The First House of Worship
Say: Allah speaks truth. Follow, then, the creed of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false and was not one of those who associate partners with Allah. The first House (of worship) ever set up for mankind was indeed the one at Makkah: rich in blessings; and a source of guidance for all peoples.
In it there are clear signs. (It is) the place where Abraham stood. Whoever enters it is secure. Pilgrimage to the House is a duty owed to Allah by all people who are able to make the journey. As for those who disbelieve, Allah is in no need of anyone in all the worlds. (The House of Imran, " Aal Imran":3; 95-97)
Commentary: Sayyid Qutub,
Translation: A.A.Salahi & S.A.Shamsi
In our commentary in the last issue we referred to the attempts by the Jews in Madinah at the time of the Prophet to raise doubts in the minds of the Muslim community concerning the truth of what has been revealed to the Prophet. The Qur'an settles all these points of doubt and makes it clear that the faith of Abraham, of which the Jews claimed to be the heirs, was based on the belief in the absolute Oneness of Allah.
It calls on the Jews to follow Abraham's faith if they believed that what they said was true.
We resume our commentary today with the verse concerning the position of the Ka'abah as the focal point to which Muslims turn in their worship.
This verse explains that to face the Ka'abah is the proper choice. The Ka'abah is the first house ever to be set up for the exclusive purpose of worship, when Allah commanded Abraham to build it and consecrate it for the worshippers who either walk round it, spend periods of time worshipping in it and bow and prostrate themselves there in total submission to Allah. Allah has blessed this House and made it like a beacon for mankind where they find guidance showing them the true faith acceptable to Allah, which is indeed the creed of Abraham himself.
There are indeed clear signs in the Ka'abah to show that it is the place where Abraham stood in his worship. Some scholars suggest that the Arabic term Maqam Ibraheem which is used in this verse and rendered in our translation as the place where Abraham stood, refers to the ancient stone on which Abraham stood when he built the Ka'abah. It used to be stuck to the wall of the Ka'abah, but the second caliph, Umar, moved it back so that people doing the tawaf (i.e. walking round the Ka'abah) did not disturb those who prayed behind it. We are commanded by Allah to make that spot a place where we pray: Make this spot where Abraham stood a place of prayer.
One virtue of this House is highlighted here, namely, the sense of security it imparts to anyone who goes there. It is a refuge for anyone who is overtaken by fear, where he finds peace and security. In this particular aspect, this place is absolutely unique. It shares this quality with no other place on earth. It has remained so ever since it was built by Abraham and his son Ismael. Even in the dark ages of ignorance in Arabia, when the Arabs deviated far away from Abraham's faith and no longer believed in the Oneness of Allah, the sanctity of this House continued to be observed.
Al-Hassan Al-Basri and other renowned scholars explain that in that period of ignorance, a man might commit a murder and go into the sanctuary of the House having put a piece of wool in his neck. He might be met by the son of the man he murdered but he would not even disturb him until he had gone out. This is part of the honour and blessings Allah has given to this House of His, even when people around it lived in total ignorance. He reminds the Arabs of this great favour He has done them:
Do they not see how We have made a secure sanctuary when people are snatched away all around them? Its sanctity is even extended to animals.
Hunting is forbidden in its vicinity and no animals are scared out of their abodes in order to be captured. The trees in its vicinity are also forbidden to be cut down.
An authentic Hadith related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim on the authority of Ibn Abbas mentions that the Prophet (Pbuh) said on the day when Makkah was liberated by the Muslims: " Allah has made this city a sacred one ever since the day He created the heavens and the earth." It remains, therefore, inviolable by virtue of the sanctity imparted to it by Allah till the day of resurrection. Fighting in this city was never made lawful to anyone before me. It has only been made lawful to me for an hour of one day. It remains inviolable till the day of resurrection by the sanctity given to it by Allah. Its plants may not be cut, its game may not be scared. No one may pick up something dropped by other people unless he recognizes its owner, etc."
This is, then, the House Allah has chosen to be the qiblah, or direction of prayer, for Muslims. It is Allah's House which He has made so rich in blessings. It is the first House ever set up for men to worship. Moreover, it is the House of Abraham, containing clear signs that it was Abraham himself who built it. Islam, or submission to Allah, is the creed of Abraham. Hence, the House he built is the one which deserves to serve as the direction of prayer for Muslims. Moreover, it represents security and peace on earth.
Since it is the focal point of Islam, it represents guidance for mankind. The surah moves on to state that Allah has imposed a duty on mankind to make pilgrimage to this House once they are able to do so. Otherwise, they let themselves fall into disbelief which causes Allah no harm: Pilgrimage to the House is a duty owed to Allah by all people who are able to make the journey. As for those who disbelieve, Allah is in no need of anyone in all the worlds.
One thing which attracts our attention when we read this verse is the fact that the duty of pilgrimage is made in absolutely general terms: A duty owed to Allah by all people. This suggests first of all that the duty of pilgrimage is also required of the Jews who disputed the validity of the Muslims turning to the Ka'abah in their prayer. Their argument falls completely when it is realized that they themselves are required to make the pilgrimage to this House, since it is the House built by their father, Abraham, and the one which was the first ever to be set up for worship by mankind. In this light, the Jews appear to be the deviant and disobedient ones. We may also infer from the way this verse is phrased that mankind is required to accept this faith, fulfill its duties, offer its worships and make the journey of pilgrimage to the House to which the believers in Allah turn.
Unless they do this, their stand is one of disbelief, no matter how strongly they may profess to be believers. He does not need people's belief in Him, nor does He benefit by their pilgrimage. The benefit and prosperity are theirs when they accept the faith and offer the worship.