وَلِكُلٍّ وِجْهَةٌ هُوَ مُوَلِّيهَا ۖ فَاسْتَبِقُوا الْخَيْرَاتِ
Walikullin wijhatun huwa muwallīh fastabiqul-khayrāt
And everyone has a direction to which he would turn; therefore, hasten to good work.
(Sūrat al-Baqarah, No 2, Āyat 148)
This verse is part of a passage that talks about the changing of the qibla for the Muslims. The word wijhatun in this verse is synonymous with qibla and means the direction one faces. This verse states an important reality; every nation has its own qibla which has been appointed for them. Being a qibla is not an inherent or natural part of any place or direction. It is made to be the qibla by the command of Allah ‘azza wajall. Thus, change in it is possible.
Tafsīr Majma‘ al-Bayān gives the different views of scholars about the meaning of everyone has a direction:
- Every nation has a qibla appointed for them.
- Every Prophet and leader of society has a path. That path is Islam, although its ordinances differ over the times.
- Each group has a side of the Ka‘bah they turn towards.
‘Allāmah Tabātabā’ī in Tafsīr al-Mīzān discusses the importance of the qibla for Muslims:
- Human beings have esoteric ideals that need to be manifested externally. The inner turning towards Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā is manifested in an external turning towards the direction He has established.
- Attention towards something or someone is conveyed by turning towards them. People turn towards Allah and show attention to Him by turning towards the direction that represents Him.
- There are also sociological implications of the qibla. It unites Muslims of all places and times, focusing their attention in one direction. They are one and connected to each other. It has the potential of leading the Ummah to high levels of growth and perfection.
The verse then asks believers to hasten to do good. It is not necessary to waste time and energy in arguing about the change in qibla. Instead, think about the good you can do and excel others in it. It is recommended competition, to try and outdo others in good deeds with the intention of doing it for Allah (swt). The point is not to put the other person down by outdoing them, but to be higher in the eyes of Allah.
This verse reminds believers that certain commandments are ordained by Almighty Allah. It is pointless to argue back and forth about it. The focus should be on obeying and pleasing Allah and excelling in that goal. This why a Muslim is advised to sit facing qibla even outside the prayers. Hammād b. Uthmān has reported that, ‘I saw Abu Abdillāh (al-Sādiq ‘alayhis-salām) sit in his house by the door of his house, facing towards the Ka‘bah’ (al-Kāfī, v.2, h 133), and Imam al-Sādiq has said: It was so that Rasūlullāh used to mostly sit facing the Qibla (Ibid, h 128).
Sources: Shaykh Tabarsī, Tafsīr Majma‘ al-Bayān, Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān