Masjid al-Aqsa is the first qibla, the second mosque on earth, and the third holiest site in the world. Its history is marked by profound religious significance, multiple liberations and reconstructions, and pivotal historical moments.

Where is it located?

Masjid Al-Aqsa also referred to as Bayt al-Muqaddas or Al-Haram Al-Sharif is located in the Old City of Al-Quds/Jerusalem and covers an area of approximately 144,000 square meters, which constitutes about 1/6th of the total area of the Old City. The entire Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is capable of accommodating up to 500,000 worshippers.

Common Misconceptions:

There is often confusion between Masjid Al-Aqsa, Qibli Masjid, and the Dome of the Rock. It is important to clarify that Masjid Al-Aqsa is a vast compound that includes both the Qibli Masjid and the Dome of the Rock, along with numerous other structures, platforms, and open courtyards situated both above and below ground level. The compound houses over 200 historical monuments representing various Islamic eras, making it a site of immense historical and religious significance

Who built it?

The first mosque built on earth is Masjid Al-Haram (Ka'aba) in Makkah. Subsequently, 40 years later, Masjid Al-Aqsa was established. This is supported by a hadith:

I said, "O Allah's Messenger , Which mosque was first built on the surface of the earth?" He said, "Al-Masjid-al-Haram (in Makkah)."

I said, "Which was built next?" He replied "The mosque of Al-Aqsa (in Al-Quds/Jerusalem)."

I said, "What was the period of construction between the two?" He said, "Forty years."

[Sahih al-Bukhari 3366]

Most scholars concur that Prophet Adam (as) laid the foundations of Ka'aba when he was sent to earth, leading to the belief that Adam (as) built Masjid Al-Aqsa after 40 years.

Reconstruction by Prophet Sulaiman (AS)

At the time of Prophet Dawud (as) and Sulaiman (as), Masjid Al-Aqsa had fallen into ruin. Dawud (as) was initially given the noble task of rebuilding the mosque, but he passed away before completing it, leaving the duty to his son, Sulaiman (as).

Prophet Sulaiman, known for his rule over people and jinn, had a considerable amount of support in rebuilding al-Aqsa. However, he was concerned that his time in this world was coming to an end. During the reconstruction, he made a special prayer (du'a) to Allah:

When Prophet Sulaiman finished building Bayt al Muqaddas (Masjid Al Aqsa), he asked Allah for three things: (1) a judgement that was in harmony with His judgment, (2) a dominion that no one after him would have, and (3) that no one should come to this mosque intending to pray there without emerging free of sin as the day his mother bore him,"

The Prophet then said; "Two prayers were granted, and I hope that the third was also granted."

[Ibn Majah]

SubhanAllah, although Sulaiman (as) passed away while rebuilding the Masjid, Allah still answered his du'a, by ensuring the rebuilding work continued.

In a miraculous event, Sulaiman (Peace be upon him) remained standing, leaning on his walking stick, even after his soul left his body. This led the workers to believe that he was still supervising them, so they continued their work until the mosque was completely rebuilt. It was only when a group of termites had eaten through his walking stick, causing it to no longer support him, that he fell to the ground. [Mentioned in Quran 34:12-14]

When We decreed Sulaiman's death, nothing indicated to the ˹subjected˺ jinn that he was dead except the termites eating away his staff. So when he collapsed, the jinn realized that if they had ˹really˺ known the unseen, they would not have remained in ˹such˺ humiliating servitude.

Quran 34:14


In 586 BCE, the Babylonians burned down Masjid Al-Aqsa, significantly damaging it. However, by Allah's will, some of the underground level was preserved and remains intact to this day, situated beneath today's Qibli Masjid.

In the 6th century BCE, Jews built a temple they call "the Second Temple" at the compound.

Then Romans came and destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE.

After the division of the Roman Empire in the late 3rd and 4th centuries CE, the eastern half continued to thrive and became known as the Byzantine Empire

During the control of the Byzantine Empire, also known as the Eastern Roman Empire, the compound of al-Aqsa (Bayt-ul-Muqaddas) became a rubble pit.

