Sura 2: Many Qiblas? The Qibla in the Koran, Abu Lahab, and the Birth of Islam

59 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2016 Last revised: 3 Nov 2018

Date Written: August 30, 2016


This paper sets out to investigate the relevant passages in sura 2 of the Koran and to ask whether there might be a reason as to why orientations of mosques changed inside a city’s walls or with additions to mosques.

The discoveries in this paper demonstrate that orientations of mosques provide ample archaeological evidence for the evolution of Islam. They have fundamental consequences for the approach to the history of the beginnings of Islam, the Koran, and beyond. Some of the discoveries are as following:

1) The Koran speaks of two qibla changes.

2) The Koran neither commands a change from Jerusalem, nor to Mecca, but instead to Al-Haram in present day Israel (as confirmed with orientations from various mosques).

3) Babylonian Pharisee qiblas show a consistent prayer orientation to the location of the Exilarch (not to the Temple in Jerusalem).

4) The pattern of directing places of worship toward the Exilarch continues through all three mosques of Medina and beyond.

5) For the first time, the Ethiopian kernel of the early Muslim story can be confirmed with archaeology. There may indeed have been two ‘Muslim’ stations in that country: With surprising accuracy and with conversion points from multiple directions, – the Quba Mosque in Medina is precisely oriented toward Axum – the Mosque of the Prophet is precisely oriented toward the Imam Mesgid in Negash.

6) Levite-Sadducee qiblas show a consistent prayer orientation to the location of the Nasi (also not to the Temple Mount).

7) There are many qibla changes that can be attributed to ‘Muslim’ structures. The pattern follows the dynastic paraclete leadership from which follows that each town can reveal its individual story about dynastic expansions and contractions through the archaeology of the mosques. Similar to changes in dynastic territories, the stories told through mosques in multiple towns are interlinked and overlap.

8) Since none of the early structures point to Mecca, the Muslims have arrived there much later than is assumed in the traditional accounts. Even after the first appearance in the historical record, the practice of orienting places of worship toward the dynastic leadership would persist for centuries.

9) Jacob of Edessa’s comment that the Jews were praying toward Jerusalem implies that the Exilarch or the Nasi was occupying the Temple Mount at that time.

10) The Al-Askari Shrine and mosque in Samarra was built by Seljuks over one and a half century after the disappearance of the Mahdi, and it would be expanded by Ismailis thereafter.

11) Abu Lahab in Sura 111 is identified as the Babylonian Exilarch Abu-Lu’lu’ah.

Suggested Citation

Deus, A.J., Sura 2: Many Qiblas? The Qibla in the Koran, Abu Lahab, and the Birth of Islam (August 30, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

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