Religious and Historical Significance of Quba’ Mosque

By Spahic Omer

In terms of its religious and historical significance, the Quba’ mosque in Madinah is the fourth mosque in Islam and its civilization to which a journey can be undertaken for religious purposes. It comes after the holy mosque in Makkah, the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, and the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Palestine. As such, the mosque never failed to capture the imagination of people throughout history. No visit to the holy city of Madinah was conceivable without paying a visit to the Quba’ mosque which lay at a distance of about three miles from the core of the city. The visit would simply be incomplete; it would yet be against the traditions as well as recommendations of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). 

The importance of the Quba’ mosque lies in relation to both history and religious ordinances. As to the former, the Quba’ mosque was the first mosque built by the Prophet. It was built in the village of Quba’ on the outskirts of Madinah. It was located to the south or south-west of the city, on the way of the Prophet’s hijrah trajectory. As a migrant on his way from Makkah to the city of Madinah, the Prophet stopped in Quba’ for two weeks, ten days, or just “a few days”. During the stay he managed to build the mosque, that is, he laid its foundations and started the building process. Although there might have existed other simple mosques established earlier by certain companions of the Prophet, the Quba’ mosque was the first one where the Prophet with his companions prayed publicly in congregation, and in whose establishment and construction he personally participated. The mosque, it goes without saying, was incomparable. 

The mosque symbolized freedom, maturation and victory. It furthermore symbolized the actual advent of the Prophet, Islam and Muslims in Madinah, on the one hand, and the advent of a new direction and a new purpose, on the other. In short, the mosque symbolized an existential transformation and the arrival of the future. Accordingly, the building of the Quba’ mosque marked not just a new and certainly most decisive phase, but also a turning point, in the history of the prophethood of the final messenger of Almighty Allah to people: Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). The mosque personified the migration or hijrah as a whole, and also a migration from one epoch, yet one dimension, of Islam and its message to another, and from one paradigm of the Prophet’s preaching and of the people’s behavioural standard to another. The Quba’ mosque was a segment of a process that culminated in the creation of the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah proper.

Conceiving and erecting the Quba’ mosque indicated a new birth and a new beginning. If there was the biological birth of the Prophet, which happened as per the majority of Muslim scholars on the twelfth of Rabi’ al-Awwal, the third month of the lunar year, in 570 CE, there was, likewise, a new religious birth and a new civilizational beginning associated with the hijrah and the arrival of the Prophet and his creation of the mosque in Quba’. Hence, perhaps partly as a coincidence and partly as a design, the Prophet is said to have arrived in Quba’ also on the twelfth of the month of Rabi’ al-Awwal on the back of thirteen years of preaching in Makkah. When the Prophet died ten years later, that was as well on the twelfth of Rabi’ al-Awwal, thus perfectly completing as much the ontological as the prophetic cycle. It is not surprising, therefore, that the year of the migration of the Prophet to Madinah via Quba’ was used as the starting point for the Islamic hijri calendar. The hijrah and with it the Quba’ episode was thus forever immortalized both in the history books and in the Muslim consciousness.

With reference to the religious importance of the Quba’ mosque, there are several Qur’anic verses and traditions of the Prophet that attest to it. For example, the Qur’an says that the Quba’ mosque was a mosque founded on righteousness and Allah’s good pleasure from the first day, that it was worthy for the Prophet to stand or worship Allah in it, and that in it were persons who loved to purify themselves (al-Tawbah, 108-109). The mosque, it follows, was a sign and an exemplar. It stood as an epitome of virtue and, at the same time, as an antithesis of the wickedness – at once individual and institutionalized – of the forces of falsehood which the Prophet had to encounter in Madinah, on top of which, positively, stood the hypocrites and their internal and external allies. 

The hypocrites built their own mosque in the vicinity of the Quba’ mosque. The aim was to rival the intrinsic greatness of the latter. As a result, the Qur’an describes the “mosque” of the hypocrites as a mosque created for causing harm, disbelief and division among the believers and as a station for whoever had warred against Allah and the Prophet before. Notwithstanding the deceitful excuses of the hypocrites to the effect that they had intended only what was the best for Muslims, the Qur’an unmasked their intentions and declared that Allah testifies that, surely, the hypocrites were nothing but liars (al-Tawbah, 107).

As such, the context of the Quba’ mosque triggered a heavenly intervention due to which one could sense a guarantee of the bright future of Islam – in Madinah and beyond – together with the universal sustainability of its message, people and civilization. There can be no doubt that the Qur’anic reference to the Quba’ mosque contained a prophecy that materialized during the Prophet’s time first, and then kept materializing throughout history and throughout the world. 

