Did Masjid al-Aqsa exist in Quds when the Prophet (pbuh) lived?

The Details of the Question

- The Prophet tells Makkan polytheists that he went to Bayt al-Maqdis in the miracle of Miraj but the polytheists do not believe him. Jibril brings Bayt al-Maqdis in front of his eyes and he gives them information about the windows and doors of Bayt al-Maqdis by looking at it. (Bukhari, Manaqibul-Ansar, 41)

- However, Bayt al-Maqdis had been demolished then. There were not even ruins of it; it was a scrapheap. Afterwards, Hz. Umar cleaned this area. That is, there were no doors, windows or a mosque there. It is definite in both Islamic resources and historical documents that the mosque did not exist then.   

- What doors and windows did the Prophet describe? Either those narrations are fake or the Prophet is a liar. There is no other explanation for it. There was no mosque; how can there be windows and doors? Will you explain it? 

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

- The majority of Islamic scholars agree that Masjid al-Aqsa, which was the first qiblah of Muslims, is in Bayt al-Maqdis (in Quds), whose precincts were blessed.

It is stated in some historical resources that Quds (Jerusalem) was destroyed in 70 AD and that Bayt al-Maqdis was also demolished then. However, that place was still known as a worshipping place and the ruins of Bayt al-Maqdis were kept. The Prophet gave information about those ruins.

The wall that is called the "Wailing Wall" by Jews and "Buraq Wall" by Muslims is a remnant of the old temple.

In 638 AD, Masjid al-Aqsa was built in the place of Bayt al-Maqdis after Quds was conquered during the caliphate of Hz. Umar. The reason why Hz. Umar built the mosque there was the holiness and importance of that place.

Masjid al-Aqsa was expanded during the caliphate of Abdulmalik bin Marwan, who was an Umayyad caliph. The temple that is next to Masjid al-Aqsa and that has eight corners and called Qubbatus-Sahra was built upon the order of Abdulmalik bin Marwan.

The claims that the mosque mentioned in the first verse of the chapter of al-Isra is not Masjid al-Aqsa is not regarded as appropriate by Islamic tafsir scholars. All famous tafsir scholars agree that what is meant by the mosque in the verse is Masjid al-Aqsa in Quds. However, it is historically true that there was not a mosque like the one today at that time in Quds and that there were ruins of the building mentioned as "Mabad (Temple)" in the Quran.

That place was called “Bayt al-Maqdis”. It is stated by all famous scholars that the place the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) visited was this “Bayt al-Maqdis”.

For instance, when the name "Masjid al-Aqsa" is explained the tafsir of Qadi Baydawi, the following is stated: "What is meant here is Bayt al-Maqdis  because there was not a mosque there at that time." We see the same statement in the tafsirs of Nasafi and Hazin. The tafsir reported from Ibn Abbas is like that too. The following explanation is made in the tafsir of Elmalılı Hamdi Yazır about the phrase "Masjid al-Aqsa": "Masjid al-Aqsa is Bayt al-Maqdis in Quds. As a matter of fact, the following is stated in the hadith of Isra: 'I mounted Buraq. I arrived at Bayt al-Maqdis.' Its precincts means Quds and the places around it." (Elmalılı, Hak dini Kur’an Dili, 5/276)

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

- There are tens of tafsirs in which the phrase “Bayt al-Maqdis”, which indicates Quds, is used to explain Masjid al-Aqsa. (For instance, see Tabari, Zajjaj / Maanil-Qur’an, Mawardi, Tha’labi, Baghawi, Zamahshari, Razi, the interpretation of the relevant verse)

- Muhammad Hamidullah prefers the view that "Masjid al-Aqsa", which is used in the sense of "the farthest mosque", cannot be the mosque in Quds and that it must be a heavenly mosque (a mosque in heavens). However, it is clear according to us that this view is not true.  

Firstly, there is no information about the existence of a temple called "Masjid al-Aqsa" in the sky in the verse or hadiths.  

Secondly, there are a lot of sound hadiths mentioning the journey of the Prophet (pbuh) from Makkah to Quds in the incident of Miraj-Isra. It is definitely not possible to accept an interpretation that is contrary to this information accepted by the ummah unanimously.  

Thirdly, in the relevant verse of the chapter of al-Isra, when Masjid al-Aqsa is mentioned, the place it is located in is also mentioned; there is no doubt that this place is Quds:

“Glory to (Allah) Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless,- in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth (all things)!”

The Prophet (pbuh) states the following in a hadith:

“Allah blessed what is between the Throne and Euphrates and He made Palestine sacred." (Muslim, Iman, 282)

The sacred quality of Quds mentioned in the hadith above is mentioned in the verse in the same way. It shows that the place where Masjid al-Aqsa is located is Quds.

That the precincts of Masjid al-Aqsa were made blessed means that it has fertile land, that there are rivers, trees and greenness there and it is the qiblah of prophets; it is not possible to think of something like that for heavens.

Fourthly, the following is stated in verse 7 of the chapter of al-Isra:

“If ye did well, ye did well for yourselves; if ye did evil, (ye did it) against yourselves. So when the second of the warnings came to pass, (We permitted your enemies) to disfigure your faces, and to enter the mosque as they had entered it before, and to visit with destruction all that fell into their power.”

The phrase “enter the mosque” in the verse expresses a known mosque. In the Arabic phrase it is used as “al-masjid”; the prefix “al” in Arabic is the definite article “the”.

According to the Arabic grammar, the prefix (article) “al” at the beginning of “masjid” refers to something mentioned before. Its meaning becomes “the masjid (mosque) you know”. The word masjid is mentioned twice previously. One of them is Masjid Haram in Makkah and the other is Masjid al-Aqsa. Since the addressees are Sons of Israel in the last verse, it shows that the masjid that is known and that is in Quds is Masjid al-Aqsa.

- According to some, Masjid al-Aqsa is Ji’rana Masjid. Ji’rana is a place 9 kilometers away from Makkah between Makkah and Taif; it is a region that became famous as the place where the booty obtained at the Battle of Hunayn was distributed. There is a mosque that was built to remember the incidents that took place there when the booty was distributed. It is not logical at all to imagine that the phrase “Masjid al-Aqsa”, which means “the farthest mosque”, was used for a place only 9 km away. Besides, it is not mentioned in any historical resources that there was a such a mosque in Makkah at that time. 

- As some people express appropriately, those claims are used by some people who say that they act in accordance with "rationalism", stating that there was no mosque in Quds at that time. We hear that some people who have the title "theologian" put it forward as if they have made a scientific discovery and have found some information that has not been known before. In fact, those claims have no coherent aspects; they are claims that will pave the way for the Zionist invaders who do their best to demolish Masjid al-Aqsa. For, the Zionist invaders aim to break the bond of love between Masjid al-Aqsa and Muslims in order to attain their goal.

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