The Direction of Prayer

One aspect of our connection to God that illuminates how we approach Him is that of prayer. Both Christians and Muslims pray, so on the surface, one might assume both religions are fairly similar. Sure, there are some differences in procedure and body posture, but is there something more telling about the act of prayer within Christianity and Islam that would lend some insight into their differences?

In Islam, one aspect of prayer that is of paramount importance is the qiblah. The qiblah is the direction of prayer. All Muslims pray facing The Ka’aba in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam. Many mosques are built such that the entire structure aligns with the qiblah. Here in the United States, streets often run straight north-south and east-west. When a mosque is not squared to Mecca, the floor will be striped at an angle so that the lines of prayer can be formed in the correct direction.

As it happens, the direction of prayer in Islam has not always been toward Mecca. For a short time, the qiblah was toward Jerusalem. This was changed during the second year after the hijra. The following Hadith gives the details of this change of direction from Jerusalem to Mecca.

Narrated Al-Bara: We prayed along with the Prophet facing Jerusalem for sixteen or seventeen months. Then Allah ordered him to turn his face towards the Qibla (in Mecca):– “And from whence-so-ever you start forth (for prayers) turn your face in the direction of (the Sacred Mosque of Mecca) Al-Masjid-ul Haram..” (2.149) [i]

It was at this time that the following verse of the Qur’an was recited,

[2.144] Indeed We see the turning of your face to heaven, so We shall surely turn you to a qiblah which you shall like; turn then your face towards the Sacred Mosque, and wherever you are, turn your face towards it, and those who have been given the Book most surely know that it is the truth from their Lord; and Allah is not at all heedless of what they do.

Skeptics of Islam point out that the direction was changed because the Jews were making fun of Muhammad for praying toward Jerusalem, and then the revelation above was conveniently given. The Islamic view is that the qiblah was changed in order to test the loyalty of Muslims. Truly obedient Muslims would immediately follow this newly revealed command. Various arguments occur as to the reasons behind the change, but that the change occurred is not under dispute.

So what does the Bible teach about the direction of prayer? As it happens, no specific instructions are given. In one case, we find Daniel praying toward Jerusalem (Daniel 6:10). Most other times, we find direction irrelevant. In fact, the prophet Jonah prayed from inside the great fish while it swam around in any number of directions (Jonah 2:1). Direction of prayer isn’t mentioned in various Biblical passages on prayer such as Psalm 32:6 or Matthew 26:39. But even more to the point, Jesus Himself gives instructions for prayer, and direction is never mentioned. Jesus only mentions location in that He tells us to find a place of seclusion (Matthew 6:6). Jesus Himself finds a place of privacy for prayer (Matthew 14:23). Through the rest of His teachings, never once is direction of prayer of any significance. In fact, He specifically points out the place of worship is of no consequence (John 4:21). Does it matter? Is direction of prayer just a difference in the details or is there something bigger here that is being missed?

One thing Jesus tells us is that He will make His abode within us (John 14:23). Jesus tells us He will send the Holy Spirit to us. It is this Holy Spirit who helps us to pray when words escape us (Romans 8:26). Jesus tells us specifically that we when we gather in His name, He is there (Matthew 18:20). In fact, He makes sure we know that His presence is always with us (Matthew 28:20). Those who pray earnestly know personally how the LORD meets them wherever they are, in whatever place and time we come to Him in prayer. The reason our direction of prayer is of no consequence is because Jesus is right there with us when we pray!

In Islam, prayer requires a certain formality, including its direction. In Christianity, we are to pray reverently, but since Jesus is always in our midst when we pray, details such as direction and form fade into insignificance. In Islam, a Muslim faces toward Mecca because that is the holiest religious structure. In Christianity, everyone who confesses Jesus is himself the temple of God (2 Corinthians 6:16).

God’s presence during prayer transforms everything. Nothing could be more significant and life-changing.



