Glory to (Allah)
Who did take His Servant for a journey by night,
From the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque.
-- Sura 17:1
Problem: The Farthest Mosque (Al-Masjid-ul-Aqs-a) was built many years after the death of Muhammad. It is utterly impossible that Muhammad visited it on his Night Journey.
"When the Arabs conquered Jerusalem they found the Temple Mount abandoned and filled with refuse. ... `Umar ordered it cleaned and performed a prayer there. The sanctuary [the Dome of the Rock] ... was built by Caliph `Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan around 72/691." The al-Aqsa mosque proper, also located on the Temple Mount was as well built at the end of the 7th Century.
The Temple of Solomon had been completely destroyed in 70 AD, i.e. 550 years before the alleged time of the Miraj in 622 AD, the twelfth year of Muhammad's mission. A Temple that didn't exist anymore does not provide any better solution to this problem than a Mosque which wasn't built yet.
At the time this verse was revealed [about 622] Jerusalem was not in the hand of the Muslims but in Christian hand and there was no Mosque at all in this place (not even a church). The Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque (both on the site of Solomon's Temple which had been destroyed A.D. 70 by the Romans) were only began to be build 53 years after the death of Muhammad.
Could it be that later history was "projected back" into the text of the Qur'an and is this one indication that the text of the Qur'an was changed (or even completely written only) long after Muhammad's time when these historical realities were not clear to the writer?
For this reason some Muslims are quick to acknowledge that the "Farthest Mosque" has to refer to something else than what is known under this name today. In Yusuf Ali's commentary on this verse we read: "The Farthest Mosque must refer to the site of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem..." So, it is interpreted to be not the building itself, but only the site, the location where it had been. I might be wrong, but this seems to be contradicted by a hadith and Muhammad's understanding that Al-Masjid-ul-Aqs-a is something that is built, not just a location. Al-Masjid-ul-Haram after all was a building.
Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 55, Number 636:
I said, "O Allah's Apostle! Which mosque was built first?" He replied, "Al-Masjid-ul-Haram." I asked, "Which (was built) next?" He replied, "Al-Masjid-ul-Aqs-a (i.e. Jerusalem)." I asked, "What was the period in between them?" He replied, "Forty (years)." He then added, "Wherever the time for the prayer comes upon you, perform the prayer, for all the earth is a place of worshipping for you."
This hadith actually introduces yet another problem. Abraham supposedly (re)built the Kaaba, (and Abraham lived about 2000 BC) and the Temple was built by Solomon in about 958-951 BC, then Muhammad gave another historically false information based on a major confusion about the time when these people lived.
Side remark: Farthest? If it is not just a name, but actually supposed to describe a distance then from the perspective of Mekka or Medina, Mosques in Bagdad for example were sure farther away than Jerusalem and this is wrong too. No "mosque" and not "farthest".
But should the Temple itself or Churches qualify to be called "mosques" then for sure, it was not the farthest. The Hagia Sophia, originally a church and also converted into a Mosque later is in Istanbul and much farther away.
Also one might ask the question: If Islam supposedly was the original religion of mankind, why were there not many mosques all around and one so very near to Mekka has to be called "farthest"?
1. Cyril Glassť, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, Harper & Row, 1989, p. 102
2. ibid., p. 46
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