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Lesson - 29
"It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards
the East and the West, but righteous is the one who believes in
Allah, and the Last Day, and the angels and the Book and the prophets,
and gives away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and
the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask
and to set slaves free and keeps up prayer and pays the poor-rate;
and the performers of their promise when they make a promise, and
the patient in distress and affliction and in the time of conflict.
These are they who are truthful; and these are they who keep their
duty." Ch. 2:177
The true meaning of East and West
The Divine words, "It is not righteousness that you turn your
faces towards the East and the West," need careful perusal.
What exactly is the message being conveyed in this statement? Most
commentators have interpreted this to mean the change in the direction
in which Muslims offer their prayer. This took place when the Muslims
moved to Medina about sixteen months after the Hijra. Prior to this,
Muslims prayed facing towards Jerusalem. They were then commanded
by Divine revelation to face towards the sacred house at Kabah,
in Mecca. The commentators have, therefore interpreted the verse
to mean that the act of changing direction is not by itself an act
of great righteousness, but, in fact righteousness lies in doing
the things which are subsequently mentioned. This interpretation,
however, has the following drawbacks:
- To connect this verse with the subject of change in the direction
of prayers, the commentators have to go back four or five sections.
In the intervening sections, so many new topics are introduced,
and a natural continuity is lost. As I show later on during my
lesson, the text of this section is a logical extension of its
- The importance of what direction to face during prayer, is such
that the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)
individually, and the Muslims in general have been addressed on
this issue altogether five times in the Holy Quran. They have
been enjoined to face towards the Kabah (Sacred Mosque
in Mecca) wherever they are, and whenever they get ready to pray.
The importance of facing this direction (Qiblah) is such
that in the Hadith the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah
be upon him) has addressed the Muslims as the followers of this
direction (Ahle Qiblah), and has prohibited them
to call anybody who faces this direction to pray, as a disbeliever.
From this we can conclude that facing the direction of the Kabah
while praying is a distinctive sign of a follower of Islam, and
is regarded as sufficient evidence to regard a person as a Muslim.
In the light of this important significance attached to praying
in the direction of the Kabah, calling it, "Not a righteousness,"
does not seem to be appropriate.
- The interpretation of the commentators is also incorrect as
far as the geographical direction is concerned. The verse under
discussion was revealed at Medina. Jerusalem, the first direction
(Qiblah Awal) is North of Medina, and the sacred mosque
at Kabah in Mecca, the final direction, (Qiblah Aakhir)
lies south of it. It is, therefore inappropriate to apply the
verse, "It is not righteousness that you turn your faces
towards the East and the West," even to the Muslims of Medina,
leave alone its application to Muslims in general. Muslim populations
inside and outside of Arabia were at the time, and are even today,
scattered in all directions of the Sacred Mosque at Kabah.
Actually East and West refers to two well known blocks the world
is split into. In the English language also, the terms East and
West are used to identify the people and the land of the East and
the West. If we study the history of mankind, we find that the earlier
civilizations, and cultural developments originated in the East.
All religions evolved in the East, and then spread to the West.
Since religion forms the basis of culture, and civilization, and
provides the basis for good moral behavior, the West was influenced
in this respect by the East. In the early period all the great empires
were also in the East. Knowledge of science and humanities to whatever
degrees it existed, was in the East. Elegant clothes, good living
conditions, poetry, literature, social etiquette, were all a part
of the eastern culture. Europe and the Americas during that time
were still in the dark ages. In the nineteenth century of the Christian
era, this situation reversed itself. The western nations became
politically, and militarily dominant, and made such remarkable progress
in the fields of science and technology, that the whole world particularly
those living in the East were greatly impressed by it.
Condition of the Muslim religious leaders
during the 19th Century
The nineteenth century is also the period during which not only
the power of the eastern empires declined, but the religious structure
which formed the basis of their culture, and civilization also weakened.
Other religions had already deteriorated due to infusion of polytheism,
and loss or interpolation of their Divine scriptures, but Islam
remained monotheistic, and its scripture the Holy Quran was preserved
in its original pristine form. The condition of the Muslim religious
leaders, with a few exceptions, was akin to what has been appropriately
described in the preceding section of the Holy Quran as:
"Those who conceal aught of the Book that Allah
has revealed and take for it a small price, they eat nothing,
but fire into their bellies."
Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali the famous Indian poet of the period,
also describes their condition very well in his famous work of poetry
‘The Mussadas-e-Hali.’ Muslim religious leaders, with a few
exceptions, had abandoned the Holy Quran, and the example of the
Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and were
totally engrossed in matters of jurisprudence. This narrowed their
outlook, shackled their thought process and led to the development
of conservatism amongst them. Instead of the broad-minded views
of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him),
and the Holy Quran, they preached religious bigotry, which caused
the Muslims to become divided into seventy two sects. All of these
sects became involved in bitter mutual disputes on minor differences,
resulting in sectarian violence and infighting. As a consequence
of this, the educated Muslims were disillusioned by their religion,
and either converted to Christianity, or at the very least, became
admirers of the west.