Byzantines built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the 4th century CE approximately 0.5 kilometers away from the al-Aqsa compound which translates to a walking distance of around 10 minutes.

The Ascension of Prophet Muhammad

Masjid al-Aqsa houses Dome of the Rock which is the location from where Muhammad ascended to Heaven during the Night Journey known as Isra and Mi'raj. The journey includes the Prophet's visitation to the heavens where he met various prophets and received the instructions for the Muslim prayer (Salah).

Glory be to the One Who took His servant ˹Muhammad˺ by night from Masjid al-Haram to Masjid al-Aqsa whose surroundings We have blessed, so that We may show him some of Our signs. Indeed, He (Allah) alone is the All-Hearing, All-Seeing.

[Quran 17:1]

Buraq was the name of the heavenly steed on which the Prophet rode on his nocturnal journey from Makkah to Jerusalem, and then to the heavens. There's a mosque built, inside Al-Aqsa compound, at the location where he tied the steed.

Read why Palestine is called the Land of the Prophets

The Liberation by Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab (RA)

In 637 CE, after the victorious Battle of Yarmuk, the Muslim armies, under commanders like Khalid ibn al-Walid and Amr ibn al-'As, encircled Jerusalem. The Patriarch of Jerusalem insisted that the Caliph himself must come to Jerusalem – only then he will surrender the city. Caliph Umar (RA) made the journey to Jerusalem to accept its surrender personally, signifying the importance and peaceful nature of the conquest. He was greeted with respect by Patriarch Sophronius and given a tour of the city.

During the treaty negotiations when the prayer time came and Caliph Umar (RA) wanted to pray, the Patriarch offered to arrange his prayer in the Cathedral itself. At this, Caliph Umar (RA) said that he does not want to pray in the Cathedral because later generations might demolish it and build a mosque there; that he does not want to set such a precedent.

So, Caliph Umar (RA) prayed outside of the Cathedral's precincts where prophet Dawud (David) was believed to have prayed.

In 1193, Ayyubid Sultan al-Afdal (Son of Salahuddin Ayyubi) built the "Mosque of Umar" at that place in respect of him. It's just a throne away from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Treaty of Umar, which he signed with Patriarch Sophronius, assured the inhabitants of Al-Quds/Jerusalem of their safety, the security of their property and places of worship, and freedom of religion. This treaty is one of the earliest and most significant guarantees of religious freedom in history, setting a precedent for Muslim-Christian relations and protecting the rights of conquered peoples. The treaty's progressive nature allowed for the coexistence of different faiths under Islamic rule.

When Caliph Umar arrived at the Masjid Al-Aqsa, which was rubble at that time, he started picking up the garbage. Looking at him, his soldiers joined and soon the compound was cleaned. Then Caliph Umar commissioned the construction of a wooden mosque on the southern end of the compound facing the rock that marks the site of Isra and Mi'raj. The location of this mosque is where the current Qibli Mosque stands.

Umayyad Caliphate

In the 7th century, Caliph 'Abdul Malik built the magnificent Dome of the Rock. As part of the al-Aqsa Mosque, it was not a separate house of worship, nor was it meant to compete with the Al Aqsa Mosque, but was meant as a complement to it.

With its distinctive gold-plated dome, it stands out in the city's skyline. Its octagonal design is adorned with elaborate Islamic tile work, Quranic verses, and calligraphy, reflecting the artistic excellence of the era. Inside, the decoration is equally impressive, featuring detailed mosaics and marble columns

Given the magnificence of the building, some modern historians have argued that 'Abd al-Malik intended the building to be a rival to the Ka'bah in Makkah. Had he intended to do so, Muslim scholars of the time would have no doubt expressed outrage and recorded his blasphemous intentions in books written during that time. However, there exists no contemporary account of him having such an intention, and the earliest mention of this idea was written 200 years later, by someone meant to be with a strong anti-Umayyad bias.

