Al-Aqsa MosqueEdit profile
Al-Aqsa Mosque, al-Masjid al-Aqsa translit: ("the Farthest Mosque"), also known as al-Aqsa, is an Islamic holy place in the Old City of Jerusalem. The site that includes the mosque (along with the Dome of the Rock) is also referred to as al-Haram ash-Sharif or "Sacred Noble Sanctuary", a site also known as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, the place where the First and Second Temples are generally accepted to have stood. Widely considered as the third holiest site in Islam, Muslims believe that Muhammad was transported from the Sacred Mosque in Mecca to al-Aqsa during the Night Journey. Islamic tradition holds that Muhammad led prayers towards this site until the seventeenth month after the emigration, when God ordered him to turn towards the Ka'aba.
According to Islamic belief, Jacob, son of Isaac, was the first to build the Mosque as a House of God. The Kaaba in Mecca was the first House of Worship to God, and the Masjid Al-Aqsa (Bayt Al-Maqdis) was the second. Originally built by Jacob and greatly expanded and renovated by King Solomon, the Mosque was destroyed twice.
The al-Aqsa Mosque was originally a small prayer house built by the Rashidun caliph Umar, but was rebuilt and expanded by the Ummayad caliph Abd al-Malik and finished by his son al-Walid in 705 CE. After an earthquake in 746, the mosque was completely destroyed and rebuilt by the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur in 754, and again rebuilt by his successor al-Mahdi in 780. Another earthquake destroyed most of al-Aqsa in 1033, but two years later the Fatimid caliph Ali az-Zahir built another mosque which has stood to the present-day. During the periodic renovations undertaken, the various ruling dynasties of the Islamic Caliphate constructed additions to the mosque and its precincts, such as its dome, facade, its minbar, minarets and the interior structure. When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099, they used the mosque as a palace and church, but its function as a mosque was restored after its recapture by Saladin. More renovations, repairs and additions were undertaken in the later centuries by the Ayyubids, Mamluks, Ottomans, the Supreme Muslim Council, and Jordan. Today, the Old City is under Israeli control, but the mosque remains under the administration of the Palestinian-led Islamic waqf.
Masjid al-Aqsa translates from Arabic into English as "the farthest mosque", Its name refers to a chapter of the Qur'an called "The Night Journey" in which it is said that Muhammad traveled from Mecca to "the farthest mosque", and then up to Heaven on a flying horse called al-Buraq al-Sharif. "Farthest" as used in this context means the "farthest from Mecca."
For centuries, al-Masjid al-Aqsa referred not only to the mosque, but to the entire sacred sanctuary. This changed during the period of Ottoman rule (c. early 16th century to 1918) when the sanctuary complex came to be known as al Haram ash-Sharif, and the mosque founded by Umar came to be known as al-Jami' al-Aqsa or al-Aqsa Mosque.
The area of the mosque was part of King Herod the Great's upgrading of the mount initiated in 20 BCE. Herod had masons cut the stone surface on the eastern and southern side of the mount and plaster them. Residues may be found today at some locations. When the Second Temple stood, the present site of the mosque was called the Hall of Solomon, and on each side was the location of the Temple storehouse known as the chanuyot, which ran the length of the southern edge of the mount. The square giant columns on the north side the Mosque, and the Mosque walls, have recently been given a date of construction far older than first estimated by scholars (on the basis of written quotes by eyewitnesses of the time), a date from the Roman period. The walls were rebuilt or reinforced soon after the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. The underground structure of the building is from the time the Jewish people returned from Babylon 2300 years ago. Due to the political situation, further excavations in the area are not possible. The date of the first construction in the area is in the Arab tradition of ancient time, and the new dating supports the tradition. After an earthquake damaged the Mosque in the 1930s, dating of some of the woodwork was done, and the wood dated to 900 BCE. The wood was cypress and acacia, the latter used by King Solomon, according to the Bible, in his construction of buildings on the mount ca. 900 BCE. The chanuyot were destroyed along with the Temple by the Roman Emperor (then general) Titus in 70 CE. Emperor Justinian built a Christian church on the site in the 530s which was consecrated to the Virgin Mary and named "Church of Our Lady". The church was later destroyed by Khosrau II, the Sassanian emperor in the early 7th century and left in ruins.
