Al-Aqsa Mosque (Arabic:المسجد الاقصى, [IPA /æl'mæsdʒɪd æl'ɑqsˁɑ/, translit: "the Farthest Mosque"), also known as al-Aqsa, is an Islamic holy place in the Old City of Jerusalem. The mosque itself forms part of the al-Haram ash-Sharif or "Sacred Noble Sanctuary", a site also known as the Temple Mount and considered the holiest site in Judaism, since it is believed to be where the Temple in Jerusalem once stood. Widely considered, mainly by Sunni Muslims, as the third holiest site in Islam, Muslims believe that prophet Muhammad was transported from the Sacred Mosque in Mecca to al-Aqsa during the Night Journey. Islamic tradition holds that Muhammad led prayers towards this site until the seventeenth month after the emigration, when he turned towards the Ka'aba.
The al-Aqsa Mosque was originally a small prayer house built by the Rashidun caliph Umar, but was rebuilt and expanded by the Ummayad caliph Abd al-Malik and finished by his son al-Walid in 705 CE. After an earthquake in 746, the mosque was completely destroyed and rebuilt by the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur in 754, and again rebuilt by his successor al-Mahdi in 780. Another earthquake destroyed most of al-Aqsa in 1033, but two years later the Fatimid caliph Ali az-Zahir built another mosque which has stood to the present-day. During the periodic renovations undertaken, the various ruling dynasties of the Islamic Caliphate constructed additions to the mosque and its precincts, such as its dome, facade, its minbar, minarets and the interior structure. When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099, they used the mosque as a palace and church, but its function as a mosque was restored after its recapture by Saladin. More renovations, repairs and additions were undertaken in the later centuries by the Ayyubids, Mamluks, the Supreme Muslim Council, and Jordan. Today, the Old City is under Israeli sovereignty, but the mosque remains under the administration of the Palestinian-led Islamic waqf.
It is unknown exactly when the al-Aqsa Mosque was first constructed and who ordered its construction, but it is certain that it was built in the early Ummayad period of rule in Palestine. Although Islamic tradition holds that Umar built the mosque while surrounded by Muslim faithful, this tradition has been dismissed as legend by several Muslim and Western scholars because the few historical records documenting this were by Arabs or Byzantines and therefore were seen as biased and meant either to glorify Umar's capture of Jerusalem or stir up Byzantine propaganda that God caused Umar's mosque collapse. Contemporary Muslim and Jewish sources record that the site was covered with garbage dumped there by Byzantine Christians, and that the two communities participated in cleaning it up as Umar watched on, until the rock upon which the Temples of Jerusalem were said to have been erected was revealed.
Architectural historian K. A. C. Creswell, referring to a testimony by the Gallic monk, Arculf, of his pilgrimage to Palestine in 679-82, notes that it is possible that Umar erected a primitive quadrangular building for a capacity of 3,000 worshipers somewhere on the Haram ash-Sharif or Temple Mount. Arculf, however, visited Palestine during the reign of Mu'awiyah I, and it is possible that Mu'awiyah ordered the construction, not Umar. This latter claim is explicitly supported by the early Muslim scholar al-Muthannar bin Tahir.
According to several Muslim scholars, including Mujir ad-Din, al-Suyuti, and al-Muqaddasi, the mosque was reconstructed and expanded by the caliph Abd al-Malik in 690 along with the Dome of the Rock. Guy le Strange claims that Abd al-Malik used materials from the destroyed Church of Our Lady to build the mosque and points to possible evidence that substructures on the southeast corners of the mosque are remains of the church. In contrast, Creswell, while referring to the Aphrodito Papyri, claims that Abd al-Malik's son, al-Walid I, reconstructed the Aqsa Mosque over a period of six months to a year, using workers from Damascus. Most Muslim and Western scholars agree that the mosque's reconstruction was started by Abd al-Malik, but that al-Walid oversaw its completion. In 713-14, a series of earthquakes ravaged Jerusalem, destroying the eastern section of the mosque, which was subsequently rebuilt during al-Walid's rule. In order to finance its reconstruction, al-Walid had gold from the dome of the Dome of the Rock minted to use as money to purchase the material.
