The truth about Bakkah and Makkah
There is a controversy between Jews, Christians and Muslims regarding the exact meaning of the word “Baka” (known in Islam as “Bakkah”) mentioned in Psalm 84 as to whether it relates to “Makkah” (Mecca) or not. Even Muslims differ regarding the exact meaning of the word “Bakkah” some saying it is the exact same meaning as “Makkah” while some scholars believe that “Bakkah” only designates the Ka'bah and its vicinity.
We are first going to study the definition of the two words; we will then investigate the meaning of the word “Baka” in Psalm 84 as well as other words mentioned in the psalm and will draw a comparison with the Quran.
Finally, we will explain why Bakkah turns out to be the old name of “the city of Makkah” in the light of a Quranic sign.
إِنَّ أَوَّلَ بَيْتٍ وُضِعَ لِلنَّاسِ لَلَّذِي بِبَكَّةَ مُبَارَكًا وَهُدًى لِّلْعَالَمِينَ
(3:96) In truth, the very first house [of worship] established for mankind is the one located at Baccah. It is blessed, and a beacon for all nations.
فِيهِ ءَايَٰتٌۢ بَيِّنَٰتٌ مَّقَامُ إِبْرَٰهِيمَ وَمَن دَخَلَهُۥ كَانَ ءَامِنًا وَلِلَّهِ عَلَى ٱلنَّاسِ
حِجُّ ٱلْبَيْتِ مَنِ ٱسْتَطَاعَ إِلَيْهِ سَبِيلًا وَمَن كَفَرَ فَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ غَنِىٌّ عَنِ ٱلْعَٰلَمِينَ
(3:97) In it are clear signs, the place where Abraham stood (“Maqâmi Ibrahîma”), and whoever enters it will be safe. For the sake of God, it is incumbent upon mankind to perform the pilgrimage to the house (the Ka’bah) for whoever can undertake the journey to it; and whoever disbelieves, then God is in no need from the universe.
وَهُوَ ٱلَّذِى كَفَّ أَيْدِيَهُمْ عَنكُمْ وَأَيْدِيَكُمْ عَنْهُم بِبَطْنِ مَكَّةَ مِنۢ
بَعْدِ أَنْ أَظْفَرَكُمْ عَلَيْهِمْ وَكَانَ ٱللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرًا
(48:24) He is the one who restrained their hands from you and your hands from them in the midst of Makkah, after having granted you victory over them, and God witnessed everything you did.
هُمُ ٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا۟ وَصَدُّوكُمْ عَنِ ٱلْمَسْجِدِ ٱلْحَرَامِ وَٱلْهَدْىَ مَعْكُوفًا أَن يَبْلُغَ مَحِلَّهُۥ وَلَوْلَا
رِجَالٌ مُّؤْمِنُونَ وَنِسَآءٌ مُّؤْمِنَٰتٌ لَّمْ تَعْلَمُوهُمْ أَن تَطَـُٔوهُمْ فَتُصِيبَكُم مِّنْهُم مَّعَرَّةٌۢ بِغَيْرِ
عِلْمٍ لِّيُدْخِلَ ٱللَّهُ فِى رَحْمَتِهِۦ مَن يَشَآءُ لَوْ تَزَيَّلُوا۟ لَعَذَّبْنَا ٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا۟ مِنْهُمْ عَذَابًا أَلِيمًا
(48:25) They are the ones who disbelieved and kept you away from the Sacred Mosque and prevented the sacrificial offering from reaching its legitimate destination [of sacrifice during the Hajj]. And if it were not for believing men and believing women - whom you did not know - that you would have annihilated, and who would have caused you some harm without you knowing about this situation...: This is how God embraces in his mercy whomever He wills. If they had been separated (in two distinct groups), we would certainly have inflicted upon those who disbelieved among them a painful retribution.
