Allah's command). Allah then revealed:
قَدْ نَرَى تَقَلُّبَ وَجْهِكَ فِي السَّمَآءِ
(Verily, We have seen the turning of your (Muhammad's) face towards the heaven), until,
(And We made the Qiblah (prayer direction towards Jerusalem) which you used to face, only to test those who followed the Messenger (Muhammad ) from those who would turn on their heels (i.e., disobey the Messenger).) (2:143)
Is the Qiblah the Ka`bah itself or its General Direction
Al-Hakim related that `Ali bin Abu Talib said:
فَوَلِّ وَجْهَكَ شَطْرَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ
(...so turn your face in the direction of Al-Masjid Al-Haram (at Makkah).) means its direction.''
Al-Hakim then commented that the chain of this narration is authentic and that they (i.e., Al-Bukhari and Muslim) did not include it in their collections.
This ruling concerning the Qiblah is also the opinion of Abu Al-`Aliyah, Mujahid, `Ikrimah, Sa`id bin Jubayr, Qatadah, Ar-Rabi` bin Anas and others. Allah's Statement:
(And wheresoever you people are, turn your faces (in prayer) in that direction) is a command from Allah to face the Ka`bah from wherever one is on the earth: the east, west, north or south. The exception is of the voluntary prayer (Nafl) while one is traveling, for one is allowed to offer it in any direction his body is facing, while his heart is intending the Ka`bah. Also, when the battle is raging, one is allowed to offer prayer, however he is able. Also, included are those who are not sure of the direction and offer prayer in the wrong direction, thinking that it is the direction of the Qiblah, because Allah does not burden a soul beyond what it can bear.
The Jews had Knowledge that the (Muslim) Qiblah would later be changed
(Certainly, the people who were given the Scripture (i.e., Jews and the Christians) know well that, that (your turning towards the direction of the Ka`bah at Makkah in prayers) is the truth from their Lord.)
This Ayah means: The Jews, who did not like that you change your Qiblah from Bayt Al-Maqdis, already knew that Allah will command you (O Muhammad) to face the Ka`bah. The Jews read in their Books their Prophets' description of Allah's Messenger and his Ummah, and that Allah has endowed and honored him with the complete and honorable legislation. Yet, the People of the Book deny these facts because of their envy, disbelief and rebellion. This is why Allah threatened them when He said:
وَمَا اللَّهُ بِغَـفِلٍ عَمَّا يَعْمَلُونَ
(And Allah is not unaware of what they do.)
Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
This is the commandment for the change of the giblah, which was enjoined in Rajab or Sha'ban, A.H. 2. When this was revealed, according to Ibn Sa'd, the Holy Prophet was leading the Zuhr (early afternoon) prayer in the house of Bishr bin Bara' bin Ma'rur where he had gone in response to an invitation. This verse was revealed when he had gone through half of the prayer. lie at once turned his face towards the Ka'bah during the prayer and those who were saying their Prayer following his lead did the same. Afterwards it was announced publicly in Madinah and its suburbs that the giblah had been changed. Bara' bin Azib says that at one place this announcement was heard at a time when the people had bent down in the Prayer. But when they heard the commandment, they turned about in the same posture towards the Ka'bah. Anas bin Malik says that the people of Bani Salamah heard of the change of the qiblah next morning at a time when they had already gone through half of the Prayer. As soon as they heard the announcement: "Beware, the giblah has been changed to the Ka'bah," the whole congregation turned about towards the Ka`bah.
In this connection, it should also be kept in mind that the Holy Temple at Jerusalem is to the north of Madinah and the Ka`bah at Makkah to the south of it. The Imam (who led the Prayer) must have walked to the rear of the congregation, who had to turn about and also to move about a little in order to adjust the rows. All these things have been related in detail in the Traditions.
