By Rabbi Allen S. Maller, New Age Islam
28 December 2016
In the Greek world, the Jerusalem Temple (Beit HaMikdosh) was well known, while the Ka'ba, the House of God (Baitullah) in Mecca was not known by name at all. The first Roman reference to the Baitullah is from Diodorus Siculus, a first century BCE Roman historian who wrote that in Arabia there was a temple greatly revered by the Arabs.
According to G. E. Von Grunebaum, who I studied with at the University of California Los Angeles in 1959, Mecca was also mentioned by Ptolemy, a second century Alexandrian mathematician, astronomer, and geographer, “The name he gives it allows us to identify it as a South Arabian foundation created around a sanctuary.” (G. E. Von Grunebaum, Classical Islam: A History 600–1258, p. 19)
Yet just seven centuries later both of these cities and sanctuaries, one almost unknown by the Romans and the other totally destroyed by the Romans, were destined, throughout the Middle Ages in both Europe and west Asia, to be viewed as the navel of the world.
Jerusalem and Mecca were frequently portrayed by Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the center of their maps. God willing, someday everyone may see both cities and their sanctuaries as central to our connection to the One God of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac.
Indeed, much of the folklore about these two holy sites is very similar. The following fable, transmitted orally in both Arabic and Hebrew for many centuries and finally written down in several versions in the 19th century, illustrates how these two holy places can be connected. Some say this happened in the age of Adam or Noah, and others say in the generation when Abraham was born.
Two brothers who inherited a ‘valley to hilltop’ farm from their father divided the land in half so that each one could farm his own section. Over time, the older brother married and had four children, while the younger brother was still not married.
One year there was very little rain, and the crop was very meagre. This was at the beginning of a long term drought that would turn the whole valley into an arid, treeless, desert where even grain did not grow, and all the springs dried up.
The younger brother lay awake one night praying and thought: "My brother has a wife and four children to feed, and I have no children. He needs more grain than I do; especially now when grain is scarce."
So that night, the younger brother went to his barn, gathered a large sack of wheat, and left his wheat in his brother's barn. Then he returned home, feeling pleased with himself.
Earlier that very same night, the older brother was also lying awake praying for rain when he thought: "In my old age, my wife and I will have our grown children to take care of us, as well as grandchildren to enjoy, while my brother may have no children. He should at least sell more grain from his fields now, so he can provide for himself in his old age.
So that night, the older brother also gathered a large sack of wheat, and left it in his brother's barn, and returned home, feeling pleased with himself. The next morning, the younger brother, surprised to see the amount of grain in his barn seemed unchanged, said "I did not take as much wheat as I thought. Tonight I'll take more."
That same morning, the older brother, standing in his barn, was thinking the same thoughts. After night fell, each brother gathered a greater amount of wheat from his barn and in the dark, secretly delivered it to his brother's barn.
The next morning, the brothers were again puzzled and perplexed. "How can I be mistaken?" each one thought. "There's the same amount of grain here as there was before. This is impossible! Tonight I'll make no mistake—I'll take two large sacks.”
The third night, more determined than ever, each brother gathered two large sacks of wheat from his barn, loaded them onto a cart, and slowly pulled his cart toward his brother's barn. In the moonlight, each brother noticed a figure in the distance.
When the two brothers got closer, each recognized the form of the other and the load he was pulling, and they both realized what had happened!
Without a word, they dropped the ropes of their carts, ran to each other and embraced.
God looked down at the two brothers and smiled, thinking that their love and concern for each other made their descendants worthy to build and rebuild a holy House in this valley and on this hill.
When all those, both near and far, who revere this sacred place as a standard, share it in love with everyone else who reveres it, then Abraham’s request for Allah to “make this a land of peace, and provide its people with the produce of the land”. (Qur'an 2:126) will be extended throughout the world; and all the children of Adam, Noah and Abraham will live in Holiness, Peace and Prosperity.
Jews believe the hill is Jerusalem. Muslims believe the valley is Mecca.
I believe they are both right.
Rabbi Allen Maller attended the University of California Los Angeles, majoring in physics. He studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem his junior year and while there decided to become a rabbi. He has published more than 200 articles in more than two dozen journals. He taught in the theology department of Loyola Marymount University.