وَهَٰذَا كِتَٰبٌ أَنزَلْنَٰهُ مُبَارَكٌ مُّصَدِّقُ ٱلَّذِى بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ وَلِتُنذِرَ أُمَّ ٱلْقُرَىٰ وَمَنْ
حَوْلَهَا وَٱلَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِٱلْءَاخِرَةِ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِهِۦ وَهُمْ عَلَىٰ صَلَاتِهِمْ يُحَافِظُونَ
(6:92) And this is a Book, which We have revealed full of blessings, confirming what was revealed prior to what he received in his hands, that you may warn the mother of the cities (Bakkah/Makkah) and all those around it. Those who believe in the Hereafter will believe in this [Quran], and will strictly observe their ritual Prayers (Salat).
Most Muslims believe that “Bakkah” and “Makkah” are synonyms, but some Muslim scholars infer that Bakkah refers to the Ka’bah and its surroundings, while Makkah is the name of the city.
According to Lisân al-‘Arab of Ibn Manẓūr, the site of the Ka’bah and its surroundings was named Bakkah (بَكَّة) due to the “crowding” and “congestion” of people around the Holy Sanctuary. The verb “bakka” (بَكَّ) signifies “to crowd”, like in a bazaar. It is a different verb than bakâ (بَكَىٰ) (no double “k”) which is the past participle of yabkī (يَبْكِي), “to cry”. In Syriac, a close Semitic language, the termination “bak” means “town”. It has the same meaning in Phoenician and Egyptian. For instance, the name of the city “Baalbek” in Lebanon signifies “Baal” (Sun) and Bek/bak (city), i.e. “the city of the sun”. Originally, Baalbek was pronounced “Ba’labak” according to 5th century Syriac manuscripts (Cook, 1914, p. 550).
Ibn Ishaq (701-770 C.E.), the famous Muslim historian, reported that an inscription in Syriac was found in one of the corners of the foundation of the Ka’bah in 605 C.E. during its renovation by the Quraysh. Nobody could understand it, so they had to ask a Jew to translate for them which he translated as follows: “I am Allah, the Lord of Bakka, I created it on the day that I created heaven and earth and formed the sun and the moon, and I surrounded it by seven pious angels. It will stand while its two mountains stand, a blessing to its people with milk and water.” (Ibn Ishaq, sirat rasul Allah, translated by A. Guillaume, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2004, p. 85-86).
The purpose of the House of God located in Bakkah is for the human race to assemble to glorify God, especially during the hajj (pilgrimage):
وَإِذْ جَعَلْنَا ٱلْبَيْتَ مَثَابَةً لِّلنَّاسِ وَأَمْنًا وَٱتَّخِذُوا۟ مِن مَّقَامِ إِبْرَٰهِۦمَ مُصَلًّى وَعَهِدْنَآ
إِلَىٰٓ إِبْرَٰهِۦمَ وَإِسْمَٰعِيلَ أَن طَهِّرَا بَيْتِىَ لِلطَّآئِفِينَ وَٱلْعَٰكِفِينَ وَٱلرُّكَّعِ ٱلسُّجُودِ
(2:125) And when We made the house a place of assembly for mankind (مثابة للناس) and a safe place: “You (second person plural) shall take the place where Abraham stood (إِبْرَاهِيمَ مَّقَامِ) as a place of prayer (musallan).”….
The preposition “Bi” in “Bibaccah” (بِبَكَّةَ) in 3:96 indicates that it is a physical location. We see that it is where “the first house [of worship]” ever dedicated by the human race to God on earth was built, which relates to Adam and his family.
Makkah (مَكَّة) stems from its original name “Bakkah”, possibly because in South Arabic, the language in use in the southern portion of the Arabian Peninsula at the time of Muhammad, the B and M were interchangeable. Phillip Khuri Hitti, a Lebanese-American professor and scholar at Princeton and Harvard University, and authority on Arab and Middle Eastern history, Islam, and Semitic languages. writes:
“The name Macoraba meant “city of the Lord”. Mecca (Makkah) then had a long history as a sanctuary and trade center before Islam. Surprisingly, the Koran makes no mention by that name of the city (i.e. “Macoraba”) that became the chief center of its faith. The form it gives the name is Bakkah (the m and b in south Arabic are interchangeable) and that is mentioned only once in surah (chapter) 3:96 “verily the first house established for the people was that at Bakkah, a house blessed and guidance to all the worlds.” (Phillippe K. Hitti, “Capital Cities of Arab Islam”, University of Minnesota Press, 1973).
