The Furthest Mosque


The History of Al - Aqsa Mosque From Earliest Times

 

Chapter One: The History of Palestine

Palestine; the land of the Prophets. Rich in history - the history of generations of believers who lived and worshipped, and fought and died there, praising their Lord and defending their faith.

Nearly 4,000 years ago the Prophet Abraham, peace be upon him, stopped in the land of Cannan. He was a true believer, one pure of faith. He surrendered his will to god alone, with no associates.

From his sons Ishmael and Isaac came two great nations of believers. The descendants of Abraham - two rivers from a single sea. But the nearest to Abraham were those who most closely followed his way.

Figure1: Palestine at the time of the Prophet David (peace and blessings upon him)

Six centuries later the Prophet Moses, peace be upon him, revived his teachings and led his people, descendants of Isaac, out of Egypt. Their destination? Palestine, the Land of Canaan.

Two more centuries and the Prophet David, peace be upon him, united the scattered tribes of Israel. He took Jerusalem for his capital. It is said that he brought with him the Ark of the Coveneant.

The Prophet Solomon, peace be upon him, inherited the Kingdom from David, and built fortifictations, and a place of worship; a place of worship on a site revered since ancient times, a hill known as Moriah.

The Kingdom split into two in the struggle for power following Solomon's death; Israel to the North and tiny Judah, including Jerusalem to the South.

After two hundred years of bitter rivalry between these two kingdoms, Israel was conquered by the Syrians and Judah found itself the sole remaining remnant of the Israelite nation.

A temple cult developed in the house of worship built by aolomon. Elaborate rituals and a paid priesthood were put in place. Protagonists of a return to the pure teachings of Moses were beaten and exiled. Incidents of injustice and immorality within the general populace became rampant. The destruction of the Temple, and with it Jerusalem, was prophesied.

Nebuchadenezzar entered Jerusalem in 586 BC. The temple was sacked and set fire to, and razed to the ground. The Royal Palace and all the great houses were destroyed, the population carried off in chains to Babylon. and they lamented on their long march into exile:

"If we had just performed the will of God and devoutly sung His praises, we would not have into your hands been delivered"

Judah ceased to exist. Four hundred years of rule by the house of David had to come to an end.

In 536 BC, the Persians overthrew the Babylonians and encouraged exiles to return. Construction began on the Second Temple and was completed in twenty years.

After 200 years of relative peace the Greeks captured Jerusalem. Attempts at Hellenization, including the rededication of the Second Temple of Zeus and the sacrifice of pigs on its altar sparked a revolt.

In 164 BC Hasmonean Jews captured Mount Moriah and re - consecrated the Temple. But after a hundred years of Jewish rule, the society they created lay in ruins, broken down by years of vicious infighting.

Jerusalem was overrun by rome in 63 BC. Herod was appointed King of Judea. He slaughtered the last of the Hasmoneans and ordered a lavish restoration and extension of the Second Temple.

A period of great civil disorder followed with strife between pacifists and Zealots, and riots against the Roman authorities. In the midst of this chaos Jesus of Nazareth, peace be upon him, began his teaching mission. His attempts to call people back to the pure teachings of Abraham and Moses were judged subversive by the authorities. He was tried and sentenced to death; "yet they did not slay him but a likeness that was shown to them."

Figure 2: The old walled city of Jerusalem

Years later Jewish Zealots captured the Temple Mount and massacred roman troops in Herod's palace. After three years of revolt, Titus of Rome laid siege to Jerusalem. The fiercely defended Temple eventually fell, and with it the whole city. Seeking a complete and enduring victory, Titus ordered the total destruction of the Herodian Temple. It was the 70th year of the Christian Era.

A new city named Aelia was built by the Romans on the ruins of Jerusalem, and a temple dedicated to Jupitor raised up. In 324 Constantine of Byzantium marched on Aelia. He rebuilt the City walls and commissioned the church of the Holy Sepulchre, and opened the city for Christian pilgrimmage.

After nearly 300 years of Christian rule Jerusalem was sacked again, this time by the Sassanid Persians. The christians were massacred and their holy places destroyed. Fifteen years later Byzantine rule was restored and the Persians expelled.