Indeed, the testimonial of the Qur’an is a gift that never stops giving. So much so that it became a historical and civilization-building law that any edifice, organization, enterprise, institution, system, “house” etc. – simply put, anything that can be categorized as a type of establishment or a foundation either actually or metaphorically – that is founded upon duty to Allah and His good pleasure is righteous and so, sustainable. Its vitality and permanence are ensured thereby, commensurately with the vitality and permanence of the fundamentals it rests upon. 

Conversely, any type of establishment, foundation, or system that is founded on principles other than piety to Almighty Allah and His pleasure is aberrant and so, doomed, sooner or later. Its foundations are laid on the edge of a bank about to collapse. There is neither constancy nor benediction enclosed in such an endeavour. Hence, Allah does not endorse it, nor does He endorse and guide its wrongdoing people. Ultimately, the whole setup fails and crumbles to pieces “into the fire of Hell” (al-Tawbah, 109). All this is as a consequence of another categorical truth enshrined in the Qur’anic text according to which while the truth and its believers are destined to prevail in the end, falsehood and its patrons are destined to fall short.

The Prophet never stopped drawing attention to this significance of the Quba’ mosque. He did so as much through words as through actions. Thus, he is reported to have said: “Whoever purifies himself in his house, then comes to the Quba’ mosque and offers one prayer therein, will have a reward like that for ‘umrah (the lesser pilgrimage).” The Prophet himself used to go to the Quba’ mosque every Saturday, sometimes walking and sometimes riding. Emulating the Prophet, a companion Abdullah b. Umar used to do the same. The Prophet is said to have frequently ridden a donkey while travelling to Quba’. He would unsurprisingly be surrounded by his companions many of whom travelled on foot with him.

Since the Qur’an gave emphasis to the verity that the people of Quba’, who patronized their mosque, were “men who love to purify themselves; and Allah loves those who purify themselves” (al-Tawbah, 108), the Prophet ordered that every mosque should have a place designated for throwing rubbish and other forms of waste. This certainly was part of a bigger strategy intended to keep mosques clean and tidy. The Prophet said that the Qur’anic words “in it (the mosque of Quba’) are men who love to purify themselves” (al-Tawbah, 108) were revealed in connection with the people of Quba’. A companion Abu Hurayrah commented that they used to cleanse themselves with water after easing, so the verse was revealed in relation to them.

Salim mawla or the freed slave of Abu Hudhaifah used to lead the early muhajirs (emigrants) and the companions of the Prophet in prayer in the Quba’ mosque. Among those who used to pray behind him were Abu Bakr, Umar b. al-Khattab, Abu Salama and Amir b. Rabi’a. A companion Mu’adh b. Jabal was later the mosque’s imam or prayer leader as well. However, the people of Quba’ used to pray the Friday Jumu’ah prayer with the Prophet in his mosque in Madinah. The Prophet’s muazzin (the person who proclaims the call for daily prayers) in the Quba’ mosque was Sa’d al-Qardh mawla Ammar b. Yasir. In passing, the Prophet had four muazzins: two in Madinah, one in Makkah and one in Quba’.

It seems that there was more than one person who led people in prayer in the Quba’ mosque. Their stories and tenures varied. Some chronicles also mention a man called Sa’d b. Ubayd b. Qays b. al-Nu’man who was a prayer leader during the eras of the Prophet and Abu Bakr. Shortly after Umar b. al-Khattab had become the caliph, the man died, prompting Umar to appoint a new leader.

In one report it has been narrated that there was an anonymous man from the ansar or the local population who led his people in prayer. It was this person who famously recited in every rak’ah (prayer unit) the Qur’anic Ikhlas chapter first, which he followed by reciting another chapter or another portion of the Qur’an. His companions talked to him and said: “You recite this surah (chapter). You should either recite it or leave it and recite another surah.” The man said: “I shall not leave it, if you would like me to lead you with it then I shall do so, and if you do not like it then I shall leave you.” But they considered him the best among them, and they did not like the idea of someone else leading them in prayer. So when the Prophet came to Quba’ – most probably as part of his regular Saturday visits – they informed him about what had happened and the Prophet said: “O so-and-so! What prevents you from doing what your companions told you to do, why do you recite this surah in every rak’ah?” The man replied: “O Messenger of Allah! Indeed I love it.” So the Prophet said: “Your love for it shall have you admitted into Paradise.”

The Prophet’s affection for the people of Quba’, and by extension for their mosque, becomes additionally manifest from the following accounts. Once the people of Quba’ fought with each other till they threw stones on each other. When The Prophet was informed about it, he said: “Let us go to bring about a reconciliation between them.” Undeniably, whenever the Prophet visited the Quba’ mosque the occasion was a memorable one for the people of the place. It has been reported that one time when the Prophet came to Quba’ and performed a prayer in the mosque, some people from the ansar came and greeted him while he was still engaged in prayer. He did thus gesturing with his hand.

