The structure with the silver/grey dome at the front of Masjid al-Aqsa is known as Masjid al-Qibly as it is located nearest to the Qiblah, the direction of prayer. The front of Masjid al-Aqsa is aligned directly towards the Ka’bah in Makkah.
- The event of the night journey to Jerusalem is mentioned in Surah al-Isra (also known as Surah Bani-Israeel) in the Quran: “Glory be to the One who took His Slave for a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the furthest Mosque, whose precincts we have blessed.“ [17:1]
- When Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) entered the al-Aqsa sanctuary in 638 CE he was shocked to find it covered with rubbish as the Romans had been using the area as a rubbish tip. The Caliph knelt down immediately and with his own hands began to clear the area. When the Muslims saw what he was doing, they followed suit and soon the whole area was cleansed. They then walked further, near to the niche of Dawud (upon him be peace), and offered two rak’ah prayers in the first of which Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) recited Surah Sa’d (38) and in the second of which he recited Surat al-Isra (17), containing reference to the Isra’ and Mi’raj.
- Then he asked Ka’b al-Ahbar (a former Jewish rabbi who had embraced Islam), “Where should I build the mihrab (prayer niche)?”, “Behind the Rock,” replied Ka’b, “so that you will offer it behind the two qiblahs,” i.e. the qiblah of Musa and the qiblah of Muhammed. Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said to Ka’b, “You speak like the Jews. We will build the niche in front of the Rock. The entire site is part of the mosque. Therefore, our niche should be in the best part, which is in the front portion.”
- Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) thereafter commissioned the construction of a wooden mosque (which could accommodate 3,000 worshippers) on the southern end of the compound where the present Qibly masjid stands. By doing so he returned the sanctuary to the purity of its past worship, which had been abandoned both by Christianity and Judaism.
- Several earthquakes through the centuries severly damaged the mosque, necessitating complete renovations. The construction of the current building was done by the Umayyad Caliphs Malik bin Marwan and his son, Walid bin Abdul Malik. When the Crusaders occupied Masjid al-Aqsa, they converted this building as their headquarters. It was renovated again by Salahuddin Ayyubi after he reconquered Jerusalem and returned to its former state.
Great virtue of praying in Masjid al-Aqsa:
- Abu Darda (may Allah be pleased with him) relates that the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “ A prayer in Makkah is worth 100,000 times, a prayer in my Masjid (Madina) is worth 1,000 times, and a prayer in al-Aqsa is worth 500 times more than anywhere else”. [Al-Tabarani, al-Bayhaqi and al-Suyuti]
References: Palestine: Beginner’s guide – Ismail Adam Patel, Forty Ahadith concerning Masjid al-Aqsa – Ismail Adam Patel, Al-Quds – Mohammed Abdul Hameed Al-Khateeb