Al Aqsa Mosque

Al Aqsa Mosque

Dome of the Rock Wailing Wall Prayers
Al Aqsa Mosque

Al Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem

Al Aqsa Mosque covers 42,000 square yards at the southern end of the Temple Mount of Jerusalem, Israel, and faces the Dome of the Rock. With a prayer capacity of 5,000, Al Aqsa is the largest mosque in Jerusalem and the third most important Islamic shrine in the world.

Al Aqsa Mosque occupies the original site of a church that Justinian I, the Orthodox Byzantine emperor, built in 538 AD. A century later in 636 AD, the first Muslim army reached Jerusalem and conquered it six months later. The construction of Al Aqsa Mosque, which preserved parts of Justinian's church, didn't start until late 7th century and was completed in the early 8th century.

A few years later in 746 AD, an earthquake destroyed Al Aqsa Mosque. It was rebuilt by 771 AD. Just 3 years thereafter, another earthquake destroyed it, so it was rebuilt again. Over the next 240 years, Al Aqsa Mosque was rebuilt three more times after continuing to be destroyed by earthquakes, which peculiarly never touched, let alone destroy, the Jewish temples when they stood on the Temple Mount.

In 1099 AD, Crusaders captured Jerusalem, renovated Al Aqsa Mosque, renamed it, "Solomon's Temple," and took up residence. In 1187 AD, a Muslim army led by Saladin retook Jerusalem and renovated the Crusaders' residence back into Al Aqsa Mosque.

Why is Islam's third most important shrine in Jerusalem in the first place?

After all, Jerusalem is far - over 1,200 kilometers away - from Mecca and has nothing to do with the founder or the founding of Islam. So why was a giant mosque built on the site of Israel's holiest site and declared an Islamic "holy" site?

Surah 17:1 of the Koran claims that Allah took Mohammed to Al Aqsa (meaning, "the farthest") Mosque one night: "Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al-Aqsa, ..."

The problem with this claim by the Koran is that Mohammed died in 632 AD, four years before the first Muslim army reached Jerusalem in 636 AD and decades before the first Al Aqsa Mosque was even built (see above). How did Mohammad visit a mosque that didn't exist?

Also, if a Jewish synagogue or a Christian church were to be built at the site of "al-Masjid al-Haram," the mosque in Mecca that is Islam's most "holy" site, and were declared to be a Jewish or Christian holy site, would the Muslims put up with it?

Travel Tip
After the bustling, narrow alleys of Old Jerusalem, the sprawling open expanse of the Temple Mount, which is totally flat and free of structures except the mosque and the Dome of the Rock, was a breath of fresh air. Non-Muslims can enter the Temple Mount area only via the access ramp from the Wailing Wall plaza below. The security check on the access ramp is tight and your bags will be searched for both potentially dangerous and non-Islamic religious materials. If anything is found, you have to leave it with the Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint and make a half-mile loop to the north to pick it up (you cannot exit the Temple Mount area via the same ramp that connects it to the Wailing Wall plaza below). Non-Muslims' access into the Dome of the Rock itself varies from limited to blocked depending on the level of prevailing political and religious tensions.

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