Al-Aqsa Mosque: Past and present


Saudi Gazette

Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam. What is going on in Al-Aqsa is not only a Palestinian issue, but it should be a real concern in every Muslim’s heart, everywhere in the world. Al-Aqsa has a unique and rich history that is so closely intertwined with the lives of many of the prophets in Islam.

As Muslims, we are encouraged at least once in our lifetime to visit the three sacred places of worship, the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque in Madinah, and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. There is immense blessings and multiplied rewards in praying in these three holy sites. Think of the blessings to be gained and lessons in life to be learned from visiting Al-Aqsa.

As for its history, some scholars have stated that Prophet Ibrahim built Al-Aqsa Mosque, forty years after building the Kabah in Makkah. Al-Aqsa Mosque has been rebuilt, renovated, and expanded many times in the history of Islam. It was a significant place of worship at the time of Prophet Ibrahim and for his son, Prophet Ishaq, and his grandson, Prophet Yaqub. When Prophet Yaqub’s son, Prophet Yusuf attained a position of power in Egypt, he invited his parents and brothers to join him in Egypt. When the progeny of Prophet Yaqub migrated to Egypt, the care for the blessed mosque in Jerusalem was entrusted to the native population of the land, the Palestinians, who were also followers of the father of prophets, Prophet Ibrahim.

Approximately four centuries later, another of the prophets of Allah returned to Jerusalem.

Prophet Dawud established his kingdom in part of Palestine, and controlled Jerusalem. His son, Prophet Suleiman, rebuilt Al-Aqsa Mosque with the help of the local indigenous population. After Prophet Suleiman’s death, his two sons divided his kingdom amongst themselves with each having its own capital.

Al-Aqsa Mosque was also central to the life of one of the most pious women in history. The virgin mother, Maryam, was born in Jerusalem. Maryam is one of the most esteemed women in the history of Islam. Maryam dedicated her life to the worship of Allah and the service of the house of Allah, Al-Aqsa Mosque. After miraculously giving birth to her child, Prophet Isa, Maryam returned with her baby to Jerusalem.

In the centuries after the life of Prophet Isa, the ownership of Al-Aqsa Mosque changed hands numerous times, and it was destroyed and rebuilt several times.

Years later, 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-Aqsa Mosque and no longer treated it as a place of sanctity and worship. The site of Al-Aqsa was actually being used as a place of waste disposal for the citizens of the city. Al-Aqsa Mosque remained in this dismal state for the next few hundred years, until Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once again revived the spirituality of this blessed place. During the Night Journey of Israa and Miraj, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) prayed in Al-Aqsa Mosque before ascending to the Heavens. Al-Aqsa Mosque was the Qiblah, the direction in which Muslims faced when praying, for approximately eighteen months after the Prophet (peace be upon him) migrated to Madinah, until the Qiblah was changed to the Kabah in Makkah.

After the death of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the second Caliph or Muslim ruler Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, entered and peacefully liberated Jerusalem, without shedding blood. He guaranteed protection for the lives, property, and places of worship of others within the city who wished to remain there.

When Umar arrived at the site of Al-Aqsa Mosque, he found that the holy place had been used as a rubbish disposal site by the Romans. He participated in removing the waste with his own hands and rebuilding Al-Aqsa. Both the Christians and the Jews were pleased with the arrival of Umar and the Muslims.

Many years later, the Caliph Abdul Malik bin Marwan constructed what is nowadays known as the Dome of the Rock Mosque, on top of the rock which some believe was the place where Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) embarked on his ascension to the Heavens on the night of Israa and Miraj.

The Muslims lost Al-Aqsa Mosque to the Crusaders in 1099 AD and were the victims of the bloodiest and most violent acts in its history. Large numbers of Muslims fled into Al-Aqsa Mosque to seek refuge there. The Crusaders entered the blessed mosque and massacred thousands of Muslims inside. Al Aqsa was converted into a palace, and it took 88 years before the Muslims reclaimed it in 1187 under the leadership of the great leader Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi. His reclamation of Jerusalem was reminiscent of Umar Ibn Al Khattab’s liberation five centuries earlier, and was a stark contrast to the actions of the Crusaders. Like Umar Ibn Al Khattab, Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi did not allow a massacre, and after reclaiming Al-Aqsa, he helped clean the blessed land, and sprinkled rosewater throughout the mosque.

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

This peaceful coexistence was disrupted when the movement emerged in Europe with the aim of creating a Jewish state on Muslim Palestinian land. During World War I, the British captured Jerusalem and brought an end to eight centuries of Muslim rule. In 1917 they usurped 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), and wanted to establish a Jewish state on this land.

In 1948 after a war and numerous massacres and atrocities committed against the Palestinian people, the Jews established “Israel” on Palestinian land. In 1967, following a further war, Israel illegally occupied East Jerusalem and claimed to unify Jerusalem as part of Israel.

Despite the Palestinian’s protests and struggle to reclaim control of Al-Aqsa Mosque, restrictions were placed on Palestinians wishing to pray at Al-Aqsa, with Palestinian men between 18 to 50 years of age facing bans from praying at certain times. These restrictions continue to this day.

Israel systematically denies access to Al-Aqsa to most Palestinians, has permitted excavation works to be carried out in the area, damaging the foundations of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and has permitted Jews to enter Al-Aqsa during certain times on most days. Israel maintains a security force on Al-Aqsa Mosque.

In recent days, the Palestinians have protested the Israeli installation of metal detectors at the gates of Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Palestinians refused to enter the compound under these new restrictions, and in huge numbers, they prayed and prostrated outside the mosque.

Why did Palestinians refuse to enter the mosque with the screening metal detectors erected at the mosque’s entrances?

Palestinians said to the reporter, Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, “It’s not a choice. We can’t enter this mosque, just like you wouldn’t enter your home if someone were to set up metal detectors there.”

The Palestinians’ lives revolve around Al-Aqsa Mosque, yet they are increasingly faced with obstacles just to enter their mosque. This is occupation in the twenty-first century.

After much pressure from Palestinians, Israel replaced the metal detectors with security cameras.

Interestingly, Israel has been the most frequently condemned state by the United Nations.