Al-Aqsa Mosque - Dome of the Rock Mosque
For more than fourteen hundred years Al Aqsa has been venerated throughout the Muslim world as the third holiest site of Islam. It was to this that the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, made his Night Journey from the Masjid al-Haram in Makkah. It was from this site that he, peace and blessings be upon him, ascended on the Mi'raj, his journey through the heavens to his Lord.
For fourteen hundred years Al-Aqsa has dominated the skyline and the life of the Holy City. For more than fourteen centuries it was a centre of pilgrimage for Muslims from all over the world. For the past sixty years, its very existence has been threatened.
In 638 Jerusalem's thousand years of recurrent religious persecution, intolerance and oppression, were brought to an abrupt halt: Omar ibn al-Khattab, the Second Khalif of Islam, entered al-Quds.
Eager to be rid of their Byzantine overlords and aware of their shared heritage with the Arabs, the descendants of Ishmael, as well as the Muslims' 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 Omar in person.
Omar entered Jerusalem on foot . There was no bloodshed. There were no massacres.
Those who wanted to leave were allowed to, with all their goods. Those
who wanted to stay were guarantee protection for their lives, their
property and places of worship.
It is related that Omar 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.
Al-Aqsa And The Dome Of The Rock
When they reached the area of the Noble Sanctuary they found it covered in rubbish . Omar 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 al-Haram al-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 Omar rejected this idea, and possible future confusion, by praying to the south of the rock, at the southernmost wall of the Noble Sanctuary.
A huge timber mosque which held three thousand worshipers was erected on this site, the site of the present Aqsa Mosque.
Fifty 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.
After completion of 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, accommodating over 5,000 worshipers, rose up. It became known as Masjid al-Aqsa (al-Aqsa Mosque) , although, in reality, the entire al-Haram al-Sharif is considered Al-Aqsa Mosque, its entire precincts inviolable.
The next five centuries of Muslim rule were characterized by peace, justice and 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 precincts.