Spirituality, holiness, and inner peace! Muslims are brought back to the glorification of our Lord and our utmost devotion to our abiding faith, worship, and ancient history whenever the blessed holy site of Bayt al-Maqdis is mentioned. Bayt al-Maqdis, The House of Holiness, signifies great importance and adheres to close bonds and firm ties that link Muslims to this historic landmark and to Palestine.
Set in the Old City of Jerusalem, Bayt al-Maqdis is the third holiest site in Islam after Masjid al-Haram and Masjid al-Nabawi. Its unique history as the place of worship closely intertwined with the lives of our Holy Prophets gives it a special status in the hearts of the entire Muslim Ummah. Moreover, Bayt al-Maqdis is not only a pivotal aspect of a Muslim believer’s dedication but also highlights the divine attribution of our beloved Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). He marked it as a strong bond of creed for the Ummah. This quote, “If the Ummah is one body, then oh Palestine, you are the heart of this body,” clearly portrays the revered and honored position that Palestine holds in the hearts of Muslims worldwide.
Jerusalem, also known as Quds, was marked as a divine connection to the embracement of all faiths from the beginning of Prophethood to its finality. Be it Muslims, Christians, or Jews, the 144,000 square meters of the sacred place can accommodate a region of 500,000 worshippers. Likewise, the significance and respect that people have for the holy city are more than clear in a song from the 60s by Fairuz, a renowned Lebanese singer, who titled Jerusalem as “the rose among cities.”
The Quran and the Hadith of our beloved Prophet Muhammad mentions this spiritual piece of architecture several times. So, let us take a little look into the history of this hub of culture and religion which symbolizes miracles and attaches Muslims to the city by religious belief.
⦁ The Beginning of Times; An Islamic History
Bayt Al-Maqdis is the third holiest site in Islam. It was built 40 years after Al Masjid al-Haram. There has been somewhat of a conflict between who has built this historic site. While some scholars claim their view that Bayt Al-Maqdis was erected by Prophet Adam (A.S), our first Messenger, other historians believe that Prophet Ibrahim (Peace Be Upon Him) built the landmark or ordered it to be built during his life. Moreover, in the history of Islam, Bayt Al-Maqdis has been rebuilt, repaired, and restored multiple times.
During the period of Prophet Ibrahim (A.S), his sons Prophet Ismael and Prophet Ishaq and his grandson Prophet Yaqoob, Bayt al-Maqdis was a sacred place of worship with esteemed importance. However, there was no one left from among the descendants of Prophet Yaqoob to look after the blessed place during the period of Prophet Yusuf (A.S). Thus, the Arabs of the land of Palestine were entrusted with the supervision and custody of Bayt Al-Maqdis.
The native population of Palestine, the Arabs, have historical significance in regarding this land. Throughout history, Arabs have continuously migrated to the Levant which includes the ancient areas of Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Syria. Above all, the Qur’an reveals that even before the divine commandment of Prophet Musa (Peace be Upon Him), the Arabs were present in Palestine.
⦁ Prophet Musa; Savior of the Israelites
After the period of Prophet Isa (A.S), during the time of Prophet Musa, the Israelites who willingly emigrated to Egypt to seek a better life and were enslaved by Egyptians for over four centuries were freed from under the reign of the Pharaoh Firoun by the Prophet. All of this took place under the divine commandment of Allah. Allah then commanded the Children of Israel to enter the holy land of Palestine and warned them about rebellion against the Lord’s commandment. In Surah al-Ma’idah, the Qur’an states that Prophet Musa said, “O my people! Enter the holy land which Allah has promised you; but do not turn back [on your faith], for then you will be lost!” This was before the birth of the Jewish religion.
However, the Israelites refused to set forth on the orders of Allah. As a result of this disobedience and disregard, Allah punished the Israelites and denied the Children of Israel entry into the holy land of Palestine. The glorious Qur’an reveals the divine will as, “Then, verily, this (land) shall be forbidden to them for forty years, while they wander on earth, bewildered, to and from; and sorrow thou not over these iniquitous folks.” Thus, Prophet Musa (Peace Be Upon Him), with his lost people wandered the desert of Sinai for forty years. Despite the course of this long period, they could not enter Palestine.
⦁ Prophet Daoud and his Kingdom
The punishment ended with the arrival of Prophet Daoud (A.S), who led the new generation of followers into the holy land of Palestine. Prophet Daoud then built his glorious empire in the city of Jerusalem, while his son, Prophet Suleiman, rebuilt the sacred Masjid Al Aqsa. The holy site was rebuilt and destroyed several times within a century after the end of the Prophet and his son’s reign. The emergence of the Romans, however, demeaned any regard for Bayt Al-Maqdis and it was no longer treated as a site of holiness or sanctity. Moreover, the glorious site, so close to the hearts of Muslims, was used as a place for garbage disposal. This not only highlighted disrespect but also portrayed insignificance in the sight of the citizens of the city.
⦁ The Holy Prophet Muhammad and the Miracle of Bayt al-Maqdis
The blessed holy site remained as such for the next few centuries. The birth of our beloved and devoted Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) revived the devoutness and spirituality of Bayt al-Maqdis.
The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) devoted most of his life nurturing his Companions to value the exceptional qualities of Bayt al-Maqdis. The holy site held a unique place in the heart and life of our beloved Prophet. Firstly, Bayt al-Maqdis was the first Qibla for Muslims. The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) and his fellow Muslim Sahabahs directed their faces towards the holy site of Bayt al-Maqdis during their prayers since the divine enshrinement of the five daily prayers during al-Isra and al-Mi’raj, according to many narratives.
Bayt al-Maqdis remained as the Qibla until the second year of Hijra when the revelation of Qur’anic verses ordered a change in the direction of the Qibla. The Qur’an states: “We have seen thee (O Prophet) often turn thy face towards heaven [for guidance]: and now We shall indeed make thee turn in prayer in a direction which will fulfill thy desire. Turn, then, thy face towards al-Haram Mosque. Wherever you all may be, turn your faces towards it (in prayer). And, verily, those who have been vouchsafed revelation aforetime know well that this (commandment) comes in truth from their Sustainer; and Allah is not unaware of what they do.” Moreover, according to a Hadith, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) stated that the reward of prayer in Bayt al-Maqdis is equivalent to five hundred times the reward in any other mosque.
Above all, the noble Prophet related Bayt al-Maqdis to the Pilgrimage to the Holy Ka’ba. The Prophet declares in a Hadith, “Whoever commences pilgrimage from al-Aqsa Mosque, all his past sins will be forgiven.” In another prophetic hadith, it has been declared, “A group of my Ummah remains prevalently committed to the truth: defeating their enemy, not harmed by those who disagree with them, nor those who let them down, nor the adversity that befalls them until Allah’s will and support come to them while they are in that situation. They said: O Messenger of Allah, where are they? He said: In Bayt, al-Maqdis and the vicinity of Bayt al-Maqdis.
Another highlighted significance of this holy site as stated by our esteemed Prophet is that on the Day of Judgement, Bayt al-Maqdis will be the land of resurrection. This will be where the gathering of all mankind will take place for their final judgement. In a Hadith, a Companion of the Holy Prophet said: “O Prophet of Allah, tell us about Bayt al-Maqdis.” So, he said, “The land of resurrection and gathering. Visit it and pray in it since praying one prayer in it is like a thousand prayers in other masjids.” The Sahabah said: “What if I couldn’t bear reaching it?” He said: “Then present it with oil to light up its lamps, so whoever does that is like someone who has visited it.” This further strengthens the bond of faith and religiously binds Muslims to this sacred site.
The Miraculous Night Journey; Al-Isra from the Ka’ba to Jerusalem
The most momentous occasion which holds the highest significance regarding the holy place of Bayt al-Maqdis is the divine miracle of al-Isra and al-Mi’ raj. In the lifetime of our beloved Prophet. The Holy Prophet traveled to this holy site of Jerusalem from Masjid al-Haram on the night of al-Isra. Further, he made his Mi ’raj to the Heavens from here. Miracles are, no doubt, a part of the Islamic faith but The Night Journey and Ascension to the Heavens is a miracle second to only the Qur’anic revelation.
The journey began when the Holy Prophet visited the Ka’ba at night and fell asleep. It was then that the Angel Jibril descended and led the Prophet to a white beast called Buraq. It was on the Buraq that the Prophet began the spiritual and physical journey from Makkah to Madinah, where he prayed at this holy place of emigration. From there he rode to Mount Sinai, where Allah spoke to Prophet Musa (A.S) and Bethlehem, the birthplace of Prophet Isa (A.S). The next stop was the grave of Prophet Musa which led directly into the destination, Bayt al-Maqdis.
