Monday, March 23, 2009

Al-Aqsa Mosque


The Al-Aqsa Mosque (Arabic: Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa, commonly refers to the southern part of the complex of religious buildings in Jerusalem known as either Al-Haram al-Qudsi al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) to Arabs and Muslims, although in reality the whole area of the Noble Sanctuary is considered Al-Aqsa Mosque and the entire precincts inviolable according to Islamic law. It is known as Har ha-Bayit (the Temple Mount) to Jews and some Christians. It is located in East Jerusalem, a disputed territory governed as part of Israel since its annexation in 1967 but claimed by the Palestinian Authority as part of a future State of Palestine. The largest mosque in Jerusalem, its congregation building can accommodate about 5,000 people worshipping inside it, while the whole Al-Aqsa Mosque compound area may accomodate hundreds of thousands. The government of Israel has granted a Muslim Council, Waqf, full administration of the site. Since the beginning of Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000, non-Muslims are barred from entering the site.

The congregation building of Al-Aqsa Mosque is sometimes referred to as Jami al-Masjid al-Aqsa or al-Masjid al-Qibli. The term al-Masjid Al-Aqsa proper is the general and oldest name for the precinct of al-Haram al-Qudsi al-Sharif. The name al-Haram al-Qudsi al-Sharif was coined later by the Mamluks.

Origin of name

The name "Al-Aqsa Mosque" translates to "the farthest mosque" ("the remote mosque" according to some translations, such as that of Muhammad Asad), and is associated with the Isra and Mi'raj, a journey made around 621 by the Islamic Prophet Muhammad (c. 570-632) on the winged steed Buraq, which was brought to him by the Archangel Gabriel. This is often referred to in English as Muhammad's "night journey". According to Qur'anic verse, Muhammad took the journey in a single night from "the sacred mosque" (in Mecca) to "the farthest mosque" (al-Masjid al-Aqsa). From a rock there, Muhammad ascended to heaven, accompanied by Gabriel, touring heaven and receiving the commandments, including the five daily prayers, before returning to Earth and back to Mecca to communicate them to the faithful.

The hadith narrator Imam Muslim reports that the Prophet's companion Anas ibn Malik mentions that the Prophet said:

"I came to the Buraq, I rode it until we arrived at Bayt al-Maqdis. I tied it to where the Prophets tie, then I entered the masjid I prayed two Rakaah, and then ascended to the heavens,".

This story was to become the raison d'etre for Islam's two most important shrines in Jerusalem, the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, and the driving force behind Muslim ambitions to rule the city to this day.

In this regard, the leading muslim scholar Ibn Taymiyah reports:

al-Masjid al-Aqsa is a name that refers to the whole area of the masjid that was built by Suleiman Peace Be Upon him. Some people today use the term to refer to the prayer house built by Umar bin al-Khattab at the front of this area... When Umar asked Kaab: Where to buid a prayer house for the muslims. Kaab replied: behind the Rock. Umar said: No, but I will build it in front of the Rock because we always pray at the front of mosques. Therefore, Imams usually if they enter the masjid area, they gather people and stand to lead the prayers in the house built by Umar.

The muslims scholar al Tabari reports in Tarikh al-Tabari:

Umar Ibn al-Khattab asked Kaab:

" Where should we pray? He said: towards the Rock. Umar replied: Oh, Kaab! You are glorifying Judaism. But I will make the Qibla of this masjid at its front just like the Prophet of Allah made the Qibla of all our masajid at its front ".

Regarding the name, other sources mention the following:

"Originally the term al-Masjid al-Aqsa was used to refer to the whole area of al-Haram al-Qudsi al-Sharif with all what it holds from establishments including the Dome of the Rock built by Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan in 72 Hijri/691 A.D., which is considered among the most notable Islamic structures. Today, the term al-Masjid al-Aqsa is also used to refer to the large Mosque in the southern part of al-Haram al-Qudsi."... "The Dome of the Rock structure resides at the heart of al-Masjid al-Aqsa, in the southeaster part of the Old City of Jerusalem, which is wide rectangular area extending 480 meters from the north to the south, and from the east to the west about 300 meters. This area constituites what is almost fifth of the Old City."

First qibla

The historical significance of Al-Aqsa Mosque is further emphasised by the fact that Muslims used to turn towards Al-Haram al-Sharif when they prayed.

As it was the place at which Muhammad performed the first commanded prayer after Isra and Mi'raj, it became the qibla (direction) that Muslims faced during prayer and continued to be so for sixteen or seventeen months, 6:60:13. After a revelation recorded in the Koran the qibla was then turned towards Mecca:

We have seen you turning your face about the sky (searching for the right direction). We now assign a qibla that is pleasing to you. Henceforth, you shall turn your face towards the Sacred Mosque. Wherever you may be, all of you shall turn your faces towards it. Those who received the previous scripture, know that this is the truth from their Lord. God is never unaware of anything they do. Even if you show the followers of the scripture every kind of miracle, they will not follow your qibla. Nor shall you follow their qibla. They do not even follow each others qibla. If you acquiesce to their wishes, after the knowledge that has come to you, you will belong with the transgressors. (Koran 2:144;145)

For this reason Al-Haram al-Sharif, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque, is known to Muslims as the "First of the Two Qiblas".

