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18.2.17

Most Sacred Sites of Islam


Islam accords very high priority to maintain the sanctity of places of worship of God, be it the Christian churches, Jewish synagogues or the Muslim mosques, Allah says: “..Had not Allah repelled some people by the might of others, the monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which Allah's praise is daily celebrated, would have been utterly demolished. Allah will certainly help those who help His cause; most surely Allah is Mighty, Powerful.”(Qur’an;22:40), “Who is more unjust than he who prevents people from the House of worship of God, forbids the mention of His name therein, and strives to ruin them ? It is not proper for such people to enter in them except with His fear. For them there is disgrace in this world and grievous punishment in the Hereafter.”(Qur’an;2:114). Therefore the Muslims are under obligation to honour and protect the houses of worship of God to provide freedom of worship. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) provided protection to the monks of Mount Sinai. The 2nd Caliph Umar, at the fall of Jerusalem, while visiting the church, decline to offer by Christian clergy to offer prayer in the Church, as he did not want it to used as a precedence by the later Muslims to forcibly covert Churches in to mosques. The churches were protected even during Crusades during Muslim control, while there was wide spread destruction and killings on capture of Jerusalem by the Christian forces.

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“Verily, the first house (of worship) appointed for mankind was that in Baca (Mecca), full of blessing, and guidance for all people."(Qur’an;3:96). "Passing through the valley of Baca, they make it a well-spring; yea, the early rain covereth it with blessings."(Bilbe;Psalm;84:6). “And Remember when We showed  Abraham the site of the Holy House (the Ka’bah) at Makka saying: Associate not anything in worship with Me, and sanctify My House for those who circumambulate it, and those who stand up for prayer, and those who bow and (submit themselves with humility and obedience to Allah), and make prostration(in prayer).”(Qur’an;22:26)
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This article highlights the importance of most sacred Muslim sites , threats in historic perspective, universal responsibilities of Muslims towards mankind as inheritors of Qur’an and legacy of Abraham, to protect the holy sites at Makka, Medina and Jerusalem.
The most sacred sites in Islam are, the three (mosques) houses of worship of Allah; Ka’ba, Prophet's Mosque in Medina and Al-Aqsa Mosque at Jerusalem. This indicates the importance Islam attaches to Tawhid (Islamic Monotheism). Apart from their religious significance, they are also of great historical value. Sa'id bin Al-Musayyib reported from Abu Hurairah that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, "You should not undertake a special journey to visit any place other than the three Mosques: the Sacred Mosque of Makkah, this mosque of mine (at Medina), and Al-Aqsa Mosque (of Jerusalem)." This is reported by Bukhari, Muslim, and Abu Dawud (Fiqh-us-Sunna, Volume 5 Number 132c). Traveling to these three mosques is prescribed because of their special position in Islam. Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said; “Prayer in the mosque of Aqsa (i.e. Bayt al-Maqdis) has a reward of fifty thousand prayers; his prayer in my mosque (the Prophet's mosque in Medina) has a reward of fifty thousand prayers; and the prayer in the Sacred Mosque (Ka'bah) at Makkah has a reward of one hundred thousand prayers. Transmitted by Ibn Majah. (Al-Tirmidhi Hadith,752, Narrated by Anas ibn Malik).

KA’BA :
The First House of Worship of  One God-Allah:

