|Prophet Muhammad's Night Journey To Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa - The Farthest Mosque|
|Written by mquran.org|
|Monday, 20 November 2006|
Figure 1: An aerial view of Haram al-Sharif
Many some people point to an alleged difficulty concerning the above passage. They claim that :
They further add :
Similarly, the Christian apologist `Abdallah `Abd al-Fadi says:
Firstly, al-Aqsa mosque was built not "about a hundred years" after the death of the Prophet in 11 AH / 632 CE. In 49-50 AH / 670 CE, Bishop Arculfus, a Christian visitor in Jerusalem, reported:
By the time Bishop Arculfus was in Jerusalem, some 40 years after the death of Prophet Muhammad, the al-Aqsa mosque was already being used as a place of worship by Muslims. Secondly, as usual, the solution to such a "difficulty" lies in part in an elementary knowledge of the Arabic language as well as an understanding of basic Islamic concepts relating to the word "masjid".2. What Is A Masjid?
We will begin by dealing with the word masjid from both the linguistic and legal points of view. The Arabic word for "mosque" is masjid. Discussing with the word masjid from a linguistic point of view al-Zarkashi says:
The Arab grammarians classify masjid as "ism makan", i.e., "name of location"; it indicates the place where an action takes place. Masjid being derived from the root sa-ja-da (to prostrate), it means "place of prostration". Since a place of worship is a place where believers prostrate to God, "masjid" is a general term to designate any place of worship without any religious distinction. Later, this word was used to designate Islamic places of worship in particular, i.e., the mosques.
The Prophet's night journey was from "the inviolable place of worship" (al-Masjid al-Haram) to "the farthest place of worship" (al-Masjid al-Aqsa). The former is certainly located in Makkah, but what about the latter? The reference to Allah blessing its surroundings (... whose precincts We did bless) suggests a location in the "Holy Land" (cf. 21:81; 7:137; 34:18). Neal Robinson states:
This view is also shared by many western scholars.
As it was mentioned earlier that masjid refers to a place of prostration without any religious distinction; an excellent example of the usage of the word "masjid" referring to a non-Islamic sanctuary can be seen in the verse 17:7. The verse describes briefly the destruction of the masjid in Jerusalem (i.e., the Temple) by the enemies of Children of Israel. Allah says in the Qur'an that the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem was a punishment was inflicted upon the Children of Israel for their tyranny and arrogance.
Now that the linguistic issues are clarified, let us now turn to the legal issues (i.e., Islamic Law) concerning the word masjid. Al-Zarkashi says:
Further he emphasizes:
In summary, masjid from a linguistic point of view means a "place of prostration" without any religious distinction. From a legal point of view the word masjid in shari`ah constitutes every place on earth that is fit for prostration. In other words masjid does not designate a building but only a "place of prostration"; the place may or may not have the building. In support of the argument, we quote hadith #323 in Sahih al-Bukhari that has already been mentioned by al-Zarkashi:
So, according to this hadith, any place on the earth is a masjid for Muslims. Therefore, whether there was a building or not when the Prophet made his heavenly trip, it is the location of the "Farthest Mosque" that is intended by the verse and not a building per se because the location where it lies was blessed by God as mentioned in verse 17:1 "the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless". Therefore, no one can claim that the word "masjid" in the Islamic terminology refers necessarily to a building. Imam Ibn Hajar confirms this opinion in Fath al-Bari (his commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari) :
Before we close this issue, one should realize that verse 17:1 also speaks of "The Sacred Mosque" which is in Makkah around the Ka`bah. Did a building for the mosque exist there in the time of the Prophet? The answer is that the Ka`bah was there but there was no building for the mosque. This further adds to the argument that the word masjid in this verse refers to a place of performing the prostration and does not imply the presence of a "building" in the modern understanding.
The above understanding of the word masjid as a place of worship not building per se is also well supported by archaeological and historic evidence. Below we present a picture of an early mosque in a place called Besor in Occupied Palestine.
Figure 2: Besor masjid
Figure 3: Besor mosque, The Qiblah
Moshe Sharon comments about the Besor mosque. He says:
There are many other examples of early mosques from Negev region that are nothing but a few stones arranged to mark the mihrab.[12,13]
Figure 4: Mosque at Nahal Oded with the upright stone showing the direction of the qibla.
Figure 5: Mosque at Be'er Karkom with a rounded southward-facing mihrab niche.
Figure 6: Mosque at Har Oded facing south-southeast.
Figure 7: Modern Bedouin open mosque in Transjordan
It is clear from the above pictures that a mosque is simply a place where Muslims prostrate in prayer. It does not need an elaborate building to be called a mosque. The open mosques that we have seen above do exist even today in Middle East and North Africa.
