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Masjid Aqsa

 

As for Islamicjerusalem, its crown is the Walled City, and al-Aqsa Mosque is its jewel.” (El-Awaisi)

Introduction

Over the years, the following four sites have been identified as al-Masjid al-Aqsa:

  1. al-Aqsa al-Qadimah / Old Aqsa – The subterranean vaulted area beneath Al -Jami‘ al-Aqsa.
  2. al-Haram al-Shareef / The Noble Sanctuary – The entire compound is surrounded by four walls.
  3. Jami‘ Al-Masjid al-Aqsa / The Congregational Mosque of Al-Masjid al-Aqsa – The black-domed structure at the south end of the compound in the centre.
  4. al-Qubbah al-Sakhrah / Dome of the Rock – The octagon-shaped structure in the compound’s centre capped with a copper dome.

This research aims to identify Al-Masjid al-Aqsa and its boundaries. The identification of al-Masjid al-Aqsa is crucial, not just for its protection from extremists but also for visitors so they can worship in the area that genuinely is al-Masjid al-Aqsa and be entitled to all the virtues of worshipping therein. I have also included some virtues on Islam’s third holiest place of worship.

Virtues of al-Masjid al-Aqsa

The greatest virtue of al-Masjid al-Aqsa is the fact that it is mentioned in the holy Qur’an. It was the destination of the Noble Prophet’s ﷺ miraculous Night Journey. It was here the final Prophet ﷺ led all the prophets in prayer, even though one prayer is multiplied by 100,000 in virtue when offered in al-Masjid al-Haram. The Noble Prophet’s ﷺ ascension towards the heavens from al-Masjid al-Aqsa and not al-Masjid al-Haram also indicates its virtue in the sight of Allah Most High.

Below are a few ahaadith on the virtues of al-Masjid al-Aqsa.

1] Sayyiduna Abu Dharr رضى الله عنه reports: “I asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah, which masjid was built first on earth?’ He replied, ‘al-Masjid al-Haram (in Makkah).’ I asked, ‘Then after that?’ The Prophet ﷺ answered, ‘al-Masjid al-Aqsa.’ I asked again, ‘How long was the period between the constructions of the two masjids?’ The Prophet ﷺ answered, ‘Forty years. Apart from these, offer your prayers anywhere when it is time to pray. Indeed, this holds virtue.’” [1]

The great commentator of Bukhari, Imam Aayni (May Allah have mercy upon him), writes that Prophet Aadam عليه السلام was the first to erect al-Ka’bah al-Mushrrafah. Then the archangel Jibraeel عليه السلام ordered him to travel to al-Bayt al-Maqdis where he constructed al-Masjid al-Aqsa and spent some time there for worship.[2]

2] Sayyiduna Abu Hurayrah رضى الله عنه relates that the Prophet ﷺ said, “You should not undertake a journey (to any masjid with the expectation of achieving greater reward) except to the following three masjids: al-Masjid al-Haram (in Makkah), the masjid of the Messenger (al-Masjid al-Nabawi in Madinah) and al-Masjid al-Aqsa.”[3]

3] Sayyiduna Abu Darda رضى الله عنه relates that the Prophet ﷺ said, “A prayer in al-Masjid al-Haram (in Makkah) over any other place is worth 100,000 prayers, a prayer in my masjid (al-Masjid al-Nabawi in Madinah) is worth 1,000 prayers and in the masjid of al-Bayt al-Maqdis it is worth 500 prayers.” [4]

4] Sayyidah Maymunah bint Sa’ad رضى الله عنها narrates that she asked the Prophet ﷺ, “‘O Prophet of Allah! Tell us about al-Bayt al-Maqdis.’ He said, ‘It is the land of resurrection and assembly. Visit it and pray therein, for one prayer (in reward) is equivalent to 1,000 prayers anywhere else.’ She further asked, ‘What if someone cannot visit it?’ He replied, ‘Then send some oil to be used in its lamps; whoever gives it, will be as if he has prayed in it.’” [5]

5] Sayyidah Umm Salamah رضى الله عنها, the wife of the Prophet ﷺ, reports that the Prophet ﷺ said, “‘If anyone dons the ihram for Umrah from al-Bayt al-Maqdis, it will be an expiation for the previous sins.’[6]

