Qibla al-Qudsiyya

The Qibla al-Qudsiyya is the name given to a small sect of the Jews of Medina who converted to Islam in 622/623. When the qibla (direction of prayer for Muslims) was changed from Jerusalem (known in Arabic as "al-Quds") to Mecca, these Jews protested and finally declined the change. They remained Muslims, but did not accept any of the verses in the Qur'an that descended from Heaven after the date of the split. Little is known of the existence of these Islamic Jews afterwards.

Did they exist?

The Qur'anic verses referring to the change of Qiblah are all within the second chapter, "Al-Baqarah" (meaning the Heifer). One verse reads thus: "The fools among the people will say: "What hath turned them from the Qibla to which they were used?" Say: To God belong both east and West: He guideth whom He will to a Way that is straight." (2:142 from Abdullah Y. Ali's translation)

It is conceivable that the sources mentioning the Qibla al-Qudsiyya like the Sirat un-Nabi (1) could in fact be trying to "fill in the gaps" of Muhammad's biography by taking Qur'anic verses and drawing implicit information from them. The verses in the chapter in question clearly indicate a group of people who dislike the change of direction from Jerusalem to Makkah. Interestingly the commentary in the translation of Abdullah Y. Ali - which is the most widespread English translation of the Qur'an - indicate that this group in fact were the Arabs and not Jews: "The Qibla of Jerusalem might itself have seemed strange to the Arabs, and the change from it to the Ka'ba might have seemed strange after they had become used to the other. In reality one direction or another, or east or west, in itself did not matter, as God is in all places, and is independent of Time and Place." (c. 145"ff")

The subsequent verse mentions the unwillingness of the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) to follow the Qibla of Islam: "Even if thou wert to bring to the people of the Book all the Signs (together), they would not follow Thy Qibla; nor art thou going to follow their Qibla; nor indeed will they follow each other's Qibla. If thou after the knowledge hath reached thee, Wert to follow their (vain) desires,-then wert thou Indeed (clearly) in the wrong. " (2:145)

According to the commentary of the same scholar this does not refer to Jewish converts to Islam, rather the main corpus of the Jews, arguing that it refers to the traditions mentioned in the Bible: "His window being open in his chambers towards Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God as he gave aforetime." (The Book of Daniel, 6:10)

Thus rationalizing the criticism that the Qur'an would direct towards the main corpus of Jews (and Christians) for not accepting the concept of Qibla, particularly that of Kaaba. Or in Qur'anic wording: "The people of the Book know this as they know their own sons; but some of them conceal the truth which they themselves know." (2:146)

If this understanding of these verses is correct that would render "the need" for a specific group of Jewish converts which did not accept the new Qiblah of Kaaba (or rather the old, because this had been Qiblah before the Hijra) to "fill in the gap" in story, if this is in fact what has been done.

Other arguments that could be raised against the likelihood of the existence of such a group is that the story sounds intrinsically implausible. There were of course a number of Jewish converts, and it is conceivable that some among these would reject a new Qiblah, but it is hard to understand why these would continue to stay Muslim having rejected The Prophet's authority on the Qiblah - why would they then still accept his older revelations?

cf. (1) Sirat un-Nabi
Jahiz - Kitab al-Bukhala


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