Decline under the Fatimid Period

During the Fatimid period, which began with their control over Jerusalem in 970 AD, the Al-Aqsa compound experienced both decline and renewal. The Fatimid Empire, based in Egypt and belonging to the Ismaili sect of Shi'ism, had a profound impact on the city. Initially, the Fatimid rule disrupted the flourishing educational activities within Al-Aqsa, replacing them with official Shi'a institutions and leading to a period where Islamic education in the city was notably reduced.

The most tumultuous time was under the rule of Abdul Hakim, starting in 996 AD, who imposed harsh measures. It's said that he outlawed the Muslim fast of Ramadan, and prevented Muslims from going to Makkah for pilgrimage. By the end of his rule in 1021, the city of Jerusalem had all lost its status as a center of Islamic scholarship. Beyond that, he also oppressed Christians and Jews in Jerusalem, and destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in direct conflict with the promises of 'Umar in 637.

However, subsequent moderate Fatimid rulers took a more accommodating stance towards Al-Aqsa and its history. After a significant earthquake in the 1030s, they renovated the mosque, resulting in the structure with a central nave and seven grand arches that are more or less unchanged to this day.

This period ended when the Seljuk Turks, Sunni Muslims from Central Asia, took Jerusalem in 1073 AD, which marked the return of Islamic scholarship and the revival of intellectual activities within the city


Conquest of Jerusalem (1099 AD): The Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099 after a long march filled with battles. Upon their arrival, they initiated an infamous massacre, indiscriminately killing people in streets, homes, and alleyways.

Massacre at Masjid Al-Aqsa: The Muslims sought refuge in Al Masjid Al-Aqsa, but the Crusaders entered the mosque and committed a massive massacre, killing thousands of Muslims within its confines. Following this, Masjid Al Aqsa was converted into a palace. This event marked one of the darkest and bloodiest days in the mosque's history.

Conversion of Religious Sites: After their victory, the Crusaders converted the mosques into churches, renaming the Dome of the Rock to the Temple of God and Mosque Al-Aqsa to the Temple of Solomon. The whole compound was made off-limits to all non-Christians, becoming the center of religious and civil life in Crusader Jerusalem.

Liberation by Sultan Salahuddin Ayyubi

The turning point came with the decisive Battle of Hattin in July 1187, where Salahuddin defeated the Crusaders who had attacked Muslim pilgrims. This victory paved the way for his liberating Jerusalem in October 1187. When Salahuddin entered Jerusalem, he did so with humility and forbade any massacre or plunder of Christians, in stark contrast to the actions of the Crusaders during their siege in 1099. He even paid the ransom for those who could not afford it, ensuring their safe departure from the city.

For Salahuddin, the conquest of Jerusalem and Masjid Al-Aqsa was not just a military victory but also a fulfillment of a profound religious aspiration. His commitment to Islamic law and the liberation of al-Aqsa was deeply ingrained in his leadership and military strategy. Upon entering Al-Aqsa, he purified the mosque personally along with his soldiers with rose-water, reminiscent of the earlier liberation by Caliph Umar Ibn Al Khattab.

Salahuddin's conquest of Al-Quds signified the end of the Christian rule established in 1099 and brought Palestine back into the fold of the Muslim world. His respectful and just treatment of the defeated Christian population earned him admiration and respect, not only among Muslims but also among non-Muslims.

After he died in 1193, the Ayyubid Dynasty of his descendants continued to rule over Jerusalem and take charge of its defense from Crusader attacks. In the late 1200s and early 1300s, the Ayyubid Dynasty gradually gave way to the new Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt which was ruled by Turkish soldiers.

Minbar of Salahuddin Ayyubi

Three minbars were constructed for Salahuddin, one for Masjid al-Aqsa, second for Masjid al-Azhar in Cairo, and third one for Masjid-e-Ibrahimi in Palestine which is the only surviving minbar out of three.

The al-Aqsa Minbar was made by Nuruddin Zangi, specifically constructed and intended for the liberation of al-Aqsa.

In 1969, Denis Michael, an Australian terrorist, torched al-Aqsa on fire that destroyed several parts of the mosque including the minbar.

