Question and answer details
|As a new Muslim, I am always told that Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque are important to us. But why? Please, tell me about the history of Al-Aqsa Mosque.|
Thank you for your question.
You know that Islam as taught by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is a continuation and completion of the religion of all the prophets of God including Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and Jesus (peace be upon them all).
The noble Quran, which Muslims believes is the word of God, clearly mentions the Children of Israel — that is, the children of Prophet Isaac's son, Jacob — as the "Chosen People" (mentioned in Jewish and Christian scriptures). This is a term that has been unfortunately misinterpreted by the Jews and Christians in their own ways.
Islam does not approve of the racist claim that this title allows the Jews a higher status as humans before God. The title only means that God chose them for a particular mission.
That mission was to serve as a model community before the whole of humanity, with the objective of guiding all the people of the world, irrespective of their race, tribe, nationality, or language, to lead a life of submission to God alone as taught by all the prophets of God including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus (peace be upon them all).
After the time of Moses, the Children of Israel had deviated much from Divine guidance contained in the Torah and the teachings of Prophet Moses. God continued to send His messengers or prophets to the Children of Israel to bring them back to the straight path. Of these prophets, the case of Jesus is particularly worth mentioning.
According to the prophecies in the Torah, as well as in the teachings of the prophets, the Children of Israel were expecting a Messiah, "Moshiach" in the Hebrew language, which literally means "the anointed one," or in ordinary language, "the specially chosen one with a divinely appointed mission," who would come and establish the "Kingdom of God" (not in the Christian sense) on earth — that is, a land governed according to the Law of God given in the Torah. When Jesus came and claimed to be the promised Messiah, most of the Children of Israel — or the Jews — rejected him on the plea that he was falsely claiming to be the Messiah.
This rejection of the Messiah (the King of the Jews) was the first departure in the history of the Jews, as it were, from the Kingdom of God under the law of God. This means that henceforth, the Jews who rejected the Messiah lost their specially chosen status and became one with the Gentiles — the non-Jewish people — whom they habitually revile.
Those Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah at that time came to be known as the Christians, but were originally termed "Muslims", which means "those who wholeheartedly submit to God", until Paul came and subverted the teachings of Jesus. Jesus Christ, just before his departure, had told his disciples to await the coming of a "Paracletos" — "comforter" or "spirit of truth" as variously mentioned in the English translations of the Bible — to complete the religion of God.
But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. (John 16:7-14, New International Version, Bible Gateway).
Christians and Muslims both accept Jesus as the promised Messiah; though their interpretations differ fundamentally; but the majority of Christians who did not truly understand or investigate the message of Muhammad (peace be upon him) rejected him as the expected "Paracletos".
Muslims believe that this rejection of Muhammad as the expected "spirit of truth" in the history of the religion of God was the second departure from the Kingdom of God under the law of God. Indeed, Prophet Muhammad was also a prophet like Prophet Moses. He was foretold in the book of Deuteronomy 18:18. He came to complete the Religion of God revealed through the prophets from the first to the last.
The point I wish to stress here is that Muslims are the true followers in the present day, of Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and Jesus. The Muslim claim to some of the places sanctified by the lives of those prophets is therefore genuinely rightful.
This, of course, does not mean that the Jews and Christians have no right to those places. In fact, the followers of the three prophets, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad can be brothers and live as brothers in the same country, mutually respecting and loving one another.
The people who call themselves "Children of Israel" now have no precedence of right to that land over the others. And the "chosen status" of the Children of Israel was diminished by the tongues of their own prophets, due to their continuous rejection of God's laws and His covenants. They were ordered to live by the Law of God, which include the acceptance of the Messiah as well as Mohammad whose coming was prophesied in their own books.
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. (Deuteronomy 18:18, New International Version, Bible Gateway)
The clear teaching of the Quran is one of integration among Jews, Christians, and Muslims; and so the Muslims cannot object to their brethren living in the Holy Land. But now the Palestinians live in the land of their birth as well as in other countries as refugees. This is due to the Israeli policy of driving away the Palestinians from the land of their birth, for annexing Palestine as their exclusive property.
Islam considers Al-Aqsa Mosque as one of the earliest and the most noteworthy places of worship of Allah. It is the same place of worship built by Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him).
(Glorified be He Who took His servant (Muhammad) for a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque (at Makkah) to the Al-Aqsa Mosque (in Jerusalem), the neighborhood whereof We have blessed, in order that We might show him some of Our signs. Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer.) (Al-Israa' 17:1)
The historical and religious significance of Al-Aqsa Mosque is further emphasized by the fact that Muslims were commanded to turn towards this mosque in Jerusalem for prayer, before the Kabah in Makkah was declared as the qiblah (the direction to which Muslim pray). This was the practice until 16 to 17 months after the Muslims' emigration to Madinah during the Prophet's time.
Furthermore, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
"Set out deliberately on a journey only to three mosques: this mosque of mine [in Madinah], the Sacred Mosque [in Makkah], and Al-Aqsa Mosque [in Jerusalem]." (Al-Bukhari)
The Prophet, also, stressed the value and importance of prayer offered in Al-Aqsa Mosque, in these words:
"A prayer in the Sacred Mosque [in Makkah] is worth 100,000 prayers, a prayer in my mosque [in Madinah] is worth 1000, and a prayer in Jerusalem [Al-Aqsa Mosque] is worth 500 prayers more than in any other mosque." (Al-Bukhari)
Ever since, Al-Aqsa Mosque and the city of Jerusalem have been very special to Muslims all over the world. They pray for it to be liberated; and they long to pray in it. And today, all Muslims pray for its liberation, as well as for the freedom of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
I hope this answers your question. Please, keep in touch.