In 746, the al-Aqsa Mosque was damaged in an earthquake, four years before as-Saffah overthrew the Ummayads and established the Abbasid Caliphate. The second Abbasid caliph Abu Ja'far al-Mansur declared his intent to repair the mosque in 753, and he had the gold and silver plaques that covered the gates of the mosque removed and turned into dinars and dirhams to finance the reconstruction which ended in 771. A second earthquake damaged most of al-Mansur's repairs, excluding those made in the southern portion in 774. In 780, the successor caliph Muhammad al-Mahdi had it rebuilt, but curtailed its length and increased its breadth. Al-Mahdi's renovation is the first known to have written records describing it. In 985, Jerusalem-born Arab geographer al-Muqaddasi recorded that the renovated mosque had "fifteen naves and fifteen gates".
In 1033, there was another earthquake, severely damaging the mosque. The Fatimid caliph Ali az-Zahir rebuilt and completely renovated the mosque between 1034-36. The number of naves was drastically reduced from fifteen to seven. Az-Zahir built the four arcades of the central hall and aisle, which presently serve as the foundation of the mosque. The central aisle was double the width of the other aisles and had a large gable roof upon which the dome — made of wood — was constructed.
Jerusalem was captured by the Crusaders in 1099, during the First Crusade. Instead of destroying the mosque, the Crusaders used the mosque — which they called "Solomon's Temple" — as a palace. In 1119, it was transformed into the headquarters for the Templar Knights. During this period, the mosque underwent some structural changes, including the expansion of its northern porch, and the addition of an apse and a dividing wall. A new cloister and church were also built at the site, along with various other structures. The Templars constructed vaulted western and eastern annexes to the building, the western currently serving as the women's mosque and the eastern as the Islamic Museum.
|The Haram Area (Noble Sanctuary) lies in the eastern part of the city; and through the bazaar of this (quarter) you enter the Area by a great and beautiful gateway (Dargah)... After passing this gateway, you have on the right two great colonnades (Riwaq), each of which has nine-and-twenty marble pillars, whose capitals and bases are of colored marbles, and the joints are set in lead. Above the pillars rise arches, that are constructed, of masonry, without mortar or cement, and each arch is constructed of no more than five or six blocks of stone. These colonnades lead down to near the Maqsurah.|
|Nasir Khusraw's description of mosque in 1047 C.E.(Safarnama, translated by Guy Le Strange)|
After the Ayyubids under the leadership of Saladin reconquered Jerusalem in 1187, several repairs were undertaken at al-Aqsa Mosque. Saladin's predecessor — the Zengid sultan Nur al-Din — had commissioned the construction of a new minbar or "pulpit" of ivory and wood in 1168-69 but it was completed after his death; Nur ad-Din's minbar was added to the mosque in November, 1187 by Saladin. The Ayyubid sultan of Damascus, al-Mu'azzam, built the northern porch of the mosque with three gates in 1218. In 1345, the Mamluks under al-Kamil Shaban added two naves and two gates to the mosque's eastern side.
After the Ottomans seized power in 1517, they did not undertake any major renovations or repairs to the mosque itself, but they did to the Temple Mount as a whole. This included the building of the Fountain of Qasim Pasha (1527), the restoration of the Pool of Raranj, and the building of the three free-standing domes — the most notable being the Dome of the Prophet built in 1538. All construction was ordered by the Ottoman governors of Jerusalem and not the sultans themselves. The sultans did make additions to existing minarets, however.
