AL AQSA MOSQUE – JERUSALEM / AL QUDS


I want to introduce to you the third holy site in Islam which is part of the complex of religious buildings in Jerusalem known as “al Haram al-Sharif” or “The Noble Sanctuary” to Muslims and “Har ha-Bayt” to Jews. In English – “Temple Mount”.
It is located in East Jerusalem, an occupied territory governed as part of Israel since its occupation in 1967 and claimed by Palestinians as part of a future State of Palestine. The largest mosque in Jerusalem, it can accommodate about 5,000 people worshipping in and around it.

ORIGIN OF NAME

The name “Al-Aqsa Mosque” translates to “the farthest mosque” and is probably derived from the Isra and Mi’raj, a Muslim tradition about a miraculous journey around 621 by Mohammed (c. 570-632). According to a Qur’anic verse, Mohammed took a journey in a single night – on a winged steed Buraq, according to Hadith and Islamic tradition – from “a sacred mosque” (probably in Mecca in southern Saudi Arabia) to “the farthest mosque” (al-Masjid al-Aqsa). From a rock there, Mohammed again mounted the Buraq and briefly ascended to heaven, accompanied by the Archangel Gabriel, touring heaven and receiving the Islamic prayers before returning to his home on Earth to communicate them to the faithful. The location of the “farthest mosque” was not explicitly stated, but came to be associated with Jerusalem, though the city is never specifically mentioned in the Koran. It’s disputed by scholars who believe that the location was chosen specifically because its holy nature to the Jews and that the Islamic claim to the Temple Mount is very recent.


About 50 years after Mohammed’s death, sometime between 687-691, Caliph Abd al-Malik built a shrine over what was believed to be the sacred rock, and its name, Qubbat As-Sakhrah, means “The Dome of the Rock.” Some years after that, in 709-715, Umayyad caliph al-Walid, son of Abd al-Malik, built a new mosque near the Dome, at the location of a previous temporary wooden structure which had been built by Omar (581-644), the Muslim caliph who conquered Jerusalem in 637, five years after Mohammed’s death. Al-Walid called his new mosque Al Aqsa, “distant place” or “farthest mosque”.


CONSTRUCTION

Construction of the Mosque began around 674, about 48 years after the traditional date given for Prophet Muhammad’s death. Little remains of the original structure, which, owing to the position of the mosque over Herod’s artificial addition to the Temple Mount, was in constant danger of collapse. In 747 it was badly damaged by earthquake, and then rebuilt on a much larger scale.

Damage from earthquakes in 1927 and 1936 necessitated an almost complete rebuilding of the mosque, in the process of which ancient sections of the original mosque were brought to light.

Analysis of wooden beams and panels removed from the building during renovations in the 1930s shows they are made from Cedar of Lebanon and Cyprus. Radiocarbon dating indicates a large range of ages, some as old as 9th century BC, showing that some of the wood had previously been used in older buildings.

Association with Knights Templar

Around 1119, King Baldwin II of Jerusalem, who had converted the large mosque into his palace, assigned one wing to the small and yet little known Order of the Knights Templar. The Crusaders called the Temple Mount “Templum Solomonis” or “Templum Domini” as they believed that it was over the ruins of Solomon’s Temple, and it was from this location that the Order took their name of “Templar”, also sometimes referring to themselves as “the Knights of the Temple” or simply “the Temple.” The Templars used the mosque as their headquarters for many years, and designed other Templar buildings in Europe in a round shape, after the architecture from the Temple Mount and the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Templar seals were also frequently adorned with the shape of a dome.

When Saladin re-took Jerusalem in 1187, he reconverted Al Aqsa back into a mosque.

Modern significance

Since part of the mosque’s extended surrounding wall is the Western Wall venerated by Jews, this relatively small spot in Jerusalem can become the source of friction. There have been times when Muslims worshipping at the mosque threw rocks downward at the Jews below at the Western Wall. A group of Jews known as the Temple Mount Faithful have expressed a desire to rebuild the ancient Jewish Temple in that area, turning into an attack on the mosque in 1990, resisted by Palestinians.


The Al-Aqsa Intifada is named after the mosque (due to Ariel Sharon’s controversial visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000), as are the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades.

Some Muslims have accused Israel of weakening the walls of the mosque during archaeological excavations that began in 1967 and continue today. In response to concerns about the structure’s stability, renovations are being carried out by the Islamic Waqf Foundation. (Eman’s post “Empire of Evil” does offer a slightly different view though .. please check and judge for yourself: http://eman86.blogspot.com/)

The Muslim Waqf is in charge of the Al Aqsa mosque, along with most of the important Muslim shrines in Israel.

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