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al-Aqsa Mosque
Arabic: 'al-masjid 'al-'aqsā

Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem, Israel.
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Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem, Israel.

Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem, Israel.
ZOOM - Open a large version of this image

Photo: James Emery.

Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem, Israel.
ZOOM - Open a large version of this image

Photo: See The Holy Land.

In Islam, mosque in Jerusalem (in the area annexed by Israel after its conquest in the Six-Day War, but claimed by Palestine).
The al-Aqsa Mosque rests on the southern part of an area known as Haram ash-Sharif, or Har ha-Bayit in Hebrew, in which also the Dome of the Rock rests. The area makes up about 15% of the entire walled city of Jerusalem and it is the city's largest mosque, housing up to 5,000 at a time.
The outer size of the mosque is 55 x 75 metres. It has no minaret but a dome covered by silver. The interior is up of 7 aisles, divided by columns. The ceiling opens up into the dome, which is held up by 4 arches. Decorations are both made in tree and as mosaics.
Al-Aqsa Mosque is considered the 3rd most holy shrine of Sunni Islam, after the Haram Mosque in Mecca and Mosque of the Prophet in Madina, both Saudi Arabia.
The background for al-Aqsa's prominence, is the myth of Isra' and Mi'raj in which Muhammad, the founder of Islam, who shall have performed a heavenly journey beginning right here. According to the stories told in extra-Koranical Muslim texts (hadiths), Muhammad first made a nightly journey from the "sacred mosque", which is the one in Mecca to the "The most remote mosque", "aqsa" in Arabic, although there didn't exist any mosque here at the time. To this story is also linked the brief period of which Muslims turned towards Jerusalem when praying (see qibla).
Among many Shi'is, other mosques rank as "third" holiest of their religion. Other mosques given this position are usually either the one around the grave of Ali in Najaf or the one around the grave of Husayn in Karbala.
Israeli control of the al-Aqsa Mosque is considered a symbol of hostility towards Islam, reflecting the Muslim view that non-Muslim control degrades the sanctity of the mosque. Still, the administration of the mosque is fully in the hands of a Muslim council, a right granted by the Israeli government. The mosque is normally open for non-Mulism visitors outside prayer hours.

705: The construction of the al-Aqsa Mosque is begun.
715: The al-Aqsa Mosque is completed.
747: The mosque is partly destroyed in an earthquake, after which a much larger structure is built.
780: Rebuilt with 20 aisles.
1016: The mosque is destroyed in an earthquake.
1033: A new earthquake brings the mosque to ruins, after which it was rebuilt to a structure close to the present.
1099: In conjunction to the Crusades, the mosque is converted into a Christian church.
1118: Knights Templer are founded, named after the then previous al-Aqsa Mosque.
1187: Jerusalem is conquered by the Muslims under the leadership of Saladin. Al-Aqsa is converted back to a mosque.
1927: Heavy earthquake destroys much of the al-Aqsa Mosque.
1936: A second earthquake brings the mosque into an almost ruinous condition.
1938-1942: Complete reconstruction.
1969: A fire started by a Christian extremist destroys the wooden minbar, believed to have been close to 800 years old.
2000 September: Ariel Sharon visits the area of the al-Aqsa Mosque, causing much anger among Palestinians. The al-Aqsa Intifada and al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades emerged from this incident.

By Tore Kjeilen