Rebuttal to Sam Shamoun's Article, "Muhammad's Changing of the Qiblah"


 Bassam Zawadi



Sam Shamoun's article can be located here. We encourage our readers to first read his article. 

As usual, Shamoun likes to appeal to the weak sources of Islam that Muslims don't find to be authoritative: 

According to Yunus b. 'Abd al-A'la - Ibn Wahb - Ibn Zayd: The Prophet turned towards Jerusalem for sixteen months, and then it reached his ears that the Jews were saying, "By God, Muhammad and his companions did not know where their Qiblah was until we directed them." This displeased the Prophet and he raised his face toward Heaven, and God said, "We have seen the turning of your face to Heaven." 

This narration contains Ibn Zayd whom scholars have agreed to be weak and he is most likely Abdulrahman bin Zayd since he narrates Tafseer as Al-Dhahabi said. He is weak according to Imam Ahmad, Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani,al-Dhahabi, Abu Dawud, Ibn Ma'een, al-Nasaie, Abu Hatim and many others. (See Tahdheeb al-Tahdheeb, Volume 6, no.178) 

The Qur'an tells us the real reason why the Qiblah was changed: 

Surah 2:143 

Thus We have made you [true Muslims - real believers of Islamic Monotheism, true followers of Prophet Muhammad SAW and his Sunnah (legal ways)], a Wasat (just) (and the best) nation, that you be witnesses over mankind and the Messenger (Muhammad SAW) be a witness over you. And We made the Qiblah (prayer direction towards Jerusalem) which you used to face, only to test those who followed the Messenger (Muhammad SAW) from those who would turn on their heels (i.e. disobey the Messenger). Indeed it was great (heavy) except for those whom Allah guided. And Allah would never make your faith (prayers) to be lost (i.e. your prayers offered towards Jerusalem). Truly, Allah is full of kindness, the Most Merciful towards mankind. 

This was a test to see who was willing to stick by the side of Muhammad (peace be upon him). It was to see the willingness of people to abide by the Qur'an's instructions. Some people (like Shamoun) viewed the Prophet (peace be upon him) as changing the Qiblah according to his desires and apostatized from Islam, while others put their faith and trust in the Prophet (peace be upon him). Hence, this was a way of differentiating the loyal from the others. 

Shamoun appears to not care about the authenticity of the narrations that he cites, and he also claims that Muhammad (peace be upon him) only chose Jerusalem as the Qiblah in order to appease the Jews, and then when he saw that it didn't work, he had the Qiblah changed. If that is the case, then what does Shamoun think about this narration that Al-Tabari recorded in his commentary on Surah 2:142: 

فَقَالُوا : يَا مُحَمَّد مَا وَلَّاك عَنْ قِبْلَتك الَّتِي كُنْت عَلَيْهَا وَأَنْت تَزْعُم أَنَّك عَلَى مِلَّة إبْرَاهِيم وَدِينه ؟ ارْجِعْ إلَى قِبْلَتك الَّتِي كُنْت عَلَيْهَا نَتَّبِعك وَنُصَدِّقك !

They (i.e., the Jews) said: Oh Muhammad, what made you change the Qiblah you were on while you claim that you are following the religion of Abraham? Go back to your previous Qiblah, and we shall follow you and believe you!

If the Prophet (peace be upon him) was indeed an opportunist, just as Shamoun claims, then why not make up a revelation stating, "Allah has forgiven the Jews for their bad behavior and has accepted their repentance, right now we will be changing the Qiblah back to Jerusalem"?

Furthermore, there is nothing wrong in believing that the Qiblah was initially towards Jerusalem as a means to attract the Jews. This could have been Allah's plan to bring some of them into the faith. However, since there is no evidence that this was the case, there is no reason to discuss this matter further since there is no evidence for this assertion for us even to refute.

Imam Al-Tabari includes many other narrations (whose authenticity is doubtful) that speak about why the Qiblah was changed, such as the Prophet's (peace be upon him) love for directing his prayer towards the same Qiblah as Abraham (i.e., Ka'bah) and many other reasons. However, the safest way to go is with what the Qur'an has said, as we have previously mentioned.

It's funny Shamoun would call the Prophet (peace be upon him) an opportunist in trying to please the pagans.

The disbelievers of Mecca told the Prophet (pbuh) to change the revelation because they didn't like what it said.

Surah 10:15-16

And when Our clear revelations are recited unto them, they who look not for the meeting with Us say: Bring a Lecture other than this, or change it. Say (O Muhammad): It is not for me to change it of my accord. I only follow that which is inspired in me. Lo! if I disobey my Lord I fear the retribution of an awful Day. Say: If Allah had so willed I should not have recited it to you nor would He have made it known to you. I dwelt among you a whole lifetime before it (came to me). Have ye then no sense? 

If the Prophet's (peace be upon him) goal were to appeal to the pagan Arabs, he would have made the Qur'an say what they wanted to hear. Instead, we notice that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was honest and was not looking to gain followers at the expense of compromising the word of Allah or pleasing the Arabs. Rather, he was only interested in fulfilling the commands of Allah by communicating the revelation He was sending down to him.

Also, why didn't the Prophet (peace be upon him) promote idol worship? It would have made his job easier since most of the Arabs at his time were idol worshippers.

As for the issue of fasting Ashura, Shamoun said (bold emphasis mine):

After it became clear that the Jews would never follow him, he turned against them, and abandoned the fasting at Ashura and the Qiblah that he had chosen to impress them and win them over.

 It is not true that Ashura's fasting was completely abandoned. Rather, what happened was that it used to be compulsory to fast on that day, but after the obligation of Ramadan, this compulsion was lifted (as a mercy for Muslims since Ramadan now is what is compulsory to fast). This is made clear in this hadith that Shamou

Narrated 'Aisha:
The people used to fast on 'Ashura (the tenth day of the month of Muharram) before the fasting of Ramadan was made obligatory. And on that day the Ka'ba used to be covered with a cover. When Allah made the fasting of the month of Ramadan compulsory, Allah's Apostle said, "Whoever wishes to fast (on the day of 'Ashura') may do so; and whoever wishes to leave it can do so." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Book 26, 
Number 662)

Indeed, fasting on Ashura is recommended.

As for Ibn Umar's statement, "the fasting of the Ashura was abandoned," Shaykh Abdel Azeez Al Rajhi clarifies:

ومعنى ترك أي ترك صوم عاشوراء وجوبا وبقي استحبابا

And the meaning of "abandoned" is that it was abandoned as something compulsory but remained as something recommended. (Source)

This is evident from the narration itself:

Narrated Ibn 'Umar:
The Prophet observed the fast on the 10th of Muharram ('Ashura), and ordered (Muslims) to fast on that day, but when the fasting of the month of Ramadan was prescribed, the fasting of the 'Ashura' was abandoned. 'Abdullah did not use to fast on that day unless it coincided with his routine fasting by chance. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, 
Number 116)

Notice that the narration doesn't state that Ibn Umar used to stop fasting on this day altogether. He would continue fasting on this day only if it coincided with his routine fasting. This meant that he didn't view fasting on this day as compulsory.

We conclude that Shamoun hasn't proven anything.


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