6] Sayyiduna Anas رضى الله عنه narrates that the Prophet ﷺ said, “The prayer which a person performs in his house is (equal to) one prayer (in reward), and his prayer in the local masjid is equal to 25 prayers, and his prayer the Jami masjid where the people gather is rewarded to the extent of 500 prayers, and his prayer in al-Masjid al-Aqsa (in Jerusalem) is rewarded to the extent of 50,000 prayers, and his prayer in my masjid (al-Masjid al-Nabawi in Madinah) is rewarded to the extent of 50,000 prayers, and his prayer in al-Masjid al-Haram (in Makkah) is rewarded to the extent of 100,000 prayers.” [7]

7] Sayyiduna Abdullah ibn Amr رضى الله عنه narrates that the Prophet ﷺ said, “When Prophet Sulayman عليه السلام son of Prophet Dawud عليه السلام completed the construction of Bayt al-Maqdis, he supplicated to Allah for three things: judgement that would concur with the judgement of Allah, a kingdom that no one would have after him and any person that comes to this masjid with the sole intention to perform salat therein, leaves his sins and becomes like the day his mother gave birth to him.” Then the Prophet ﷺ said, “The first two he was granted, and I hope he has been granted the third.” [8]

Demarcation of al-Masjid al-Aqsa

Praying in al-Masjid al-Aqsa holds tremendous virtue, but a visitor can only be entitled to these virtues if he is aware of the sacred boundaries of al-Masjid al-Aqsa and engages himself in prayer and supplication within these boundaries. In this part, I will first describe each of the four sites, which are commonly referred to as al-Masjid al-Aqsa. I will conclude by presenting the soundest and most authentic opinion as to which one of these sites is, in fact, al-Masjid al-Aqsa.

  1. Jami‘ Al-Masjid al-Aqsa / The Congregational Mosque of Al-Masjid al-Aqsa

Figure 1: Al-Jami‘ al-Aqsa, looking SW, by MS

At the southern end of this sanctuary is a rectangular-shaped, grayish-black domed structure (Fig. 1). From the four sites written above, this structure is most commonly referred to as al-Masjid al-Aqsa (Al-‘Ulaimi, 2009, pp. 2:11,24). Al-Maqdisi has used the term Al-Jami‘ and Al-Mughatta to describe this building (Al-Maqdisi, 1991, p. 318). Al-Baghdadi has used the term Al-Jami‘ al-Aqsa. The term Jami‘ Bayt al-Maqdis has also been used (Al-Ratrout 2004, 171). It is also known as Al-Masjid al-’Umary (Al-‘Affani 2001, 1:43) because this is the site where Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه had a masjid built to provide shelter for the worshippers from rain and snow. In one place, Al-’Ulaimi has described it as Al-Jami‘ al-Qibly (Al-‘Ulaimi, 2009, p. 2:14). This masjid is adjacent to the qiblah wall, and it is where the people congregate for Salat al-Jumu‘ah (Friday Prayer). Another name given to this masjid is Masjid Rijaal (Masjid for the Men) (Amini 2009, 120). In the past, the men would gather here for the five daily prayers, and the women would congregate in the Qubbah al-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock). Currently,[9] it is nearly the same, with some women performing the daily prayers in Al-Jami‘ al-Aqsa (Al-Aqsa Congregational Mosque) and some men praying in Qubbah al-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock).

In 638CE/17H, when Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه entered the Al-Aqsa Compound, he had a structure built at the southern end of the enclave so people could worship therein and be protected from the rain and snow. This location was preferred by Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه because the southern wall of the sanctuary is also the qiblah wall of the compound and in front of the Al-Sakhrah / The Rock. Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه refused to have the building constructed behind the Al-Sakhrah / The Rock (Al-Tel 2003, 175) (Patel 2005, 96) (Abdul Al-Raziq 2007, 52). This structure was built of timber. Wood was used for beams and planks. The shape, size, and construction material resembled the Prophet’s Mosque ﷺ (Al-Masjid Al-Nabawi) in Madinah (Al-Ratrout 2004, 420-427). Its capacity was approximately 3,000 people (Suwaidan 2006, 87) (Al-Arif 1999, 98).

