The entire region surrounding Masjid Al-Aqsa is called Baitul Muqaddas or Baitul Maqdis. It is also often referred to as Al-Quds. This region is in Jerusalem, Palestine (currently part of Israel).

Baitul Maqaddas, or Masjid Al-Aqsa, is one of the holiest places for Muslims. It can be ranked as the third holiest place for Muslims after Ka’aba (Baitullah) in Mecca, and Masjid Nabvi in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Baitullah is an Arabic word that can be translated as “House of Allah,” whereas the Arabic word Baitul Muqaddas or Baitul Maqdis is translated as the “Holy House.”

Baitul Maqaddis, Al-Quds, and Al-Aqsa are, in fact, the other names of the entire compound surrounding the Masjid Al-Aqsa, which is also referred to as Qibli Mosque. More commonly, it is known as Qibla-Awwal (the first Qibla) in the Muslim world.

Historical Background of Baitul Muqaddas

The history of Baitul Muqaddas is as old as that of Ka’aba. It dates back to the era of Prophet-Hood of Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ. Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ is commonly known as the founder of the Ka’aba in Mecca. But he was also the founder of the Baitul Maqaddas or Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. He gave it the name “House of Allah”. However, both were constructed with a gap of around 40 years.

It is mentioned in the Hadith Number 3366 of Sahih Al Bukhari:

Translation – Narrated Abu Dhar: I said, “O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! Which mosque was first built on the surface of the earth?” He said, “Al- Masjid-ul- Haram (in Mecca).” I said, “Which was built next?” He replied “The mosque of Al-Aqsa ( in Jerusalem) .” I said, “What was the period of construction between the two?” He said, “Forty years.” He added, “Wherever (you may be, and) the prayer time becomes due, perform the prayer there, for the best thing is to do so (i.e. to offer the prayers in time).

However, according to Jewish Traditions, the Baitul Muqaddas was constructed by the Prophet Suleman عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ. Jews refer to this place as the First Temple or Haikal-e-Sulaimani, whereas Muslims call it Al-Aqsa, Al-Quds, or Baitul Muqaddas.

Years passed, and the First Temple or Haikal-e-Sulaimani was destroyed. In the year 20 BC, it was rebuilt by the then King Herod. The Jews call it the Second Temple. Due to the uneven topography of this site, it was built on an artificial platform supported by arches. The actual building of the Second Temple sits on this platform. Masjid Al Aqsa still resides on this platform. It is not an isolated building but one of the buildings in a compound comprising some 35 acres of land, known as the Al Aqsa Compound or Baitul Muqaddas, and this entire area is situated in the old city of Jerusalem.

The Romans destroyed the second temple during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Since then, it has not been rebuilt. According to Jewish belief, they had to rebuild it as a third temple after demolishing Masjid Al Aqsa.

Importance of Baitul Muqaddas in Islam

Baitul Muqaddas is one of the holiest sites in the Islamic history. The most relevant association of this site for Muslims is the fact that it was the first Qibla of the Muslims. During the earlier days of Islam, Muslims were commanded by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى to offer their prayers while facing towards this site.

Secondly, this was the place from where Prophet Muhammad ﷺ started his Miraj (journey to the Heavens). More significantly, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ led a prayer that was offered by all the Prophets of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى

This historical event of Miraj or Isra is narrated in Surah Al Isra verse number 1:

Translation – Glory be to the One Who took His servant ˹Muḥammad˺ by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque whose surroundings We have blessed, so that We may show him some of Our signs. Indeed, He alone is the All-Hearing, All-Seeing.

History of Baitul Muqaddas in the Islamic Era

As the most sacred place for Muslims, this site remained a point of special attention for the Muslim Rulers, starting with the second Caliph Hadrat Umer رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ.

The second Caliph, Hadrat Umer رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ, visited Jerusalem and the site of the second temple. During his visit, prayer time started and he wished to offer prayers at an appropriate place. Someone suggested that he may offer prayers on the site of the demolished second temple. He did not accept this suggestion and refused, with the plea that if I did that, Muslims would treat it as a Masque, which may start a conflict between the Jews and the Muslims. So, he chose a place away from this site to offer his prayers.

