Was the first house of worship established at Makkah as suggested in 3:96? Although the actual word used in the verse says bakkah, Islamic tradition dictates it means the city of Makkah.
There are two verses which allude to the city of Makkah. Verse 48:24 is the only time Makkah is mentioned by name. And verse 3:96, where tafsir and hadith literature allege Bakkah to be the ancient name for Makkah.
48:24: أَيْدِيَهُمْ عَنكُمْ وَأَيْدِيَكُمْ عَنْهُم بِبَطْنِ مَكَّةَ مِنۢ بَعْدِ أَنْ أَظْفَرَكُمْ عَلَيْهِمْ ۚ وَكَانَ ٱللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرًا And it is He who withheld their hands from you and your hands from them within [the area of] Makkah after He caused you to overcome them. And ever is Allah of what you do, Seeing.
3:96: إِنَّ أَوَّلَ بَيْتٍ وُضِعَ لِلنَّاسِ لَلَّذِى بِبَكَّةَ مُبَارَكًا وَهُدًى لِّلْعَٰلَمِينَ Indeed, the first House (of worship) established for mankind was that at Bakkah (Makkah) – blessed and a guidance for the worlds.
Some translations go as far as removing Bakkah altogether and replacing it with Makkah. (reference) And once again, words in parantheses are not part of Quranic text, they are inserted by the interpreters. In the case of verse 3:96, (of worship) is added. Since Islamic belief recognizes the Kaba as “the first house of worship”, our minds automatically associate it with Makkah. Just like all the words, Bakkah must be studied using a horizontal reading of the root word. And until the word, house, can be studied, I will refer to it in its original Arabic, bayt.
Bakkah according to Quranic tafsir and hadith:
Bakkah is one of the names of Makkah. Bakkah means, `it brings Buka’ (crying, weeping) to the tyrants and arrogant, meaning they cry and become humble in its vicinity. It was also said that Makkah was called Bakkah because people do Buka next to it, meaning they gather around it.Tafsir Ibn Kathir
Note: this explanation aligns with Lanes Lexicon’s meaning of the root word as crying or weeping to become humble. But all else is pure conjecture based on the “the first house” meaning the Kaaba. This is a result of confirmation bias.
In Mohammad Asad’s commentary the B was changed to M, claiming some Arabic dialects can be interchanged. And the rest of his commentary is again, based on confirmation bias.
إِنَّ أَوَّلَ بَيْتٍ وُضِعَ لِلنَّاسِ لَلَّذِى بِبَكَّةَ مُبَارَكًا وَهُدًى لِّلْعَٰلَمِين
Indeed, the first bayt established for mankind was بِبَكَّةَ blessed and a guidance for the worlds.
The phrase bi-bakkata بِبَكَّةَ
Bi is a preposition used to denote adhesion or association to/with the noun or verb to which it is prefixed. (Lanes Lexicon)
The root word of bakkah is بكي *ba-ka-ya*. Lanes Lexicon describes it as the kind of weeping experienced because or in consequence of being pained by reason of tenderness of the heart or compassion.
In a horizontal reading of the root we can see it is consistently interpreted as weep throughout text (Sahih International translation):
وَلْيَبْكُوا۟ كَثِيرًا جَزَآءًۢ بِمَا كَانُوا۟ يَكْسِبُونَ 9:82 So let them laugh a little and [then] weep much as recompense for what they used to earn.
12:16 وَجَآءُوٓ أَبَاهُمْ عِشَآءً يَبْكُونَ And they came to their father at night, weeping.
17:109 وَيَخِرُّونَ لِلْأَذْقَانِ يَبْكُونَ وَيَزِيدُهُمْ خُشُوعًا And they fall upon their faces weeping, and the Qur’an increases them in humble submission
19:58 إِذَا تُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْهِمْ ءَايَٰتُ ٱلرَّحْمَٰنِ خَرُّوا۟ سُجَّدًا وَبُكِيًّا When the verses of the Most Merciful were recited to them, they fell in prostration and weeping
44:29 فَمَا بَكَتْ عَلَيْهِمُ ٱلسَّمَآءُ وَٱلْأَرْضُ وَمَا كَانُوا۟ مُنظَرِينَ And the heaven and earth wept not for them, nor were they reprieved.
53:43 وَأَنَّهُۥ هُوَ أَضْحَكَ وَأَبْكَىٰ And that it is He who makes [one] laugh and weep
53:60 وَتَضْحَكُونَ وَلَا تَبْكُونَ And you laugh and do not weep
Bakkah in 3:96 is not a proper noun. It is not the ancient name of Makkah, or any physical location. It is a weeping which comes when you discover and experience a conscience awareness of something. It is a mental process, a perception, which leads you to weep from its understanding, compassion, and realization.
Bi-bakkata بِبَكَّةَ means: with weeping which results when your heart gets tender from the reality of what your mind is taking in, breaking down, and absorbing.
It is easy to succumb to confirmation bias and assume the verse is referring to the city of Makkah, the home of the Kaba. Tradition has shaped our understanding and reading of the text. We read into the verses what we have been taught. Then we search for confirmation of our beliefs in these verses. We have to let go of all the tradition in to order to comprehend the Quran’s message, and not the message told by hadith and history of a particular people in particular time.