Note, this book is unpublished, and in the process of being written. Please do not quote from this webpage. Once the book is complete it will be released here free of charge as a pdf file. (Hopefully by the end of 2022) Changes may occur to this material before it is published. This early copy has been placed on this website so that reviewers and editors can read it and reply to it.


Introduction

Dan Gibson, 5 March 2022


There was no sudden eureka moment when the information in this book was discovered. Rather, it was a slow and meticulous process of gathering facts, fitting pieces together and discovering patterns that were not expected. Some have imagined that researchers set out to make a great discovery. This is very seldom the case. Usually discoveries come from long years of research, sifting through data, and trying to make sense of a mass of confusing information.

For years I had been aware of what I thought was a problem in Islamic history. Working backwards from the present, I and other historians had come to the story of the prophet Muhammad and stopped there. Muhammad seemed to have been born in a time of small warring tribes in Arabia. The accounts of Muhammad left many thinking that Arabia was some sort of historical vacuum before Muhammad arrived on the scene.

On the other hand, I was fascinated with the history of the Nabataeans, and had spent numerous years living in Jordan putting together their fascinating history. The Nabataeans left an indelible stamp on Arabian history, building impressive cities and leaving behind incredible monuments and tombs. Their heritage continued under Roman rule, and eventually the northern part of Arabia came under considerable Christian influence by Byzantine client tribes that controlled the area.

Early on I had decided that matching the Muslim account to the western accounts would be a massive undertaking, and I shied away from it. I had no desire to submerge myself into years of study in this area. I was content to focus on the Nabataeans.

However, soon after I began the website: Nabataea.net, visitors began emailing me with suggestions. One man wrote to me about a photo I had placed on the web of a huge petroglyph drawing of a camel. He thought this might be a drawing of the Camel of Thamud, but felt it was in the wrong place, and should be closer to Mecca. He then suggested that the original Mecca must have been in southern Jordan. I found the idea puzzling, but intriguing. Since my specialty was not Islamic history I was blissfully unaware of the suggestions made by Wansburough, Crone and others. Some months later when teaching a course at a college in the Netherlands I realized I had my afternoons and evenings free. I chose Alfred Guillaume’s The Life of Muhammad (i) from the library and decided to read it from cover to cover, imagining the geography in southern Jordan and northern Arabia rather than in central Arabia. By the end of the week I had noticed numerous events and descriptions in the book that indicated the story took place in the north. But I was still not convinced. And I still did not want to dedicate my remaining years chasing what seemed like a conspiracy theory. However I did mention my thinking to several of my colleague during the next couple of years. In 2009 they convinced me that this was worthy of attention. Taking a sabbatical in the fall of 2009 I decided to write something of the geography of the Nabataeans, based on my years of living in various places in the Arabian Peninsula. I began with things I had previous written, plus a list of the earliest mosques. That list changed my perspective. I realized that I was no longer working on something akin to a conspiracy theory, but that I had stumbled onto something important. Too many early mosques faced southern Jordan, and many of them were built long after Muhammad had died. The archaeological record seemed to tell a different story than the Islamic accounts of early Islam.

In 2010 when I published the book Qur’anic Geography (ii), I hid the mosque qibla discoveries in the back part of the book. The plan was that only a few copies would be printed and I hoped to hear back from friends and colleagues if they felt this area warranted further study. The response was surprising.

First, I had failed to gauge the number of interested people. I began hearing back from Muslims who were reading the book, and specifically the section on Qiblas. Most of them were excited with the discoveries and were wondering what they meant. Some wrote asking about other early mosques that they were aware of. Slowly my list of early mosques grew and I began to look for opportunities to travel and visit these mosques.

At the same time I began to be aware of a negative reaction from some western scholars. One of Dr. David King’s students emailed me to tell me that Dr. King was ranting and raving in his classes and saying all sorts of nasty things about me. Later he would publish his opinions in several papers, calling me an amateur and claiming my papers were poorly written. (iii) Sadly those assessments were correct. I held no advanced degrees in Islamic History, and especially not in Qibla studies. My teachers of Islam had been the likes of 9th century al-Ṭabarī and 15th century Aḥmad b. Mājid al-Najdī. I had invested many hours studying these, as well as Ibn Hisham, and the writers of hadith such as Bukhārī. I had little interest in current writers and their modern ideas, or degrees obtained from reading the opinions of other modern writers.

