Al-Aqsa Mosque (Arabic: المسجد الاقصى, translit: al-Masjid al-Aqsa), is the general and oldest name for the compound of Islamic religious buildings in Jerusalem(Al Quds) known also as The Noble Sanctury (Arabic: الحرم القدسي الشريف, translit:al-Haram al-Qudsi al-Sharif). It is also the specific name of the congregation mosque at the southern edge of the compound.
Al-Aqsa Mosque encloses over 35 acres of buildings, fountains, gardens, and domes. At its southernmost end is Al-Aqsa Mosque congregational building, and at its centre is the celebrated Dome of the Rock. The entire area is regarded as a mosque and comprises nearly one sixth of the walled old city of Jerusalem. The whole compound accomodates hundreds of thousands of worshippers.
Origin of name
The name "Al-Aqsa Mosque", al-Masjid al-Aqsa in Arabic, translates to "the farthest mosque" ("the remote mosque" according to some translations, such as that of Muhammad Asad), and is associated with the Isra and Mi'raj, a journey made around 621 CE (1 BH) by the Islamic Prophet Muhammad (c. 570-632) on the winged steed Buraq, which was brought to him by the Archangel Gabriel. This is often referred to in English as Muhammad's "night journey". According to a Qur'anic verse, Prophet Muhammad took the journey in a single night from "the sacred mosque" (in Mecca) to "the farthest mosque" (in Jerusalem). From a rock there, Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, accompanied by Gabriel, touring heaven and receiving the commandments, including the five daily prayers, before returning to Earth and back to Mecca to communicate them to the faithful.
The muslim scholar Ibn Taymiyah discusses the term al-Masjid al-Aqsa as this:
al-Masjid al-Aqsa is a name that refers to the whole area of the masjid that was built by Suleiman Peace Be Upon him. Some people today use the term to refer to the prayer house built by Umar bin al-Khattab at the front of this area... When Umar asked Kaab: Where to buid a prayer house for the muslims. Kaab replied: behind the Rock. Umar said: No, but I will build it in front of the Rock because we always pray at the front of mosques. Therefore, Imams usually if they enter the masjid area, they gather people and stand to lead the prayers in the house built by Umar
Regarding the name, other sources mention the following:
Originally the term al-Masjid al-Aqsa was used to refer to the whole area of al-Haram al-Qudsi al-Sharif with all what it holds from establishments including the Dome of the Rock built by Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan in 72 AH (691 CE), which is considered among the most notable Islamic structures. Today, the term al-Masjid al-Aqsa is also used to refer to the large Mosque in the southern part of al-Haram al-Qudsi." ... "The Dome of the Rock structure resides at the heart of al-Masjid al-Aqsa, in the southeaster part of the Old City of Jerusalem, which is wide rectangular area extending 480 meters from the north to the south, and from the east to the west about 300 meters. This area constituites what is almost fifth of the Old City."
According to the teachings of Islam, God in the Qur'an used the word Mosque when referring to the sites established by Abraham and his progeny as houses of worship to God centuries before the revelation of the Qur'an. The first of these spots is Masjid al-Haram in Mecca and the second is Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Before Mecca and Jerusalem came under muslim control in 630 CE (8 AH) and 638 CE (16 AH), the site of the Kaaba, which was established by Abraham and Ishmael but at the time of Muhammad was used by pagans. In Jerusalem the site of Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was under Roman Empire, was an abadoned and abused area by the Romans but on which a house of worship established originally by Jacob forty years after his grandfather Abraham established the Kaabah and was used by succeeding prophets like David, Solomon, and Zacharias.