Moreover, the Quba’ mosque was also the mosque of the two qiblahs or two directions of prayer. There are only a couple of mosques in Madinah that carry this distinction. Based on a narration, while the people were offering the Fajr or dawn prayer in the Quba’ mosque, a person came to them and informed them that the night before it had been revealed to the Prophet to stop facing the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem while praying and to start facing the Ka’bah in Makkah instead. So the person advised the people of Quba’, who were praying facing the al-Aqsa mosque, to turn their faces towards the Ka’bah instantaneously, which they did without hesitation.

It is obvious that the Quba’ mosque is the mosque referred to in the Qur’an as the one established on righteousness or piety to Allah and His pleasure. Needless to say, however, that the Prophet’s mosque, too – and indeed every other mosque – is also established on the same premises. The Qur’anic message, therefore, is both specific and general, depending on the frameworks and objectives of deliberations. The Quba’ mosque connoted the specific cause, but the entailed messages were inclusive. That is why when two persons disputed about which mosque exactly was founded upon the foundations of taqwa (piety), one person saying it was the Quba’ mosque and the other one saying it was the Prophet’s mosque, the Prophet told them it was his mosque in Madinah and in the Quba’ mosque there was much good. Some believe that in this account the Prophet mentioned his mosque, rather than the Quba’ mosque, as the one targeted by the Qur’anic discourse, because he did not want some people to misunderstand the matter and start supposing that the Quba’ mosque alone was meant to be the mosque founded on piety and Allah’s pleasure. The Prophet wanted the people to adopt a wider outlook.

Having drawn inspiration from the teacher of teachers, neither did the companions of the Prophet have scruples about the exaltation of the Quba’ mosque. A companion Anas b. Malik, for one, is reported to have come on an occasion to Quba’ to visit its mosque, and after performing a prayer in front of one of the mosque’s pillars, he took a seat surrounded by people and said: “Glory be to Allah! How enormous the right or entitlement of this mosque is; if it was a distance of one month away, it would still be worth a visit.” Anas b. Malik then shored up his statement by paraphrasing the Prophet’s tradition to the effect that visiting and praying in the Quba’ mosque equalled one ‘umrah or the lesser pilgrimage.

Moreover, a companion Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas said, as reported by his daughter A’ishah, that praying two rak’ah or a prayer with two units in the Quba’ mosque was dearer to him than going to Jerusalem (Bayt al-Maqdis) twice – and understandably praying in its al-Aqsa mosque.

Umar b. al-Khattab, in his capacity as the caliph or leader of Muslims (amir al-mu’minin), used to visit the Quba’ mosque twice a week: on Mondays and Thursdays. Once he came but found nobody inside the mosque, which displeased him. Visibly dissatisfied and expressing his wonder at the tepidity of the piety of people, Umar b. al-Khattab hastened to remind them about the greatness of the mosque: “By Him in Whose Hand is my soul, I have seen the Messenger of Allah and Abu Bakr among the companions, we used to carry its (the mosque’s) stones (for building it) on our stomachs; the Prophet founded the mosque with his own hands, while the angel Jibril showed him the direction of the qiblah.” Umar b. al-Khattab swore that if the Quba’ mosque was furthest away, he would still have visited it. He then swept the mosque himself with a broom of thorns, and when people beseeched him to let them do it instead, he declined.

A tabi’i (follower or successor) and a foremost jurist of Madinah, Zayd b. Aslam, also said: “Praise be to Allah Who made the Quba’ mosque close to us; if it was over the horizon of the horizons (long way off) – even so – we would still have visited it.”

As a matter of course, a number of exaggerations and even out-and-out untruths concerning the Quba’ mosque have been invented in the course of time. Different people with different agendas wished to take advantage of the extraordinary prestige of the mosque and of the myriads of windfalls affiliated with it. It has been said, for example, when the Prophet’s she-camel, as he was approaching Madinah after the flight from Makkah, knelt down at the location of the Quba’ mosque, he desired his companions to mount the animal. Abu Bakr and Umar did so; still she sat upon the ground; but when Ali obeyed the order, she arose. The Prophet “bade him loose her halter, for she was directed by Allah, and the mosque walls were built upon the line over which she trod.” This account has been categorized as weak or da’if.

Pursuant to another clearly fabricated report, al-Khidr – a righteous and wise, but mysterious, servant of Allah mentioned in the Qur’an in surah al-Kahf as a contemporary of the prophet Musa – is said to be praying every Friday in five mosques: the holy mosque (al-masjid al-haram) in Makkah, the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah, the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, and the Quba’ mosque.

