Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif), Jerusalem
Jerusalem's holiest mosque.
The entrance to Temple Mount is through a gate called Mughrabi Gate, which is reached from the Western Wall area. Visitors should dress modestly and be prepared for long lines at the security check point. Please note: These times may be changed, since they are based on Muslim prayer hours. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third most important shrine of Islam, after Mecca and Medina. It dates back to the 8th century and was built by Caliph al-Walid of the Umayyad dynasty (who reigned in 705-715 CE).
The name of the mosque means 'the farthest mosque', meaning far from Mecca. It is mentioned in the Koran in connection with Mohammed's night journey mounted on his 'wondrous steed Borak'. Al-Aqsa was one of the first mosques to be built in Israel. Its silvery-black dome is less stunning and impressive than that of the nearby Dome of the Rock, but for Muslims it is of much greater importance and is a center of prayer for the faithful. The building was originally larger and when built was used as the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Of course the Caliph wanted something larger and more impressive, to illustrate the greatness of Islam to the Christians. But many years of vicissitudes and earthquakes took their toll and what remains today can do no more than indicate the beauty and glory of the original building.
The close connection between religion and politics is felt right at the entrance: a special pillar was constructed to mark the place where King Abdullah of Transjordan, attending prayers at the mosque, was assassinated by a lone gunman in 1951. On Fridays and holy days the main hall of the mosque contains thousands of people for prayers. Everyone removes their shoes at the entrance and turns towards the south to face Mecca.
The courtyard in front of the mosque is also used for prayer when necessary. On other days, the place provides a calm, quiet contrast to the bustle of the Old City around it, a holy place full of historical and political associations. A tour of Temple Mount should be completed with a visit to the nearby Islam Museum.