Qur'an and hadith (oral traditions from Muhammad) mention Al-Aqsa Mosque at different places.
|“||And when Abraham and Ishmael raised the foundations of the House (Kaaba): Our Lord! accept from us; surely Thou art the Hearing, the Knowing.||„|
|“||And when We assigned to Abraham the place of the House (Kaaba), saying: Do not associate with Me aught, and purify My House for those who make the circuit and stand to pray and bow and prostrate themselves.||„|
|“||So her Lord accepted her (Mary) with a good acceptance and made her grow up a good growing, and gave her into the charge of Zakariya; whenever Zakariya entered the sanctuary (Al-Aqsa Mosque) to (see) her, he found with her food. He said: O Marium! whence comes this to you? She said: It is from Allah. Surely Allah gives to whom He pleases without measure.||„|
|“||Then the angels called to him as he stood praying in the sanctuary (Al-Aqsa Mosque): That Allah gives you the good news of Yahya verifying a Word from Allah, and honorable and chaste and a prophet from among the good ones.||„|
|“||Glory be to Him Who made His servant (Muhammad) to go on a night from the Sacred Mosque to the remote mosque of which We have blessed the precincts, so that We may show to him some of Our signs; surely He is the Hearing, the Seeing.||„|
|“||If you (Israelites) do good, you will do good for your own souls, and if you do evil, it shall be for them. So when the second promise came (We raised another people) that they may bring you to grief and that they may enter the mosque (Al-Aqsa Mosque) as they entered it the first time, and that they might destroy whatever they gained ascendancy over with utter destruction.||„|
|“||So he (Zakariya) went forth to his people from his place of worship (Al-Aqsa Mosque), then he made known to them that they should glorify (Allah) morning and evening.||„|
Restoration of the Mosque site by the Caliph Umar bin al-Khattab
Before Jerusalem came under the control of muslims in 638 CE (16 AH), it was widely understood that al-Aqsa mosque is the same as David's sanctuary. Muslims were looking forward to restore al-Aqsa mosque and revive it by worship and free it from the Roman hands. The Quranic verse 2:114 has been mentioned by many Muslim scholars to refer to the fact that Romans did not allow the faithful to pray at the site and seek its destruction.
|“||And who is more unjust than he who prevents (men) from the masjids of Allah, that His name should be remembered in them, and strives to ruin them? (As for) these, it was not proper for them that they should have entered them except in fear; they shall meet with disgrace in this world, and they shall have great chastisement in the hereafter.||„|
When Umar bin al-Khattab was given the key to the city by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Sophronius, he signed with him a treaty that is known as the “Covenant of Omar” and he later asked the Patriarch of Jerusalem to show him what Omar spelled out as “Masjid Dawood” (Mosque of David). This was called David's sanctuary or prayer niche (mihrab Dawud), in the Qur'an (38:21). David chose the site on which Solomon built his temple. It was an abandoned place and abused by the Romans and the Church at the time. The Patriarch took him to the door of the sanctuary which was almost blocked due to the trash that was placed at the door. Omar looked left and right and said: “Allah is Great, I swear by the one who hold my soul in his hand that this is the Mosque of David which the prophet of Allah described to us after his night journey.” The Caliph Omar started cleaning up the place. He asked Kaab al-Ahbar (كعب الأحبار), who was a Jewish Rabbi that has converted to Islam and came with Omar from Medina, to guide him to the place of the Rock. Omar used his cloths to remove the trash covering the Rock, and other muslims did what Omar was doing. After cleaning up the place, Omar went to the al-Mihrab (a chamber inside the Mosque where the Imam usually stands) and started praying and reading Surat Sad from Quran.
Umar Ibn al-Khattab asked Kaab: Where should we pray? He said: towards the Rock. Umar replied: Oh, Kaab! You are glorifying Judaism. But I will make the Qibla of this masjid at its front just like the Prophet of Allah made the Qibla of all our masajid at its front.
Al-Aqsa Congregational Mosque
When the Muslim Calpih Umar bin al-Khattab (c. 581-644) conquered Jerusalem in 637, he built a prayer house to the south of the rock. It was a simple timber mosque. After the Umayyid Cailph Abd al-Malik built a masjid over the rock between 687-691, which was named Qubbat As-Sakhrah meaning "The Dome of the Rock", some years later, in 709-715, Umayyad caliph al-Walid, son of Abd al-Malik, built, renovated, and expanded the mosque originally built by Umar bin al-Khattab south of the Rock.