Makka is the ancient centre of Islam, because it has the honour to house Ka’ba, the first house of worship of Allah, it is also the City of Peace. Its historical and religious significance is  central to the origin of Islam and religious practices, from the days of Prophet Adam, Abraham, through to Muhammad (peace be upon them all) till eternity. The Jerusalem, generally known as the symbol of Jewish unity in the form of ‘The Temple of Solomon’ (Al-Aqsa Mosque) is important to all followers of Abrahamic faith i.e. Jews, Christians as well as Muslims.  Some time after the shifting of the responsibility of the leadership of humanity from the Children of Israel to Children of Isma’il, the symbol of unity of Muslims, the true followers of Abraham (peace be upon him) also passed from Jerusalem to Makka, thereby the old and original "City of Peace" was restored and made universal. Makka is located in Southern Arabia at the old trade route from Yemen to Syria.  Ka'ba, the House of God is the  first House (of worship) chosen for men. It was first built by Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) at place, now called Makka also referred as Bakka in Qur’an. "Verily, the first house (of worship) appointed for mankind was that in Bakka (Mecca), full of blessing, and guidance for all people."(Qur’an;3:96). This word Bakka is also mentioned in the Bible: "Passing through the valley of Baca, they make it a well-spring; yea, the early rain covereth it with blessings."(Psalm;84:6).
Abraham and Ishmael Rebuilt Ka’ba:
Abraham Leaves  Ishmael: Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) on divine instructions, had to leave his eldest son Ishmael (then an infant) along with his mother Hajira (Hagar) at Makka (Arabia), an uninhabited desert at that time, the place where the first House of Worship of Allah was built by Adam. She could  have died of thirst in the desert around Makka along with her young son; but they were miraculously saved by the water which came out of earth, the spring is called  Zamzam, which still  exists in the form of a well. The place was inhabited due to water and its location on the trade route, it became to be  known as Makka. Years later Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) revisited them, the event of offering his son for sacrifice for the pleasure of God took place here. Allah saved the son (Isma’il) and accepted the supreme gesture of Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him). The rites are part of annual pilgrimage (Hajj) since then.
Universal House of Worship for All Believers of Humanity: The site of Makka was granted to Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) (and his son Isma’il) for building a place of worship that was to be pure (without idols, the worship to Allah, the One True God) and universal for the humanity, without being reserved (like Solomon's Temple of later times) to any one People or Race. Once Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) came, there was  no sign of original house of Allah, through the guidance of Allah he found the original foundations and made a roofless structure, it is narrated in Qur’an:" And Remember when We showed Abraham the site of the Holy House (the Ka’bah) at Makka saying: Associate not anything in worship with Me, and sanctify My House for those who circumambulate it, and those who stand up for prayer, and those who bow and submit themselves with humility and obedience to Allah, and make prostration in prayer."(Qur’an;22:26). “Abraham said: "My Lord make this (Makkah) a city of peace and provide its people with plenty of food from fruits, those of them who believe in Allah and the Last Day." He answered, "As for those who do not, I shall also provide for them in this life, though in the Hereafter I shall drag them to the torture of Hellfire and it is an evil destination indeed! And (remember) when Abraham and (his son) Ishmael were raising the foundations of the House (the Ka'bah) at Makka,(saying),‘Our Lord! Accept (this service) from us. Verily! You are the All-Hearer, all Knower."(Qur’an;2:126-127).
Black Stone: When raised to a certain height, Prophet Abraham (Peace be upon him) ordered his son to choose a piece of stone to mark the main corner point. While he was searching for it, the Archangel Gabriel appeared with the stone from Heaven. Prophet Abraham (Peace be upon him) fixed at the eastern corner. Narrated by Abdullah ibn Abbas, Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said: "The black stone descended from Paradise whiter than milk, but the sins of the descendants of Adam made it black. ":Ahmad and Tirmidhi transmitted it, the latter saying that his is a hasan sahih tradition. (Al-Tirmidhi Hadith 2577,). Prophet Isma’il (peace be upon him) become the founder of the new Arab nation and Makka developed as a centre of Islamic faith and trade.
Abraham Revived Original Islam: Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) thus revived the original Islam (which is as old as mankind) in Arabia. While building the sacred mosque, Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him)  dedicated the work to God in humble supplication, addressing Him as the All-Hearing and the All-Knowing. He then asked for a blessing on himself and his progeny generally, both the children of his eldest-born Isma’il (Arabs) and his younger son Isaac (Jews), peace be upon them.
Abraham Prayed for City of Peace & Unity In Islam: It is narrated in Qur’an: “Remember Abraham said: "O my Lord! make this city one of peace and security: and preserve me and my sons from worshipping idols. O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring to dwell in a valley without cultivation by thy Sacred House; in order O our Lord that they may establish regular prayer: so fill the hearts of some among men with love towards them and feed them with Fruits: so that they may give thanks. "O our Lord! truly Thou dost know what we conceal and what we reveal: for nothing whatever is hidden from Allah whether on earth or in heaven. "Praise be to Allah who hath granted unto me in old age Isma’il and Isaac: for truly my Lord is He the Hearer of Prayer!”(Qur’an;14:35-39). In Abraham's prophetic mind was the secret and open enmity or contempt which the Children of Israel were to have for the Children of Isma'il (Arabs). He prays to Allah that they may be united in Islam, as indeed they were, except a small remnant. According to Bible, Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born (Genesis;21: 5); and as Isma'il was 13 years old when Abraham was 99. (Genesis;27:24-25), Isma'il was also a son of his father's old age, having been born when Abraham was 86 years old. The younger son's progeny developed the Faith of Israel and that of Christ; the elder son's progeny perfected the more universal Faith of Islam, the Faith of Abraham the Truthful. Abraham prayed for both branches of his family, having a wider vision than some of the later Children of Israel. With prophetic vision he foresaw that there will be corruption and backsliding in both branches of his family: Makka will house  idols, and Jerusalem will become a harlot city (Ezekiel;16:15), a city of abomination. But the light of Islam will shine, and reclaim the lost people in both branches and indeed in all the world.