Concerning early mosques, Creswell states:
It is worth noting that the Prophet disliked extravagance and impressive architecture in buildings, especially mosques. The relative simplicity of early mosques is in fact a historical example of how the Prophet's Companions diligently followed his wishes. This is true to a greater extent even today.3. Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa: A Place Of Prostration For Jews
The Qur'an refers to al-Aqsa as a masjid, a place of prostration. Was this place used for prostration in early times?
Al-Masjid al-Aqsa and the surrounding area (i.e., Dome of the Rock among others) is usually identified with the place where the Temple of Solomon once stood. Bet ha-Miqdash, as the Temple is usually known in Jewish literature, was primarily a place of assembly for the entire people, for purposes of sacrifice, prayer, and thanksgiving. It is in the prayer ritual that prostrations were performed by the priests. Encyclopaedia Judaica provides an interesting account of the prayer ritual by the priests of the Temple.
It is interesting to note that the Temple was considered as the only place of prostration by some Rabbis and that they would refuse to completely prostrate outside the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Jewish concept of worship has extensive vocabulary, out of which hishtahawah, "to prostrate oneself," is the most frequently used in the Hebrew Bible (86 times).4. Yet Another Problem!
In the same article, those express another objection:
Firstly, we have already shown that the word masjid does not necessarily refer to a building but rather to a location, i.e., the place of prostration. Secondly, those try to deceive the readers in the above paragraphs. Indeed, they admit the Islamic opinion that Abraham rebuilt the Ka`bah (it was Adam who built it originally according to the Islamic tradition), but for unjustified reason they overlook the Islamic traditions addressing the construction of the farthest mosque, presumably to generate a "contradiction".
They identify the Farthest Mosque with the Temple of Solomon without further justification, and point out an error that they had invented themselves. Let us for example see what Imam Ibn Hajar says about this hadith in Fath al-Bari:
After quoting other opinions, Ibn Hajar insists :
In summary, the verse 17:1 refers to the holy locations in Jerusalem and Makkah because they are blessed regardless of the presence or absence of a building at the time of the heavenly trip of Prophet Muhammad. From an Islamic point of view, evidence has been given by eminent Muslim scholars like Ibn Hajar and Ibn al-Jawzi showing that it was Adam who built both mosques for the first time and that the job of Abraham and Solomon was only a renovation/reconstruction of these sanctuaries.5. Conclusions
The word masjid from a linguistic point of view refers to a place of prostration without any religious distinction. From a legal point of view the word masjid in shari`ah constitutes every place on earth that is fit for prostration, whether or not it is a building.
The verse 17:1 may very well refer to the holy locations in Jerusalem and Makkah because they are blessed regardless of the presence or absence of a building at the time of the heavenly trip of Prophet Muhammad from Makkah to Jerusalem to the Heavens. From an Islamic point of view, evidence has been given by eminent Muslim scholars like Ibn Hajar and Ibn al-Jawzi who have discussed the issue. They have shown that it was Adam who built both mosques for the first time and that the duty of Abraham and Solomon was only a renovation/reconstruction of these sanctuaries.
And Allah knows best!
Appendix: Who Turned The Temple Mount Into A Garbage Dump?
Let's now deal with some side issues. The some people tell us that when the Muslims conquered Jerusalem they found the Temple Mount filled with garbage:
Two question now arise, who abandoned the Temple Mount and why was it filled it with rubbish? The facts become clearer when we actually fill in the blanks "..." in some people' quotation:
So, it was the Christians who abandoned the Temple some 600 years before the Muslims entered it. But who used the Holy place a rubbish dump?
It was the Christians! The Christian attitude towards Jerusalem can be understood by reading the New Testament. Paul's Epistles and the Book of Revelation may have defined a theological framework for the attitude towards Jerusalem, but the two synoptic Gospels of Luke (19:42-44) and Matthew did more than that. They also provided guidelines for political or quaispolitical actions after Christianity became the officially established religion of the Roman Empire. The Gospels relate how Jesus rebuked his disciples when they admired the Temple's beauty from the Mount of Olives: "His disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the Temple. But he answered them, 'You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left any stone upon another.'" (Matthew 24:1-2).
Art historians such as Nuseibah and Grabar have reached a similar conclusion concerning the Christian attitude towards the Temple Mount:
Thus the Christians preferred to leave Temple as it was after its destruction; it was left abandoned and became a place of dumping city garbage. It would not be out of place to cite the attitude towards Jerusalem in the early Christian literature. We will take the examples from the writings of John Chrysostom and Athanasius, both of them contemporaries. John Chrysostom of Antioch was the founding father of Christian anti-semitism, whose writing against Jews are extremely vitriolic and of bad taste (no wonder the Christian Church honoured him!). He lived during the period (4th century CE) when Christian eschatology was being linked to Jerusalem or (euphemistically) the Temple Mount. In the wake of Jewish proselytizing efforts, which he feared would empty the churches, Chrysostom vented unbridled wrath against the Jews of Antioch, levelling various accusations against Jews and Judaism. He censured the Jews for celebrating Passover outside Jerusalem, thereby disobeying their own commandments. Above all, he claimed that Jerusalem's destruction testified the truth of Christianity. Jerusalem has been in ruins and lost to the Jews for three hundred years; why should they await a change? They tried to rebuild the Temple three times - in the time of Hadrian (Bar Kochba revolt), Constantine (an unknown attempt) and Julian. All the attempts failed. It should make amply clear to the Jews that their status will not change. It is true that the prophets referred to an end to exile, but they did not mean the present exile, which is eternal. In this way, Jerusalem's status came to be identified by the Christians with the fate of Jews; the latter's final, eternal defeat.
