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Lesson 29

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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:

  1. 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 preceding section.
  2. 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.
  3. 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)" (2:138).
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 words:

"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 Attributes:

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.

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