Summary ... The Muslim claim that the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem is the "furthest mosque" mentioned in the Koran is completely false; the Al Aqsa Mosque was not built until 80 years after Mohammed's death.
The Muslim "claim" to Jerusalem is based on what is written in the Koran, which although Jerusalem is not mentioned even once, nevertheless talks (in Sura 17:1) of the "furthest mosque": "Glory be unto Allah who did take his servant for a journey at night from the Sacred Mosque to the Furthest Mosque." But is there any foundation to the Muslim argument that this "furthest mosque" (Al-Masujidi al-Aqtza) refers to what is today called the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem? The answer is: none whatsoever.
In the days of Mohammed, who died in 632 of the Common Era, Jerusalem was a Christian city within the Byzantine Empire. Jerusalem was captured by Khalif Omar only in 638, six years after Mohammed's death. Throughout all this time there were only churches in Jerusalem, and a church stood on the Temple Mount, called the Church of Saint Mary of Justinian, built in the Byzantine architectural style.
The Aqsa Mosque was built 20 years after the Dome of the Rock, which was built in 691-692 by Khalif Abd El Malik. The name "Omar Mosque" is therefore false. In or around 711, or about 80 years after Mohammed died, Malik's son, Abd El-Wahd — who ruled from 705-715 — reconstructed the Christian-Byzantine Church of St. Mary and converted it into a mosque. He left the structure as it was, a typical Byzantine "basilica" structure with a row of pillars on either side of the rectangular "ship" in the center. All he added was an onion-like dome on top of the building to make it look like a mosque. He then named it El-Aqsa, so it would sound like the one mentioned in the Koran.
Therefore it is crystal clear that Mohammed could never have had this mosque in mind when he compiled the Koran, since it did not exist for another three generations after his death. Rather, as many scholars long ago established, it is logical that Mohammed intended the mosque in Mecca as the "Sacred Mosque," and the mosque in Medina as the "Furthest Mosque." So much for the Muslim claim based on the Aqsa Mosque.
With this understood, it is no wonder that Mohammed issued a strict prohibition against facing Jerusalem in prayer, a practice that had been tolerated only for some months in order to lure Jews to convert to Islam. When that effort failed, Mohammed put an abrupt stop to it on February 12, 624. Jerusalem simply never held any sanctity for the Muslims themselves, but only for the Jews in their domain.
[ Dr. Manfred R. Lehmann | Published: May 11, 2004; Originally published in the Algemeiner Journal, August 19, 1994 ]
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