All things considered, as if the Quba’ mosque emanated the message to the effect that a new era of the Prophet’s mission, in particular, and that a new age in the development of human civilization, in general, had begun. No wonder that no sooner had the Prophet arrived and settled in Madinah – which hitherto was called Yathrib – than he changed the name of the latter to “Madinah”, which means “the city”. The word “Madinah” is derived from the verb “madana” which means “to arrive in a city”, “to inhabit a place” and “to settle in a place”. The verb is generally intransitive. The transitive verb of the first form is “maddana”, which means “to establish and build a city”, “to urbanize”, “to advance and civilize” and “to refine and cultivate”. The reflexive verb of the above transitive form – a verb whose direct object is the same as its subject – is “tamaddana”, which means “to become civilized, cultured and refined”. From the same root word the following terms are derived: “tamaddun” which means “civilization”, “madani” which means “civilian, civic and urban”, and “tamdin” which means “an act of civilizing, urbanizing and cultivating”. Thus, linguistically, Madinah means “the city”, but technically – when all derivative words are taken into consideration – it means “a place of civilization, urbanization, progress and cultural refinement”.

The Prophet’s message was clear: the ultimate objective of Islam was the realization of a true and unadulterated progress, happiness and success as much in this world as in the Hereafter. The hijrah was undertaken because the context of the city of Makkah alone was increasingly proving unfeasible for the achievement of the above purpose. Hence, other alternatives had to be considered, with the city of Madinah emerging as the best and most viable option. It ticked all the right boxes.

So, therefore, the Quba’ region and its mosque – where the Prophet had arrived first, had organized the community, and had founded the first multipurpose institution of Islam (the mosque) – functioned as the gateway to everything Madinah represented. It was the latter’s microcosm. As a community development centre, the Quba’ mosque signified a watershed in the history of Islam and its civilization. It was a threshold between the old Makkan sphere and a new revolutionary one in Madinah. It was a portal to the future, and by extension, to infinity. This could be one of the reasons why the Prophet used to frequent the Quba’ mosque, advising his followers to follow suit, and reminding that a visit to and a prayer in the mosque is equivalent to umrah or the lesser pilgrimage. Which connotes that travelling to the Quba’ mosque, in point of fact, means revisiting an essential aspect of the origins and beginnings of everything Islamic. It connotes not going, but returning and also journeying back in time. It connotes a pilgrimage – a private spiritual odyssey – par excellence.

After the Prophet and his companions (sahabah), in their capacity as the makers and eyewitnesses of the history and legacy of the Quba’ mosque, people worked painstakingly to preserve the incredible status of the mosque. They did so by honouring and, whenever possible, uplifting its religiosity, historicity and architecturality. They did so, furthermore, by replenishing the milieu and by renewing the “clothing” whose aim was to frame and aid the mosque’s ever-vibrant spirit and purpose. Unquestionably, the Quba’ mosque’s historical legacy was always the result of a subtle interplay between the permanency of quintessence and canons and the impermanency of the exigencies of time and space factors. It was a marvel that consisted of the abiding soul and transient body. It was a locus where heaven and earth convened, with the human agency subsisting at the convergence point and striving to attend to the enticement of the infinite potentials of the former and the sobriety of the practical necessities of the latter.

However, since a great many people’s emotional, socio-political and religious proclivities sometimes got the better of them, particular components of the idea and the historical as well as architectural reality of the Quba’ mosque became compromised. There were yet instances of persons and their thinking patterns which were inclined to converting the powerful and living truth of the Quba’ mosque into the lethargic and lifeless misrepresentation of a mere legend or even a myth. Just as the entire Hijaz region, including the holy city of Madinah and its Quba’ district, often served as the battlefield of armies, socio-political ideologies and systems, the Quba’ mosque, in equal measure, served as a scene of recurring confrontations of ideas, philosophies, principles and policies. Regardless of which components exactly were the causes and which ones the effects, and which ones were home-made and which ones imported, the veracity remains that the Quba’ mosque flourished in times of peace and wellbeing, and suffered in times of instabilities and depression. The correlations were reciprocal and commensurate.

Finally, all discussions concerning the trail of the Quba’ mosque’s historical ups and downs ought to be concluded by presenting the remarkable contributions of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. While in recent years the mosque was subjected to some unparalleled architectural expansions and refinements, it at the same time was made to undergo a series of cleansing processes wherewith some persisting elements of pseudo-religiosity and pseudo-historicity were done away with forever. This way, the mosque came full circle, as it were, and was set on a path towards restoring its fundamental purity, function and beauty. ***

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