In 691CE or 692CE/72H, Abdul-Malik ibn Marwan commenced constructing a massive masjid on the site to accommodate a large number of worshippers. His son Walid completed the construction 705CE (Abdul Al-Raziq 2007, 71). This new building had now replaced the original structure built during the reign of Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه and was now large enough to accommodate 5,000 worshippers (Patel 2006, 112). Since then, it has undergone numerous reconstruction and renovation projects due to the multiple destructive earthquakes in Palestine (Al-Ratrout 2004). Outside of Al -Jami‘ al-Aqsa on the eastern and western sides, the remains of pillars are visible, indicating that it was once much larger than the building that stands there today (Abdul Al-Raziq 2007, 55).

Today, the Al-Jami‘ al-Aqsa (Al-Aqsa Congregational Mosque) opens well before Fajr and will remain open until after Esha. Men and women pray here, the women at the back in the northwest corner while the men at the front. Visitors can spend as much time as they wish for worship and freely explore the masjid throughout the day. It is from this building the Imam leads the prayers. In 1787CE, when Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab al-Miknasi, a Moroccan traveller, visited Bayt al-Maqdis, a Shafi’ee Imam would lead the prayers in Al-Jami‘ al-Aqsa. The Hanafi Imam would lead prayers in Qubbah al-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock) (Al-Miknasi nd, 293, 294). From the windows along the southern wall, a person can look out towards Silwan and down towards the archeological digging site and the Umayyad palaces that have been unearthed (Abdul Al-Raziq 2007, 72) (Al-‘Affani 2001, 29) (Al-Miknasi nd, 308) (Sharrab 1987, 669).

Historically, in any major Islamic city, the masjid, where people would congregate for Salat al-Jumu‘ah (Friday Prayer), was known as Masjid Jami. The building under discussion is where the majority of the Muslim population would assemble for the five daily prayers and Friday prayer. It has continued as such till this day [10]. For this reason, it would be more appropriate to identify this building as Al -Jami‘ al-Aqsa (Al-Aqsa Congregational Mosque) or Jami‘ Al-Masjid al-Aqsa (The Congregational Mosque of Al-Masjid al-Aqsa) and not Al-Masjid al-Aqsa. To identify this structure as Al-Masjid al-Aqsa is misleading and erroneous. When Surah Bani Israel /al-Israa was revealed, this particular structure did not exist.

  1. al-Aqsa al-Qadimah / Old Aqsa

Directly in front of Jami‘ Al-Masjid al-Aqsa, a little towards the east is a flight of stairs leading to a subterranean vaulted passageway. This underground tunnel (Fig. 2) is referred to as Al-Aqsa al-Qadimah (The Old al-Aqsa)  (Abdul Al-Raziq 2007, 66, 73). One theory is that the masjid, which was built by Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه was at this level, hence the name Al-Aqsa al-Qadimah (Old Al-Aqsa). Later, when the Umayyads built Jami‘ Al-Masjid al-Aqsa they raised the platform and levelled the ground. This tunnel leads to the southern wall of the Al-Aqsa Compound towards the Umayyad palaces that once lay outside the wall (Patel 2006, 112).

 

Figure 2: Al-Aqsa al-Qadimah looking south, by MS   

Al-Miknasi entered Al-Aqsa al-Qadimah / Old Al-Aqsa during his visit in 1787CE. He writes that during his visit, there were two mihrabs (niche) in Al-   Aqsa al-Qadimah, one facing the Al-Sakhrah / The Rock and another mihrab facing towards the holy Ka’bah. According to him, Al-Aqsa al-Qadimah / Old Al-Aqsa dates back to the time of Prophet Sulayman عليه السلام (Al-Miknasi nd, 301). Al-’Ulaimi is inclined towards the same opinion (Al-’Ulaimi, 2009, p. 2:26).

Dr. Haithem Al-Ratrout, an assistant professor of architectural engineering at An-Najah National University – Nablus, Palestine, has done extensive research on the Al-Aqsa Compound. He argues that the tunnel was used as a passageway by the families living in the Umayyad palaces just outside the southern wall of the compound. The tunnel leads to the gate known as Baab al-Nabi (Gate of the Prophet) or Double Gate. A portion of the arch above the entrance is still visible (circled in red) (Fig. 3).

Figure 3: Looking north from the outside towards Al-Jami’ al-Aqsa, by MS

The Gate gives access to al-Aqsa enclave from the southern area adjacent to where the royal buildings were constructed. This would be among the reasons that justify the richness of this gate’s decoration” (Al-Ratrout 2004, 328).