Moreover, it is quite clear from "We have seen you turn your face over and over again towards heaven" and "We turn you towards the giblah that you like best" that the Holy Prophet used to pray for, and was expecting this change, for he himself was feeling that the term of the leadership of the Israelites had come to an end and consequently Jerusalem had also ceased to be the centre. Therefore Ka`bah which had been set up by the Prophet Abraham should be the qiblah.
"Masjid Haram" means the "Inviolable place of worship and reverence". It refers to that place of worship at Makkah which has the Ka'bah in its centre.
The Commandment "Turn your face towards the Ka'abah" does not mean that one should turn one's face exactly to the point of the Ka'abah from every part of the globe. Obviously it is very difficult for everyone to do so at all times from all places of the globe. That is why the Qur'an directs us to turn our faces towards the Ka'abah and not to the point of the Ka'abah : We should do our best to find out the exact direction of the Ka`abah : then if we are satisfied that a certain direction is most probably the correct direction, we should turn our faces towards it. But when it is not possible to ascertain the exact direction (for example, in a boat or a train, etc.) one should turn one's face to the probable right direction, and if during the prayer the correct direction is found out, one should turn one's face towards it at once.
We have indeed seen you turning your face about in the heaven; now We will surely turn you to a direction qibla that will satisfy you. Turn your face toward the sacred mosque and wherever you are turn your faces toward it. [Muḥammad] ﷺ maintained [his] good manners when he kept his tongue silent from requesting the qibla he wished for in his heart. So he looked to the heaven because it is the path of Gabriel عليه السلام and God سبحانه وتعالى revealed “We have indeed seen you turning your face about in the heaven” that is “We know the wish you have not expressed in prayer and We have already changed the qibla for your sake. This is an extraordinary thing that the Beloved does for the sake of the beloved.” “We shall surely turn you to a direction that will satisfy you: Every servant strives in seeking My pleasure and I am seeking your pleasure [Muḥammad]. Turn your face toward the sacred mosque but do not attach your heart to the stones and leftover traces āthār: devote your heart to Me. Let the qibla be the goal of your [outward] self and [let] the Real [be] the object of your heart's witnessing. Wherever you are O believers turn your faces toward it but dedicate your hearts to Me and let your witnessing be only through Me.” Those who have been given the scripture know that it is the truth from their Lord; God is not heedless of what they do. “But it is not knowledge that will be a proof for them nor is there any comfort for them in it or increase from it. God is not heedless of what you do in bringing fear to the enemies and providing hope for the friends tahwīlan ʿalā l-aʿdāÌi wa taÌmīlan ʿalā l-awliyāÌi.”
(We have seen the turning of thy face to heaven…) [2:144]. The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said once to Gabriel, peace be upon him: “I wish that Allah, exalted is He, directed me away from the qiblah of the Jews to a different qiblah' - he meant to say the Ka'bah because it was the qiblah of Abraham. Gabriel said to him: 'I am a slave like you; nothing is in my power. Do therefore request your Lord to direct you away from it toward the qiblah of Abraham'. Gabriel then rose in the sky while the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, kept looking at heaven in the hope that Gabriel would bring him the news of what he had requested. And so Allah revealed this verse”. Abu Mansur Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Mansuri informed us> al-Hafiz 'Ali ibn 'Umar> 'Abd al-Wahhab ibn 'Isa> Abu Hisham al-Rifa'i> Abu Bakr ibn 'Iyash> Abu Ishaq> al-Bara' who said: “We prayed with Allah's Messenger, Allah bless him and give him peace, after his arrival to Medina for sixteen months toward Jerusalem. Then Allah knew the wish of His Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, and so He revealed (We have seen the turning of thy face to heaven…)”. This is narrated by Muslim from the report of Abu Bakr ibn Abi Shaybah from Abu'l-Ahwas. It was also narrated by Bukhari from the report of Abu Nu'aym from Zuhayr, and both Zuhayr and Abu'l-Ahwas reported this narration from Abu Ishaq.