Sheikh al-Islaam ibn Taymiyah offers a clarification on the definition of Masjid al-Aqsa and a short history in his brief work entitled Ziyaarah Bait al-Maqdis. In it he writes:
فالمسجد الأقصى اسم لجميع المسجد الذي بناه سليمان عليه السلام, وقد صار بعض الناس يسمي الأقصى؛ المصلى الذي بناه عمر بن الخطاب رضي الله عنه مقدمه، والصلاة في هذا المصلى بناه عمر للمسلمين أفضل من الصلاة في سائر المسجد، فان عمر بن الخطاب لما فتح بيت المقدس وكان على الصخرة زبالة عظيمة، لأن النصارى كانوا يقصدون إهانتها مقابلة لليهود الذين يصلون إليها، فأمر عمر رضي الله عنه بازالة النجاسة عنها، وقال لكعب الأحبار أين ترى أن نبني مصلى للمسلمين؟ فقال خلف الصخرة . فقال يا ابن اليهودية خالطتك اليهودية، بل أبنيه أمامها فإنّ لنا صدور المساجد ،
al-Masjid al-Aqsa is the name for the whole of the place of worship that was built by Sulayman (‘alaihis salaam), though some people have begun to give the name of ‘al-Aqsa’ – ‘the farthest’ – to the prayer-place which was built by ʿUmar Ibn Al-Khattaab (radiAllaahu ‘anhu) at the front of it.
Praying in the prayer-place which ʿUmar built for the Muslims is better than praying in any other part of the mosque. That is because when ʿUmar conquered Jerusalem there was a huge garbage dump on the rock, since the Christians wanted to show their scorn for the place towards which the Jews used to pray. ʿUmar issued orders that the filth be removed and asked Kaʾb [al-Ahbar], “Where do you think we should build a place of prayer for the Muslims?” He said, “Behind the Rock.” So ‘Umar replied, “You son of a Jewish woman! Are you influenced by your Jewish ideas! On the contrary, I will build it in front of it.”*
ولهذا كان أئمة الامة اذا دخلوا المسجد قصدوا الصلاة في المصلى الذي بناه عمر، وقد ورى عن عمر رضي الله عنه أنه صلى في محراب داود، وأما الصخرة فلم يصلي عندها عمر رضي الله عنه ولا الصحابة, ولا كان على عهد الخلف الراشدين عليها قبة، بل كانت مكشوفة في خلافة عمر، وعثمان، وعلي، ومعاوية، ويزيد، ومروان، ولكن لما تول ابنه عبد الملك الشام ووقع بينه وبين ابن الزبير الفتنة، كان الناس يحجون فيجمعون بابن الزبير، فأراد عبد الملك أن يصرف الناس عن ابن الزبير، فبنى القبة على الصخرة وكساها في الشتاء والصيف ليرغب الناس في زيارة بيت المقدس، ويشتغلوا بذلك عن اجتماعهم بابن الزبير،
Hence when the Imaams of this Ummah entered the Masjid, they would go and pray in the prayer-place that was built by ʿUmar. And it has also been narrated from ‘Umar that he prayed in the mihrab of Dawood.
With regards to the Rock, neither ʿUmar nor any of the Sahaabah prayed there, and there was no dome over it during the time of the Khulafaa’ al-Raashideen (Rightly-Guided Caliphs). It was open to the sky during the times of ʿUmar, ʿUthmaan, ʿAli, Muʿaawiyah, Yazeed and Marwaan. But when his son ‘Abd al-Malik was the ruler over Syria and the fitnah took place between him and ibn al-Zubair, the people would make Hajj and join ibn al-Zubair [who controlled the city of Mecca at that time], so ‘Abd al-Malik wanted to divert the people away from ibn al-Zubair, so he built a dome on top of the Rock and covered it in the winter and in the summer in order to encourage people to visit Jerusalem, and so he kept them occupied from joining ibn al-Zubair.
واما اهل العلم من الصحابة والتابعين لهم بإحسان، فلم يكونوا يعظمون الصخرة فانها قبلة المنسوخة، كما ان يوم السبت . كان عيداً في شريعة موسى عليه السلام، ثم نسخ في شريعة محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم بيوم الجمعة، فليس للمسلمين أن يخصوا يوم السبت ويوم الأحد بعبادة، كما تفعل اليهود والنصارى، وكذلك الصخرة إنما يعظمها اليهود و بعض النصارى
And as for the scholars among the Sahaabah and those who followed them faithfully, they did not venerate the Rock because it was an abrogated Qiblah, just as is the case with Saturday. Saturday was an ‘eid in the sharee’ah of Moosaa (‘alaihis salaam), then it was abrogated in the sharee’ah of Muhammad (salaAllahu ‘alaihi was-salaam) with Friday. And it is not appropriate for the Muslims to single out Saturday or Sunday for worship as the Jews and Christians do. Similarly with the Rock; it was only venerated by the Jews and some of the Christians.
[Majmoo’a al-Rasaa’il al-Kubraa 2/61]
* Ka’b al-Ahbar was one of the Jewish Rabbis who had become a Muslim. ‘Umar rebuked him because his suggestion to build the prayer-place behind (i.e. on the north side of )the Rock would mean that when they congregation would prayer, they would have to pray directly towards the abrogated qibla of the Rock in order to also face the ordained qibla of the Ka’aba. ‘Umar wanted there to be no confusion, so he built the prayer-place to the south of the Rock.
Here is a diagram of Masjid al-Aqsa:
-And according to ibn Taymiyyah’s description, Masjid al-Aqsa is all of what is contained within the black box, including Dome of the Rock and the prayer-place built by ‘Umar. This was previously the site of the temple built by the Prophet Sulayman, which was later demolished (see Qur’an 17:7), then rebuilt during the time of ‘Uzayr, then demolished again a few decades after Allah raised ‘Eesaa up to Himself. It has never been rebuilt however the site remains an honored place and the place to which Allah brought His Prophet on the night of al-Israa’ w’al-Mi’raaj, even though there was neither the Dome of the Rock nor the prayer-place of ‘Umar at that time.
-The golden dome in the center is the Dome of the Rock, built by ‘Abd al-Malik during his Khilaafah (65-86 a.h./685-705 c.e.)
-The building on the southern end is the prayer-place built by ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab, known as Jaami’a al-Qibli and sometimes referred to as Masjid al-Aqsa itself, although the definition of Masjid al-Aqsa encompasses the entire area. And Allah knows best
Posted Muharram 21, 1435 (11/25/13)
See also: The Blessings of al-Shaam as mentioned in the Qur’an: ibn Taymiyah
See also: “Jerusalem is not a place which is called sacred”: Ibn Taymiyah