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11 Responses to The Direction of Prayer

  1. Good article. Just as a little addition, it wasn’t until 725AD that Mosques started facing Mecca, prior to that they faced towards Petra in Jordan. After 822AD all Mosques faced Mecca during the time in between there was confusion, for instance, the Cordoba Mosque in Spain faced south towards Africa (not Mecca or Petra).

  2. Patrick,

    Have you ever had a chance to ask a Muslim about this? If so, how did that conversation go?


    • Yes at Speakers Corner, London, UK.

      They vehemently deny it, some get abusive, others say they’ll need to look into it.

      It ties into the other challenges Islam now faces such as their manuscript problems, and why is there no reference to Islam, Muslims etc until quite a while later…

      • garegin says:

        It’s super ironic that the Christians were a renegade sect and yet the Roman historians wrote in detail about their beliefs, including their belief in the crucified Christ. Muslims conquered huge areas and were the STATE religion and weirdly all those conquered people and neither the Muslims themselves had little or nothing to say about Islam.
        The critics would say that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but it actually is. If someone reports of a big parade through New York and no one finds any traces of litter, well maybe they was no parade.
        Where is the archeological evidence from Mecca. It was supposed to be a great trade city?

  3. Yusuf Wasike says:

    Patrick this is propaganda to turn people towards Islam.
    The revelation about prayer direction came during the time of Prophet Muhammad and therefore, there’s no way true Muslims would have built a mosques in 725 AD or 822 AD facing a wrong direction.
    Muhammad Muhammad.

  4. Yusuf Wasike says:

    Rather than printing wrong info about Islam concentrate on answering the following questions:
    Jesus is God according to Christians.
    1. Which God was Jesus worshipping while on earth? Was it a case of God worshipping himself or God worshipping another superior God?

    • Yusuf, if I have posted incorrect information, by all means please point it out to me. As of yet, no Muslim has done so regarding any of my articles.

      As for you question, it exposes a great truth about Jesus. He was both all-God and all-man. Therefore, are you asking who the human aspect of Jesus was worshipping, or who the God aspect was worshipping?

  5. Yusuf Wasike says:

    2. The bible says, Lucifer was a trusted angel before he fell out with God. Lucifer then later became satan.
    When satan appeared to tempt Jesus, he promised to give Jesus everything on earth, if Jesus worshipped him for one day/minute!
    1. How could satan promise to give “God”

    • Hi Yusuf,

      That is a very good question. While God is Sovereign, He has temporarily allowed the forces of evil to not only exist, but to exercise their will. This should be obvious to you from looking around our world today. Even your Qur’an talks about the jinn and their ability to make mischief.

      Satan was willing to give up all of the control that God had temporarily allowed him to have. No more. No less.

      Are you suggesting the Qur’an is incorrect when it refers to Satan? Are you suggesting the Qur’an is wrong when it discusses his ill intent for mankind? Do you believe Satan has no authority to grant what power he has to someone else?

      • Jenna Laston says:

        I believe Yusuf’s point is that Satan himself was lent power by God. Since Satan has only received power by permission of God Almighty, how can he in turn give “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory,” to God Almighty, The Creator, King and Owner of Dominion? This seems like a defiance of logic, assuming that in the Bible Satan was well aware of who he was speaking to.
        In line with Yusuf’s first comment: if you insist on writing about Islam, I suggest you check your facts and void your articles of your personal opinion if it causing you to propagandize. Rather than nitpicking and “unravelling” other’s religions, why not focus on the immense love and respect that Muslims also have towards Jesus? “If is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

        • Jenna,

          On the surface, it may seem like a denial of logic. However, free will means we have the power to attempt to take anything not given to us by God, or return anything He does give us.

          Regarding my discussions of Islam, I have focused on Muslims “love for Jesus” elsewhere. I talk about how their love for Jesus comes from obedience to Muhammad’s command to do so. It’s a fascinating theological question.

          If I mis-state any facts, I certainly would like that to be pointed out.

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