Minor degrees of righteousness exist in all
man made cultures
Now let us examine the words of the Holy Quran:
"It is not righteousness that you turn your faces
towards the East and the West."
Man only sees in the direction his face is turned to. He follows
that direction, and all his attention is focused towards it. He
learns, accepts and acts upon the guidance he receives from there.
In the early ages when the East was the cradle of civilization and
culture, the attention of the whole world was turned towards it.
In the 19th and 20th centuries people turned towards the west. This
was not only because the ruling powers at the time were from the
west, but also because their amazing scientific and technological
progress had greatly impressed the people.
In the Indian subcontinent the people became divided into two groups.
There were some who upheld only the eastern civilization and culture,
and did not consider its western counterpart worthwhile. Some, on
the other hand became so enthralled with the western values that
whatever came from the west, or was done by westerners was considered
by them to be the only right action worthy of following. They strayed
away from their religion. Scientific development not only greatly
impressed these people, but also encouraged them towards atheism
and disbelief. There is an instinctive desire in mankind for self
improvement. However, as these people had strayed far from religion,
and did not look upon religion as the source of self improvement,
they turned to secular western civilization, as an alternative.
True righteousness lies in higher moral values
The unbiased opinion of the Holy Quran in this respect is very
admirable. Whereas both the followers of the East and the West could
not see any worthwhile qualities in their counterparts, the Holy
Quran states that they both have some lower level of amiable moral
values, but it is only the higher values that are lacking. As an
example of the minor virtues in the western civilization is the
frequent expression of gratitude expressed by the words, ‘thank
you.’ However, higher moral values are lacking. Due to a dearth
of such higher moral values, the superficial glitter of the western
culture has quickly faded away. Sexual delinquency, crimes against
nature, nudity, alcoholism and other forms of drug abuse are rampant.
Crime is on the rise, family life is in the shambles, and the younger
generation has turned rebellious. Similarly, the different eastern
cultures in the later periods of their development were involved
in all kinds of evil. The higher moral values are, therefore non-
existent in the worldly, and man made cultures. They exist in the
principles the Holy Quran has laid down in the verse under discussion.
Quranic code of higher moral values
Unity of God: The primary and the most basic one amongst
these higher values is belief in Allah. Belief in God does not carry
only the significance that there is a God. It implies belief in
that God has not created this whole universe without a purpose,
and that man, the masterpiece of His creation, and His vicegerent
on earth, definitely has a higher purpose to his creation. What
is the purpose of the creation of mankind? As mentioned frequently
in these lessons, it is the realization of the existence of the
Divine Being, and man’s struggle to acquire closeness to Him. It
is quite obvious that only those people can get close to Allah who
recognize His attributes, and color themselves with His coloring.
That is why the Holy Quran states:
"(We take) Allah’s color and who is better than
Allah at coloring and we are His worshippers (with humility)"
The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) has
expressed this in the following words:
"Create the morals of Allah within yourself."
How can this be accomplished? It can only be done by following His
commandments with humility, as expressed in the Holy Quran by the
"and we are His worshippers."
The color of Allah is manifested by His attributes which represent
the highest form of moral values.
Higher moral values acquired through awareness
of Divine Attributes:
I have explained this at length in my commentary on the verse,
"All praise is for Allah." The concept of goodness has
evolved in the human mind by the knowledge of Divine attributes
given to it through Divine revelation, otherwise the human brain
is made up of organic matter similar to that of animals. It is incapable
of developing the concept of higher moral values without such revelation.
This revelation started with Prophet Adam, and over thousands of
years, knowledge of the attributes of Allah evolved into the concept
of higher moral values in the human mind.
Quran is unique in giving knowledge of Divine
The knowledge of the Divine attributes that is given by the Holy
Quran is not found in any other revealed scripture today. This is
because the originals of all other scriptures have been lost. These
scriptures exist today only in the form of translations done several
hundred years later, and have undergone interpolation. The Holy
Quran is the only scripture which was written down as soon as it
was revealed, and is the only one undisputedly preserved in its
original form till today. In any case, the extent to which the Holy
Quran describes the Divine attributes is not matched by any other
scripture in its present form. This is an open challenge to anyone
who would care to accept it. If man is to be the vicegerent of Allah
Almighty on this earth, then Allah wants him to carry out his responsibility
with the same higher moral and spiritual values that are reflected
by the attributes of Allah. Man, if he desires to get close to Allah
in the Hereafter, has to color himself with the Divine attributes.
The more imbued he is in the color of Allah, the closer is his relationship
going to be with Him.
The attributes of Allah reflect such higher moral and spiritual
values, that if they form the basis of a culture, or civilization,
the resultant society would be the best, one can imagine.