Al-Aqsa Explained – It’s History + Significance for all Muslims

Islamic History of Al Masjid Al Aqsa

1. From Prophet Adam (as) to Prophet Muhammad (saw) as mentioned in the story – chain

Masjid Al Aqsa was the first qibla in Islam and it has been a significant and important place of worship for the Prophets of Islam. It was built 40 years after Al Masjid Al Haram in Makkah. There is a difference of opinion amongst scholars as to who exactly built Al Masjid Al Aqsa, with some scholars and historians asserting the view that Al Masjid Al Aqsa was built by Prophet Adam (as), and others opining that it was built by Prophet Ibrahim (as). It has also been rebuilt, renovated and expanded many times in the history of Islam.

It was a well known place of worship at the time of Prophet Ibrahim (as) and for his son Prophet Ishaq (as) and grandson Prophet Yaqub (as). When Prophet Yaqub’s son Prophet Yusuf (as) attained a position of power in Egypt, he asked his family to join him and escape the poverty that engulfed Palestine. Biblical sources claim this included his father Prophet Yaqub (as) and Prophet Yusuf’s siblings and their children [Book of Genesis], and that there were 33 in all (Allahu aalam). At this point, as there was no one left amongst Prophet Yaqub’s progeny to look after Al Masjid Al Aqsa (which at the time had the name of “Beteyel” or “House of God”), care for this blessed place was entrusted to the native population of the land (who were also followers of Prophet Ibrahim (as)), the Palestinians.

The Israelites who voluntarily emigrated to Egypt seeking a better material life remained there for approximately four centuries and became slaves to the Egyptians. This slavery only ended when Prophet Musa (as) freed them from Firaoun under the command of Allah. However, the Israelites rejected the orders of Allah to return to Palestine and were thus commanded to live in and wander through the desert of Sinai for 40 years. This ended when a new generation was born, containing within it Prophet Daoud (as), who led his generation of believers to Palestine.

Prophet Daoud (as) established his kingdom in part of Palestine, and controlled Jerusalem. His son Prophet Suleiman (as) rebuilt Al Masjid Al Aqsa with the help of the local indigenous population and next to it he built the ruler’s palace. After Prophet Suleiman’s death, his two sons divided his kingdom amongst themselves with each having its own capital. These kingdoms existed for a very short period of time – approximately two hundred years, with the last king of Jerusalem in this dynasty being dethroned in 586/587BC as he tried to resist the Babylonians (led by King Nebuchadnezzar) but failed due to a crippling siege that the Babylonians had placed on the city.

Shortly after the Babylonians took control of Jerusalem, Al Masjid Al Aqsa was destroyed again.

The Persians overthrew the Babylonians (during which time efforts to rebuild Al Masjid Al Aqsa as a place of worship were renewed), but in the period thereafter ownership changed hands numerous times, and Al Masjid Al Aqsa was destroyed, rebuilt and then destroyed again within a century by the Romans in 70AD after a revolt in the city.

By 315-325AD, when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, the Romans and the people residing in their land (including the Jews) no longer had any regard for Al Masjid Al Aqsa and no longer treated it as a place of sanctity and worship, with the site of Al Masjid Al Aqsa actually being used as a  place of waste disposal for the citizens of the city. This is how Al Masjid Al Aqsa remainded for the next few hundred years until the Prophet Muhammad (saw) revived once again the spirituality of this blessed place, and his great companion Umar Ibn Al Khattab (ra) liberated the city.

2. From Prophet Muhammad (saw) to 1917

Al Masjid Al Aqsa had a very unique place in the life of Prophet Muhammad (saw) for many reasons. Firstly, as Al Masjid Al Aqsa was central to the lives of many of his fellow Prophets (as) with whom he shared an exceptional bond (as the Islam taught by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is a continuation, completion and perfection of the religion and message of monotheism preached by all the prophets of Allah including Prophet Adam (as), Prophet Nuh (as), Prophet Ibrahim (as) (of whom Prophet Muhammad (saw) was a descendant through his son Ismaeel (as)), Prophet Musa (as), Prophet Daoud (as), Prophet Suleiman (as), and Prophet Isa (as) to name a few), Al Masjid Al Aqsa also by definition had a central place in his life and heart. In addition to this, up until the 2nd year of Hijra (623/624AD), the Prophet Muhammad (saw) turned and faced Al Masjid Al Aqsa as the direction for his prayers.

In his lifetime though, the most memorable reason why Al Masjid Al Aqsa has such significance is because it was the place to which he travelled on the night of Israa, and it was the location from which he made his Miraaj to the Heavens.