The first renovation of the 20th century occurred in 1922, when the Supreme Muslim Council under Amin al-Husayni hired Ahmet Kemalettin Bey — a Turkish architect — to restore al-Aqsa Mosque and the monuments in its precincts. The council also commissioned British architects, Egyptian experts and local officials to contribute to and oversee the repairs and additions which were carried out in 1924-25 under Kemalettin's supervision. The renovations included reinforcing the mosque's ancient Ummayad foundations, rectifying the interior columns, replacing the beams, erecting a scaffolding, conserving the arches and drum of the dome interior, rebuilding the southern wall, and replacing timber in the central nave with a slab of concrete. The renovations also revealed Fatimid-era mosaics and inscriptions on the interior arches that had been covered with plasterwork. The arches were decorated with green-tinted gypsum and gold and their timber tie beams were replaced with brass. A quarter of the stained glass windows also were carefully renewed so as to preserve their original Abbasid and Fatimid designs. Severe damage was caused by the 1927 and 1937 earthquakes, but the mosque was repaired in 1938 and 1942.
On August 21, 1969, there was a fire inside al-Aqsa Mosque that gutted the southeastern wing of the mosque. Among other things the fire destroyed was Saladin's minbar. Initially, Palestinians blamed Israel for the fire, and some Israelis blamed Fatah, alleging they had started the fire so as to blame Israel and provoke hostility. However, the fire was started by neither Fatah nor Israel. The arsonist turned out to be a tourist from Australia named Michael Dennis Rohan. Rohan was a member of an evangelical Christian sect known as the Worldwide Church of God. He hoped that by burning down al-Aqsa Mosque he would hasten the Second Coming of Jesus, making way for the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount. Rohan was hospitalized in a mental institution, found to be insane and was later deported from Israel. The attack on al-Aqsa is cited as one of the catalysts for the formation of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in 1971, which brought together dozens of Islamic countries.
In the 1980s, Ben Shoshan and Yehuda Etzion, both members of the Gush Emunim Underground, plotted to blow up the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Etzion believed that blowing up the two mosques would cause a spiritual awakening in Israel, and would solve all the problems of the Jewish people. They also hoped the Third Temple of Jerusalem would be built on the location of the mosque. On January 15, 1988, during the First Intifada, Israeli troops fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters outside the mosque wounding 40 worshipers. On October 8, 1990, 22 Palestinians were killed and over 100 others injured by Israeli Border Police during a protest triggered by an attempt by hundreds of religious Jews to lay the cornerstone for the Second Temple in the northern Temple Mount. Israeli judge, Ezra Kama, ruled that the Israeli police provoked the violence and Israel was condemned by the United Nations for the killings.
The dome of the al-Aqsa Mosque, unlike the Dome of the Rock which reflects classical Byzantine architecture, is strictly early Islamic architecture. Nothing remains of the original dome built by Abd al-Malik. The present-day dome was built by az-Zahir and consists of wood plated with lead enamelwork. In 1969, the dome was reconstructed in concrete and covered with anodized aluminum instead of the original ribbed lead enamel work sheeting. In 1983, the aluminum outer covering was replaced with lead to match the original design by az-Zahir.
Al-Aqsa's dome is one of the few domes to be built in front of the mihrab during the Umayyad and Abbasid periods, the others being the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus (715) and the Great Mosque at Sousse (850). The interior of the dome is painted with 14th century-era decorations. During the 1969 burning, the paintings were assumed to be irreparably lost, but were completely reconstructed using the trateggio technique, a method that uses fine vertical lines to distinguish reconstructed areas from original ones.
The second, known as the Ghawanima minaret, was built at the northwestern corner of the Temple Mount in 1297-98 by architect Qadi Sharaf al-Din al-Khalili, also on the orders of the Sultan Lajin. Thirty-seven meters in height, it is almost entirely made of stone, apart from a timber canopy over the muezzin's balcony. Because of its firm structure, the Ghawanima minaret has been nearly untouched by earthquakes. The minaret is divided into several stories by stone molding and stalactite galleries. The first two stories are wider and form the base of the tower. The additional four stories are surmounted by a cylindrical drum and a bulbous dome. The stairway is externally located on the first two floors, but becomes an internal spiral structure from the third floor until it reaches the muezzin's balcony.
