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Alternating Pilgrimages For Future Peace – OpEd

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Very few Jews realize that for more than 1.000 years, while the Ka’ba in Makka rebuilt by Prophets Abraham and Ishmael was polluted by idols, Jerusalem’s First and Second Temple–Bait ul Muqaddas/Beit HaMiqdash stood, and the Jewish festival of Hag Sukkot was celebrated as a Hajj, a pilgrimage festival. In Biblical times the Hebrew word Hag was pronounced Hajj. The word Hajj literally means ‘to set out for a place’.

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The Islamic Hajj lasts for five days and is immediately followed by the three day festival of Eid al-Adha. The Jewish Hag is seven days and is immediately followed by a one day festival called Shemeene Atzeret. So both are eight day celebrations with two parts: first a specific location celebration; and second a world wide celebration.

The Torah declares, “Celebrate Hajj Sukkot for seven days after you have harvested the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. For seven days celebrate the festival to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose. For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete. Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose: at the Hajj of Matzah, the Hajj of Weeks, and the Hajj of Sukkot. (Torah Deuteronomy 16:13-16)

The Hajj of Sukkot was chosen by Prophet Solomon to dedicate the First Temple in Jerusalem. (1Kings 8; 2). Hajj Sukkot was so important during the centuries when Solomon’s Temple stood that it was often called simply “the Hajj” (1 Kings 8:3; 8:65; 12:62; 2 Chronicles 5:3; 7:8) perhaps because of the very large numbers of Jews who came up to the Temple in Jerusalem,

In Islamic tradition the holy site of the Kâ’bah was consecrated in the pre-historic days of Adam. The site of Prophet Solomon’s Temple was consecrated 40 years later, which was thousands of years before Prophet David would locate and acquire the site where his son Prophet Solomon would build the Jerusalem Temple.

Abu Dharr narrated: I said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Which mosque was first built on the surface of the earth?” He said, “Al-Masjid-al-Haram (in Mecca).” I said, “Which was built next?” He replied “The mosque of Al-Aqsa (in Jerusalem).” I said, “What was the period between the two?” He said, “Forty years.” (Sahih al-Bukhari: Volume 4, Book 55, Hadith Number 585)

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I use the English word ‘consecrate’ in regard to the site because the sense of ‘built’ isn’t found in the original Arabic hadith. ‘Built’ is a mis-translation of the word وُضِعَ: which has several meanings, such as stationed, situated or positioned, referring to location not to construction.

Thus, وُضِعَ doesn’t mean “built.” In fact, the present-day Kâ’bah is not a building constructed by Adam. That is not the point of Abu Dharr’s hadith! Rather, the Kâ’bah is located on the geographical site where Adam first consecrated a place of worship/prayer to the One God. Similarly, the site of Solomon’s Temple (in Jerusalem) was consecrated as a holy site long before Solomon was even born by the twofold offering of Abraham’s two sons.

Hajj (Pilgrimage) is a religious ritual practiced among the people of a cohesive religious community like Jews and Muslims. Pilgrimage to a shared sacred spot is an important factor in social cohesion, and social cohesion is an important factor in coping with challenges to survival. Both Islam and Judaism have texts which date our ancestry back to Adam, and the origins of modern humankind.

The following traditional tale, transmitted orally in both Arabic and Hebrew for many centuries and finally written down in several different versions in the 19th century, illustrates how two holy places like the Ka’bah and the Jerusalem Temple can be closely connected even though they are geographically separated by 765 miles. Some say this happened in the age of Adam or Noah, and others say only long before Prophet 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.



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 that 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.

Only God can make anything holy, and God thought the brothers’ love and concern for each other made their descendants worthy to rebuild a primordial Holy House in this valley; and 40 years later to build a new Holy House on that hill. So God sent Messengers to their descendants to guide them to do this.

When all those, both near and far, who revere these sacred places 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” [Surat Al- Baqarah, 2:126] will be extended throughout the world; and all the children of Adam, Noah and Abraham will live in Holiness, Peace and Prosperity.

Christians and Jews believe the hill is Jerusalem. Muslims believe the valley is Mecca. I believe they are both right and God willing, someday everyone may see both cities and their sanctuaries as a pair of lungs; that are central to humanity’s spiritual inspiration by, and connection to, the One God of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac.

As the Qur’an states: “‘Believers, be steadfast in the cause of God and bear witness with justice. Do not let your enmity for others turn you away from justice. Deal justly; that is nearer to being God-fearing.” [Surat Al-Ma’idah, 5:8]

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.

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: “In 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]

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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