The Unity of Sanctity: Mount Sinai and the Kabah

Prophet Muhammad began receiving divine revelations when he was about forty years old; much younger than Prophet Moses. While meditating quietly within a cave at Jabal al-Nur (“Mountain of Light”) just outside of Mecca, Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation.

After climbing up Mount Sinai with his brother Aaron and a select group consisting of Nadab, Abihu, and "seventy elders of Israel" to a unknown location on mount Sinai; which was far away from any sacred structure, God spoke to all of them directly.

The angel Gabriel unexpectedly appeared and commanded that he (Prophet Muhammad ) recite to the people in the name of God: “Recite! your Lord is most generous, who taught by the pen, taught what humankind does not know.”

In the Hebrew Bible, Moses himself never enters the Holy Land, but when he arrives at the burning bush, near Mount Sinai, God tells him that he is standing on holy ground, and that means that monotheism’s holy land includes Mount Sinai; and perhaps extends even further to the valley where Prophets Abraham and Ishmael’s Ka’ba is located.

The Qurʾān retells the story of the burning bush in versions that deserve our attention due to certain elements the Qur’an relates. These versions contain expanded descriptions of the holiness of the ground on which Moses stood. Particularly intriguing is the clause: al-wādī l-muqaddas ṭuwan that appears in two Meccan sūras (Q 20:12; 79:16).

The form ṭuwan may represent a folding-up metaphor also used in Jewish Midrash to describe a piece of ground that contains the folded-up sanctity of the entire Holy Land. The term ṭuwan may reveal a process by which the Qurʾān applied the sanctity of the Holy Land to Mount Sinai and its distant surrounding to the south (the Ka’ba).

The same process is found in the usage of the Arabic root b-r-k which appear in several Qurʾānic descriptions of the holy ground of the burning bush.

The Qurʾan elevates the ground of the burning bush to the rank of the Holy Land implies that Moses’ arrival at that place represented his own individual exodus that prefigured the collective Exodus of the Children of Israel. On a more general level, the Qurʾān considers Mount Sinai and the Holy land at large to be an integral component within a more global ritual system encompassing the Holy Land’s Jerusalem and North Arabia’s Ka’ba.

God’s own blessedness is often expressed throughout the Qurʾān with derivatives of b-r-k (e.g., Q 7:54; 23:14), and the same root recurs in Q 28:30: When he [Moses] came to it [the burning bush], a voice was uttered from the right-hand bank of the valley (min shāṭiʾi l-wādī l-ayman), in the blessed ground (fī l-buqʿati l-mubāraka), from the tree (mina l-shajara), saying: O Moses, I am Allāh the Lord of the worlds. Here the bush is not only situated “[on] the blessed ground,” but on the right-hand bank of the valley itself. The sacredness of its location is therefore twofold.

The Qurʾānic Meccan sūras use the root b-r-k for the Holy Land at large; this land was the blessed refuge of Prophets Abraham and Lot (Q 21:71), the blessed region given to the Children of Israel (Q 7:137), the blessed destination of the wind that carried Solomon (Q 21: 81), as well as the blessed objective of traders coming from Sheba (Q 34:18).

This root is also used to describe the blessed ground surrounding the “farthest mosque” to which God took Prophet Muḥammad during his night journey (Q 17:1). So the use of the same root for the place of the burning bush implies that this ground, and the ground of North Arabia’s Ka’ba, were as blessed as the Holy Land itself.

This narration, transmitted orally in both Arabic and Hebrew for many centuries, and finally written down in several different versions in the 19th century; explains what happened in the generation when Prophet Abraham was born; and the two holy spaces that were more than 750 miles apart were spiritually enfolded together in monotheism’s body.

Two brothers who inherited a ‘valley to hilltop’ farm from their father, divided the land in half so 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 meager.

This was at the beginning of a long term draught 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. “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.

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.

Know that a place is never holy through the choice of humans, but because it has been chosen in Heaven. However, God can chose a place of brotherly love and concern; and make it holy for their descendants to build a center of worship in this valley and on that hill. Then, like one pair of lungs, the two places breath the spirit of God into the world’s atmosphere, that all humans may submit to the will and love of God.

When all those, both near and far, who revere this place as a worldwide standard, and share it in love with everyone else who reveres it, then God does as Abraham requests: “Make this a land of Peace, and provide its people with the produce of of the land”. (Qur'an 2:126). Then will the children of Abraham live in Holiness, Peace and Prosperity.

Jews believe the hill is Jerusalem. Muslims believe the valley is Makka

Both Islamic and Jewish traditions teach that their holy sanctuary is at the center of the world. But how can the world possibly have more than one religious center?
Because religious centers are not the same as geometric centers. After all, the qiblah is the central direction of worship in every mosque; although it is not at the geometric center of any of them.

As the Qur’an states: “For every nation there is a direction to which they face (in prayer). So hasten towards all that is good. Wheresoever you may be, Allâh will bring you together (on the Day of Resurrection). Truly, Allâh is Able to do all things.” (2:148)

And Tafsir al-Jalalayn comments: Every person, of every community, has his direction (wijha), [his] qibla to which he turns (muwallīhā) in his prayers, so vie with one another in good works, strive with acts of obedience and acceptance of these [two different qiblas]. Wherever you may be, God will bring you all together, gathering you on the Day of Resurrection and requiting you for your deeds; surely God has power over all things.

In the Jewish tradition there is also a helpful image that describes Jerusalem’s central place in the world: Abba Hanan said in the name of Samuel the Small, “This world is like a person’s eyeball. The white of the eye is the ocean surrounding the world; the iris is the inhabited world; the pupil of the eye is Jerusalem; and the face [the reflection] in the pupil is the Holy Temple.” (Derekh Eretz Zuta 9, end)

Of course, one person has two lungs to breath [spirit] and two eyes to see [sacredness]; and therefore two pupils to reflect the One God’s holy light. God willing, someday both religion’s leaders will be inspired to see how the two holy qiblas function as a pair of lungs recycling Allah’s holy spirit throughout the one world.

The Qur’an refers to Prophet Abraham as a community or a nation: “Abraham was a nation/community [Ummah]; dutiful to God, a monotheist [hanif], not one of the polytheists.” (16:120) If Prophet Abraham is an Ummah; then fighting between the descendants of Prophets Ishmael and Isaac is a civil war and should always be avoided. And prior to the 20th century Arabs and Jews never did make war with each other. “Nation shall not lift sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4)

If all Arabs and Jews can live up to the ideal that ‘the descendants of Abraham’s sons should never make war against each other’ is the will of God; we will help fulfill the 2700 year old vision of Prophet Isaiah: “On that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria.

The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.” (Isaiah 19:23-5)

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