In 1329, the Tankiz — the Mamluk governor of Syria — ordered the construction of a third minaret called the Bab al-Silsila Minaret located on the western border of the al-Aqsa Mosque. This minaret, possibly replacing an earlier Umayyad minaret, is built in the traditional Syrian square tower type and is made entirely out of stone. It is an old Muslim tradition that the best muezzin ("reciter") of the adhan (the call to prayer), is assigned to this minaret because the first call to each of the five daily prayers is raised from it. The last and most notable minaret was built in 1367, and is known as Minarat al-Asbat. It is comprised of a cylindrical stone shaft (built later by the Ottomans), which springs up from a rectangular Mamluk-built base on top of a triangular transition zone. The shaft narrows above the muezzin's balcony, and is dotted with circular windows, ending with a bulbous dome. The dome was reconstructed after the 1927 earthquake.
There are no minarets in the eastern portion of the mosque because historically there were very few inhabitants on that side and so there was little reason to have an additional minaret to call Muslims to prayer. However, in 2007, it was announced that King Abdullah II of Jordan was planning to build a fifth minaret named after his father King Hussein and has been granted permission to do so from Israel. The King Hussein Minaret is planned to be the tallest structure in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The facade of the mosque was built in 1065 CE on the instructions of the Fatimid caliph al-Mustansir. It was crowned with a balustrade consisting of arcades and small columns. The Crusaders damaged the facade during their era of rule in Palestine, but it was restored and renovated by the Ayyubids. One addition was the facade's covering with tiles. The second-hand material of the facade's arches includes sculpted ornamental material from taken from Crusader structures in Jerusalem. There are fourteen stone arches along the facade, most of which are of a Romanesque style. The outer arches added by the Mamluks follow the same general design. The entrance to the mosque is through the facade's central arch.
The porch is located at the top of the facade. The central bays of the porch were built by the Knights Templar during the First Crusade, but Saladin's nephew al-Mu'azzam ordered the construction of the porch itself in 1217.
The al-Aqsa Mosque has seven aisles of hypostyle naves with several additional small halls to the west and east of the southern section of the building. There are 121 stained glass windows in the mosque from the Abbasid and Fatimid eras. About a fourth of them were restored in 1924.
The mosque's interior is supported by 45 columns, 33 of which are white marble and 12 of stone. The column rows of the central aisles are heavy and stunted, having a circumference of by and a height of by . The remaining four rows are better proportioned. The capitals of the columns are of four different kinds: those in the central aisle are heavy and primitively designed, while those under the dome are of the Corinthian order, and made from Italian white marble donated to the mosque by Benito Mussolini. The capitals in the eastern aisle are of a heavy basket-shaped design and those east and west of the dome are also basket-shaped, but smaller and better proportioned. The columns and piers are connected by an architectural rave, which consists of beams of roughly-squared timber enclosed in a wooden casing.
A great portion of the mosque is covered with whitewash, but the drum of the dome and the walls immediately beneath it are decorated with mosaics and marble. Some wretched paintings by an Italian artist were introduced when repairs were undertaken at the mosque after an earthquake ravaged the mosque in 1927. The ceiling of the mosque was painted with funding by King Farouk of Egypt.
The minbar ("pulpit") of the mosque was built by a craftsman named Akhtarini from Aleppo on the orders of the Zengid sultan Nur ad-Din. It was intended to be a gift for the mosque when Nur ad-Din would liberate Jerusalem and took six years to build (1168-74). Nur ad-Din died and the Crusaders held control of Jerusalem, but in 1187, Saladin captured the city and the minbar was installed. The structure was made of ivory and carefully crafted wood. Arabic calligraphy, geometrical and floral designs were inscribed in the woodwork. After its destruction by Rohan in 1969, it was replaced by a much simpler minbar. In January 2007, Adnan al-Husayni — head of the Islamic waqf in charge of al-Aqsa — stated that a new minbar would be installed; it was installed in February 2007. The design of the new minbar was drawn by Jamil Badran based on an exact replica of the Saladin Minbar and was finished by Badran within a period of five years. The minbar itself was built in Jordan over a period of four years and the craftsmen used "ancient woodworking methods, joining the pieces with pegs instead of nails, but employed computer images to design the pulpit [minbar]."