The altering of the qibla was precisely the reason Caliph Umar, despite identifying the Rock upon his arrival at the Temple Mount in 638 neither prayed facing it nor built any structure upon it. This was because the significance of that particular spot on the Temple Mount was over in Islamic jurisprudence after the change of qibla event in Islamic ideology. However, because of the holiness of Temple Mount itself Caliph Umar did make a small mosque in the southern corner of its platform which initially was called ‘mosque of Umer’ and today is known as ‘Masjid Al-Aqsa’, taking caution to avoid the Rock to come between the mosque and the direction of Kaaba so that Muslims would face only Mecca when they prayed.

In another illustration of how significance of the “first qibla” was diminished in Islam, the following hadith states:

Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Umar: People say, "Whenever you sit for answering the call of nature, you should not face the qibla or Bait-ul-Maqdis (Jerusalem)." I told them. "Once I went up the roof of our house and I saw Allah's Apostle answering the call of nature while sitting on two bricks facing Bait-ul-Maqdis (See Holy Temple, Hebrew: ??? ?????, Bet HaMikdash)...1:4:147

The importance of Al-Aqsa in Islam

Masjid-al-Aqsa is one of the holiest site in Islam because it belongs to the history of Islam since Abraham until now. It is where, according to Muslims, Abraham (the patriarch of the Abrahamic faiths) established his covenant with God and spread the teaching of monotheism. Muslims respect all the Prophets revered by Judaism and Christianity and their venerated places are also central to the ethos of Islam. Solomon was a prophet and revered by Muslims.
Judaism belief in the Temple of Solomon (Haykal Sulaiman) as the Noble Sanctuary is coherent with the Islam believe in Masjid al-Aqsa because the literal meaning of masjid does not mean a building or any specific place. The word Masjid derived from the root word "Saa" "Jaa" "Daa" in arabic which means (to prostrate) (act of worship). In this case not only the Mosque of Umar is considered as Masjid al-Aqsa but the entire precinct too. Muslims belief that the Temple of Solomon meant by the Jews was a Masjid and not a temple because Islam believe that all prophet conveyed the same messege and prostrated to God during prayers.
It was the site where Muhammad ascended to heaven during Isra and Mi'raj. (The main place, however, where Muhammad received most revelations, including the first, was in the cave of Hira where he meditated frequently during the first forty years of his life.)
The Mosque of Umar reminds all about the atrocity and devestation suffered by the inhabitant of Jerusalem during the Roman occupation. It also signifies freedom of religion achieved by Jews, Christians and Muslims a long time before.
It was the first qibla, the second house of God after Kaabah in Mecca, and the third holiest site in Islam.

"Third holiest site"

Regarding "The Three Virtuous Mosques in Islam", the authentic Islamic creed regarding the 'holiness' of any place is mentioned by the Prophet Muhammad himself in many hadiths. Al-Bukhari reported in his authentic Collection of hadiths (i.e. Sahih al-Bukhari) that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "The rihaal must not be fixed (i.e. to go any where) [rihaal means 'luggage and provision a traveler usually takes with him in a long journey] except to three mosques: al-Masjid al-Haram (in Makkah), the Messenger’s mosque (in Madinah) and al-Aqsa mosque (in Jerusalem). " (No.1189)

In this hadith, the Prophet prohibits Muslims from traveling to any mosque to visit (as a holy site) and to get reward for it except to the three mentioned mosques. No mosque carries special virtues other than the three mosques, that is probably due to their origin and who built them. We know that all of these mosques were built by God’s Messengers (Ibrahim, Ya’qub and Muhammad). Once Abu Dharr asked the Prophet, "O Allah's Apostle! Which mosque was built first?" He replied, "Al-masjid-ul-Haram." I asked, "Which (was built) next?" He replied, "Al-masjid-ul-Aqsa." I asked, "What was the period in between them?" He replied, "Forty (years)." He then added, "Wherever the time for the prayer comes upon you, perform the prayer, for all the earth is a place of worshipping for you." (Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 3194) All other masjids that were built after the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah are therefore the same in virtue and they don’t carry any special status in Islam unless the Prophet (peace be upon him) had said so, regardless who built the mosque or what exist in inside it.

Throughout the history, humans built structures and claim that they are holy with out giving any evidence of their ‘holiness’. In Islam, the ‘holy’ place is the place that Allah and His Messenger made holy, not what people claim to be so.


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