It is unknown exactly when the al-Aqsa Mosque was first constructed and who ordered its construction, but it is certain that it was built in the early Ummayad period of rule in Palestine. Architectural historian K. A. C. Creswell, referring to a testimony by the Gallic monk, Arculf, of his pilgrimage to Palestine in 679–82, notes that it is possible that Umar erected a primitive quadrangular building for a capacity of 3,000 worshipers somewhere on the Haram ash-Sharif or Temple Mount. Arculf, however, visited Palestine during the reign of Mu'awiyah I, and it is possible that Mu'awiyah ordered the construction, not Umar. This latter claim is explicitly supported by the early Muslim scholar al-Muthannar bin Tahir. Analysis of wooden beams and panels removed from the building during renovations in the 1930s shows they are made from Cedar of Lebanon and cypress. Radiocarbon dating indicates a large range of ages, some as old as 9th century BCE, showing that some of the wood had previously been used in older buildings.
The rectangular al-Aqsa Mosque and its precincts are 144,000 square meters (1,550,003.1 sq ft), with a capacity of 400,000 worshipers, although the mosque itself is about 35,000 square meters (376,736.9 sq ft) and could hold up to 5,000 worshipers. It is 272 feet (83 m) long, 184 feet (56 m) wide.
The first renovation of the 20th century occurred in 1922, when the Supreme Muslim Council under Amin al-Husayni hired Ahmet Kemalettin Bey—a Turkish architect—to restore al-Aqsa Mosque and the monuments in its precincts. The council also commissioned British architects, Egyptian experts and local officials to contribute to and oversee the repairs and additions which were carried out in 1924–25 under Kemalettin's supervision. The renovations included reinforcing the mosque's ancient Ummayad foundations, rectifying the interior columns, replacing the beams, erecting a scaffolding, conserving the arches and drum of the dome interior, rebuilding the southern wall, and replacing timber in the central nave with a slab of concrete. The renovations also revealed Fatimid-era mosaics and inscriptions on the interior arches that had been covered with plasterwork. The arches were decorated with green-tinted gypsum and gold and their timber tie beams were replaced with brass. A quarter of the stained glass windows also were carefully renewed so as to preserve their original Abbasid and Fatimid designs Severe damage was caused by the 1927 and 1937 earthquakes, but the mosque was repaired in 1938 and 1942.
On August 21, 1969, a fire occurred inside al-Aqsa Mosque that gutted the southeastern wing of the mosque. Among other things the fire destroyed was Saladin's minbar. Initially, Palestinians blamed the Israeli authorities for the fire, and some Israelis blamed Fatah, alleging they had started the fire so as to blame the Israelis and provoke hostility. However, the fire was started by neither Fatah nor Israel, but a tourist from Australia named Denis Michael Rohan. Rohan was a member of an evangelical Christian sect known as the Worldwide Church of God. He hoped that by burning down al-Aqsa Mosque he would hasten the Second Coming of Jesus, making way for the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount. Rohan was hospitalized in a mental institution, found to be insane and was later deported.The attack on al-Aqsa is cited as one of the catalysts for the formation of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in 1971, which brought together 57 Islamic countries.
In the 1980s, Ben Shoshan and Yehuda Etzion, both members of the Gush Emunim Underground, plotted to blow up the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Etzion believed that blowing up the two mosques would cause a spiritual awakening in Israel, and would solve all the problems of the Jewish people. They also hoped the Third Temple of Jerusalem would be built on the location of the mosque. On January 15, 1988, during the First Intifada, Israeli troops fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters outside the mosque, wounding 40 worshipers. On October 8, 1990, 22 Palestinians were killed and over 100 others injured by Israeli Border Police during riots that were triggered by the announcement of the Temple Mount Faithful, a fringe group of religious Jews, that they were going to lay the cornerstone of the Third Temple.
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