These people have passed away! Their reward will come from what they did, and your reward will come from what you do, and you will not be asked as to what they did.
The disbelievers (or those weak in faith) among the people will say, “What has made them (Muslims) change their kiblah (direction of prayer) from what they had before?” Inform them, “The East and the West belong to God alone, and He guides to the right guidance whom He pleases."
Thus, We (God) have distinguished you as a balanced community so that you may be a role model (witness) for the people just as the Prophet is a role model for you. And We did not make the kiblah that you longed for (right away) so that We might differentiate he who follows the Prophet from he who moves away from the Prophet. It was a difficult test (to make the change), except for those who are guided by God. (Rest assured) that God was not going to make your faith a failure. God is ever Compassionate and Merciful to mankind.
The change of direction for Muslim prayer from Jerusalem to the Ka’bah is an important milestone and shows the mind-set of Islam. Islam came not to replace Judaism or Christianity but to set them on the right footing. It respects the importance of Jerusalem as central to all three religions and continues to respect its position. When the opposition to the Prophet and his early followers from Jews and Christians was established beyond a reasonable doubt, it became important for Islam to mark its distinctiveness by establishing its own symbolic point of reference—that reference point being the Ka’bah, the birthplace of the Prophet and the first house of worship built by Abraham (3:96), thereby reaffirming Islam’s commitment to the true guidance of Abraham, who is the central figure in all three religions.
The notion of a balanced community able to create a model individual and a model society devoid of extremism in both material excess and spiritual asceticism is central to the ideology of Islam. This fundamental world view and vision of life has to be reestablished in the Muslim mind-set and societies all over the world so that we can achieve success individually and as a community and contribute to the upliftment of the human race. This is in sharp contrast to the backward, illiterate, extremist, and poor governance found in many of the Muslim countries today.
The assurance that God gave in the Qur’an (in a number of places) should be a source of tremendous strength for Muslims. But this is not an unconditional promise of support—it requires sincere and persistent commitment to a deeper faith and uncompromising attitude to improve the human condition on this earth. Muslims have failed in both of these accounts and, hence, cannot rely on this assurance; therefore, we need to regain that assurance!
These verses show that Islam has always left a mark of distinction, whether through the matter of selecting the kiblah or through the preference of the middle-of-the-road position on all matters of importance. Muslims who are either very conservative or noncommittal need to reflect on the pragmatic aspects of Islamic teachings and practices.
We need to establish the pillars of Islam in our personal lives as an affirmation of our sincere faith in God and not as a means to an end. Then we need to make a conscious move to serve people in the contexts of personal development, familial responsibility, community togetherness, nation building, and globalization of our commitment to truth and justice. If we establish these things truthfully and sincerely, then we can demand assurance from God, as He promised.
Key Arabic Term:
1. Ummatan Wasatan
**Definition can be found in the Glossary**