In the books of Hadith, we learn that the Prophet (saw) went to visit the Ka’bah at night, and fell asleep. The Angel Jibreel (Gabriel) then awoke him and led him to a winged white beast named Buraq. It was on Buraq that the Prophet (saw) then made the journey to Jerusalem (a journey that would typically take 40 days) in just one momentous night.  On reaching Jerusalem, the Prophet (saw) met and led all the previous Prophets in prayer at the site of Al Masjid Al Aqsa, and then embarked on the Miraaj to the Heavens.

The journey of Israa was such a momentous occasion that Allah revealed verses relating to this journey in the Holy Quran – “Glorified be He [Allah] Who did take His servant for a journey by night from Al Masjid Al Haram to Al Masjid Al Aqsa, whose precincts We did bless, in order that We might show him some of Our Signs. Verily He is the All Hearing, All Seeing” [17:1].

After the death of the Prophet Muhammad (saw), the second khalif of Islam (who was also a close companion of the Prophet Muhammad (saw)), Umar Ibn Al Khattab, entered and mercifully liberated Jerusalem (accompanied by 40,000 sahaba) on the invitation of the Christian leader at the time, without shedding blood and with the guarantee of protection for the lives, property and places of worship of others within the city who wished to remain there. As Umar’s personality and characteristics closely resembled and matched those of the liberator of Jerusalem foretold within scriptures, the people of the city were quick to embrace and accept his rule.

As mentioned earlier, when he arrived at the site of Al Masjid Al Aqsa in 637/638AD, he didn’t find a place of prayer but rather a plot of land that had been left barren and had been used as a rubbish tip by the Romans. Upon seeing this he took the responsibility to remove the waste with his own hands and to rebuild Al Masjid Al Aqsa. Both the Christians and the Jews were pleased with the arrival of Umar and the Muslims, and with their just rule.

In 691/692AD, Abd’ al Malik bin Marwan began constructing what is nowadays known as the Dome of the Rock on top of the rock which some believe was the place where Prophet Muhammad (saw) embarked on his Miraaj to the Heavens. However, it must be noted that regardless of whether the rock has importance for this reason, its main significance derives from it being within the boundaries of Al Masjid Al Aqsa and therefore part of Al Masjid Al Aqsa.

The Muslims lost Al Masjid Al Aqsa to the Crusaders in 1099AD and were the victims of one of the darkest and most bloody days in its history. On arrival into Jerusalem. the Crusaders announced that they would not take any prisoners, resulting in a large proportion of the Muslims fleeing to Al Masjid Al Aqsa in order to seek refuge. The Crusaders later entered the blessed Masjid and massacred thousands of Muslims inside. Al Masjid Al Aqsa was then converted into a palace, and it took 88 years before the Muslims reclaimed it in 1187 under the leadership of the great leader Salahuddin Ayyubi. His reclamation of Jerusalem and Al Masjid Al Aqsa was reminiscent of Umar Ibn Al Khattab’s liberation five centuries earlier, and was a stark contrast to the actions of the Crusaders just a generation prior. Like Umar Ibn Al Khattab, Salahuddin Ayabbi did not allow a massacre of civilians or soldiers, and after reclaiming Al Masjid Al Aqsa he also used his own hands to clean the blessed land, and famously sprinkled rosewater through the Masjid.

The Muslims once again had unhindered control of Jerusalem and Al Masjid Al Aqsa for a significant period of time – approximately eight centuries – and their rule was characterized by peace, justice and prosperity, with Al Masjid Al Aqsa becoming a great centre of learning with scholars from all over the world travelling to study and teach within its blessed precincts. Throughout almost this entire period, the Christians and Jews were provided safety and protection, and their rights were respected as People of the Book.

3. From 1917 to the present day

For numerous centuries during the Ottoman caliphate, the city of Jerusalem and Al Masjid Al Aqsa were preserved with honour and dignity, with Muslims being in charge of the administration of the city, but in line with Islamic law and the Ottoman millet system, they provided religious freedom and security for the Jewish and Christian minorities. However all this changed when the Zionist movement in Europe emerged with the aim of creating a Jewish state on Muslim Palestinian land. This Zionist movement which was supported by the British, was further strengthened during World War 1 when the British captured Jerusalem and brought an end to eight centuries of Muslim rule. On arrival into Palestine in 1917 they found a land that was 90% populated by Arabs and with fewer than 56,000 Jews (of which only 5% were native Palestinian Jews, with the majority being those who had fled European persecution in recent decades). The British allowed the Muslims control of Al Masjid Al Haram during this period.

