Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem

Al Aqsa Mosque – The Farthest Mosque

(Cover photo credit: Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia)

The Al Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam, as the journey of Prophet Muhammad to heaven started from this spot.
Here you will find everything you need to know before visiting this holy Muslim site!


What is the Al Aqsa Mosque?

The Al-Aqsa Mosque (Al-Masjid al-Aqsa in Arabic) is the third holiest site in Islam. It is an impressive and very large mosque that can hold up to to 5,000 worshippers!
Like the Dome of the Rock, it is also built on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The facade of Al-Aqsa Mosque (Temple Mount, Jerusalem, 2008)
The beautiful facade of Al-Aqsa Mosque | Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia



Why is the Al Aqsa Mosque important?

The site’s great significance for Muslims derives from traditions connecting it to the belief that Muhammad’s Night Journey to heaven started here (though some say the journey to heaven started at the Dome of the Rock).

The name of the mosque is Arabic for “the farthest”. It refers to the chapter of the Quran called Al-Isra describing “The Night Journey”. In this chapter it is said that Muhammad travelled from the Great Mosque of Mecca (a city in Saudi Arabia) to “the farthest mosque”, and then up to Heavens, riding on a heavenly creature called al-Buraq ash-Sharif.
This mosque to which Muhammad traveled is identified as Al Aqsa Mosque.

According to Islamic tradition, Prophet Muhammad led prayers towards this site until the 17th month after his migration from Mecca to Medina, when Allah (the name of God in Islam) directed him to turn towards the Kaaba in Mecca instead.
The Kaaba is a building at the center of Islam’s most important mosque in Mecca.



Where is the Al Aqsa Mosque located?

The Al Aqsa Mosque is located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.


What should I know before visiting the Al Aqsa Mosque?

Al Aqsa Mosque has a rich history of building and rebuilding.

The building was originally a small prayer house erected by Umar, the second ruler of the Rashidun Caliphate. It was later rebuilt and expanded, until it was finished in 705.

Sadly, the mosque did not last long – it was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 746 and rebuilt in 754. And… it was rebuilt yet again in 780.
But it didn’t stop there – another earthquake destroyed most of Al-Aqsa in 1033, and two years later another mosque was erected, whose outline is preserved in the current structure. 

Today, you can actually see mosaics on the arch at the qibla end of the nave dating back to the mosque built in 1035!

The interior of Al Aqsa Mosque
The marvelous interior of Al Aqsa Mosque | Aseel zm, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The interior of the mosque is glorious. It has seven aisles of hypostyle naves with several additional small halls to the west and east of the southern section of the building.

Decorating the mosque are 121 stained glass windows which are over 1000 years old! The structure is supported by 45 tall columns – 33 of which are made of white marble and 12 of stone. Above them you can also find complex mosaic decorations and beautiful inscriptions, also dating back 1000 years.

As we said, the Al-Aqsa Mosque can contain up to 5,000 worshipers, thanks to its large size – it is a rectangular structure, 83 m (272 ft.) long and 56 m (184 ft.) wide.

Over the years, multiple rulers controlled the mosque.
In the beginning, it was various ruling dynasties of the Islamic Caliphate that controlled the mosque, and constructed additions to it and its precincts – such as its dome, its facade, its minbar (which is a pulpit in a mosque where the leader of prayers called imam stands to deliver sermons), minarets and the interior structure.
In 1099,  the Crusaders captured Jerusalem. They used the mosque as a palace and the Dome of the Rock as a church. 

About 70 years later, an Islamic conqueror named Saladin began fighting the Crusaders all around the Middle East. In 1187, he managed to capture Al Aqsa and restore its function as a mosque.

As the area was right in the middle of various power struggles, more renovations, repairs and additions were undertaken over the later centuries by the Ayyubids, Mamluks, Ottomans, the Supreme Muslim Council, and Jordan.

Today, the Old City is under Israeli control, yet the mosque itself remains under the administration of the Jordanian/Palestinian-led Islamic Waqf (an Islamic Religious Endowments organization).

As you can see, the history of the Al Aqsa mosque is just as rich as its architecture!