Did Al-Aqsa Mosque exist in the times of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)?

Details of the Question
Did Al-Aqsa Mosque exist in the times of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

- Most of the Islamic scholars agree that the first qibla of Muslims, al-Aqsa Mosque is Bayt al Maqdis (in Jerusalem), whose surroundings are blessed.

In some of the historical sources, it is stated that Jerusalem was devastated in 70 A.D.  also Bayt al Makdis was destroyed during this incident. However, this place was known as a mosque and its remnants were protected.  And our Prophet gave us some information about these remnants.

At present, the wall which is called “Wailing Wall” by Jews and al-Buraq Wall”by Muslims is the remnant of the old mosque.

After Jerusalem was conquered in the reign of Umar (r.a.) in A.D. 638, al-Aqsa Mosque was built in the place of Bayt al Maqdis. Umar’s (r.a.) adopting it as a mosque was because of this place’s sacredness and significance.

Afterwards, al-Aqsa Mosque was extended in the reign of Abdulmalik bin Marwan, one of the Umayyad caliphs. The octagonal Qubbatu's-Sahra, which is next to al-Aqsa Mosque and which is supposed as al-Aqsa Mosque by Turkish Muslims, was built by Abdulmalik bin Marwan too.

Today, the claims stating that al-Aqsa Mosque is not the mosque mentioned in the first verse of Sura al-Isra are not accepted by Islamic tafsir scholars. All well known tafsir scholars agree unanimously that the mosque mentioned in the Sura al-Isra is al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. However, it is certain and true historically that there was not a mosque like now in Jerusalem at that time and there were only the remnants of the building mentioned as “Temple” in some verses of the Quran.

This place is named as “Baytu’l-Maqdis. And all well known tafsir scholarsstate that the place visited  by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is Baytu’l-Maqdis.

For example, while “al-Aqsa Mosque” is explained in Tafsir of Qadi Baydawi, the following  is stated: “It is Baytu’l-Maqdis that is implied here.  For, at that time there was not a mosque there.” We see the same expression in the Tafsirs of Nasafi and Hazan. The tafsir narrated by Ibn Abbas is like that. The following explanation is given about “al-Aqsa Mosque”in the tafsir of Elmalılı Hamdi Yazır: “Al-Aqsa Mosque is the Baytu’l-Maqdis in Jerusalem. In fact, in the hadith of Isra the following is stated:  “I rode on Buraq and arrived in Baytu’l-Maqdis.” And its surroundings means Jerusalem and its neighbourhood.” (Elmalılı, Hak Dini Kur’an Dili, 5/276)

For the Isra Incident mentioned here, see Bukhari, Bad'u'l-Khalq, 6; Muslim, Iman, 259, 264; Nasai, Salat, 10; Tirmidhi, Tafsiru surati’l-Isra 2, 17; Ahmad b. Hanbal, III/148, IV/208, V/387, 392,394.

- There are tens of tafsirs in which the word “Baytu’l-Maqdis” implying Jerusalem is used in tafsir resources to explain al-Aqsa Mosque. (As examples, see Tabari, Zajjaj/Maani’l-Qur’an, Mawardi, Tha’labi, Baghawi, Zamakhshari, Razi, Tafsir of the mentioned ayah)

- Muhammad Hamidullah prefers the view stating that al-Aqsa Mosque meaning    “the farthest mosque” mentioned in the first verse of Sura al-Isra cannot be the mosque in Jerusalem but must be an Abrahamic mosque (existing in the skies). However, it is clear for us that this view is not true.

First of all : There is not any information about a mosque named “al-Aqsa Mosque” in the sky in verses but or hadiths.

Secondly : In the event of Miraj-Isra, there are lots of sound hadiths giving information about the travel of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Jerusalem. Of course, it is not possible to admit a comment contradicting this information, accepted by the Ummah unanimously.

Thirdly : When al-Aqsa Mosque is mentioned in the relevant verse of Sura al-Isra, its location is also described and there is no doubt that this place is Jerusalem: “Glory be to HIM WHO carried HIS servant by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Distant Mosque, the environs of which WE have blessed, that WE might show him some of OUR Signs.” In a hadith, our Prophet says: “Allah has made the place between the Sky and Euphrates sacred (fertile) and has made especially Palestine sacred.” (Muslim, Iman, 282) The sacred characteristic of Jeruselam described in that hadith is also mentioned in the ayah. So, this shows that the place where al-Aqsa Mosque is is Jerusalem.

The sacredness of al-Aqsa Mosque’s surroundings, its having fertile land, rivers, trees and greens, and also its being the qibla of the prophets mean that such things cannot be considered for the skies.

Fourthly : In the 7th ayah of Sura al-Isra, there are following statements: Now, if you do good, you will do good for your own souls; and if you do evil, it will be to your own loss. So when the time for the fulfillment of the latter warning came, WE raised a people against you that they might cover your faces with grief, and that they enter the Mosque, as they entered it the first time, and that they might destroy utterly all that they conquered.In this ayah, in the statement meaning they enter the Mosque”, a known mosque is mentioned. In its Arabic form, “al-Masjid” is used with the definite article “al”.

According to the Arabic grammar rule, the definite article at the beginning of “al-Masjid” points to a place mentioned before. Its meaning is like this : “the mosque you know”. In this sura, two mosques are mentioned before. One is Masjid Al Haram belonging to Mecca, the other is al-Aqsa Mosque. In this ayah, as the addressed people are Israelites, this shows that the known mosque in Jerusalem is al-Aqsa Mosque.

- According to some scholars, al-Aqsa Mosque is Ji’rana Mosque. Ji’rana is a region between  Taif and Mecca, 9 km away from Mecca, and famous for being the place where the booty of Hunayn Battle was distributed. There is a mosque in Ji’rana built to remember the memories of the events experienced in the distribution of the booty. It is irrational to think that the expression “al-Aqsa Mosque”, which means “the farthest Mosque” is used for a place just 9 km away.  Moreover, the existence of such a mosque in Mecca at that period is not mentioned in any historical resources.

- As some people recorded rightfully, they tried to be rational in their claim stating that there was no mosque in Jerusalem.  We hear that some people entitled “theologians” are trying to stand out as if they discovered something scientific or reached some new information. However, these claims are not only irrational but they are also such claims that make the works of Zionist occupiers, who are trying hard to eliminate al-Aqsa Mosque. For, Zionist occupiers aim to break the ties of love of Muslims with al-Aqsa Mosque in order to be able to do this.

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