History of Al-Aqsa Mosque
Al-Aqsa mosque was built in 705 CE, following the Muslims conquest of Jerusalem. It was part built as part of the Muslim Ideology to Muslimize the world, and especially at sites and cities that were sacred to other religions. Being so, in Jerusalem the Muslims developed a belief that the former Jewish Temple Mount is also where Muhammad ascended to heaven to get the prayers of Islam. The iconic Dome of the Rock was designed to sanctify the alleged footprint of Muhammad and. It is a major Muslim pilgrimage destination to this day. However, the Quran does not state that the ascension took place in Jerusalem, but rather from the “farthest mosque”. Being so, the mosque built next to the Dome of the Rock was named “Al-Aqsa” (in Arabic: “The farthest”), to legitimize the Muslim claim.
Unlike the Dome of the Rock the Al-Aqsa fell into ruins several times due to earthquakes. Furthermore, in the time of the Crusaders it was converted to the headquarters of the Templars order, and was named “Solomon’s Temple”.
After the expulsion of the Crusaders the building returned to be a mosque, a status kept to this day. In the 20th the Al-Aqsa mosque became the symbol of the local Arab national movement. In fact, the second Palestinian uprising, in September 2000, was called “The Al-Aqsa Intifada”.
Visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque
Due to the ongoing tension between the Palestinian Muslims and the State of Israel the entry to the Temple Mount is quite restricted. Moreover, since 2000 entry to the Al-Aqsa mosque is forbidden for non-Muslims. Nevertheless, it is still possible to appreciate its size and façade. Its frontal decorations include still bear a few architectural elements from the time of the Crusaders. Furthermore, the courtyard to the right of the mosque bears a display of many additional architectural elements, mostly capitals. They are additional testimony to the many renovations conducted in the mosque in Muslim and Crusaders times.
For a full appreciation of the mosque and other sites on the Temple Mount, it is recommended to combine it in a guided day tour of Jerusalem.