The mosque's main ablution fountain, known as al-Kas ("the Cup"), is located north of the mosque between it and the Dome of the Rock. It is used by worshipers to perform wudu, a ritual washing of the hands, arms, legs, feet, and face before entry into the mosque. It was first built in 709 by the Ummayads, but in 1327-28 Governor Tankiz enlarged it to accommodate more worshipers. Although originally supplied with water from Solomon's Pools near Bethlehem, it currently receives water from pipes connected to Jerusalem's water supply. In the 20th century, al-Kas was provided taps and stone seating.
The Fountain of Qasim Pasha , built by the Ottomans in 1526 and located north of the mosque on the platform of the Dome of the Rock, was used by worshipers for ablution and for drinking until the 1940s. Today, it stands as a monumental structure.
- "I asked the beloved Prophet Muhammad which was the first "mosque" [i.e. house of prayer] on Earth?"
- "The Sacred House of Prayer (Masjid al-Haram), i.e. Kaaba)," he said.
- "'And then which', I asked?"
- "The Furthest House of Prayer (Masjid al Aqsa)", he said.
- "I further asked, 'what was the time span between the two'?"
- "Forty years," prophet Muhammad replied.
During his night journey toward Bayt al-Maqdis (Jerusalem), Muhammad rode on Buraq to Jerusalem and once there he prayed two raka'ah on the Temple Mount. After he finished his prayers, the angel Gabriel took him to Heaven, where he met several of the prophets and upon encouragement from Moses, negotiated with God via Gabriel that Muslims would be required to make five prayers daily.
The al-Aqsa Mosque is known as the "farthest mosque" in sura al-Isra in the Qur'an. It is traditionally interpreted by Muslims as referring to the site at the Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem on which the mosque of that name now stands. According to this tradition, the term used for mosque, (Arabic: masjid), literally means "place of prostration", and includes monotheistic places of worship such as Solomon's Temple, which in the Qur'an is described as a masjid. Western historians Heribert Busse and Neal Robinson believe this is the intended interpretation.
The historical significance of the al-Aqsa Mosque in Islam is further emphasized by the fact that Muslims turned towards al-Aqsa when they prayed for a period of sixteen or seventeen months after migration to Medina in 624, thus it became the qibla ("direction") that Muslims faced for prayer. According to Allame Tabatabayee, God prepared for change of qibla, first by revealing the story of Abraham and his son, Ishmael, their prayers for the Ka'bah and Mecca, their construction of the House (Ka'aba) and the order then received to cleanse it for the worship of Allah. Then Quranic verses were revealed which ordered Muslims to turn towards Masjid al-Haram in their prayers.
The altering of the qibla was precisely the reason the Rashidun caliph Umar, despite identifying the Rock — which Muhammad used to ascend to Heaven — 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 superseded in Islamic jurisprudence by the Ka'aba in Mecca after the change of the qibla towards that site.
According to early Qur'anic interpreters and what is generally accepted as Islamic tradition, in 638 CE Umar, upon entering a conquered Jerusalem, consulted with Ka'ab al-Ahbar — a Jewish convert to Islam who came with him from Medina — as to where the best spot would be to build a mosque. Al-Ahbar suggested to him that it should be behind the Rock "... so that all of Jerusalem would be before you". Umar replied, "You correspond to Judaism!" Nonetheless, immediately after this conversation, Umar began to clean up the site — which was filled with trash and debris — with his cloak, and other Muslim followers imitated him until the site was clean. Umar then prayed at the spot where it was believed that Muhammad had prayed before his night journey, reciting the Qur'anic sura Sad. Thus, according to this tradition, Umar thereby reconsecrated the site as a mosque.
Because of the holiness of Temple Mount itself — being a place where Abraham, Solomon, and David had prayed — Umar constructed a small prayer house in the southern corner of its platform, taking care to avoid allowing the Rock to come between the mosque and the direction of Ka'aba so that Muslims would face only Mecca when they prayed.
Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem are recognized as the three most important sites in Sunni Islam according to interpretations of scriptures in the Qur'an and hadith. References to Jerusalem and events in it have been made more than seventy times in the Qur'an, in various states of ambiguity, and many times in the hadith.
Medieval scriptural references, as well as modern-day political tracts, tend to treat al-Aqsa Mosque as the third holiest site in Islam. For example, Sahih Bukhari quotes Abu al-Dardaa as saying: "the Prophet of Allah Muhammad said a prayer in the Sacred Mosque (in Mecca) is worth 100,000 prayers; a prayer in my mosque (in Medina) is worth 1,000 prayers; and a prayer in al-Masjid al-Aqsa is worth 500 prayers," more than in an any other mosque. In addition, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, whose raison d'être is to "liberate al Aqsa from the Zionist [Israeli] occupation", refers to the al-Aqsa Mosque (in a resolution condemning Israeli actions in the city) as the third holiest site in Islam.
According to the scholar Maimunah bint Sa'd on traveling to the al-Aqsa Mosque, he said, "the messenger of Allah [Muhammad] said, 'He should make a gift of oil to be burnt therein, for he who gives a gift to the al-Aqsa Mosque will be like one who has prayed salaah (five daily ritual prayers in Islam) therein.'
Some Western scholars, such as Martin Gilbert, claim that the use of the term "third holiest" is driven by political motives and that the al-Aqsa mosque is not the third holiest site in Islam. According to Gilbert, Jerusalem is not one of Islam's holiest cities, and points to the politicized nature of construction on the Haram from the time of the building of the Dome of the Rock until present. He argues that this site is arguably the most contested religious site in the world and that the emphasis on al-Aqsa today is due to its construction on the Temple Mount precinct, considered the holiest site in Judaism. Others, such as Ghada Hashem Talhami and Jonathan Silverman, point out that the term "third holiest city" would be better translated as "third holy city," denoting the order of designation of the holy cities of Islam rather than order of importance. They point to the literary genre al-Fadhail (history of cities), where the perceptions of the value of Jerusalem varied, with some scholars insisting on the superiority of Jerusalem to Mecca or Medina.
Various traditions exist about the location in Judaism. In rabbinical tradition it is the place where Adam was born, and built an altar to God. It is believed to be where Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to God, where Noah built an altar after the flood, and where Abraham intended sacrificing Isaac.
Ownership of the al-Aqsa Mosque is a contentious issue in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Israel holds sovereignty over the mosque along with all of the Temple Mount, but Palestinians hold unofficial custodianship of the site through the Islamic waqf. During the negotiations at the 2000 Camp David Summit, Palestinians demanded complete ownership of the mosque and other Islamic holy sites in East Jerusalem.
While all Muslim citizens of Israel are allowed to enter and pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque, Palestinian Muslims living in the West Bank or Gaza Strip face several restrictions. Palestinian males must be married and 50 years of age and women must be married and 45 years of age to enter the mosque. Palestinian visits are therefore rare during most of the year, except during the month of Ramadan. Israeli reasoning for the restrictions is that older, married Palestinians are less likely "to cause trouble".
The site of the mosque is not accessible to Jews due to a restriction placed on them by Israel's chief rabbinates in 1967. Their position was that the Jewish people were "ceremonially unclean and might accidentally tread on the place. Israeli governmental restrictions only forbid Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, but allow Jews as well as, other non-Muslims to visit for certain hours on certain days in the week. Several rabbis, and several Zionist leaders have demanded the right of Jews to pray at the site on Jewish holidays.
In February 2007, the Israeli government started to excavate a site for archaeological remains in a location where they were going to build a pedestrian bridge. This site was 60 meters away from the mosque. The excavations provoked anger throughout the Islamic world, and Israel was accused of trying to destroy the foundation of the mosque. Ismail Haniya — then Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority and Hamas leader — called on Palestinians to unite to protest the excavations, while Fatah said they would end their ceasefire with Israel. Israel denied all charges against them, calling them "ludicrous".