Al Aqsa Mosque

Al Aqsa Mosque

Al Aqsa Mosque

Al Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem

Al Aqsa Mosque ("Al-Masjid al-Aqsa"), which literally means, "The Farthest Mosque," occupies the southern end of Temple Mount and faces the Dome of the Rock. The third most important Islamic shrine in the world, Al Aqsa Mosque has prayer capacity for 5,000, covers 42,000 square yards, and is by far the largest mosque in Jerusalem.

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 the 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 three years later, another earthquake destroyed it, so it was rebuilt again. Over the next 240 years, Al Aqsa Mosque was rebuilt three more times after repeatedly being destroyed by earthquakes, which peculiarly never touched, let alone destroy, the Jewish Temple when it stood on the Temple Mount.

In 1099 AD, the 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?

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 Israel's holiest plateau and declared an Islamic "holy" site?

Surah 17:1 of the Koran claims that Allah took Mohammed from Mecca in Saudi Arabia to Al Aqsa 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 is that Mohammed died in 632 AD, four years before the first Muslim army reached Jerusalem in 636 AD, five years before it took the city in 637 AD after a siege, and 73 years before the first Al Aqsa Mosque was built in 705 AD. Claiming Mohammed went to Al Aqsa Mosque is like claiming Napoleon Bonaparte went to New York City's Empire State Building, completed in 1931, before he died in 1821.

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

What is the true "holy" site from which to worship God?

The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” (John 4:19-26)

To see if Jesus' claim is true, see Jesus' Tomb and Why Was Jesus Crucified?

Travel Tip
Non-Muslims can enter the Temple Mount only at certain times and only via the access ramp that begins at the Dung Gate and rises over the Wailing Wall plaza. The security check on the access ramp is tight and you will be searched for both weapons and non-Islamic religious materials. If anything is found, you will have to leave it with the Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint and make a quarter-mile loop to the west to pick it up (you cannot exit the Temple Mount via the access ramp). Wear trousers, since upon reaching the top of the ramp, those in shorts will be forced to either immediately exit the Temple Mount westward or pay 25 shekels ($7) to rent and wear a woman's skirt for the duration of their time on the Temple Mount. Non-Muslims' access into the Dome of the Rock varies from blocked to limited depending on the level of prevailing political and religious tensions.