It was during this time that the idea of a documentary film was conceived. Since Muslims had given the most positive response I wanted to reach out to them to learn more. I felt very inadequate, as I was often alone in my research. I was very thankful for other scholars who had pointed out to me various avenues that I should investigate, but what I desired was that thousands of Muslims all over the world would send me information about the old mosques in their towns and villages. Once the documentary film The Sacred City (iv) was released on YouTube in 2016 the response was overwhelming. The following year (2017) I released the first edition of the book: Early Islamic Qiblas(v). Then I began creating a series of short videos for YouTube (vi) to address issues and questions that Muslims had asked. In the following five years some 100 videos were created. During this time the Early Islamic Qibla Database(vii) grew to over 200 mosques, providing a much better picture of the history of Islam from an archaeological perspective.

At this point, please let me indulge a bit with my opinion of Islamic studies. It seems to me that over the last few centuries the majority of studies of Islam were based on manuscript-evidence alone, with little attention given to archaeological-evidence. Manuscripts were studied, compared, and theories were compiled, all with little or no attention to the archaeological record. In fact, as late as 2020, many archaeologists excavating early mosques had little exposure to what was being excavated or discovered in other early mosques.

When I started compiling a list of early mosques in 2009 there was no well known published list to go to outside of Petersen’s Dictionary of Islamic Architecture (viii). Today this is changing as there is a growing interest in excavating Islamic structures.

Gibson’s Classifications

In order to make sense of the data I was collecting, early on I began to classify mosques according to mosque orientation. I did this because the Qur’an tells Muslims that they have a Qibla. By this, it is meant that they have a sacred direction. From all over the world they should face this sacred direction when they pray, and when they do their religious rites. God’s throne is even said to reside above this sacred location. This affects every part of their lives, and they are constantly aware of this sacred direction, careful to respect it, and incorporate it into their daily lives.

The Qur’an tells us that the sacred direction should always be towards something called Masjid al-Ḥarām. “Turn then your face in the direction of the Masjid al-Ḥarām”. (iix)

Muslim history tells us that this verse was revealed to Muḥammad when he was praying. The date given is 11 February 624. According to traditional accounts from Muḥammad’s companions, this change happened very suddenly during the noon prayer in Medina, in a mosque at the edge of Medina, known as the Qubā mosque. At that time Muhammad and his followers were praying towards ‘Sham.’ This word can be interpreted several ways. Often it is translated north, but sometimes it refers to the province of Syria, or even to the city of Damascus. Some later writers claim that the original Qibla was facing Jerusalem, but in our search of early mosques we failed to find evidence of this. So Islamic history does not deny that the Qibla direction changed; it simply shrouds the details of the focus of their prayers in non-specific terms. At the same time, the date of 11 February 624 must be questioned. First there are no extant mosques dating back that far to verify the date, and all of the existing mosques from the first 70 years of Islamic history that did survive face the city of Petra in Southern Jordan. This brings into question the original location of Masjid al-Ḥarām. Did Muslims face Petra in southern Jordan or Mecca in Saudi Arabia?

The following pages are written to address this issue and to demonstrate that Petra is southern Jordan is not only possible, but it is probably the location of the very first Masjid al-Ḥarām, the birthplace of Muhammad, and the focus of prayers and pilgrimage for the first four caliphs in Islam.


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(i) Guillaume, Alfred, The Life of Muhammad, ….

(ii) Gibson, Dan. 2010. Qu’ranic Geography. Vancouver: Independent Scholars.

(iii) King, David, From Petra back to Makka – From “Pibla” back to Qibla, https://muslimheritage.com/pibla-back-to-qibla/

(iv) The Sacred City, https://nabataea.net/cinema/sacredcity/, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5842412/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

(v) Gibson, Dan. 2017. Early Islamic Qiblas. Vancouver: Scholars Press

(vi) https://www.youtube.com/user/canbooks

(vii) Gibson, Dan, 2021, Early Islamic Qibla Database Version2. Figshare. Dataset. 839 https://figshare.com/articles/dataset/Early_Islamic_Qibla_Database/13570655/2

(viii) Peterson, Andrew, Dictionary of Islamic Architecture, Routledge, 1999

(ix) Qur’ān, Sura 2:144


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