Masjid-e-Aqsa has a very special place in the hearts of Muslims. With its unique and rich history, this place of worship is closely intertwined with the lives of many of the Prophets. It holds a special status as a mosque where travelling is recommended and the reward is increased if one prays there. Masjid e Aqsa was the first Qibla in Islam and built 40 years after Masjid Al Haram in Makkah. It is also the location where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was transported during the journey of Isra and Miraj where he offered prayers along with other Prophets (AS).
Today, Masjid e Aqsa has become a contested place because of the Zionist claim of the existence of the temple that was originally built on the site. The temples were destroyed by the invading forces but a great deal of myth is interwoven into this narrative. It has been rebuilt, renovated and expanded many times throughout history.
Islamic History of Masjid Al Aqsa
We already know that Kaaba was constructed in Mecca by the father and son Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail (AS) on the command of Allah (SWT). Ibrahim (AS) had settled his first son Ismail (AS) and wife Hajirah (RA) in Makkah according to the command by Allah (SWT). However, he did not live there; he used to live in Palestine in Hebron. Ibrahim (AS) also built a place of worship in Jerusalem which came to be known as Beteyel (House of Allah in Hebrew). Prophet Ibrahim’s (AS) second son Prophet Isaac (AS) grew up in Hebron and he would often go to Beteyel for praying. Isaac (AS), who was also a noble Prophet of Allah prayed in the Kaaba in Makkah and performed the Hajj with his father Ibrahim (AS) and brother Ismail (AS). It was Prophet Ibrahim (AS) who named Beteyel as Masjid e Aqsa, the farthest mosque in regard to Kaaba.
[Read Also: Maqam-e-Ibrahim and its Historical Significance]
Yaqub (AS), the son of Prophet Isaac (AS) was also the prophet of Allah who opened Beteyel as a place of worship for all those that accepted the One True God. Prophetic history takes many turns and the story of Prophets from the lineage of Ibrahim (AS) is no different. Prophet Yusuf (AS) was immensely loved by his father Prophet Yaqub (AS) which created huge jealousy among his step-brothers. The brothers plotted to kill Yusuf (AS) but finally decided to throw him in a well. He was rescued and sold into slavery and ended up in Egypt where the ruler employed him. Yusuf (AS) was a handsome young man and the ruler’s wife Zulaikha developed a crush on him but Allah protected him from committing sin. Despite being innocent, Yusuf (AS) ended up in prison and spent many years there. He was finally released by the king who appointed him the kingdom’s treasury which resulted in becoming the de facto ruler of Egypt. The story of Yusuf (AS) is narrated in detail in Surah Yusuf in the holy Quran.
After attaining power in Egypt, Yusuf (AS) invited his family to live with him in Egypt. Yaqub (AS) gave charge of the Masjid e Aqsa to the local inhabitants, the Palestinians. His children who are referred to as Bani Israel in the noble Qur’an lived in Egypt for more than 400 years. There was never a point where they thought of returning to Palestine to reclaim their custodianship of Masjid e Aqsa.
Many generations later, the Bani Israel were taken as slaves by the Pharaohs and it was Prophet Musa (AS) who freed them out of slavery crossing the Red Sea into the Sinai Peninsula. When Allah commanded them to enter Palestine, they refused, incurring Allah’s wrath to wander in the desert for 40 years. After the death of Prophet Musa (AS), Allah raised another prophet, Daud (AS) – a soldier in the army of Saul who was later made king because of his courage. Prophet Daud (AS) entered Palestine to establish his kingdom there. It was Prophet Sulaiman (AS) son of Prophet Daud (AS) who reconstructed the mosque with the support of the indigenous people, the Palestinians. The father-son rule lasted a total of 73 years after which his sons divided the kingdom and power slipped from their hands. Numerous Prophets emerged among their progeny but the Bani Israel refused to abide by the teachings of the Prophets. Qur’an narrates that Bani Israel killed many of their prophets including Prophet Zakariya (AS) and his son Prophet Yahya (AS).
Babylonian king Bakhtnasar took over the city of Jerusalem and Palestine in 587 BC destroying Masjid e Aqsa and enslaving the people. Bani Israel was rescued by the Persian King, Cyrus the Great after seventy years of slavery in Babylon and permitted them to return to Palestine. Persian Empire faced a rival in Roman Empire who captured Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in the year 70 CE. The city came into Muslim possession during the Khilafah of Umar (RA) in the year 638 CE. Muslims lost Masjid al-Aqsa and Jerusalem to the Crusaders in the year 1099 CE and it was not until 88 years later when Salahuddin Ayyubi liberated Masjid al-Aqsa and Jerusalem from the rule of Crusaders.
[Read Also: Historical Mosques in Makkah]
Things to Know About Al-Aqsa Mosque
Here are a few interesting facts about Masjid e Aqsa that you must know about:
- Masjid e Aqsa is the first Qibla in Islam- the direction towards which Muslims face during prayers. It was later changed to Kaaba through Surah Baqarah.
- Masjid e Aqsa is often considered a single building but the site actually consists of several mosques such as Buraq Mosque and the Marwani Mosque.
- The golden dome of Masjid e Aqsa also called the ‘Dome of the Rock’ is said to be the first dome used in Islamic architecture before it became a staple of Islamic mosques. The dome was initially made of wood and later decorated with marble pieces. The golden layer was added to the dome by the Ottoman Caliph, Suleiman the Magnificent.
- A prominent scholar and theologian, Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali has lived in Masjid e Aqsa and wrote his masterpiece Ihyaa Ulum Al-Din (The Revival of the Religious Sciences), which is widely regarded as one of the greatest works in Islamic literature.
- The mosque also has a library which was established in the year 1923 by the Supreme Muslim Legislative Council and has a collection of valuable manuscripts and published works in Islamic and Arabic studies.
- Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was transported to Al-Aqsa during the Night Journey, also known as Al-Israa Wal-Mi’raj, which is one of the most significant events in the Islamic calendar. He (PBUH) travelled from Makkah to Jerusalem and then to the Paradise riding on the Buraq, a heavenly creature.
Facts About the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock
Located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, Dome of the Rock is the oldest and one of the most beautiful Islamic monuments that stands today. It was built by the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwaan in 72 AH. Most of the times, people are confused between Dome of the Rock and Masjid Aqsa which comes from the historical context. There is a huge difference between the Dome of the Rock & Al-Aqsa Mosque. Both are distinct holy sites and located within the Noble sanctuary, also referred to as Al-Haram ash-Sharif. Masjid al-Aqsa which is also called Qibly Masjid has a lead-coloured dome while the Dome of the Rock has an unmistakable gold dome. Below are some interesting facts about Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock:
- The rock over which the shrine is built is sacred to Christian, Jews and Muslims.
- Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) ascended into the heaven from this site after his night journey to Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa.
- Dome of the Rock is situated in the centre of the Temple Mount and Jews also believe it to be the site where their First Temple and Second Temple once stood.
- Approximately 20 meters (66 feet) in diameter, the dome is mounted on an elevated drum and rises above a circle of 16 piers and columns.
- Below the dome lies the sacred rock, a portion of which is exposed and protected by a railing. This ancient rock is the central focus of the shrine and believed to have once stood in the centre of Solomon’s Temple.