The Changing of the Qibla and the People of As-Suffa
وَبَرَكَاتُهُ اللهِ وَرَحْمَةُ عَلَيْكُمْ السَّلاَمُ
The next major incident that took place in Islam was that of the changing of the qibla. And this was the first time that a law had been abrogated by Allah, and as this was a new concept for the Arabs it confused them initially. And the disbelievers and the Jews began to question for what reason the prophet had changed the qibla, and so Allah revealed the concept of abrogation in Surah Baqarah:
مَا نَنْسَخْ مِنْ آيَةٍ اَوْ نُنْسِهَا نَاْتِ بِخَيْرٍ مِّنْهَا اَوْ مِثْلِهَا
And we do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that we bring forth better than it or similar to it.
In another place in the Quran Allah says that he abrogates laws in order to test the faith of the believers. Now in this case the Quran abrogated the sunnah, however also know that the Quran can abrogate the Quran, the sunnah can abrogate the Quran and the sunnah can abrogate the sunnah.
Now initially the prophet was told by Allah to pray facing the Bayt Al-Maqdis in Jerusalem. However throughout the Meccan period it is narrated that he would not only face the Bayt Al-Maqdis, but also position himself behind the Ka’bah so that he was also facing the Ka’bah. And so he would sort of have a double qibla. And this was because the prophet knew that Ibrahim (AS) had made Mecca the holiest land and that the Ka’bah was the first qibla (Bayt Al-Maqdis was built 40 years after it). The ruling to pray towards the Bayt Al-Maqdis was actually for the Jews, as they did not know about Mecca and so thought that Jerusalem was the holiest land. And so the prophet wanted to resurrect the religion of Ibrahim (AS) and pray towards the Ka’bah, however in Medina Jerusalem was due north of the city while Mecca was due south, and so as the prophet still had to pray towards the Bayt Al-Maqdis he literally had to turn his back to the Ka’bah while praying.
When the prophet first entered Medina he was very respectful of the Jews, and he hoped that they would all become Muslims. And this was because for the first time the prophet was among a large group from the people of the book, and they all knew about monotheism and the concepts of a sharia and the afterlife and shared in so many of the elements of Islam. And on top of that they were waiting for a prophet, and they even knew that Muhammad ﷺ was the prophet and so why shouldn’t they convert and accept him? And so the prophet ordered the Muslims to be as like the Jews as possible, so that they would feel comfortable with them. However the Jews rejected the prophet and became arrogant, and over the first year and a half of the prophet’s stay in Medina tensions rose between them. And as tensions rose the prophet began ordering the Muslims to disassociate with them and now to try to be as different from them as possible, even to the point of having a different hairstyle. And in fact, because of this it is actually sunnah to pray with your shoes on – as long as they are clean – as the Jews had a practice of always removing their shoes.
And one of the things that the prophet wanted to be different from the Jews was the qibla, and he wanted to pray facing the Ka’bah instead of the Bayt Al-Maqdis. And he even told this to Jibrael (AS), who responded, ‘I am a slave just like you, and I only come with the affair of Allah. If you want this then make du’a to Allah.’ And so the prophet turned to Allah, and began making du’a so earnestly that he would turn his face up to the sky. And this is only done at times of extreme distress – for example before the Battle of Badr – as the prophet would normally lower his face. And so around 15 months after the prophet came to Medina, Allah answered his du’a and gave him the qibla that he wanted:
Now the famous story goes that Allah revealed this change to him while he was in the middle of salah, and the prophet turned around and the whole mosque turned around with him. However what actually happened is that the prophet prayed fajr facing the Bayt Al-Maqdis, and then between that time and zuhr the commandment was revealed and so the prophet prayed zuhr towards the Ka’bah. And so those sahaba who prayed zuhr facing Mecca went back home to spread the news, and one of them reached the mosque that is now called Masjid Al-Qiblatayn. However by the time that he got there they were already praying asr still facing Jerusalem, and so the man cried out from the back of the masjid that the direction for the qibla had changed. And so they all turned around where they were, and the imam literally walked through the rows to reach the front and they prayed the rest of the salah facing Mecca.
Another important element of early Medina was the people of As-Suffa. After the Battle of Badr, as more and more Muslims migrated to Medina, the Ansar were no longer able to house and handle all of these numbers and so a shelter was needed for all the newcomers to stay. And this became the back of the prophet’s masjid and was called As-Suffa, and the prophet built a roof over this area to keep the sun off of those who were staying there.