Also, there are many similarities between Baab al-Nabi (Gate of the Prophet) / Double Gate and Baab al-Rahmah (The Gate of Mercy) / Golden Gate (Al-Ratrout 2004, 328). This resemblance in architecture and design indicates a similar function. In light of this information, we can conclude that Al-Aqsa al-Qadimah / Old Al-Aqsa did not exist during the Prophet’s ﷺ Night Journey; hence, this area cannot be Al-Masjid al-Aqsa.                                                                       

3. al-Haram al-Shareef / The Noble Sanctuary

The Al-Aqsa Compound is enclosed by four walls with the Dome of the Rock in the centre. It is approximately 35 acres (Patel 2006, 108), nearly one-sixth of the total area of Old Jerusalem (Al-Ratrout 2004, 246). The old city of Jerusalem (Al-Quds) is to the west and north of this compound, the Kidron Valley to the east and Silwan to the south. This area is also known as Al-Haram Al-Sharif (The Holy Sanctuary), Al-Aqsa Sanctuary and Al-Aqsa Enclave. The area is not a Haram in the same sense as the Haram of Makkah.

Some Jewish scholars believe this was the site of Soloman’s Temple, yet no tangible evidence, scientific proof or archaeological findings have been discovered to support this belief (Al-Tel 2003, 197) (Al-Ratrout 2004, 83-106). There are eleven modern theories pertaining to the site of David’s Temple. Some suggest different areas within the Al-Aqsa Compound, and some suggest other locations in Jerusalem but outside the Al-Aqsa Compound (Al-Tel 2003, 197).

  1. al-Qubbah al-Sakhrah / Dome of the Rock

This famous octagon-shaped building (Fig. 4) has a towering copper dome near the Al-Aqsa Compound centre. Some Muslims have mistakenly considered this building to be Al-Masjid al-Aqsa. It is the oldest preserved Islamic edifice and by far the most dazzling piece of architecture in the city, a masterpiece in the Islamic world. Al-Maqdisi writes,

 “When the sun beams upon it (dome), the dome begins to shine and the region illuminates, I see a wonderful sight; in short, I have never seen in all Islam the like of it; nor have I ever heard that in all the realm of the idolaters is the like of this dome to be found” (Al-Maqdisi, 1991, p. 179).

Figure 4: The Dome of the Rock, looking NE, by MS

Its striking inner and outer beauty and unique structural design have attracted archeologists, engineers, architects, travellers, and historians to unveil, study and research its secrets. The works of Dr. Haithem F. Al-Ratrout[11] and Dr. Oleg Grabar[12] are worth mentioning. The building has been restored over centuries, but fortunately, it still preserves its original appearance (Al-Ratrout 2004, 452). The visual attraction of the golden cupola is immense. When entering the city from the south or east, the gilt dome is like a magnet, drawing its onlookers into the city.

In 691CE/72H, Abdul-Malik ibn Marwan commissioned the construction of a dome over the rock. It was completed during the reign of his son, Walid ibn Abdul-Malik. It stretches 20 meters across the rock, rising 35 meters above it. Some people claim that Prophet ﷺ ascended to the heavens from this rock, but there is no substantial evidence for this (Patel 2006, 113).

The rock is the peak of this rocky hillock. A rocky hill situated in the south-eastern part of the historical city with the Kidron Valley to the east and Tyropoeon Valley to the west. The Tyropoeon Valley has been filled naturally by the accumulation of debris over centuries (Al-Ratrout 2004, 61). The rock is not located precisely in the compound’s centre but towards the west. Forty years after the Holy Ka‘bah, Al-Masjid al-Aqsa was built on this rocky hillock.

Following are some unsubstantial beliefs surrounding the rock:

  1. The Prophet’s ﷺ footprints are on the rock.
  2. From it, the Prophet ﷺ ascended to the heavens.
  3. The rock followed the Prophet ﷺ towards the heavens, but was held back by Angel Jibra’il عليه السلام.
  4. The rock is suspended in midair.
  5. Angel Jibra’il’s عليه السلام fingerprints are on the rock.
  6. All the earth’s water originates from under The Rock.
  7. The Rock is from Paradise.

