The violent confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli security forces at the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem this month reflect its significance as part of one of the most contested pieces of religious territory in the Holy Land.
Here are some basics on the mosque compound, from its importance over the centuries for three major religions to why it is such a flash point today.
What is the Aqsa Mosque?
The Aqsa Mosque is one of the holiest structures in the Islamic faith.
The mosque sits inside a 35-acre site known by Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, and by Jews as the Temple Mount. The site is part of the Old City of Jerusalem, sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims.
In Arabic, “aqsa” translates as farthest, and in this case it is a reference to Islamic scripture and its account of the Prophet Muhammad traveling from Mecca to the mosque in one night to pray and then ascending to heaven.
The mosque, which can hold 5,000 worshipers, is believed to have been completed early in the eighth century and faces the Dome of the Rock, the golden-domed Islamic shrine that is a widely recognized symbol of Jerusalem. Muslims consider the whole compound to be holy, with crowds of worshipers filling its courtyards to pray on holidays.
For Jews, the Temple Mount, known in Hebrew as Har Habayit, is the holiest place because it was the site of two ancient temples — the first was built by King Solomon, according to the Bible, and was later destroyed by the Babylonians; and the second stood
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