“Macoraba” is the name of the Arabian city referring to “Makkah” quoted by the geographer Claudius Ptolemy (Ptolemy, Geography, §6.7.) in the second century CE. It is worth noting that Phillip Hitti translates the word “Maco” in “Macoraba” as “city” (Maco = city, raba = Lord, “Macoraba” → “City of The Lord”). We pointed out that “Bakkah” derives from the verb “bakka” (بَكَّ, “to crowd”), as well as the fact that word “bak” (city) in Syriac signifies “city”. A city is, by definition, a place where people “crowd”.
“Makkah” therefore bears the same meaning as “Bakkah”, from which it originally stems. The only difference between the two is that “Makkah” became a much larger city than the original “Bakkah” which was basically a village built around the House of God.
2. Bakkah is mentioned in Psalm 84
The physical location named “Bakkah” is an extremely ancient name which according to 3:96-97 has been associated with the pilgrimage (hajj) since at least Abraham, and probably long before, starting with the first human beings at and after the time of Adam because 6:92 indicates that “Bakkah” was “the mother of the cities” (أُمُّ ٱلْقُرَىٰ = ummu ‘lqurâ). The pilgrimage to Bakkah is mentioned in Psalm 84, written by the prophet David. The Book of Psalms (ٱلزَّبُور = al zabûr) is a divine revelation mentioned three times in the Quran (4:163, 17:55, 21:105):
Psalm 84 (New Revised Standard Version)
1 How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! 2 My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. 3 Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young - a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. 4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. 5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. 6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. 7 They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. 8 Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty; listen to me, God of Jacob. 9 Look on our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one. 10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. 11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. 12 Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.
Note: Aside from Jerusalem and sometimes Babylon, one meaning in Hebrew for “Zion” in the bible is “the world to come”. The word predates the Israelites and Mount Zion in Jerusalem (Longman, Tremper; Enns, Peter (2008). Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship. InterVarsity Press. p. 936. ISBN 978-0-8308-1783-2.). The word is the same in Hebrew and Arabic and may also be connected to the root “siyya” (dry land).
If the word signifies “the world to come”, we can therefore read:
7 They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion (the world to come).
Psalm 84 identifies “Baka” as a place of pilgrimage (5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.) which takes place in “the Valley of Baka”.
The name of the temple dedicated to God is called exactly the same in Psalm 84 and in the Quran: “The house”:
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your HOUSE; they are ever praising you.
10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the HOUSE of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
(3:96) In truth, the very first HOUSE [of worship] established for mankind is the one located at Baccah. (3:97) In it are clear signs, the place where Abraham stood (“Maqâmi Ibrahîma”), and whoever enters it will be safe. For the sake of God, it is incumbent upon mankind to perform the pilgrimage to the HOUSE (the Ka’bah) for whoever can undertake the journey to it; and whoever disbelieves, then God is in no need from the universe.
Anyone familiar with the Quran knows that the word “house” repeatedly refers to the Ka’bah in the Quran (2:125, 2:127, 2:158, 3:96-97, etc…). We can therefore say that the language to designate God’s temple reflects their common source.
We also read in Psalm 84:
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
The “place of springs” can easily be identified with the well of Zamzam located inside the sacred mosque of Makkah, and it is very well documented that the Holy City has historically frequently been subject to floods during the autumn season as a result of its climate and geography.
The following picture is one example among many:
Typical Autumnal flood in Makkah before dams were constructed
Finally, we will mention that “They go from strength to strength ” in Psalm 84:7 is translated differently by A. Alem, a comparative religion Muslim scholars (see the French book entitled “Mohammad dans la bible et Jésus dans le Coran, A.Alem, La ruche editions, 2007) who writes that a more correct translation is “They go from a height to a height”, referring to the pilgrimage ritual known as “sa’ee” (سَعِي) where pilgrims travel back and forth between the knolls (or heights) of “Al Safa” and “Al Marwah” and go around them (2:158).
