Importance of the Holy Land (Jerusalem) in Islam

The reason why the holy land of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa mosque in particular is so important and sacred to Muslims is that it is one of the few places mentioned by Allah in the Quran and by the Prophet (SAW) in the hadith many times.  Allah Himself calls this area blessed

Out of all of the wounds of the Ummah, the tragedy of Al-Aqsa is top of the list as it is the greatest political tragedy of this era.  It is important to not forget the importance of this Holy land and what it once meant to every Muslim.  We should never lose the place that Al-Aqsa occupies in our hearts.

‘Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al- Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed….’

Quran [17:1]

And elsewhere: ‘And We delivered him and Lot to the land which We had blessed for the worlds.’ 

Quran [21:71]

What does Masjid Al-Aqsa and the Holy Land mean to Muslims?

It is a part of our faith to love Masjid Al-Aqsa.  It is part of our faith to recognise the virtues of Al-Aqsa and its surrounding areas, and we need to rekindle this faith and love.

Masjid Al-Aqsa is no ordinary mosque or piece of property and for Muslims, our hearts and souls are attached to it, because we want the blessings that Allah has put in it. 

The link to Ibrahim (AS)

Al-Aqsa is the masjid established by Ibrahim (AS) in Jerusalem and it is also he that re-established the Kaaba in Makkah.  Two Holy cities, two holy mosques and two great nations of believers came out of them.

For centuries after, Jerusalem was the place that Allah made the capital of the believers, the capital of invitation to the Oneness of God.  Prophet after Prophet was appointed as the imam of the Masjid Al-Aqsa.  This is why this land is important to us; it is the land of the Prophets, who have left their traces.

In these lands, Dawud and Sulayman (AS) established a kingdom of peace and justice.  In this land, Zakariya (AS) trained Mary (Mariam), the mother of Isa (Jesus) who taught the Gospels.  This is why the land is important to the Muslims.

The Prophets (AS) and Sahaba (companions) are buried there

Why are the Muslims so passionate when we talk about Jerusalem? The best of Allah’s creation are buried there, such as Ibrahim (AS), Musa (AS) and many other Prophets. 

Also many of the companions of the Prophet (SAW) are buried there.  Salman Al-Farsi (RA), one of the most prominent of the companions is buried here.  Ubadah ibn Samit (RA) is also reported to be buried here. 

There are also many eminent scholars and pious friends of Allah that have died and been buried in this land since Islam came. 

The blessings of Al-Aqsa

The Prophet (SAW) mentioned that one prayer in this Masjid is equivalent to praying 500 prayers in other masjids (hadith according to Baihaqi), he loved this masjid.  He (SAW) was blessed with one of the greatest miracles of his prophet hood when he made the night journey from Makkah to here and led all the Prophets in prayer.  This was the greatest gathering of believers making Salah in history, led by the greatest human being ever and it was in Al-Aqsa.  So for Muslims, this is about the blessings.

This is the place of Tawheed (the oneness of God), the light that shone bright, alone for centuries, in the darkness of ignorance with other nations attributing partners to Allah. 

The first Qiblah (direction) for prayer

For around 17 months, the Muslims faced towards Jerusalem in their prayers five times a day, showing how important this Masjid is.  It is a part of early Islamic history where the earliest and best of the believers faced in prayer.

It is also one of only 3 Masjids where you are allowed to make a religious journey to as per the Prophet (SAW): “Do not undertake a journey to visit any Mosque, but three: this Mosque of mine, the Mosque of al-Haram and the Mosque of Aqsa.” (Muslim)

The Second House of Allah on Earth

Abu Dharr (RA) reported that he asked the Prophet (SAW), “O Messenger of Allah, which mosque was first built on the surface of the earth?” He said, “Al Masjid-al-Haram (in Makkah).” I said, “Which was built next?” He replied “The masjid of Al-Aqsa.” I said, “What was the period of construction between the two?” He said, “Forty years….” (Bukhari)

The Prophet mentions the Muslims will enter (Al Quds) Jerusalem

He (SAW) said that the believers will enter Jerusalem.  At the time, it was not part of a Muslim empire but part of the Roman Byzantine empire, and he made this prophecy which was fulfilled at the time of Umar (RA).  Muslims entered Jerusalem and established peace and justice where Jews, Christians and Muslims and other religions enjoyed their full rights under Islam. 