The current site of Al-Aqsa Mosque is believed to have been constructed on the site where Hadrat Umer رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ  performed his prayers. This place is commonly referred to as the “Dome of the Rock.” It is situated in the center of the Al Aqsa Compound.

Baitul Muqaddas and the Early Muslim Caliphates

The Al-Aqsa Mosque, where it stands today, was constructed in different phases by the Muslim Rulers, starting with the era of Khilafat-e-Umayyad, which lasted from 661 to 680 CE, most probably by Caliph Muawia. However, most historians think that Khaleefa Abdul Malik started the first construction in 691 CE.

Subsequently, it underwent various phases of redesigning and renovations during the Abbasid regime. During the Fatimid regime, an earthquake damaged the structure of this Mosque. So, reconstruction work was started by the then-Fatimid ruler Al Zahir in 1034 CE. In 1065 CE, the task was eventually completed during the reign of Al Mustansar.

Baitul Muqaddas and Ayyubid Regime

In 1099 CE, the Christian rulers conquered Jerusalem. Consequently, they transformed the Dome of the Rock into a Church, whereas the Al-Aqsa Mosque was used as a Palace. Some historians believe they used this place as a stable.

During that era, some structural changes were made in the building by adding Western and Eastern Annexes. These are the same annexes where the women’s prayer hall is situated these days.

In 1187 CE, Sultan Salahuddin Ayyubi regained control of Jerusalem. He then started to revamp the entire Al Aqsa Mosque, adding a minibar. Thereafter, a northern porch with three gates was constructed in 1218 CE. Two more gates and naves were added to it in 1345 CE.

History of Baitul Muqaddas in the Ottoman Empire

The Ottomans should have paid more attention to the Baitul Muqaddas. However, Al Aqsa Compound got the attention of some local Governors of Jerusalem. It is believed that none of the Ottoman Sultans ordered any maintenance and renovation work at this place, but the local Governors mostly did it independently. They tried to revamp the entire complex and added various new buildings, such as the Fountain of Qasim Pasha. They also revamped the three free-standing domes, including the Dome of the Prophet. Existing minarets were, however, added by the order of the Ottoman Sultans.

Baitul Muqaddas in the Contemporary History

In 1922, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem entrusted the revamping task of Baitul Muqaddas to Turkish Architect Kemaluddin Bey. He was asked to restore the building to its historical shape. He completed the task by 1925. However, the building was badly damaged during an earthquake in 1927 and 1938. As a result, major reconstruction and revamping work was started, which shaped the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as we can see today.

Unfortunate Incident in Baitul Muqaddas

A most unfortunate incident occurred on 21 August 1969 when an Australian visitor, Denis Michael Rohan, tried to burn down the Baitul Muqaddas. Though he initiated the fire, he could not completely burn it down. However, the dome of the Al-Aqsa Mosque was badly damaged. This necessitated the reconstruction of this Dome. Later, it was replaced with a concrete Dome.

This tragic incident triggered the formation of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation).

Importance of Baitul Muqaddas for Muslims

  • It is mentioned frequently in the Quran
  • It is the First Qibla of Muslims.
  • It is the site from where Prophet Muhammad ﷺ started his historic journey to the Heavens, more commonly known as Isra or Miraj.
  • It is the place where all the Prophets of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى offered prayers under the Imamat (leadership) of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ on the occasion of Miraj.
  • It is one of the two places called the “House of Allah”
  • It is the area where so many Prophets were sent by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى, and many of them were also buried here.
  • Many of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ are buried here.

Conclusion

Baitul Muqaddas Al-Aqsa, or Al-Quds, is one of the most sacred and historic Islamic sites, commonly known as Al-Aqsa Mosque. Its history dates back to the era of the Prophets Ibrahim and Sulaiman. It is also believed that Prophet Dawud contributed to the construction of this “House of Allah.”

Being the first Qibla, the site is religiously associated with the Muslims. This is one of their most revered Islamic sites. It has remained the focal point in the history of Islam, which has resulted in some deadly conflicts between the Islamic Countries and Israel. The conflict is still there, and the Palestinians are paying a heavy cost by way of loss of lives and properties today. The world community has to resolve this issue once and for all.