Like his contemporary John Chrysostom, Athanasius was involved in anti-Jewish polemics but not as bitterly as the former. Athanasius thought that the incorporation of Jerusalem into Christian Empire provides the proof of new religion's truth. According to Jesus' prophecy, the Holy City as well as Temple have been taken from them forever.
The Christian Jerusalem, before of the advent of Islam, had undergone subtle developments. The Christians had appropriated a body of Jewish traditions concerning the Temple Mount (some of them mentioned in the New Testament) and were now applied to the Church of Holy Sepulchre and Church of Resurrection. The process of "consecration" of Jerusalem and making it into a Christian city met with little opposition; the pagans had no opposition, while the Jews had not been permitted to reside in Jerusalem since the time of Hadrian (the Bar Kochba revolt). And as expected the Temple Mount was left in the state of pile of fallen masonry and rubbish.
It was Islam that restored the sanctity of Temple Mount, and made it a place of prostration and prayer.
 `Abdallah `Abd al-Fadi, Is The Qur'an Infallible?, 1995, Light of Life: Villach (Austria), p. 271.
 A. Duncan, The Noble Sanctuary: Portrait Of A Holy Place In Arab Jerusalem, 1972, Middle East Archive: London (UK), p. 24.
 Badr al-Din bin Muhammad bin Bahadir al-Zarkashi, I`lam Al-Sajid Bi-Ahkam Al-Masajid, 1995, Dar al-Kutub al-`Ilmiyyah, Beirut (Lebanon), p. 13.
 N. Robinson, Discovering The Qur'an: A Contemporary Approach To A Veiled Text, 1996, SCM Press Ltd.: London, p. 192.
 See for example the recent work of Heribert Busse, "The Destruction Of The Temple And Its Reconstruction In The Light Of Muslim Exegesis Of Sura 17:2-8", Jerusalem Studies In Arabic And Islam, 1996, Volume 20, p. 1.
 Al-Zarkashi, I`lam Al-Sajid Bi-Ahkam Al-Masajid, op. cit., pp. 13-14.
 ibid., p. 14.
 Sahih al-Bukhari, available online.
 Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani, Fath al-Bari available online.
 M. Sharon, Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarium Palaestinae, 1999, Volume II, Brill: Leiden, see plates P29 and P30.
 ibid., p. 172.
 G. Avni, "Early Mosques In The Negev Highlands: New Archaeological Evidence On Islamic Penetration Of Southern Palestine", Bulletin Of The American Schools Of Oriental Research, 1994, Volume 294, pp. 83-100. All the pictures are taken from here.
 U. Avner & J. Magness, "Early Islamic Settlement In The Southern Negev", Bulletin Of The American Schools Of Oriental Research, 1998, Volume 310, pp. 39-57. This articles throws further light on an early Islamic open mosque and a settlement.
 K. A. C. Creswell, A Short Account Of Early Muslim Architecture, 1968, Librairie Du Liban, Beirut, pp. 15-16.
 "Temple", Encyclopaedia Judaica (CD-ROM Edition), 1997, Judaica Multimedia (Israel) Limited.
 "Tahnum", ibid.
 "Worship", ibid.
 See ref. 4.
 "Dome Of The Rock" in C. Glassé, The Concise Encyclopaedia Of Islam, 1989, Stacey International: London, p. 102.
 K. Armstrong, Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths, 1997, Ballantine Books: New York, p. 229.
 S. Nuseibah & Oleg Grabar, The Dome Of The Rock, 1996, Thames and Hudson: London (UK), p. 35.
 St. John Chrysostom (translated by P. W. Harkins), Discourses Against Judaizing Christians, 1979, The Catholic University Of America Press: Washington, DC.
 ibid., See discourse IV: 4.9, 5.1-3, 6.1-5.
 ibid., See discourse V: 3.13-15; also 5.10
 ibid., See discourse V: 4.5.
 St. Athanasius (translated by C. S. M. V.), The Incarnation Of The Word Of God: Being The Treatise Of St. Athanasius De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, 1944, The Centenary Press: London (UK), see the chapter VI, "Refutation Of The Jews", p. 64.
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