Did the Muslims in Madinah perform prayers by turning toward Masjid al-Aqsa (before the Kaaba) based on revelation other than the Quran?

The Details of the Question

The Muslims used to perform prayers by turning toward Masjid al-Aqsa before the Kaaba. I think it was an order of Allah. Was it based on revelation other than the Quran?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Ali Ibn Abu Talha reports the following from Ibn Abbas: When the Messenger of Allah migrated to Madinah, the majority of the people of Madinah were Jews. Allah ordered the Prophet to turn toward Quds (Jerusalem). The Jews became very glad because of it. The Messenger of Allah performed prayers by turning toward Quds for about ten months. However, he wanted to turn toward the qiblah of Ibrahim. He prayed Allah all the time and looked at the sky. Thereupon, the following verse was sent down:

"We see the turning of thy face (for guidance to the heavens: now Shall We turn thee to a Qibla that shall please thee. Turn then Thy face in the direction of the sacred Mosque: Wherever ye are, turn your faces in that direction..." (al-Baqara, 2/144)

According to the narration of Tabrasi, when the Prophet (pbuh) was in Makkah, he performed prayers by turning toward the Kaaba. When he migrated to Madinah, he turned toward Masjid al-Aqsa. The aim was to be different from the polytheists who turned toward the Kaaba when they worshipped their idols. The Jews became very glad because of it. They interpreted the Prophet’s and Muslims’ turning toward the qiblah of Jews as a confession of their being on the right path and as a sign of the source of Muslims’ guidance being their guidance. Zamakhshari states that the Prophet (pbuh) started to perform prayers by turning toward Masjid al-Aqsa instead of the Kaaba in order to warm the hearts of the Jews toward Islam.

Both reasons are possible for the Prophet’s turning toward Masjid al-Aqsa. When the Jews started to refuse and confuse him and the Muslims and to act arrogantly and conceitedly, this became unendurable for the Prophet (pbuh) and the Muslims. Therefore, the Prophet (pbuh) had a desire in his heart about the change of the qiblah. 

On the other hand, the Jews increased their annoying deeds. Therefore, the Prophet (pbuh) expected a divine revelation related to the change of the qiblah. In addition, we can state the following:

"When the Prophet (pbuh) was annoyed by the Jews and when he lost his hope about their becoming Muslims, he realized that performing prayers by turning toward their qiblah would decrease the effect of his call to Arabs about Islam. Turning toward the first qiblah again would also warm the hearts of Arabs toward Islam. He knew that the Kaaba, which was Allah’s house and to which Arabs were deeply attached and showed respect, was the symbol of unity among Arabs. Arabs visited the Kaaba in congregation for hajj and worshipped together for hajj. They all caused the Prophet (pbuh) to ask Allah to turn his face toward the Kaaba."

A relationship can be established between this interpretation and the following part of a verse:

"...that there be no ground of dispute against you among the people..." (al-Baqara, 2/150)

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