The building suffered from several major earthquakes and was renovated and reconstructed during the Abbasid period by Caliph al-Mahdi (775-785) and possibly by Caliph al-Mansur (754-775). A further reconstruction was executed during the Fatimid period, in the 11th century. The mosque presently accomodates more than five thousand worshippers.
The building derives its name from the Quranic "Masjid al-Aqsa" used to name the vast open expanse that includes also the Rock. The building is sometimes called al-Aqsa congregation mosque (Arabic: جامع المسجد الأقصى, translit: Jami al-Masjid al-Aqsa) to the building from the compound itself. Other names are Mosalla al-Masjid al-Aqsa, Masjid al-Qibli.
In this regard, the leading muslim scholar Ibn Taymiyah reports:
al-Masjid al-Aqsa is a name that refers to the whole area of the masjid that was built by Suleiman Peace Be Upon him. Some people today use the term to refer to the prayer house built by Umar bin al-Khattab at the front of this area.
Dome of the Rock
The Dome of the Rock was constructed as a mosque to commemorate the Prophet's Night Journey.
In 630 CE (8 AH), long before the Dome of the Rock was erected, `Umar ibn al-Khattāb helped by Kaab al-Ahbar and other Muslims recovered the Rock and dug it out of the dust and cleansed the area which had been abandoned for hundreds of years since the Roman destruction. Ibn Asakir  mentions that Umar never built any Muslim house of worship on that spot but rather chose to erect a mosque in the southern area of the Haram es Sharif with the Rock behind to the north. He did this to make clear that the qibla of prayer was south, towards the Kaabah in Mecca and that Muslims never dispute the correct direction of pray, resulting in them possibly praying towards the Rock as the Jews were doing. The Rock area remained uncovered until the time of Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan who started construction in 685 CE (65 AH), completing it in 691 CE (71 AH). The Muslim scholar al-Wasiti reports this incidence:
When Abd al-Malik intended to construct the Dome of the Rock, he came from Damascus to Jerusalem. He wrote, "Abd al-Malik intends to build a dome (qubba) over the Rock to house the Muslims from cold and heat, and to construct the masjid. But before he starts he wants to know his subjects' opinion." With their approval, the deputies wrote back, "May Allah permit the completion of this enterprise, and may He count the building of the dome and the masjid a good deed for Abd al-Malik and his predecessors." He then gathered craftsmen from all his dominions and asked them to provide him with the description and form of the planned dome before he engaged in its construction. So, it was marked for him in the sahn of the masjid. He then ordered the building of the treasury (bayt al-mal) to the east of the Rock, which is on the edge of the Rock, and filled it with money. He then appointed Raja' ibn Hayweh and Yazid ibn Salam to supervise the construction and ordered them to spend generously on its construction. He then returned to Damascus. When the two men satisfactorily completed the house, they wrote to Abd al-Malik to inform him that they had completed the construction of the dome and al-Masjid al-Aqsa. They said to him "There is nothing in the building that leaves room for criticism." They wrote him that a hundred thousand dinars was left from the budget he allocated. He offered the money to them as a reward, but they declined, indicating that they had already been generously compensated. Abd al-Malik orders the gold coins to be melted and cast on the Dome's exterior, which at the time had a strong glitter that no eye could look straight at it. 
The two engineers Yazid ibn Salam, a Jerusalemite, and Raja' ibn Hayweh, from Baysan, were ordered to spend generously on the construction. In his Book of the Geography, al-Maqdisi reported that seven times the revenue of Egypt was used to build the Dome. During a discussion with his uncle on why the Caliph spent lavishly on building the mosques in Jerusalem and Damascus, al-Maqdisi writes:
O my little son, thou has no understanding. Verily he was right, and he was prompted to a worthy work. For he beheld Syria to be a country that had long been occupied by the Christians, and he noted there are beautiful churches still belonging to them, so enchantingly fair, and so renowned for their splendour, as are the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the churches of Lydda and Edessa. So he sought to build for the Muslims a mosque that should be unique and a wonder to the world. And in like manner is it not evident that Caliph Abd al-Malik, seeing the greatness of the martyrium of the Holy Sepulchre and its magnificence was moved lest it should dazzle the minds of Muslims and hence erected above the Rock the dome which is now seen there. 
