The name بِبَكَّةَ (Bakka or Becca) used in 3:96 is the ancient name for Mecca.
إِنَّ أَوَّلَ بَيْتٍ وُضِعَ لِلنَّاسِ لَلَّذِي بِبَكَّةَ مُبَارَكًا وَهُدًى لِلْعَالَمِينَ
We can confirm that by looking at the following verse which indicates that this is the location of Abraham’s shrine.
[3:97] In it are clear signs: the station of Abraham. Anyone who enters it shall be granted safe passage. The people owe it to God that they shall observe Hajj to this shrine, when they can afford it. As for those who disbelieve, God does not need anyone.
Additionally 48:24-25, further confirms that Bakka is the same location as Mecca, as this is where the prophet set out for in order to reach the Sacred Masjid to perform his Hajj pilgrimage.
[48:24] He is the One who withheld their hands of aggression against you, and withheld your hands of aggression against them in the valley of Mecca, after He had granted you victory over them. GOD is Seer of everything you do. [48:25] It is they who disbelieved and barred you from the Sacred Masjid, and even prevented your offerings from reaching their destination. There were believing men and women (within the enemy camp) whom you did not know, and you were about to hurt them, unknowingly. GOD thus admits into His mercy whomever He wills. If they persist, He will requite those among them who disbelieve with a painful retribution.
If there is still any doubt, the following verse solidifies that both Becca and Mecca we are to perform Hajj to the Sacred Masjid, and if there were actually to locations then it would create a contradictory understanding of the verses of the Quran.
[2:196] You shall observe the complete rites of Hajj and ‘Umrah for GOD. If you are prevented, you shall send an offering, and do not resume cutting your hair until your offering has reached its destination. If you are ill, or suffering a head injury (and you must cut your hair), you shall expiate by fasting, or giving to charity, or some other form of worship. During the normal Hajj, if you break the state of Ihraam (sanctity) between ‘Umrah and Hajj, you shall expiate by offering an animal sacrifice. If you cannot afford it, you shall fast three days during Hajj and seven when you return home—this completes ten—provided you do not live at the Sacred Mosque (Masjid). You shall observe GOD, and know that GOD is strict in enforcing retribution.
The Quran utilizing two names for the same location is not unique to Mecca and Becca. We see the Quran does the same thing for several other locations as well:
- Medina (9:120) & Yathrib (33:13)
- Thamud (11:67) & Al-Hijr (15:80)
- Ad (41:15) & Erum (89:7) or Dunes (46:21)
God also does this for names of people as well:
- Jacob (2:133) & Israel (2:40)
- Iblees (7:11) & Satan (2:34)
- Jonah (10:98) & Zan-Noon (The one with the N in his name) 21:87
One reason the Quran might have utilized two names for Mecca may be because some scholars attempted to irradiate any mention of Mecca, Hajj, or any religious practices they associated with Arab Muslims from the Bible, except they failed to realize that Mecca and Becca were the same location and left its mention intact in Psalm 84 in discussion about Hajj pilgrimage.
1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
2 My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
3 Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a spring;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
*Note: despite being a desert the valley of Mecca does occasionally flood when the rain season comes.
**Also, some translations of Pslam 84:6 twist the translation to indicate that the Valley of Baka is a place of springs (plural), but if we look at the Hebrew the word for spring is singular, and this corresponds with the Zamzam spring in Mecca. Below is a word for word breakdown of the Hebrew: