Masjid Aqsa is an iconic mosque found in the Old City of Jerusalem, but it is often shrouded in mystery as its exact geography is unknown to many Muslims and non-Muslims alike. What many people don’t know is that by unlocking the mystery of Masjid Aqsa, one can begin unraveling the sacred site’s importance to Islamic culture. The origin of the name “Masjid Aqsa” is derived from the Quran, which refers to this mosque as “the farthest mosque”. Believed by many to be linked to the Islamic prophet Muhammad, this edifice is believed to be a link to the heavens and has also come to stand for much of Islamic history and faith. Located near Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, which is considered the holiest Jewish site, it is exposed to widespread political and religious friction, with its physical control alternating between different eras of Israeli and Palestinian control.
Exploring Where Masjid Aqsa is Located
Masjid Aqsa lies in the Haram al-Sharif compound of the Old City of Jerusalem in the state of Palestine. Palestinians consider the Old City their ancestral home and consider the mosque a symbol of their long struggle against occupation. As a result of its location in Palestine, nationals of certain countries, such as the United States, may face difficulties in visiting the mosque, doing so requires special travel permits. The construction of Masjid Aqsa began during the Umayyad dynasty in 705 CE and was completed during the reign of Al-Walid I in 715 CE. Throughout its long history, parts of the building have been destroyed and reconstructed, such as its iconic golden dome, which was reconstructed multiple times with different materials. Since its foundation, the mosque has been of huge religious, geopolitical, and historical significance for Muslims around the world. It even features in the five prayers a day and is the third holiest site for Muslims, after the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca and the Nabawi Mosque in Medina.
A Virtual Journey to Discover its Country
Nowadays, due to the political instability in the region and the restrictions imposed on visits from certain countries, it’s impossible for many people to visit this sacred site in person. However, through the internet and technology, it is possible to take digital tours or virtual reality (VR) tours of the mosque — digital tours that can be experienced from the comfort of one’s home no matter where they live in the world. These digital tours are powered by software like Google Earth, enabling people to explore every corner of the mosque as if they were actually there. VR tours, in particular, make the experience even more realistic, while also exposing viewers to its 8th-century masterpiece walls and intricate architectural details.
An Overview of the Historical Significance of the Mosque
For many Muslims, Masjid Aqsa is a place of immense spiritual importance — a focal point of their religious beliefs and practice. It is believed to be the first qibla, or place at which Muslims knelt to face during prayer, before turning towards the Ka’bah in Mecca. The mosque is historically linked with the Isra, Prophet Muhammad’s night journey from Mecca to the heavens. It is here that Muhammad was joined by the angel Gabriel before ascending to heaven. This journey, regarded as miraculous, is considered a holy pilgrimage in Islam. While it holds religious significance, Masjid Aqsa also represents Palestine’s long history with occupation. Israel has reasserted control over the holy site on many occasions, resulting in physical destruction and its symbolism has been often used as a rallying point for Palestinian resistance.
Spotlighting the Sacred Site’s Significance to Muslims
The Masjid Aqsa is a mosque of great nationalist, religious and political importance for the Muslims of Palestine and for Palestinians, who view it as a symbol of their resistance against Israeli occupation. As the third holiest site in Islam, every Muslim is required to visit it at least once, if they can afford it. Muslims from around the world interpret the mosque in different ways, some as a holy pilgrimage site, while others as a place of spiritual contemplation. The blessed mosque is symbolized as protection and strength, enabling Palestinians to retain their identity, while they fight against an oppressive regime. That’s why, beyond its religious importance, Masjid Aqsa symbolizes the resilience and unity of a people struggling to maintain their homeland and freedom.
Tips for Visiting Masjid Aqsa from Anywhere
Although it is difficult to physically visit Masjid Aqsa due to its placement in a politically volatile region, there are various ways to get a taste of the experience.
- Read about the traditional pilgrimage and associated rituals.
- Watch documentary videos about the mosque.
- Visit virtual or 3D tours websites.
- Stay informed of political, religious and cultural developments in the Palestinian Territories.
- Contribute to Palestinian charities.
- Explore the Old City of Jerusalem and the surrounding area through interactive map websites.
- Experience the city through virtual reality tour websites.
- Study the city’s history and the significance of Masjid Aqsa.
- Take a break and become part of a discussion group, where you can learn more and share experiences.
- Visit the nearest local mosque and join in Muslim activities, such as interfaith dialogue and collective prayers.
Visiting Masjid Aqsa is a unique spiritual experience, especially during Ramadan and the Hajj period. For those who live far from the mosque and can’t visit it in person, technology makes it possible to explore its beauty from anywhere in the world.