Jerusalem, a sacred city in all the Abrahamic faiths, houses the third holiest site in Islam. Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Farthest Mosque, is believed by Muslims to be the second mosque on earth after the Kaba. This ancient structure and the surrounding area that now includes the Dome of the Rock is referred to by Muslims as Al-Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary. The focus of this post, the third in a series on important sites of Islam, is Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Al-Aqsa is in the Old City of Jerusalem. The precinct of Al-Aqsa is about 144,000 square meters. The mosque can hold up to 5000 worshipers. Al-Aqsa was referred to in the Qur’an in chapter 17 verse 1:
Glory to (Allah) Who did take His Servant for Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque whose precincts We did bless? in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the one Who heareth and seeth (all things).
This verse describes the Night Journey and Ascension. Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad was taken from Mecca to Jerusalem to Al-Aqsa. At the mosque, he prayed with previous prophets and then ascended to heaven and was in the presence of God. This journey, especially the prayers in Jerusalem, is significant because it established Prophet Muhammad’s prophetic lineage.
Al-Aqsa is also significant to Muslims because it was the first qibla. Initially, Muslims prayed towards Jerusalem. After the hijra, the qibla was changed to Mecca. Even though this change occurred, Muslims still refer to Al-Aqsa as the first of the two qiblas. In a hadith, the Prophet Muhammad emphasized the special position of Al-Aqsa:
Abu Darda [ra] is quoted as saying that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said,a prayer in the Sacred Mosque (in Makkah) is worth 100, 000 prayers, a prayer in my mosque (in Medina) is worth 1, 000 and a prayer in Jerusalem is worth 500 prayers more than in an any other mosque. (Bukhari)
Al-Aqsa like the Kaba and the Prophet’s Mosque occupies an important role in the Muslim worldview.
Have you visited Al-Aqsa? What was your experience at the sanctuary? Why do you think Al-Aqsa is important? Are there sites in other faith traditions that have the same function as Al-Aqsa? Please share your comments below.