A Puzzling Tradition about the Qibla in the Kafi of Kulayni

Michael Cook

In a chapter of miscellaneous traditions (nawadir) near the end of the “book of prayer” (kitab al-salat) of his Kafi, Kulayni has the following tradition: Ali ibn Muhammad rafaahu qala: qila li-Abi Abdi llah alayhi l-salam: lima sara l-rajul yanharifu fi l-salat ila l-yasar? fa-qala: li-anna lil-Kaba sittat hudud, arbaa minha an yasarika, wa-thnan minha ala yaminika, fa-min ajl dhalika waqaa l-tahrif ila -yasar. Ali ibn Muhammad, without a (full) chain of transmission, said: Abu Abdallah [Jafar al-Sadiq] was asked: “How does it come about that a man inclines to the left in prayer?” He answered: “Because the Kaba has six boundaries, four of them on your left, and two on your right; it is on account of this that the inclination is to the left.” The wording is obscure, but the tradition can be better understood in the light of a parallel tradition found in other collections. However, the author of the Bihar states that both traditions are very weak in their isnads (al-riwayatan daifatanl-sanad jiddan). These traditions are clearly related to two legal doctrines found in early Imami fiqh: that the entire Meccan sanctuary (haram) constitutes the qibla for those outside it, and that the people of Iraq should incline slightly to the left of the sanctuary when praying----a practice known as tayasur. Though it ceased to be a living practice, tayasur gave rise to considerable among the scholars down the centuries. In the Safawid period this discussion took a particularly interesting turn. First was printed out that the explanation of tayasur was proposed. The most interesting feature of this new explanation is that the evidence on which it was based was archaeological.

Key Words: Tradition, Qibla, Sanctuary (Haram).

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