In response to this loss, a reconstruction project was undertaken. A new minbar, mirroring the original in design and materials, was created by an international team of experts in Jordan. This replica was installed in Al-Aqsa Mosque in 2007.

Ottoman Caliphate

The Ottoman Empire was emerging as a new mega-power in the Muslim world. Sultan Selim I peacefully took control of Jerusalem in 1516 from the Mamluks. The city was made the capital of the sanjak of Jerusalem, and the Ottomans sent governors, soldiers, and administrators to manage it.

The Ottoman period was characterized by significant construction and beautification efforts, particularly under Sulaiman al-Kanuni, who came to governance in 1520. Notable renovations included the complete overhaul of the Dome of the Rock, which was covered in marble, colored tiles, and calligraphy, featuring verses from the Quran. Suleyman also commissioned a fountain near the main entrance of the Al-Aqsa Mosque for ritual purification (wudu) and ordered the rebuilding of the city walls, which still stand today.

British Occupation

Under centuries of Ottoman rule, Jerusalem, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque, maintained a status quo with Muslims in administrative charge while Jews and Christians were given religious freedom. This balance was disrupted with the emergence of the Zionist movement in Europe, which sought to establish an exclusively Jewish state in Jerusalem and surrounding areas. When their requests were denied by the Ottoman ruler Sultan Abdul Hamid II in the late 1800s, Zionists turned to the British during World War I.

The British captured Jerusalem in 1917, marking the first time since the Crusades that the city was under non-Muslim control. However, unlike the Crusades, there was no massacre, and the Muslim community continued to control the Haram area, albeit under British oversight — a slow poison.

The British control over Jerusalem led to increased Jewish immigration from Europe. Hundreds of thousands of Jews emigrated to Palestine, many settling in Jerusalem and forcefully occupying the homes and lands of Palestinian people.

Creation of Israel Apartheid State

By 1948, when the British withdrew from Palestine, the stage was set for the establishment of Israel. Hundreds of Zionist arms groups opened fire at thousands of Palestinian civilians, including women and children, causing great suffering.

The Nakba began — 750,000 Palestinians were displaced, around 530 villages and cities were destroyed, over 125,000 homes were demolished, and over 15,000 Palestinian civilians were killed, marking a genocide.

Following the Arab-Israeli War in 1948-49, Al-Quds was divided into West Jerusalem, occupied by Israel, and East Jerusalem, controlled by Jordan.

The situation changed dramatically in 1967. During the Six-Day War, Israeli troops occupied East Jerusalem as well. This occupation was a significant turning point, marked by the flying of an Israeli flag atop the Dome of the Rock and damage to the mosque from a fire started by an Australian terrorist.

The occupation led to strict controls on Muslim entry into Jerusalem, with most non-resident Muslims barred from praying at the mosque. While a Muslim-controlled waqf officially manages the Haram area, entry is strictly overseen by Israeli police who usually prohibit access deliberately during prayer times.

Israeli Incursions and Effects

Israeli settlers and far-right activists, often backed by police, frequently enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque, disregarding the site's Palestinian Muslim administration. These incursions have been a long-standing source of tension and violence in East Jerusalem. Palestinians view these as attempts to "Judaise" the city and erase its Islamic Palestinian heritage.

Israeli authorities have frequently overridden the Waqf's jurisdiction over non-Muslim visits to Al-Aqsa Mosque, a practice established under an agreement with Jordan. This has frequently led to confrontations and suppressive actions against Palestinians. Since Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, these raids on Al-Aqsa have persisted, involving violence and efforts to change the historical status quo of the site.

Current Status of Jerusalem

Today, Israel occupies both East and West Jerusalem.

West Jerusalem is almost-fully colonized by Jews, while East Jerusalem has a significant Palestinian population who face regular discrimination and violence. Palestinians in East Jerusalem also live under different legal and administrative rules than Israeli citizens.

Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa often face recurring violence and assaults from the Israeli military.

Read Israel-Palestine History (1948-2023)

Some photos of Masjid Al Aqsa

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