I found the following Christian translation of verse 7 of Psalm 84; the translation is not named but it confirms the meaning translated by A. Alem:
They will climb from height to height, (https://www.missionstclare.com/english/psalm/84.html).
Knolls of Al Safa and Al Marwah, located at proximity of the Holy Ka’bah
Psalm 84 is one of many passages of the Old and New testament which bears witness to the veracity of Islam. The city of “Baka” or “Bakkah” is therefore documented both in the Bible and the Quran as the city and location where the pilgrimage revealed to Abraham takes place.
3. A Quranic sign regarding 3:96 and 48:24 where Bakkah and Makkah are mentioned
Let us now calculate gematrical
values of verses 3:96 and 48:24 (each Arabic letter at the time of the prophet
had a mathematical or gematrical value which were used to count and trade, and we are following here the same calculation
system known as “abjad system”):
Remark: In this Quranic system which reunites “Bakkah” and Makkah”, we notice that “Makkah” is the 19th word of the system. The addition of sura and verse number is 51 + 120 = 171 = 19 × 9.
The real question is: “What is the real meaning of “Bakkah” and “Makkah”? Are they the same and is there a way to prove that they both refer the “the city of Makkah”? If we study closely the gematrical value of the two verse system, we notice the following:
7085 (GV of verses 3:96 + 48:24) = 5 × 13 × 109
= 65 (GV of مَكَّة = Makkah) × 109.
Is this a pure coincidence or is this part of God’s profound design who “establishes the truth with his words” (10:82)? The following will, God willing, settle the issue:
7085 (GV of 3:96 + 48:24) = 5 × 13 × 109 = 109 (GV of مَدِينَة = “Madînah” = “city”) × 65 (GV of مَكَّة = “Maccah”).
In other words, the addition of gematrical value of verses 3:96 and 48:24 which symbolize the intersection of the names “Bakkah” and “Makkah” is 7085 and allegorically spells the expression 109 (مَدِينَةُ = madînatu) × 65 (مَكَّة = Makkah) = Madînatu × Makkah.
These numbers represent the common denominators of both verses and “Madînatu Makkah” (مَكَّة مَدِينَةُ) signifies literally “The city of Makkah”.
It demonstrates in my view that the only two Quranic names which refer to the Holy city refer to one and the same thing: “The city of Makkah”.
I pray that Jews and Christians will open their hearts to the many prophecies of Islam in the Bible, Psalm 84 and the pilgrimage to Bakka being a very small part of it.
This confirms the original meaning of “Bakkah” which we saw derives from the verb “bakka” (بَكَّ) which signifies “to crowd” while the word “bak” signifies “town” in Syriac. Obviously, a “city” or “town” is where people “crowd”, and there is no city in the entire world but Makkah that illustrates that better. Makkah is literally the reunion of the human race to the “Mother of the cities” (6:92) and to the very place where Adam and Eve dwelt.
Additional remarks: The addition of gematrical values of “Baccah” (بَكَّة = 27) + “Makkah” (مَكَّة = 65) = 92, which is the gematrical value of “Muhammad” (مُحَمَّد), the last prophet who was born in “the city of Makkah”. 92 = 2 × 2 × 23. It is interesting that the addition of prime factors is 2+2+23 = 27, which is the gematrical value of “Bakkah”. And God knows best if this is the correct explanation.
وَيُحِقُّ ٱللَّهُ ٱلْحَقَّ بِكَلِمَٰتِهِۦ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ ٱلْمُجْرِمُونَ
(10:82) God establishes the truth with His words, even though the criminals hate it.
أَنَّهُ ٱلْحَقُّ أَوَلَمْ يَكْفِ بِرَبِّكَ أَنَّهُۥ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَىْءٍ شَهِيدٌ
(41:53) We will show them our proofs in the horizons, and within themselves, until they realize that this is the truth. Is your Lord not sufficient as a witness of all things?