By Ieasha Prime
Surah 2:143 ……And We did not make the qibla which you used to face except that We might make evident who would follow the Messenger from who would turn back on his heels. And indeed, it is difficult except for those whom Allah has guided. And never would Allah have caused you to lose your faith. Indeed, Allah is, to the people, Kind and Merciful.
The revelation of the second juz’ of the Quran mainly occurs during the early years after the migration from Mecca to Medina. The believers’ faith in Allah and His Messenger have been tried and solidified through persecution, boycott and exile. Brother/sisterhood became strengthened by the sharing of resources, communal work and bonds formed when one shares a common enemy. Their overflowing faith that was once internal and personal are now pouring the concrete for the foundation of community. The indigenous Muslims of Medina (Ansar) and the refugees of Mecca (Muhajirun) progressed during these months into the stages of establishment, social structure, political ideology and methods of justice.
However, to fully establish a “new” community, major internal changes are needed. Allah alludes to this in the first ayah of this section 2:142 when He changes the direction of the qibla. Although, for many of us living in the West, this change may seem insignificant, this simple course correction would distinguish the Muslims from their former selves and become a line of demarcation between Muslims, Christians and Jews. This next level of submission required them to take an uncomfortable step away from their habits, cultural traditions and their ideas about “where their focus” should be. Other mandates noted in this juz’ include changes in diet, criminal law, wills and inheritance. These matters are deeply connected to one’s ideology and beliefs about culture, gender relations, social justice and distribution of one’s wealth. In so doing, Allah guides the Muslims through the psycho-social paradigm shifts that are imperative to establish an authentic and fully functioning Muslim society.
However, the changing of the qibla alone caused many to lose their faith and abandon submission to Allah and His Messenger. The prevailing sentiment among this group was that this paradigm shift was too much to ask! There was no room for, “I will focus this way and still be Muslim and you can focus that way and follow your truth.” To establish a lasting Muslim community, the believers coalesced around a common focus and direction in the most intimate part of their submission—prayer.
It is here that we begin to see a correlation between the Muslims of that time and the Black American Muslim (BAM) experience. BAMs have faced persecution, exile, boycott, and severe oppression of all types. For the most part, BAMs have held on to faith and progressed into the period of establishment. Shedding old cultural traditions, changes in diet and even bonding with people from different cultures has been par for the course. In fact, one could argue that it was barely a struggle for most. However, because of unrelenting oppression, economic strains and the reality of being treated as foreigner in your own land and in your own religion, BAMs hold tighter to our way of thinking. Many BAMs feel that the only way to survive is to reach back into the bag of old habits, familiar methods of justice and easy social structures. Even though, the signs of their failure are present wherever we look. How come these old ways are so accessible? Because, despite changing our name, clothes, traditions and even country of residence, our minds did not change. Our focus is still the same.
We have allowed our fears and grief to guide us. Our past hurt relationships have determined our gender relations; our degrees and overseas studies have determined our internal politics; our scarcity of resources has determined our leadership status; our misunderstandings have become our silent wars; our different madhabs have determined our masajid; our anger has decided our methods of justice and our past missteps have determined our present. Our Post-traumatic Slave Syndrome has forced us to fight with each other about definitions, rank, position, and methodology. Community leaders and imams are at odds; scholars and activists are at odds; organizers and teachers are at odds, our men and women are at odds; parents and children are at odds. We have chosen sides and despite having common enemies, we continue with the infighting.
42:14- “And they became divided only after Knowledge reached them.”
Ibn Katheer writes about the changing of the Qibla mostly affected those inflicted with hypocrisy and mistrust, and the disbelieving Jews, both were led astray from the right guidance and fell into confusion. They said, “What has turned them (Muslims) from their Qibla to which they used to face in prayer?”
BAM must allow Allah and His Messenger to be the path, the guide and goal. We must submit and completely shift our mindset. Once our mindset is different, our language, approach and actions will be different. Once these changes are implemented on Prophetic guidance, then we will be ready to establish a new social order, a new community, new masajid, political structure and ultimately Islamic culture in America. Although, the odds seemed stacked in our favor and the task to overcome our challenges seems exhausting and unattainable, in this juz’, Allah gives abundant practical advice, and strong reminders of faith to manage the newly established Muslim community. Among the reminders are David and Goliath, and methods to overcome enemies from within and without. In addition, He gives the mandates for fasting in Ramadan as a method of self-restraint, and hajj as a pillar of faith that bonds the Ummah. Finally, Our Lord reaffirms that we are not alone in attaining this once we submit to Allah as true servants!
“When My servants ask you concerning Me – I am indeed close to them. I respond to the prayer of every suppliant when he calls on Me. Let them also, with a will, listen to My call, and believe in Me, that they may walk in the right way.” 2:186
Ieasha Prime is a traditionally educated Islamic teacher, lecturer and educator. She is the Executive Director of Barakah, Inc. a community based organization providing quality programming that raises the conscious mind, engages the heart and uplifts the spirit.