Mr A.C. Cresswell in his book Origin of the plan of the Dome of the Rock writes that those who built the mosque made use of the measurements of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The diameter of the dome of the mosque is 20m by 20cm and its height 20m by 48cm, while the diameter of the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is 20m by 90cm and its’ height 21m by 5cm.
| In a well-known passage of his Book of Geography , al-Maqdisi tells us how his uncle excused Abd al-Malik and Al-Walid I for spending so much good Muslims money on buildings: They intended to remove the fitna, the 'annoyance,' constituted by the existence of the many fine buildings of worship of other religions. The very form of a rotunda, given to the Qubbat as-Sakhra, although it was foreign to Islam, was destined to rival the many Christians domes. The inscriptions decorating the interior clearly display a spirit of polemic against Christianity, while stressing at the same time the Koranic doctrine that Jesus Christ was a true prophet. The formula la sharika lahu 'god has no companion' is repeated five times, the verses from sura Maryam 16:34-37, which strongly deny Jesus' sonship to God, are quoted together with the remarkable prayer:
Allahumma salli (with ya; read salli without ya) ala rasulika wa'abdika 'Isa bin Maryam - "Pray for your Prophet and Servant (not Son, of course) Jesus".
All this shows that rivalry with Christendom, together with the spirit of Islamic mission to the Christians, was at the work at the creation of the famous Dome .
The Dome is in the shape of a Byzantine martyrium, a structure intended for the housing and veneration of saintly relics and is an excellent example of middle Byzantine art. Haj Amin Al-Husseini, appointed Grand Mufti by the British, along with Yacoub Al Ghussein implemented restoration of Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. He had the Dome gold-plated for the first time.
Essentially unchanged for more than thirteen centuries, the octagonally-shaped Dome of the Rock remains one of the world's most enduring architectural treasures. The gold foil covered dome stretches 20 metres across the Noble Rock, rising to an apex more than 35 metres above it. The facade is made of porcelain  The Koranic sura, or chapter, "Ya-Seen" is inscribed across the top in the tile work commissioned in the 16th century by Suleiman the Magnificent. The sura al-Isra (The Night Journey), is inscribed above Ya-Seen.
- ↑ Palestinian Encyclopedia Volume 4, pp. 203
- ↑ Palestinian Encyclopedia Volume 3, pp. 23
- ↑ Burguoyne . M.H.. Mamluk Jerusalem, London, 1987
- ↑ Aref al-Aref, The Detailed in the History of Jerusalem, 1961, page 219.
- ↑ Oleg Grabar, THE HARAM AL-SHARIF: AN ESSAY IN INTERPRETATION, BRIIFS vol. 2 no 2 (Autumn 2000) 
- ↑ Suliman Bashear, Qur'an 2:114 and Jerusalem, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 52, No. 2 (1989), pp. 215-238
- ↑ Tarikh al-Tabari, Chapter: Fath Bayt al-Maqdis
- ↑ The Gaullic bishop Arculf who visited Jerusalem in 670 A.D. describes the new mosque that was founded right after the capture of Jerusalem by Umar as a rectangular wooden structure, built over ruins and capable of accommodating 3000 worshipers
- ↑ Ibn Asakir, Tarikh Madinat Dimashq 1, pg. 176.
- ↑ Abu-Bakr al-Wasiti, Fada'il Bayt al-Maqdis, pp. 80-81, vol 136.
- ↑ Nasser Rabbat,The Dome of the Rock Rvisited: Some Remarks on al-Wasiti's Accounts, Muqaranas, Vol. 10, Essays in Honor of Oleg Grabar, pp. 66-75, 1993
- ↑ Shams al-Din al-Maqdisi, Ahsan al-Taqasim fi Mar'rifat al-Aqalim, 2nd ed. (Leiden, 1967) pp. 159-171.
- ↑ Second edition, pg.159, 4-11)
- ↑ Shlomo Dov Goitein, The Historication background of the erection of the Dome of the Rock, Journal of American Oriental Society, Vol. 70, No. 2, 1950.