The Prophethood of our Last Messenger was surely ascertained through this miraculous journey from Makkah to Jerusalem, which was covered within the span of a single night which is beyond human comprehension. The Holy Qur’an gives an account of this astounding journey in the following verse: “Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from Masjid al-Haram to Masjid al-Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing.” (Surah Al-Isra’, 17:1)
Al-Mi ‘raj; The Ascension to the Seven Skies
Finally, after arriving in the holy city of Jerusalem, the Holy Prophet entered Bayt al-Maqdis where he led 124,000 Prophets in prayer in this blessed holy space. Thus, marking the immense divine significance of this holy site in Islam as the symbol and home of various Prophets before the Last Messenger of Allah. Further, the Prophet ascended to the Seven Skies with Angel Jibril from here. This marks the best of Allah’s creation being honored to meet the Divine Lord. It was during this divine journey that the Prophet was commanded to the five daily prayers.
This journey marked a milestone in the history of Islam, thus, binding all Muslims to this city by religious belief.
⦁ Umar Ibn Al Khattab; conquering Jerusalem
After the death of the Holy Prophet, during the Caliphate of Umar Ibn al-Khattab, Muslim armies under the control of Amr Ibn Al-As and Khalid Ibn al-Walid began to arrive in the vicinity of Jerusalem. During that time, the representative of the Byzantine Empire and administrator of Jerusalem, Patriarch Sophronius, refused to surrender the holy city unless the second Khalifah, Umar Ibn al-Khattab himself arrived to accept his defeat. When the Khalifah heard of this, he immediately left Madinah, taking with him only one donkey and one servant. In his devotion and commitment, Umar Ibn al-Khattab hastily reached the city dressed in nothing but simple and unadorned robes with dirt from the rain on his legs, looking almost indistinguishable from his servant.
The Caliph of the Muslims, one of the most powerful people in the world at that time, entered and mercifully released Jerusalem without causing any bloodshed. He guaranteed the protection and safety of the places of worship, the churches, the crosses, and the lives of the people. Above all, the esteemed Caliph removed the waste, disposed by the Romans at the holy site, with his own bare hands and took it as his responsibility to set the foundations of Masjid al-Aqsa. Umar Ibn al-Khattab set an example by winning the hearts of both the Christians and the Jews with his honorable personality and reputable characteristics.
691AD to 1997
Further, in 691/692 AD, the Umayyad Khalifah, Abd’ al Malik ibn Marwan began the construction of what is now known as the Dome of the Rock or the Golden Domed building. Some may believe it to be the site from where the Holy Prophet ascended to the Heavens.
Over time, the Muslims lost Bayt al-Maqdis to the Crusaders in 1099AD, which served as the darkest period of history. Throughout this period, the Crusaders massacred thousands of innocent Muslims inside the holy site and resulted in massive bloodshed. Further, it took about eighty-eight years for the Muslims to reclaim Bayt al-Maqdis. This great event took place under the reign of the great Muslim hero, Salahuddin Ayyub. Moreover, his actions were pleasing reflections of the Caliph Umar Ibn al-Khattab.
Moving forward to a significant period of about eight centuries. Bayt al-Maqdis remained at peace and seclusion, valuably highlighted as the hub of Islamic history. It attracted Muslim scholars and researchers from all over the world to study and preach at the blessed site.
⦁ Palestine; the Lost City
The heart-warming history of the holy land of Palestine turned into a heart-wrenching nightmare from 1516 to the present 2021. With a mega twist, one cannot think of Palestine without imagining the words: violence, land seizures and a decades-long Israeli occupation.
Imperial Britain; the Head of all the Conflict
There is no other country that played the driving role in causing the Palestinian conflict other than Imperial Britain itself.
From 1516 to 1917, Palestine was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. During that period, the religiously diverse land had Christians, Muslims and Jews living alongside one another, at peace. However, in 1897, a movement led by Theodore Herzl was founded at a conference in Switzerland. They decided to advocate for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, but the movement did not receive much support. Moreover, at that time the Jewish population of Palestine was only about 8%. Then, in the early 1900s, a small number of European Jews tried to campaign for Zionism. They demand the establishment of an independent Jewish state. Further, during that period Arab nationalism was flourishing and many Palestinians wanted an independent state.
Imperial Britain used the situation of the Zionists and Palestinians to reinforce their personal interest. During World War 1, in 1914, Britain went to war with the Ottoman Empire. And one year later, in 1915, Britain’s representative in Cairo, Henry McMahon, made a proposal with the Arab leaders. Britain claimed that it would agree to an independent Arab state if they helped them fight against the Ottomans.
Britain; Changing History with the Balfour Declaration
Further, in 1917, Britain’s Foreign Secretary wrote a one-paragraph letter to the leader of the British Jewish community, Walter Rothschild. It read, “His Majesty’s Government views with favor the establishment in Palestine for a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this objective. It being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. Nor the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” This letter then became known as the Balfour declaration.
Thus, Britain changed history with this one small statement. In its proposal, Britain promised independence to the Arabs of Palestine. At the same time, it promised a homeland for Jews on an already inhabited land. So, Britain, being the head of all the conflict, proposed to transfer land not belonging to them. Then in 1918, the Ottoman Empire collapsed. So, the league of Nations gave Britain the dual authority of ‘administrative control’ of Palestine. It was under this British Mandate that Jews were permitted to immigrate from Europe to Palestine and buy land. As a result, the Jewish population in Palestine grew from 60,000 to more than 600,000 between 1918 and 1947. This further led to an unexpected conflict.
The White Paper of 1939
Moreover, in 1929, an uproar broke out at the Wailing Wall of Bayt al-Maqdis in Jerusalem. The massive bloodshed resulted in the loss of both Palestinians and Jew lives. Further, in 1936, as Jewish immigration increased, more riots broke out. However, this time the British were brutal and massacred between 2000 to 5000 innocent Palestinians.
A royal British commission concluded that Palestine could no longer be reconciled as it inhabited two distinct societies. So, they recommend a partition of the blessed Palestinian land. However, this proposal was rejected by the Arab Higher Committee who claimed the entire Palestinian land to be their possession. This further resulted in Britain banning the Arab High Commission and introducing the White Paper of 1939.
The White Paper stated that Palestine should be a bi-national state. This means that it would inhabit both the Jews and Palestinians. However, putting a restriction limit on Jewish immigration for 5 years. This, though, did not prevent the means of illegal immigration which resulted in a continuous eruption of violence.
1948; Back to the UN
In 1948, when Britain finally could not handle the chaos, they handed Palestine back to the UN. Thus, Palestine became an UN-controlled international zone. The UN then pronounced the partition plan of Palestine into Jewish-Israel and Arab-Palestine.
The Jews then accepted the UN partition plan and declared independence as the State of Israel. However, the neighboring Arab countries still objected to the land takeover which marked the beginning of the first Arab-Israel war. At the end of the war, Israel stood victorious. As a result of which Israel forcefully grabbed the land for the Palestinian state under the UN. This caused the land to be divided into three parts. Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem while Egypt occupied Gaza. Moreover, the State of Israel forcefully took 78% of historic Palestine including West Jerusalem. This paved the way for 700,000 Palestinians to become refugees to their own country. This day was marked as, “The Catastrophe” or “Al-Nakba.”
1967 and the PLO
Moving forward to 1967, a Six-Day War broke out between Israel and the neighboring Arab countries. However, by the end, Israel is triumphant in fully occupying Palestine. Further, Israelis then started settling into Gaza and the West Bank which resulting in an Israeli-Palestinian struggle. This eventually gave rise to the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization).
The main goal of this organization was to liberate Palestine from Israel. Their ambition was to fulfill this desire by any means necessary. As a result of which, the ongoing conflict went on for years. The PLO eventually accepted dividing the land between Palestine and Israel, however, the conflict did not end here. Over time, more and more settlers made their way illegally into Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. This heightened the frustration of the Palestinians, leading to an “intifada” or “uprising.”
The Hamas Organization
As a result of this uprising, another political movement called Hamas was born. This movement was determined to fight against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip. So, the United States, Israel and the PLO signed an agreement called Oslo Accords. This agreement proposed to split the West Bank into three sections. These sections included Area A which was to be under full Palestinian control. Another Area B which was to be under joint Palestinian-Israeli control. Finally, Area C which was to be under full Israeli control. However, this simple solution created a complex problem. Area C contained most of the West Bank’s agricultural land, water, and minerals. Thus, the Palestinians were left with limited access to these.
2000; the Second Intifada
Moreover, further peace talks proved to be highly unsuccessful. Palestinians slowly lost hope resulting in a second uprising in the year 2000. This happened during the period of Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel. He marched into the holy place of Bayt al-Maqdis along with over 1,000 policemen and security guards. The second Intifada caused Israel to build walls and set checkpoints to control the Palestinian movement. However, restrictions were placed on the Muslim Palestinians on praying at the Bayt al-Maqdis. Further intensified with complete bans on Palestinian men at certain times. These restrictions continue to this day.
