In my recent article on “Mecca and Macoraba”, I revisit an idea that was proposed by Jan Retsö in his 2003 monograph The Arabs in Antiquity. Tucked away in an endnote (p. 450 n. 61), Retsö suggests that Macoraba might be reflected in the Arabic word makrūb as used in a ninth-century text, the Accounts of Mecca by al-Azraqī, composed in the later ninth century. Al-Azraqī relates that after the Flood of Noah, when so many buildings were washed away, people still somehow knew where the Ka‘bah was meant to be. In Retsö’s brief translation, those who came to the site “invoked by it al-makrūb and there were few who invoked and did not get any answer”.
In reproducing Retsö’s argument, I followed his interpretation of the syntax, assuming that al-makrūb was the name called out. This would imply that al-makrūb is a name for the holy site itself. Normally the word makrūb means someone who is troubled or anxious, but this meaning hardly applies to the Ka‘bah; so Retsö wondered if it might be the name Macoraba, an archaic term preserved in the Arabic oral tradition. I was happy to endorse Retsö’s interpretation of the syntax – I agreed that makrūb was some kind of name – but in the end I rejected the identification with Macoraba on phonological and historiographical grounds (pp. 39–40).
Yesterday I was compelled to take a second look at the syntax, and it has become clear to me that Retsö’s interpretation, which I had followed without a second thought, makes the text more difficult than it needs to be. On reflection, al-makrūb is not a name being invoked, but rather, a description of the person doing the invocation:
وكان يأتيه المظلوم والمتعوذ من اقطار الأرض ويدعو عنده المكروب فقل من دعا هنالك إلا استجيب له
“Those who were oppressed and sought protection came from all over the world and those who were troubled called out to it; there were few who called out like this whom it did not answer.”
I wish I had realised this before the article was published, not only because it’s embarrassing to put your name to a mistranslation, but also because this new reading cements my argument: the word makrūb here has nothing to do with Macoraba, which seems to be missing entirely from the Arabic tradition. If this is the worst mistake I end up publishing, I’ll count myself lucky.
Thanks to @bareem11 for inspiring this post.