Why did Abdul-Malik ibn Marwan decide to build such a magnificent structure over the rock? A simple square or rectangular-shaped building would have sufficed, similar to the structure he had built just south of the rock. Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه did not consider it necessary to build anything on top of it. According to Esaam Abdul-Raziq, many Christians and polytheists resided in Jerusalem and Al-Sham / Greater Syria during his reign. Some were new to Islam. These people were accustomed to seeing Jerusalem’s beautiful and decorative churches dominating its skyline, particularly the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Abdul-Malik ibn Marwan had the Qubbah al-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock) built over this rocky hillock’s peak to subdue the Christians’ structural supremacy and supersede their architectural achievements. For him, now was the time to show the local population the might of this new emerging power.

“Now, talking to my father’s brother one day said I: “O my uncle, surely it was not fitting for Al-Walid to expend the resources of the Muslims on the mosque at Damascus. Had he expended as much in building roads, or the water tanks, or in repairing the fortresses, it would have been more proper and more to his credit.” Said he:“You simply do not understand, my dear son. Al-Walid was absolutely right, and it was open to him to do a worthy work. For he saw that Syria was a country settled by the Christians, and he noted there their churches so handsome with their enchanting decorations, renowned far and wide, such as are the Qumama (Church of the Holy Sepulchre), and the churches of Ludd and al-Ruha. So he undertook for the Muslims the building of a mosque that would divert their attention from the churches, and make it one of the wonders of the world. Do you not realize how Abdul-Malik, seeing the greatness of the dome of the Qumama (Church of the Holy Sepulchre) and its splendour, fearing lest it should beguile the hearts of the Muslims, hence erected, above the rock, the dome you now see there?” (Al-Maqdisi d.1000CE 1994, 146)

Based on this information, the Dome of the Rock also did not exist during the Night Journey; therefore, it cannot be al-Masjid al-Aqsa. Today, the Dome of the Rock is open throughout the day, from before dawn until after Esha. Women gather here for the five daily prayers.

The Correct Identification of al-Masjid al-Aqsa

In the Holy Qur’an [17:1], Allah Most High has used the term al-Masjid al-Aqsa as the place where the Prophet ﷺ travelled to during the first leg of his miraculous Night Journey. This great event transpired in the 11th year of prophethood when he was 51. As previously explained, the current structures within the Al-Aqsa enclave: al-Aqsa al-Qadimah, Jami‘ Al-Masjid al-Aqsa and al-Qubbah al-Sakhrah, did not exist at the time of the Night Journey. These buildings were erected a considerable time after the Prophet’s ﷺ demise. They were constructed after the reign of the Four Righteous Caliphs; hence, identifying any of these three buildings as al-Masjid al-Aqsa is inaccurate.

Similarly, in all those ahaadith wherein the term al-Masjid al-Aqsa is used, it does not denote any of these three structures, for they did not exist. For this reason, Caliph Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه decided to erect a building for the Muslim worshippers. If a building had existed, why would Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه have a second place of worship built? On the night of the Journey, the Al-Aqsa enclave was in ruins and according to some historical narrations, it was used as a dumpsite by the local Christian population.

From the above historical reports, the term al-Masjid al-Aqsa in the verse and the prophetic statements does not refer to a specific structure but an area that Allah Most High has demarcated as a place of worship and holiness. The construction of a building/s in later times does not necessarily have to cover the entire designated area, nor does the destruction of any structure decrease or eliminate the holiness of the land. When Prophet Ibrahim عليه السلام left his wife and son in the valley of Makkah, the Ka’bah did not exist, but the land was still a holy and blessed place. The Qur’an describes this land in the following verse:

Our Lord, I have settled some of my children in a valley of no vegetation, close to Your sanctified House, so that, Our Lord, them may establish Salah” (Qur’an 14:37).

It can be argued that according to some narrations pertaining to the Night Journey, the Prophet ﷺ described al-Masjid al-Aqsa to the Makkans upon his return. Another report suggests that he tied his Buraq to a door of the masjid. These reports indicate that a building with a door and windows did exist. We (By the Will of Allah) will elaborate on this issue in a future work where the term Bayt al-Maqdis and its different connotations will be explained along with its boundaries.