Five years after the British capture of Jerusalem, the first restoration works of the 20th century in Al Masjid Al Aqsa took place, and a couple of years later in 1924 Trans-Jordan took over custodianship of Al Masjid Al Aqsa.

In 1947 prior to Britain passing over the issue of Palestine to the UN, the Jews owned less than 6% of the total land of Palestine. For this reason, when the UN General Assembly recommended (despite this being outside of their competence according to the UN Charter) having a “Jewish state” which would comprise 54% of the Palestinian land, the native Palestinians rejected the proposal.

In 1948 after a war and numerous massacres and atrocities committed by the Zionists, the Jews established “Israel” on 78% of Palestinian land, and captured approximately 85% of Jerusalem. The Jordanian Arab Legion took control of the West Bank – including 11% of the eastern parts of Jerusalem which encompassed the Old City and Al Masjid Al Aqsa.

In 1967 following a further war, Israel illegally occupied East Jerusalem and claimed to unify Jerusalem as part of Israel. This move was. and is still, opposed and unrecognised by the international community. Following its capture of Jerusalem and the protests that followed, the Jewish authorities swiftly handed Al Masjid Al Aqsa back to Muslim control.

Following attempts by prominent Israeli figures to establish Jewish prayers at Al Masjid Al Aqsa and subsequent protests, a law was passed prohibiting Jewish prayer on Al Masjid Al Aqsa. The decision also meant that Jews and foreign tourists could only enter Al Masjid Al Aqsa through the Maghrebi gate.

However since 1967 many Israeli authorities have passed rulings permitting Jews to offer worship on the site of Al Masjid Al Aqsa and many organisations have been lobbying Israeli officials to start the process of rebuiliding a Jewish place of worship on the sacred land of Al Masjid Al Aqsa.

In 1969 a fire that was started by a Zionist extremist destroyed the mimbar that was installed by Salahuddin Ayyubi. The mimbar was considered one of the most beautiful in the world and was constructed with over 10,000 interlocking pieces of Cedar and other wood, Ivory and Mother of Pearl affixed without a drop of glue or a single nail. Most of the damage from the fire took over 20 years to repair, due to the Israelis not allowing suitable resources into Al Masjid Al Aqsa.

In 1987 four Palestinian men were killed queuing at a checkpoint in Gaza, sparking the first intifada. Intifada literally means “shaking off” and is used to convey the meaning of setting Palestine and Al Masjid Al Aqsa free from Israeli oppression.

In 2000, Ariel Sharon marched on Al Masjid Al Aqsa surrounded by over 1000 security guards and police. This sparked the second Palestinian intifada. Following this visit, restrictions were placed on Palestinians wishing to pray at Al Masjid Al Aqsa, with Palestinian men (especially those between 18-50 years of age), facing bans from praying at certain times. These restrictions continue to this day.

In March 2013 Jordanian King Abdullah II signed an agreement with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas which maintained and reiterated the status quo that the King of Jordan is the official custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem and that he has the right to exert all legal efforts to preserve them, especially Al Masjid Al Aqsa.

In November 2013 a draft Israeli law was proposed in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) allowing Jews the right to pray on Al Masjid Al Aqsa. This development was the result of 40 years of intense lobbying by nationalists who wish to destroy Al Masjid Al Aqsa in its current form, and replace it with a Jewish place of worship.

In October 2014 Israeli authorities closed Al Masjid Al Aqsa for the first time since 1967. This resulted in mass protests across Palestine and the Muslim world, and was swiftly followed by Al Masjid Al Aqsa being reopened.

To summarise the present day situation:

Israel systematically denies access to Al Masjid Al Aqsa to most Palestinians, has permitted excavation works to be carried out under Al Masjid Al Aqsa damaging the foundations of Al Masjid Al Aqsa, and has permitted Jews to enter Al Masjid Al Aqsa during certain times on most days (despite this being contrary to traditional Rabbinical law for fear of disrespecting such sacred land). In addition to this, Israel maintains a security force on Al Masjid Al Aqsa permanently despite numerous appeals by the Supreme Muslim Council – and yet still fails to prevent Zionist extermists causing damage to Al Masjid Al Aqsa.

Interestingly, the UN Security Council has passed more than 20 resolutions condemning Israel’s annexation of Old Jerusalem, and Israel has been the most frequently condemned state by the UN in its history.

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