Al-Aqsa Mosque also known as Al-Aqsa and Bayt al-Muqaddas is the third holiest site in Islam and is located in the Old City of Jerusalem. The mosque was originally a small prayer house built by the Rashidun caliph Umar, but was rebuilt and expanded by the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik and finished by his son al-Walid in 705 CE.
After an earthquake in 746, the mosque was completely destroyed and rebuilt by the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur in 754, and again rebuilt by his successor al-Mahdi in 780.
When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099, they used the mosque as a palace and church, but its function as a mosque was restored after its recapture by Saladin in 1187. More renovations, repairs and additions were undertaken in the later centuries by the Ayyubids, Mamluks, Ottomans, the Supreme Muslim Council, and Jordan.
The mosque resides on an artificial platform that is supported by arches constructed by Herod’s engineers to overcome the difficult topographic conditions resulting from the southward expansion of the enclosure into the Tyropoeon and Kidron valleys.
At the time of the Second Temple, the present site of the mosque was occupied by the Royal Stoa, a basilica running the southern wall of the enclosure.
The Royal Stoa was destroyed along with the Temple during the sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE. Emperor Justinian built a Christian church on the site in the 530s which was consecrated to the Virgin Mary and named “Church of Our Lady.”
For Muslims, the city of Jerusalem is an important site. As the home of numerous prophets of Islam such as Dawud (David), Sulayman (Solomon), and ‘Isa (Jesus), the city was a symbol of Islam’s past prophets.
As Muslims came to control Iraq and then Syria in the 630s, however, Jerusalem would become a Muslim city, and the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem would become one of the most important pieces of land in the Muslim empire.
Throughout the complex and war-torn history of this city, the Mosque has been a center-piece of the struggle for Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock was built at the very summit of the Haram complex, and is thus one of the most impressive and notable buildings of the city.
It has an octagonal footprint, from which rises a 20 meter dome that was originally covered in lead sheets. Calligraphy adorned both the inside and outside of the building, with some of the oldest existing Quranic inscriptions being inside the dome of the building.
In the 1980’s, the Israelis started an archaeological project in the area of the Dome of the Rock (Masjid Al-Aqsa). They began excavation claiming that they were searching for the Temple Of King Solomon.
They were unable to locate the Temple Of King Solomon, but in the process discovered the tunnel of King Je-hoia-chin. The Israelis claimed that the search was a success only because they discovered the collapsed tunnel of King Je-hoia-chin, which is in no way related to the Temple of King Solomon.
This tunnel has no religious significance, it only has historical significance. The entrance was then sealed and today has been reopened without justification. The significance to the Muslims is well understood, they fear for Masjid Al-Aqsa and its foundation, and that in some way this excavation can damage the Holy Mosque.