The second Caliph Sayyiduna Umar ibn al-Khattab رضى الله عنه entered Jerusalem in 638CE/17H. As mentioned above, the area of the first qiblah was either a trash site for the residents or just full of debris and rubble from the previous destruction of the city. This much was certain that buildings did not exist. After consultations, Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه decided to build a structure at the south end of the plateau. The south end was nearest to the qiblah. When Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه asked Ka’ab al-Ahbar (a former rabbi who accepted Islam), he suggested that the building be constructed on the north side of the rock. Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه rejected his idea. The reason for his disapproval was not because that area was excluded from al-Masjid al-Aqsa, but the logic of his disapproval was to avoid venerating the rock. This proves that in the opinion of Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه and Ka’ab al-Ahbar, the area north of the rock is included in al-Masjid al-Aqsa and not outside of it.

It can be argued that how did Ka’ab al-Ahbar recognize the site when he was originally from Yemen, and no historical reports indicate that he visited Jerusalem before the Muslim conquest and, later in life, decided to settle in Hims. Also, for approximately 500 years, Jews were banned from Jerusalem. Dr. Othman Al-Tel believes that Ka’ab al-Ahbar, without a doubt, did not play any role in Jerusalem (Al-Tel 2003, 187, 188). Another opinion is that when Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه expressed his intent to build a masjid, the Christians led him to this vacant piece of land, which had been left abandoned for centuries. In fact, according to Dr. Othman Al-Tel, Le Strange and K. A. C. Creswell, it was the Christian sources that were the first to document and mention Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه building of a masjid in Jerusalem (Al-Tel 2003, 192).

Dr. Al-Ratrout suggest that it was neither the Jews nor the Christians that led Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه to the holy site. Based on the Prophet’s ﷺ lengthy and detailed description of the Night Journey, Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه and the companions already had an image of Jerusalem and al-Masjid al-Aqsa prior to entering the city. There was no need for a guide, for such a vast, vacant, derelict land would have been easily recognized (Al-Ratrout 2004, 221).

Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه chose this land to establish a masjid, for he recognized it to be al-Masjid al-Aqsa. Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه entered al-Masjid al-Aqsa through the same entrance as the Noble Prophet ﷺ and he had also recognized the mihrab (prayer niche) of Prophet Dawud عليه السلام (Ibn Kathir, 1997, p. 7:46). It is for this reason when Ka’ab al-Ahbar suggested to him to pray behind the Rock, Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه refused and told him he would pray where the Prophet ﷺ prayed, and that was towards the qiblah (Ibn Kathir, 1997, p. 7:48). Also, during the Muslim conquests, new mosques were established in the centre of the city. However, this was not the case in Jerusalem because the land of al-Masjid al-Aqsa was already present on the eastern border of the old city (Al-Ratrout 2004, 221).

Despite the various conflicting reports as to how Sayyiduna Umar رضى الله عنه found al-Masjid al-Aqsa, inevitably, the term al-Masjid al-Aqsa does not refer to a specific building but to a plot of land on the east side of the old city of Jerusalem, which Allah Most High has demarcated as holy and blessed. Many authors have explicitly defined the boundaries of al-Masjid al-Aqsa, and the definition provided by all is the same.

Dr. Khalid El-Awaisi writes,

Both the Dome of the Rock and al-Jami‘ al-Aqsa were only a fraction of the Umayyad work in al-Aqsa Mosque. The Mosque itself was in existence well before the constructions of these two inside al-Aqsa Mosque’s enclave. Thus, when reference is made to al-Aqsa Mosque, this does not refer to a single structure within this compound, rather it includes both the Dome of the Rock and al-Jami‘ al-Aqsa amongst the tens of other historical monuments erected throughout history within it. Many would refer to this today as al-Haram al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary (El-Awaisi 2008, 5).”

Dr. Haithem F. Al-Ratrout in his monograph on the architectural development of al-Masjid al-Aqsa writes,

Al-Aqsa Mosque is a name, which is conventionally regarded by some people to stand for a single building within what today is called al-Haram al-Sharif. However, according to the Quran and Muhammad Tradition, al-Aqsa Mosque is the whole area inside the walls of the present al-Haram al-Sharif. Today, it includes its all-present monuments. In this research, al-Aqsa Mosque is referred to as the whole area inside the walls, including Qubbet al-Sakhrah (the Dome of the Rock) and al-Jami‘ al-Aqsa (al-Aqsa Congregation Mosque) and other Islamic monuments, as one unit which in the early times is called al-Aqsa Mosque (Al-Ratrout 2004, 151).”

