World Religions

Places of Worship – Al-Aqsa Mosque

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Location: Jerusalem, Palestine

Belief: Islam

Era: 1035 CE

One of the most well-known sites worldwide, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits on Al-Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) adjacent to (and often confused with) the Dome of the Rock, has been in the news for decades. The Temple Mount is hugely significant for Muslims, Jews and Christians.

For Muslims, this is also the location where the Holy Prophet (sa) was taken on a miraculous spiritual journey  – known as Isra – to the Al-Aqsa Mosque where he led previous prophets of God, including Abraham (as), Moses (as) and Jesus (as), in prayer.

The mosque is also referred to as the Qibli Mosque because Muslims used to pray towards Jerusalem before the Holy Prophet (sa) was instructed to change the direction of prayers towards the Ka’bah in Makkah.

Some years later, the Caliph Umar (ra) peacefully took control of Jerusalem in 638 CE and created an environment of tolerance and respect between Muslims, Jews and Christians in the city. The first prayer hall was erected in the late seventh century CE as a simple wooden structure housing 3,000 worshippers, as witnessed by Bishop Arnulf when he visited the city in 668 CE. In establishing a small prayer house on the compound, Umar (ra) was careful not to set a precedent of usurping other places of worship, and encouraged Jews and Christians to continue to worship in safety.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque was destroyed by an earthquake in 746 CE and then rebuilt by the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mansur. A new style was created with a central prayer area and a large dome above the mihrab. It was again destroyed by an earthquake in 1033, and was rebuilt two years later in its current form under the auspices of the Fatimid Caliph Al-Zahir.

In the centuries that followed, it had a colourful history amid the tensions between different occupying forces.  In 1099 CE, Christian Crusaders from Europe used it as a base in the city, but it was reinstated by Salahuddin in 1187 CE and has been a functioning mosque for Muslims for almost a thousand years since. This is why Al-Aqsa has such significance and attachment for Muslims in general and Palestinians in particular.

The mosque has a capacity of 5,000 worshippers. Its huge interior hall is supported by 45 columns. On Fridays and during celebrations, worshippers fill not just the prayer hall, but also the huge courtyard. Despite ongoing tensions, it is hoped that peace will prevail in the region, and the mosque will hold its place alongside places of worship of Christians and Jews in this historic city.


A. Aziz, History of Islam: Umar ibn al-Khattab, The Second of the Four Rightly-Guided Caliphs (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Darussalam, 2012).

Adam Zeidan, “Al Aqsa Mosque,” Britannica. Accessed: March 2, 2024.

D. Cohn-Sherbok & D. El-Alami, The Palestine-Israeli Conflict (Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications, 2009).

M. Frishman, & H. Khan., The Mosque – History, Architectural Development & Regional Diversity (London, UK: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1994).