How different times are now, where the Palestinians have had their property, land and possessions being taken away, stripped of their rights.

As we head towards the end of times, this cycle will repeat itself, as the Prophet (SAW) mentioned that when the Dajjal (Antichrist) comes, he will take over the entire earth in 40 days, except the three holy cities; Makkah, Madinah and Jerusalem.  These will be the cities of the believers at that time.  So the cycle repeats, where Tawheed emanates from Jerusalem once again.  So although it is not in the hands of the Muslims today, it will be again soon insha’Allah.

The land where Isa (Jesus AS) will return

Muslims love Jerusalem because this is where Prophet Isa will return and assume leadership of the believers at the end of time and he will be the one who fights the forces of evil – the forces of Dajjal – and kill Dajjal, after which peace will be established once again.  So this city has an important part to play in the final battles of truth and falsehood.

It was narrated that Abu Darda (RA) said: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: “Whilst I was sleeping, I saw the pillar of the Book being taken from beneath my head, and I thought that it was being taken away, so I followed it with my gaze, and it was taken to ash-Shaam (Jerusalem and Greater Syria). Verily faith, when tribulations come, will be in ash-Shaam.” (Imam Ahmad)

The Virtues of Wearing Ihram from Masjid Al-Aqsa 

Umm Salamah (RA) relates that the Prophet (SAW) said:

“If anyone puts on Ihram for Hajj or Umrah from Masjid Al-Aqsa and then proceeds to the Sacred Masjid (Kaaba), his past and future sins will be forgiven, or he will be guaranteed Paradise”.  (Abu Dawud)

The amazing story of Umar’s (RA) arrival in Jerusalem

Knowing how important Al-Quds (Jerusalem) was to the Prophet (SAW) who came here during Isra and Me’raj (night journey and ascension to the heavens), during the Khilafah (rule) of Abu Bakr (RA), the only place outside of the Arabian Peninsula he sent an expedition to claim was the Holy Land.  It was within Umar’s time that the conquest was completed.  The leaders of the town requested the only person fit to take over the keys was the ruler of the Muslims.

The well known story of how simple his dress was when he arrived without pomp and pageantry, so much so that he was mistaken for his attendant who was with him on the journey from Madinah to Jerusalem shows his outstanding humility.

Umar’s (RA) respect and humility

What is less well known is that when it was time for the prayer, he was being shown around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Christian leader offered him a place in the church to pray.  Umar (RA) declined saying if he was to pray there, the later generations would destroy the church and make a masjid in its place and he didn’t want that.  So he went a hundred feet away and prayed there.  This shows the level of respect he had for the Christian places of worship and his love of Isa (AS).  Contrast this with the way the Byzantine Christians destroyed and made a dump of the Jewish holy places when they conquered Jerusalem.

He was then shown the area where Sulayman’s (Soloman AS) building once stood which had by now been used purposely as a dumping place by the Byzantines.  He started to clean the area with his own hands removing the rubbish.  This was due to the love and respect he had for all the Jewish Prophets like Dawud (David), Musa (Moses) etc.  He had shown due respect for the Holy Land.

The Holy Land under Muslim rule

Islam and the Muslims have held the Holy Land for the vast majority of the time since it was originally taken.  Only two times within thirteen and a half centuries has it been held by non Muslims.  First was in the middle ages during what is known as the Crusades when the fanatical Europeans travelled to take the blessed land.  Their conquest was in stark contrast to that of Umar (RA).  They massacred men, women and children among Muslims, other parties of Christians and Jews and to this day is regarded as one of the worst atrocities in human history.

When Al-Quds was retaken by Salahuddin, he ensured the safety of the European Christians when they returned through Muslim lands back to their countries of origin.  Notice how he didn’t seek revenge for the slaughter committed by them.  After that, he allowed the Muslims and Jews to come back to the holy land.

In recent times, Al-Aqsa has been taken a second time by non religious Jews known as Zionists. In 1948 the state of Israel was declared and since then the Muslims and Christians have been expelled. The Zionists have brought in people from across the world who believes in Judaism.

As Muslims, we must never lose sight of the importance of Al-Quds and Masjid al-Aqsa.  It is part of our heart and soul.  We pray all of as-Shaam will soon be restored to a land of peace and justice.