Al Aqsa (Arabic المسجد الاقصى, ) is "The furthest mosque" or "furthest place of worship," mentioned in the
Quran as masjid al-Aqsa, the destination of
Muhammad in his magical night journey (al
Isra), in which, according to
Muslim tradition, the angel Gabriel took him
on the horse Al-Buraq from Mecca to the furthest mosque and thence to heaven and hell. However, there is some dispute as
to whether the "masjid al-Aqsa" of the Qur'an refers to the mosque in Jerusalem, as no mosque or Muslim holy
place existed there in the time of Muhammad, and many Muslim scholars assumed that the masjid al-Aqsa was a place inside
Actually, the entire area of the ancient Jewish Temple Mount is considered to be the Al-Aqsa mosque. It is located in
Jerusalem, which is called
Al-Quds, "the holy" in Arabic.
The mosque itself can supposedly accommodate about 5,000 worshippers. The congregation building of
Al-Aqsa Mosque is called Jami al-Masjid al-Aqsa or al-Masjid al-Qibli. Qibla is the direction of prayer. Originally,
Muslims prayed toward Jerusalem, rather than Mecca. Therefore, Jerusalem was the first Qibla.
The mosque was apparently built on or near the site of a church erected by the Emperor Justinian about 530 CE. The
current structure of the al-Aqsa mosque reflects several reconstructions. It was begun by 'Abd al-Malik (685-705),
at the end of the 7th century, and apparently completed by his son, al-Walid (709-715). Al Walid was the first to call
it the "al-Aqsa mosque. The mosque was damaged by several earthquakes. It was renovated and reconstructed during the
Abbasid period by Caliph al-Mahdi (775-785) and others.
It was again renovated or rebuilt during the Fatimid period, in the 11th century, by the Caliph Al-Dhahir
in 1033 AD. Al-Dhahir had supposedly followed the previous architecture but narrowed the mosque. Subsequent
renovations followed the same plan.
The Al-Aqsa mosque was renovated again in the 14th century. However, as Jerusalem fell out of favor in Islam
and was neglected, the Haram as Sharif compound and the mosques were neglected during most of the subsequent Muslim rule
In the 20th century, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin Al Husseini, understood the importance of Jerusalem to
the Palestinian national cause, and enlisted the help of other Muslim leaders in beautifying and rebuilding the Al-Aqsa
mosque and the nearby Dome of the Rock, also part of the Haram as Sharif.
From 1948 to 1967, East Jerusalem was held by Jordan. The Hashemite dynasty of Jordan was appointed custodians of the
Haram as Sharif, the noble sanctuary of the Temple Mount. During that period, Jews were not allowed to worship at the
Western Wall, considered holy to Judaism. The Al-Aqsa mosque came under Israeli sovereignty when Jerusalem was
captured by Israel in 1967. The government of Israel has given the Muslim religious trust, the Waqf, full rights to
administer the site. The Waqf excavated beneath the Al Aqsa mosque to create a second very large mosque, in the process
destroying a great deal of valuable archeological material, which dated from the period of the Jewish second temple and
The mosque and the Temple Mount-Haram as-Sharif area have been the focus of violence and controversy. The followers
of the extremist Grand Mufti, Hajj Amin al Husseini, spread the rumor that the Jews were about to destroy the mosque,
igniting riots in 1929. Arab pressure forced the British Mandate authorities to limit Jewish worship rights at the
Western Wall. A Jewish extremist group, the faithful of the Temple Mount, wants to tear down the mosque and build a
Jewish temple in its place. Israeli authorities foiled a plan by an Israeli terrorist group to destroy the mosque.
On August 21, 1969 Michael Dennis Rohan, a deranged Australian tourist of the Protestant faith, started a fire
in the Masjid al-Aqsa. The fire gutted the southeastern wing of the mosque, destroying a priceless one-thousand-year-old
wood and ivory minbar (pulpit) that was a gift of Saladin. A second minbar made at the same time is in the mosque at the
Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Rohan was arrested by Israeli authorities two days later. Rohan was a Protestant
follower of an evangelical sect known as the Church of God. He claimed that by setting fire to al-Aqsa, he hoped to
hasten the coming of the Messiah. He testified in court that he acted as "the Lord's emissary" on divine instructions,
and that he had tried to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque in order to rebuild the Jewish Temple. He was institutionalized in a
home for the mentally ill, found to be insane and subsequently was deported from Israel. Arab sources frequently claim
that Rohan is Jewish.
In September of 2000, Ariel Sharon, then an Israeli opposition politician, visited the Temple Mount. He did not enter
the mosque. The visit was an attempt either to assert the right of Jews to visit the site, or to demonstrate that the
government of Ehud Barak was incapable of asserting Jewish rights there. Riots broke out. Marwan Barghouthi, a
Palestinian leader, later wrote that he saw an opportunity to kindle an uprising against Israel, and deliberately urged
his followers to incite and amplify the violence.
Synonyms and alternate spellings:
Further Information: See