In the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Dr. AbdAllah El-Khatib from UAE writes,

al-Masjid al-Aqsa’s compound comprises many buildings including the Dome of the Rock which is an integral and essential part of al-Aqsa Mosque. The word masjid means ‘a place of prostration’ or ‘a place of prayer’ and this is applicable even to the Dome of the Rock in Islamic terms (El-Khatib 2001, 26).”

Mujir al-Din al-’Ulaymi al-Hanbali [d.927H/1520CE] was a native of Jerusalem born in 860H/1456CE. During his life he was the Chief Judge of Jerusalem. His most famous work is Al-Uns al-Jalil bi Tarikh al-Quds wa al-Khalil, a lengthy work on the history of Hebron and Jerusalem. After discussing the measurements of the length and width of al-Masjid al-Aqsa, he writes,

ان المتعارف عند الناس ان الأقصى من جهة القبلة الجامع المبنى فى صدر المسجد الذى به المنبر و المحراب الكبير، و حقيقة الحال: ان الأقصى اسم لجميع المسجد مما دار عليه السور و ذكر قياسه هنا طولا و عرضا ، فان هذا البناء الموجود فى صدر المسجد و غيره من قبة الصخرة والاروقة و غيرها محدثة ، و المراد بالمسجد الاقصى : هو جميع ما دار عليه السور.

(Al-‘Ulaimi, 2009, p. 2:24)

The building for prayer which holds the pulpit and large niche, located at the front of the masjid along the qibla wall, is more commonly referred to by the people as al-Masjid al-Aqsa. The fact is that al-Aqsa is the name of the entire masjid surrounded by walls. It is the measurements of its length and width that have been written here. The building at the front of the masjid, the Dome of the Rock and everything else are all new. What is meant by al-Masjid al-Aqsa is the complete area enclosed by the walls.

Shams al-Din al-Maqdisi al-Bishari [d.390H/1000CE] was a great geographer and traveller born in the region of Bayt al-Maqdis in the year 334H/945CE. He wrote the book Ahsan al-Taqasim fi Ma’rifat al-Aqalim / The Best Divisions for Knowledge of the Regions based on his extensive travels. The work of Al-Maqdisi has an advantage over the writings of other scholars. This is because the region is his birthplace, and secondly, he was relatively close to the era of the Companions compared to other geographers and scholars.

In his book, he has used the word Jami‘ at least once (Al-Maqdisi, 1991, p. 168) and Al-Mughatta at least five times (Al-Maqdisi, 1991, pp. 168, 169, 170, 171) to describe Al -Jami‘ al-Aqsa (Al-Aqsa Congregational Mosque). In five places where he describes the al-Aqsa enclave, he has used the words al-Masjid (Al-Maqdisi, 1991, pp. 168, 170, 171) and al-Masjid al-Aqsa (Al-Maqdisi, 1991, p. 168). He has identified the location of al-Masjid al-Aqsa in the old city of Jerusalem in the following way:

المسجد الأقصى فهو على قرنة البلد الشرقى نحو القبلة.

(Al-Maqdisi, 1991, p. 168)

al-Masjid al-Aqsa is located at the eastern corner of the city towards the qiblah.”

Guy Le Strange, a historian from the nineteenth century also concurs with the above definition of the term al-Masjid al-Aqsa, he writes:

The term “Mosque” being here (Qur’an 17:1) taken to denote the whole area of the Noble Sanctuary, and not the Main-building of the Aksa only, which, in the Prophet’s days, did not exist (Le Strange 1890, 89).”

Imam Ibn Taymiyyeh (May Allah have mercy on him) also believed that al-Masjid al-Aqsa is the whole enclave and not just the building at the south end of the compound.

فان المسجد الأقصى اسم لجميع المسجد الذى بناه سليمان عليه السلام و قد صار بعض الناس يسمى الاقصى المصلى الذى بناه عمر رضى الله عنه فى مقدمه

(Ibn Taymiyyeh)

Verily, al-Masjid al-Aqsa is the name of the entire masjid which was constructed by Sulaiman (Peace be upon him). People have begun to name the building, which was built by Umar رضى الله عنه at the front of the compound, as al-Aqsa (Matthews 1936, 11).”

