The following verse informs us that Mecca since the time of it’s founding by Abraham has been a plantless valley.

[14:37] “Our Lord, I have settled part of my family in this plantless valley, at Your Sacred House. Our Lord, they are to observe the Contact Prayers (Salat), so let throngs of people converge upon them, and provide for them all kinds of fruits, that they may be appreciative.

 رَبَّنَا إِنِّي أَسْكَنْتُ مِنْ ذُرِّيَّتِي بِوَادٍ غَيْرِ ذِي زَرْعٍ عِنْدَ بَيْتِكَ الْمُحَرَّمِ رَبَّنَا لِيُقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ فَاجْعَلْ أَفْئِدَةً مِنَ النَّاسِ تَهْوِي إِلَيْهِمْ وَارْزُقْهُمْ مِنَ الثَّمَرَاتِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَشْكُرُونَ

Some people claim that the expression غَيْرِ ذِي زَرْعٍ just means that Mecca was without cultivation, but not that it was plantless or non-cultivatable. But does this claim have any standing?

If we look at the word by word breakdown we see the following:

رَبَّنَا“Our Lord!rabbanā
إِنِّيIndeed, Iinnī
أَسْكَنْتُ[I] have settledaskantu
ذُرِّيَّتِيmy children / progeny (family)dhurriyyatī
بِوَادٍin a valleybiwādin
زَرْعٍcrops / plants (*plantless / non-cultivable)zarʿin
بَيْتِكَYour Housebaytika
الْمُحَرَّمِthe Sacredl-muḥarami

What we see is that the word cultivation is not even in the verse. Instead the word by word analysis shows us that the expression is “not possessing crops/plants”. The word that is used for plants is زَرْعٍ this word comes from the root ز ر ع and means crops and plants, but a deeper look gives more insight into this word.

This root occurs fourteen times in the Quran (6:141, 12:47, 13:4, 14:37, 16:11, 18:32, 26:148, 32:27, 39:27, 39:21, 44:26, twice in 48:29, and twice in 56:64). Analyzing the verses that this root is used we come to understand that this word is typically used in the early stages of a plant as a seedling, and never in the terms of harvest. 12:47, 48:29.

Secondly we see that this verse is used for both crops that are planted intentionally by men, and also when they grow organically on their own without human intervention. See: 6:141, 12:47, 13:4, 16:11, 18:32, 32:27, 39:21.

In contrast when the Arabic word حَرْثَ is used it is used exclusively for crops harvested intentionally by men. See 2:71, 2:205, 3:14, 3:117, 6:136, 6:138, 56:63, 68:22. This is the reason I believe 42:20 uses this same root in context to the rewards of the Hereafter, as this is based on the efforts we do in this world.

Because of this 14:37 is informing us that Mecca did not posses plants/crops either planted by men or done organically without human intervention. Therefore it was a plantless valley, and one that could not be cultivated.

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