Attempts were made to rebuild the city. But the die was cast: 600 miles to the south, Makkah had just surrendered to a far more dynamic and copassionate force. And it was spreading north, soon to overwhelm all of Byzantium, carrying with it the pure essence of the teaching of abraham, the path revealed to Muhammed, peace and blessings upon him, the path of Isalm.

In 638 Jerusalem's thousand years of recurrent persecution, intolerance and oppression, were bought to an abrupt halt: 'Umar ibn al-Khattab, the Second Khalif of Islam, entered al - Quds.

Eager to be rid of their Byzantine overloads - and aware of their shared heritage with the Arabs, the descendants of Ishmaeel, as well as the Musllims' reputation for mercy and compassion in victory -  the people of Jerusalem handed over the city after a brief siege.

They made only one condition: that the terms of their surrender be negotiated directly with the Khalif 'Umar in person.

'Umar enterd Jerusalem on foot. There was no bloodshed. There were no massacres. Those who wanted to stay were guarentedd protection for their lives, their property, and places of worship.

It is related that 'Umar asked Sophronius, the city patriarch, to take him to the Sanctuary of david, as soon as he was through writing the terms of surrender. They were joined by four thousand of the companions of the Prophet.

When they reached the area of the Noble Sanctuary they found it covered in rubbish. 'Umar proceeded to the West of the sanctuary and unfurled his cloak. He filled it with debris. those with him did likewise. They disposed of it and returned, again and again, until the whole area where Al - Aqsa Mosque now stands was cleared.

The entire area of the Haram ash - sharif, the Noble sanctuary, included more than 35 acres. The great rock, site of the Prophet's ascension to heaven on the Night Journey, peace and blessings be upon him, and direction of the first qibla, lay in the centre. The rock was uncovered and the ground purified. It was suggested that the Muslims pray to the North of the rock, to include it in the qibla when facing south toward Makkah, but 'Umar rejected this idea, and possible future confusion, by praying to the South of the Rock, at the southernmost wall of the Noble sanctuary.

Figure 3: The Dome of the Rock

A huge timber mosque which held three thousand worshippers was erected on this site, the site of the present Aqsa Mosque. Fifity years later, near the end of the 7th century, it was given to the Umayyad Khalif, 'Abdul Malik ibn Marwan, to construct one of the world's most beautiful and enduring shrines over the rock itself. Highlighting the skyline of Jerusalem, and the memories of all that visit, the dome of the rock is a tribute to the Muslims' love and respect for this site.

Thabit Al-Bunani reported on the authority of Anas that the Prophet said,

"I was brought al - Buraq, an animal white and long, larger than a donkey but smaller than a mule, whose stride was a distance equal to the range of its vision.

I mounted it and came to Jerusalem, and tied it to the ring used by the Prophets. After entering the Mosque, and praying two rakats in it, I came out and Gabriel brought me a vessel of wine and a vessel of milk. I chose the milk, and Gabriel said, 'you have chosen the true religion' We were then taken to heaven....."

Muslim transmitted it

After completionof the Dome of the Rock, construction began on the site of the original timber mosque at the south end of the Sanctuary. A vast congregational mosque, accomodating over 5,000 worshippers, rose up. It became known as Masjid Al - Aqsa, although, in reality the entire Haram ash-Sharif is considered Al - Aqsa Mosque, its entire precints inviolable.

The next five centuries of Muslim rule were characterized by peace, justice annd prosperity. The Noble sanctuary became a great centre of learning; scholars came from all over the world to worship at Al - Aqsa and to study and teach within its precints. Except for a brief period under the Fatimid Hakim which caused as much hardship for the Muslims as the Christians and Jews, the Islamic injunctions to respect the rights of the people fof the Book were respected throughout this perioad.

Figure 4: The Al - Aqsa Mosque

"And We gave Moses the book, and made it a guidance for the children of Israel saying:

'Take not unto yourselves any guardian other than me' They were the seed of those We bore with Noah; surely he wa a thankful servant.

And We decreed for the children of Israel in the book: You shall do corruption in the earth twice, and you shall become great tyrants. So when the time for the first of these came to pass, We sent against you servants of ours, men of great might, and they ravaged the country, and in it was a promise performed."

(Surah al-Isra)

[Next: Chapter Two - People of the Book]

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