Now the people of the Suffa hold a very important and special status in our religion, and we believe them to be the best of the sahaba. And this was because their piety and imaan and knowledge were of the best, as they remained close to the prophet all day and spent the time in worship and learning. And their status is also raised up by the sacrifices that they had made in the cause of Islam, as they had literally given up everything that they had – their home, wealth and privacy – and were basically living in a public shelter. In fact, they were so poor that many of the people of the Suffa did not even have proper clothes, to the extent that the prophet had to command the women to not arise from sajdah in salah until after the men had fully arisen as the people of the Suffa would expose themselves on the way up. And because of these sufferings the prophet was extremely generous and close with the people of the Suffa, and he would invite them to any event and spend on them whenever he could. And a string was hung in the Suffa, on which anytime there was a harvest of dates the people would donate a few dates and put in on that string so that the people of the Suffa could eat without having to beg.
The the most famous member of the Suffa was the man called Abu Hurairah (RA). His real name was Abd Ar-Rahman ibn Sakhr Ad-Dausi, and he was actually from Yemen and came to Medina after the Battle of Khaybar – 7th year of the Hijra. And yet despite his late conversion, he is the one known for narrating the most hadith out of anyone and having one of the largest extents of Islamic knowledge, which not even some of the more long time sahaba had. And he narrated so many hadith that even the next generation began questioning how he managed to narrate so many when he was such a late convert. And he himself answered this question: ‘The people are complaining that I narrate too many traditions. But were it not for the fact that Allah criticised those who withhold knowledge, I would not have narrated one hadith to you. And I will tell you why I know more than our brothers of the Muhaajiroon and the Ansar. As for the Muhaajiroon, they were busy throughout the day buying and selling in the souks of Medina. And as for the Ansar, they were busy in the cultivation of the field and the harvesting. And as for me, then I would stick to the prophet with my hungry stomach, and therefore I would memorise what they would not memorise.’
And we must note that Abu Hurairah was not actually poor. Eventually when his mother came to Medina she actually bought a house, however Abu Hurairah still did not live in that house and remained in the Suffa so that he could learn as much as he could of Islam. And this shows us the status of the Suffa, such that it was not just a shelter but actually became the first university of Islam. And we also see some of the blessing of Abu Hurairah, who gave up luxury and preferred to live in the Suffa than in his own mother’s house so that he could be closer to the prophet and learn more. And he was not the only one, as in fact some Ansar even moved into the Suffa, the most notable of them being Hanzala ibn Abu Amir and Ka’ab ibn Malik (RA).
Now one day Abu Hurairah was so hungry that he was lying weak with exhaustion in the Suffa. The prophet saw him and invited him home and asked Aisha (RA) if they had anything to eat, to which she replied that yes, one of the neighbouring Ansari had given them a glass of milk. Abu Hurairah became happy, however then the prophet turned to him and said, ‘Go and call the people of the Suffa.’
And Abu Hurairah narrates: ‘I had to obey the command. I went and I gathered together all the people of the Suffa, and they came to the prophet and he handed me the cup and told me to go to every one of them and give them the cup. So I went to every one of them giving the cup and I thought to myself, “What will be left for me?”
And every single one of them finished, until finally there was only me and the prophet who had not drank from that cup so the prophet said, “Sit.” And so I sat down. And he said, “Drink,” and the cup was brimming as if it was more than when he handed it to me. So I drank. And he said, “Drink,” again, so I drank.
And he kept on telling me “Drink” again and again until I said, “I swear by Allah O Rasulallah, there is not a single space left in my stomach that I have left for this milk.” Then the prophet took the cup and he drank from it.’ And so we see some of the prophet’s sense of humour, as he essentially played a joke on Abu Hurairah making him think that there would be no milk left for him after the entirety of the people of the Suffa had drank, however by the miracle of Allah there was actually more milk left in the cup than before they had drunk.
And from these two stories we can gain a great amount of knowledge. Firstly we see from the changing of the qibla the introduction of the concept of abrogation, which was something completely new for the people. And this was when Allah removed an older law and replaced it with a better one, such that it would be a test for the Muslims to see if they would follow it. And this changing of the qibla initially cause a lot of controversy, as the pagans asked why this change was being made and the Jews asked if their qibla in Jerusalem not good enough for the Muslims. And in fact this changing was actually meant to be a message to the Jews of Medina, as the prophet was trying to show to them that they were no longer the chosen people and that Islam had come to be a universal religion, and so the prophet wanted to disassociate the Muslims from the Jews. And finally we see the blessings of the people of the Suffa, whom the prophet valued greatly because of the sacrifices that they had made in the way of Allah and to gain knowledge of Islam. And their example is one we should all take wisdom from, and we should implement their hunger for knowledge into our own lives.
Dr.Yasir Qadhi’s Seerah of The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) 034