A common misunderstanding is that the significance of Masjid al Aqsa for Muslims begins from the time of the Isra and Mi’raj.
This notion needs to be rectified. The happenings of the Isra and Mi’raj related to Masjid al Aqsa certainly represent the most glorious chapter in the history of Al Quds. However, the onset of significance of Masjid al Aqsa for Muslims predates the Isra and Mi’raj by thousands of years.
In fact, Masjid al Aqsa gains its Islamic significance right at the beginning of creation.
A narration mentions: “Verily Makkah is a city which Allah SWT made great. He made its holiness great. Allah SWT created Makkah and surrounded it with angels before creating anything else on earth in a day which lasted 1000 years. He then joined Makkah to Madinah and joined Madinah to Baitul Muqaddas. He then created the rest of the earth after a thousand years in a single creation” (Fadhail Bayt al Maqdis)
After creation of the earth, Masjid al Aqsa was endowed with the honour of becoming the second Masjid to be established on earth, as is mentioned in the authentic Hadith:
Sayyidina Abu Dharr RA reported that he asked the Prophet SAW, “O Messenger of Allah, which masjid was built first on earth?” The Prophet SAW replied, “The Sacred Masjid of Makkah.” Abu Dharr again asked, “Which was next?” The Prophet SAW said, “The Masjid al-Aqsa.” Abu Dharr RA further asked, “How long was the period between the building of the two masajid?” The Prophet SAW said, “Forty years.” Apart from these, offer your prayers anywhere when it is time to pray, as excellence lies in it.” (Al-Bukhari)
This Hadith establishes a firm Muslim connection to this Holy Site, right from the inception of human existence on this earth.
Muslim scholars offer different possibilities on the manner in which Masjid al Aqsa was initially built. However, many incline to the view that it was the father of humanity, Sayyidina Adam AS, who laid the foundations for Masjid al Aqsa, after having done the same for the Ka’bah.
Sayyidina Ibrahim AS thereafter rebuilt Masjid al Aqsa with his son Ishaaq AS – just as he had rebuilt the Ka’bah in Makkah with his son Ismail AS.
Subsequent to that, another rebuilding of Masjid al Aqsa began in the era of Sayyidina Dawud AS, and was completed by his son, Sulaymaan AS.
Ibn Hajar RA cites a narration which explicitly mentions that both the Ka’bah and Masjid al Aqsa were founded by Sayyidina Adam AS: “When Adam AS completed the foundation of the Ka’bah, Allah SWT commanded him to travel to Bayt al Maqdis, where he laid the foundation [of Masjid al Aqsa] and worshipped in it” (Fath al Bari)
Ibn Hajar RA adds: “The first to establish the foundation of Masjid al Aqsa was Adam AS, some say the angels, some say Nuh AS and some say Dawood AS, and I incline towards those who say Adam AS was the first to lay the foundation of Masjid al Aqsa”.
Mujir al-Din al ‘Ulaymi al Hanbali(860-928 CE/1456-1522H), the Chief Qadi of Jerusalem and celebrated chronicler has also reconciled the various narrations on the founding and construction of Masjid al Aqsa as follows:
“It is possible that it was first founded by the angels, then built by Adam AS, then by Sam, son on Nuh AS, then by Ibrahim and Ishaq AS, then by Ya’qub AS, son of Ishaq AS, then by Dawud and Sulyaman AS – for these people are separated by intervals of time lengthy enough to have potentially necessitated the building’s reconstruction”.