The heart of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle is the city of Jerusalem, and the heart of Jerusalem, at least for the Muslim, is the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Muslims believe this to be Islam’s third most holy site, following only the Haram Mosque in Mecca and the Green Dome in Medina.
Muslims believe that Muhammad took a miraculous night journey from Mecca to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, where he met with Jesus and other prophets and received special instructions from Allah concerning the establishment of Islam. The fact that the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem was not built for another 80 years and Muhammad never physically visited Jerusalem does not seem to be important in Muslim thinking.
A literal translation of Quran 17:1 says, “Glorious is the one who took his servant by night from the Haram Mosque to the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” Muslim translators disingenuously add “to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem” even though the Arabic says nothing about the Al-Aqsa Mosque being located there.
In a recent study on Al Hayat TV, Zakaria Boutros presented convincing evidence from Islamic sources that the Al-Aqsa Mosque referred to in Sura 17 was a literal mosque located not in Jerusalem but a few miles outside Mecca. His evidence follows:
In the Book of Raids, early Muslim historian and biographer Waqidi described Muhammad’s stay in the village of Jiranah a few miles outside Mecca. He wrote, “The Prophet arrived in Jiranah on Thursday, and remained 13 nights. He then departed Jiranah after praying at the Al-Aqsa Mosque located on the shore of the river bed. The Prophet used to pray there whenever he came to Jiranah.”
Another early historian, Azraqi, described in his book Mecca and its Antiquities a discussion between two men named Muhammad ibn Tariq and Mujahid. Muhammad said, “Mujahid and I agreed on Jiranah, because he informed me the Prophet used to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque located on the shore of the river bed. The other nearby mosque, the Al-Adna Mosque, was built by a man from the Quraysh tribe.”
Al-Aqsa in Arabic means “the farthest point”, and Al-Adna means “the nearest point”. The two mosques were simply named according to their location. The nearer one was the Al-Adna Mosque, and the farther one was Al-Aqsa.
Another early Mecca historian, Ibn Ishaq al-Fakihi noted in his book Ancient and Modern Mecca that Muslims who wanted to perform the Umrah (Minor Pilgrimage) would first purify themselves at the neighboring villages of Tanim and Jiranah. The Al-Adna Mosque in Tanim was significant because Muhammad’s wife Aisha had purified herself there, and the Prophet himself had prayed in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jiranah
Hadith historian Abu ‘Ali recorded in Masnad Abu ‘Ali that Umm Salmah heard the Prophet say, “Whoever prepares for the Umrah by purifying himself in the Al-Aqsa Mosque before he goes to the Haram Mosque in Mecca will have his sins forgiven before he even commits them.”
The above sources all indicate that the Al-Aqsa Mosque referred to by Muhammad in Quran 17:1 was the mosque in Jiranah. The famous mosque known today by the same name in Jerusalem was built almost a century later.