2014, Closure of Bayt al-Maqdis
In 2014, a great case took place at the holy site. For the first time in the history of the holy site since 1967, the Israeli authorities placed an order on the complete lockdown and closure of Bayt al-Maqdis. This resulted in a massive protest across the Palestinian Muslims. Responsively, the sacred place was swiftly reopened to control the immense uprising.
Back to the present
The sacred Bayt al-Maqdis is still denied access by the Israeli to most Palestinians to the present day. Excavation work is performed under the holy site on the orders of the Israeli authorities. As a result, it causes immense damage to the historic foundations of Bayt al-Maqdis. Additionally, Israeli forces assert permanent security forces on Bayt al-Maqdis.
The Palestinians are oppressed, subjugated, and routinely bombed with the most advanced weaponry to this day. Innocent lives are being taken every day. Above all, the Palestinians are deprived of even basic human rights, with the only wrongdoing on their part; being Muslims.
Significance of Bayt al-Maqdis
The holy site of Bayt al-Maqdis holds great importance in the lives of Muslims. It religiously binds Muslims through the bonds of worship, creed, and unforgettable history.
Among the firm ties that link Muslims to Palestine and Bayt al-Maqdis include it being the first Qibla for Muslims. Moreover, hundreds of the Messengers of Allah and many Sahabahs are buried here. Its great significance is portrayed in the divine miracles shown by Allah’s will. It also highlights the descension of angels with the message of Allah at this place. Bayt al-Maqdis is also regarded as the only place on Earth where all the Messengers of Allah assembled to pray. All of them being led by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). Above all, Bayt al-Maqdis has been directly and indirectly referred to in the Qur’an about 70 times. This no doubt amplifies its significance and marks it as a notable site in Islam. Moreover, it has been called a “blessed” place by the Lord Himself.
Historical Islamic Landmarks of Bayt al-Maqdis
Bayt al-Maqdis is the entire region of the compound within a boundary. It includes various architectural holy sites and landmarks located within its compound. These include the following.
⦁ Dome of The Rock
The Dome of The Rock is also known as “Qubbatas Saqqara.” It was constructed by the Umayyad Khalifah, Abd’ al Malik ibn Marwan in 691/692 AD. It highlights the sacred rock from which some claim the Holy Prophet ascended to the heavens with Angel Jibril. It is one of the oldest remaining architectures of Islamic history.
⦁ Dome of the Chain
The Dome of the Chain was also built by the Khalifah, Abd’ al Malik. It is a miniature version of the Dome of the Rock. It marks the exact center point of Bayt al-Maqdis.
⦁ Al Qibla Mosque
The Qibli Mosque was built by Khalifa Umar Ibn al-Khattab. It was originally a prayer room and is located nearest to the Qibla. It serves as the principal place from which the Imam delivers the Friday sermon.
⦁ The Buraq Wall
The Buraq Wall is the western wall of Bayt al-Maqdis. This was where the Holy Prophet tied the Buraq during al-Isra and al-Mi ‘raj. It is also known as the “Western Wall” or the “Wailing Wall’ by the Jews. Thus, making it the most sacred place for them.
⦁ The Moroccan Gate
The Moroccan Gate is located south of the Buraq Wall. It was from here that the Holy Prophet entered during the night of al-Isra. Today, the Moroccan Gate is the access point for only non-Muslims to enter the sanctuary.
⦁ The Marwani Prayer Space
In the 8th Century, the Marwani Prayer Space was built during the Umayyad period. It can accommodate about 4,000 worshippers. It is said that, during his childhood, Prophet Isa (AS) was brought up here by his mother Maryam.
⦁ The Golden Gate
The Golden Gate is from where Christians believe that Prophet Isa (AS) will enter during his second coming. In the 7th Century, this gate was sealed.
Bayt al-Maqdis, also known as Masjid al-Aqsa
Bayt al-Maqdis is, no doubt, a Noble Sanctuary in one of Islam’s most revered locations. It highlights prominent bonds, linking Muslims to its significant history. Above all, it plays a great role in strengthening our faith and belief in the glory of our Lord. Verily Allah blessed Palestine and marked it as a miraculous milestone in the history of Islam.