Along with the above authors, the following scholars, Al-’Affani (Al-‘Affani 2001, 1:28), E. Abdul Al-Raziq (Abdul Al-Raziq 2007, 60, 61), Al-Arif (Al-Arif 1999, 111), Al-Miknasi (Al-Miknasi nd, 313), M. Sharrab (Sharrab 1987, 662) Amini (Amini 2009, 118, 120), I. A. Patel (Patel 2006, intro. 8) have also identified al-Masjid al-Aqsa as the complete compound enclosed by the four walls.

Based on the above research, we can safely conclude that al-Masjid al-Aqsa is not a specific structure within the Al-Aqsa enclave, but the entire compound, which is located at the south-east corner of the Old City (Fig. 5). From within this compound, the Prophet ﷺ ascended to the heavens during the Night Journey. It was in this compound the Prophet ﷺ led all the Prophets of Allah in prayer.

Figure 5: View of al-Masjid al-Aqsa from Mount of Olives looking west, by MS

Today this entire area is commonly referred to as al-Haram al-Shareef  (The Noble Sanctuary) or the al-Aqsa Sanctuary. The usage of the term al-Haram al-Shareef began during the Mamluk period (1250 – 1517) and became more general during the Ottoman era (1517 – 1917). During the Ottoman rule, the title of the government-appointed inspector of Jerusalem and Hebron was Nazir al-Haramayn al-Sarifayn (El-Awaisi 2008, 101). Imam Ibn Taymiyyeh (May Allah have mercy on him) explicitly opposed the idea of calling the Al-Aqsa enclave a Haram because there are only three Harams: Makkah, Madina and according to Imam Shafi (May Allah have mercy on him) a third in Taif (Ibn Taymiyyeh) (Matthews 1936, 13, 14).

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Al-‘Aayni d.1451CE, Mahmud ibn Ahmad Badruddin. 1998. ‘Umdah al-Qari sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (in Arabic). 1st. Edited by Jamil Al-Attar. Vol. 14. 16 vols. Beirut: Darul-Fikr.

Al-‘Affani, Dr. Syed bin Husain. 2001. Tadhkir al-Nafs bi Hadith al-Quds. 1st. 4 vols. Maktabah Mu’adh bin Jabal.

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Al-Maqdisi d.1000CE, Muhammad. 1991. Ahsan al-Taqasim fi Ma’rifat al-Aqalim (in Arabic). 3rd. Cairo: Makatabah Madbuli.

—. 1994. The Best Divisions for Knowledge of the Regions: Ahsan al-Taqasim fi Ma’rifat al-Aqalim. 1st. Edited by Muhammad Hamid Al-Tai. Translated by Basil Anthony Collins. Reading: Centre for Muslim Contribution to Civilization, Garnet Publishing Ltd.

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Al-Mundhiri, Abdul-Adheem. n.d. Al-Targheeb wa al-Tarheeb (Arabic). 4 vols. Beirut.

Al-Ratrout, Haithem Fathi. 2004. The Architectural Development of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Islamicjerusalem in the Early Islamic Period, Sacred Architecture in the Shape of the ‘Holy’. 1st. Dundee: Al-Makhtoum Institute Academic Press.

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Al-‘Ulaimi d.1521CE, Mujir Al-Din Abdul-Rahman. 2009. Al-Uns al-Jalil bi Tarikh al-Quds wa al-Khalil. 1st. Amman: Ministry of Culture, Jordan.

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[1] Bukhari #3366.

[2] Umdatul-Qari by Imam al-‘Aayni (May Allah have mercy on him), v.11 pg.81

[3] Bukhari #1189.

[4] al-Targhib wa al-Tarhib 2:216

[5] Ibn Majah #1407

[6] Ibn Majah #3002; al-Targhib wa al-Tarhib 2:190

[7] Ibn Majah #1413; al-Targhib wa al-Tarhib 2:215

[8] Ibn Majah #1408; al-Targhib wa al-Tarhib 2:216

[9] During my last visit in May of 2015

[10] During my last visit in May of 2015

[11] The Architectural Development Of Al-Aqsa Mosque in The Early Islamic Period Sacred Architecture in the shape of the ‘Holy’ (2004) Al-Maktoum Institute Academic Press, Scotland UK.

[12] The Dome of the Rock (2006) Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. USA.

 

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