With the recent events in mind, many Muslims might be wondering what makes Masjid al-Aqsa so special that people are ready to die to protect our right to it.
Jerusalem was the birthplace of many of the prophets whom Allah (swt) sent to the Children of Israel. Who are these people? Israel is another name for Prophet Yaqub (as), and the Children of Israel are actually descendants of Yaqub’s twelve sons, and thus the descendants of Prophets Ishaq and Ibrahim (as).
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You can imagine the significance of a place where prophets among the progeny of Ibrahim (as) were born, lived, ruled and died. This is the place where Maryam (as) was born. She spent much of her life in Masjid al-Aqsa to look after it. Angel Jibreel came to her in the same Masjid, and gave her glad tidings of her virgin birth. Prophet Isa’s (as) soul was blown into her in the same place.
This place saw the rule of the king-prophets Dawud and Sulayman (as). In fact, it was Sulayman (as) who built Masjid al-Aqsa; but whether it was the first ever construction or a reconstruction is disputable.
It is no wonder that the Masjid has always been a place of contention between the three Abrahamic faiths, who all claim it as their own.
What is the significance of this masjid to the nation of Prophet Muhammad (sa)?
It is one of the three mosques towards which a religious journey is allowed.
The Prophet (SA) said, “Do not set out on a journey except for three Mosques i.e. Al-Masjid-AI-Haram, the Mosque of Allah’s Messenger (sa), and the Mosque of Al-Aqsa, (Mosque of Jerusalem).” (Bukhari 1189)
The land around it is blessed.
Allah (swt) says, “Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al- Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.” (17:1)
The Prophet (sa) led all the prophets in prayer in it.
During the night of Isra and Mi’raj, the Prophet (sa) began his journey (isra) from Masjid al-Haram, near the Kabah. Jibreel (as) took him from there to Jerusalem on an animal with miraculous speed. When they reached Bayt al-Maqdis, the Prophet (sa) met the other prophets who were assembled there to meet him. Then all the prophets prayed together, with Muhammad (sa) as the imam.
“Then I entered Bait Al-Maqdis (Jerusalem) where the Prophets, peace be upon them, were assembled for me, and Jibril brought me forward to lead them in prayer. Then I was taken up to the first heaven….” (Nasa’i 450)
It was the first qiblah of the nation of Prophet Muhammad (sa).
Before Allah (swt) ordered the qiblah to be changed to Masjid al-Haram, the Prophet (sa) used to pray towards the qiblah of the previous nations, i.e. towards Masjid al-Aqsa.
“The Prophet (sa) and his Companions used to pray in the direction of Jerusalem.” (Abu Dawud 1045)
“The Prophet (sa) prayed facing Bait-ul-Maqdis (i.e. Jerusalem) for sixteen or seventeen months but he wished that his Qibla would be the Ka`ba (at Mecca).” (Bukhari Vol. 6, Book 60, Hadith 13)
It was the second masjid on earth.
Abu Dharr reported:
“I said: ‘Messenger of Allah, which mosque was set up first on the earth?’ He said: ‘Al-Masjid al-Haram (the sacred).’ I (again) said: ‘Then which next?’ He said: ‘It was the Masjid Aqsa.’ I (again) said: ‘How long was the space of time (between their setting up)?’ He (the Holy Prophet) said: ‘It was forty years. And whenever the time comes for prayer, pray there, for that is a mosque.’” (Muslim 520 a)
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