The Grandiose Al Masjid Al Aqsa Mosque
As of this year there are more than 3.5 million mosques scattered around all corners of the world. Many of these are fine representations of local and worldwide architecture, culture and history. Not all mosques, however, can boast such iconic and edifying history as the prominent Al Masjid Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, Jerusalem.
Centuries earlier, on the site stood a Jewish temple to God which, after some 200 years, was razed by the Romans around 70CE following the Jewish revolt in Palestine.
Now in that same place stands the Al Masjid Al Aqsa Mosque. This is one of the things that make this mosque so important and historically fascinating. The geographical plateau has now existed as a place of worship for longer than 2,000 years!
As we know, Islam has been bestowed upon the people through Prophet Muhammad’s revelations and through the knowledge brought by the previous prophets, many of whose teachings are mentioned in the Old Testament.
In fact, that is the reason why Prophet Muhammad designated that particular destination. He praised and valued the way of the other prophets. Though the date of the first mosque that was constructed there isn’t agreed upon, it is thought that during the Hijrah, Prophet Muhammad appointed the new Qibla to be in that same place where the Jewish temple formerly stood.
Indeed, this monument is believed to be the second house of prayer to be erected after the Masjid Al-Haram and, as such, is the second most religiously and historically important mosque in Islam.
It is debated upon whose orders it was rebuilt in 680CE. Some say Umar, the second caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate, others claim it was Mu’awiyah, the first Caliph of the Umayyad caliphate. Such historical details might never be known for certain.
At the time, the mosque was designed to hold more than 3,000 people. A dozen years later, the mosque was reconstructed by caliph Abd al-Malik with the addition of the picturesque, wooden dome to the landscape titled “Dome of the Rock”.
From then on, the mosque was afflicted by natural disasters and political changes. In 746, the Al-Aqsa was destroyed by an earthquake, leaving a large part of the infrastructure in ruins. After the full reconstruction of the mosque in 771, financed by the gold taken from its former front gates, the mosque stood proudly for three years.
In 774 however, a second earthquake struck, damaging all the previous repairs. Fortunately, Al-Aqsa was soon rebuilt and its territory expanded by Al-Mahdi towards 780.
By 1033, the 350 year old mosque, which the locals had grown so accustomed to, faced another misfortune. A powerful third earthquake hit the facade of the mosque, destroying the structure yet again.
Towards 1036, the building was renovated and reconstructed once more, this time with a reinforced inner layer and additional support pillars. The dome was also rebuilt and has remained there, while being renovated, until now. The golden dome that stands there today is the one rebuilt in 1036.
The mosque bore Jewish and Muslim heritage, however, towards the start of the 12 century, the crusaders conquered Jerusalem. As a consequence, they renamed the mosque as “Solomon’s Temple” and adjusted it to become the royal palace for the Templars.
During this period of occupation by the Templars, the former mosque was expanded from the northern, eastern and western parts to leave room for horse stalls and grain storage.
Some 90 years later, after Jerusalem’s siege in 1187 led by Saladin, the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, the Muslims finally won back their territory and mosque, somewhat encased in a more European facade.
In the span of the 1500s, some supplementary constructions filled up the perimeter of the Al Aqsa mosque by order of Ottoman imperial elite. Likewise several minarets, financed by the sultans themselves, were incorporated into the site.
In its international history preceding even the modern era, the former temple has been reconstructed and maintained a sacred place throughout the entirety of Islam. Until today, the mosque has lived through many hardships and incorporated worldwide heritage.
Currently its territory together with the precincts is 14.4 hectares. It can accommodate over 5,000 Muslims for prayer.