Corruption of Faith of Abraham, Paganism in Arabia: Over the centuries the descendents of Prophet a Ishmael (peace be upon him) corrupted the faith of their forefathers and started associating partners with Him and worshiping many gods. The pagans Arabs believed Allah as the Supreme Lord but considered the idols as smaller gods or His partners,  totally against the strict monotheism preached by Prophet Abraham and Isma’il (peace be upon them).  By the sixth century C.E, Ka’bah was filled with 360 idols, in the interior of Ka’ba they placed statue of Prophet Isma’il and Abraham (peace be upon them) with the ram beside him ready for sacrifice.
Destruction of Abraha’s Army of Elephants Attacking Ka’ba:  In the known history Ka’ba has remained a safe and peaceful House of worship of Allah, with no threat form any one. However in 571 C.E just before the birth of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Abraha (The Greek historians write him as Abrames and the Syriac historians as Abraham, Abrahah perhaps is an Abyssinian variant of Abraham, for its Arabic version is Ibrahim) the Christian Abyssinian ruler of Yemen invaded Makka with a large army, which also included some elephants, a strange beast for Arabs. The pagan Arabs abandoned the city, took to hills for safety. Allah sent swarms of birds carrying stones in their beaks and claws, showered on the invading troops, which miraculously destroyed them. Whoever was hit would start disintegrating. According to Muhammad bin Ishaq and Ikrimah, this was smallpox, which was seen in Arabia for the first time in that year. Ibn Abbas says that whoever was struck by a pebble, would start scratching his body resulting in breaking of the skin and falling off of the flesh. In another tradition Ibn Abbas says that the flesh and blood flowed like water and bones in the body became visible. The same thing happened with Abrahah too. His flesh fell in pieces and there arose bores on his body emitting pus and blood. In confusion they withdrew and fled towards Yemen. This is known as The Year of Elephants (A’am ul Feel) in Arabia. This is how miraculously Allah saved His House.  The incidence been referred in Qur’an: “Have you not considered how your Lord dealt with the Army of the Elephant? Did He not make their treacherous plan a flop? And send against them flocks of birds, which pelted them with stones of baked clay, thus rendered them like the chewed-up chaff”(Qur’an;105:1-5).
Reconstruction of Ka’ba after Abraham: The structure constructed by Abraham (peace be upon him) also got buried in the sand with the passage of time. Later it was reconstructed by the tribe of Amalqa and later by Jerhem. Once this structure got damaged the Quraish (the tribe of Prophet, peace be upon him) reconstructed it. Ka'bah as appears now is a cubed shaped structure having a black stone (Hajr-e-aswad) fixed in its eastern corner. Literally, Ka'bah (Ka’ba) in Arabic means a high place with respect and prestige, four cornered structure, the word may also have some semblance with  English ‘cube’, Latin ‘cubus’ or  Greek ‘kubos’. Ka'bah is also called ‘Bait-ul-Ateeq’ which means, the earliest, ancient, independent and liberating.
Ka’ba –The Direction of Worship, Qibla: The Muslims all over the world face towards Ka'bah during their prayers: Hence Ka'bah is called the Qibla (direction of prayer) for Muslims. It is important to note that though Muslims face the Ka'bah during prayers, but they do not worship the Ka'bah. Muslims worship and bow to none but Allah. It is mentioned in Qur’an: “To Allah belong the East and the West; whithersoever ye turn there is the (Wajh-"face") presence of Allah. For Allah is All-Pervading All-Knowing.’(Qur’an;2:115). "We see the turning of thy face (for guidance) to the heavens; now shall We turn thee to a Qibla that shall please thee.  Turn then thy face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque; wherever ye are turn your faces in that direction.  The people of the book know well that that is the truth from their Lord nor is Allah unmindful of what they do."(Qur’an;2:144). The Jews and Christians looked upon Jerusalem as a sacred city.  But there was no universal Qibla among them.  Some Jews turned towards Jerusalem, especially during the Captivity.  At the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Jerusalem was under Christian Byzantine Empire. But the Christians oriented their churches to the East (hence the word "orientation") which is a point of the compass, and not the direction of any sacred place. The fact of the altar being in the East does not mean that every worshipper has his face to the east; for, according at least to modern practice, the seats in a church are so placed that different worshippers may face in different directions. Initially the Muslims were required to face Jerusalem during their prayers. The Preacher of Unity, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) naturally wanted, in this as in other matters, a symbol of complete unity, and his heart was naturally delighted when Ka’bah was made the Qiblah (direction of Salah, prayer). Its connection with Prophet Abraham(peace be upon him) gave it great antiquity; its character of being an Arab centre made it appropriate when the Message (Qur’an) came in Arabic, and was preached through the union of the Arabs. At that time the little Muslim community was cutoff form Ka’ba, being exiles in Medina, however Ka’ba became a permanent source of hope, which Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) lived to see the fulfillment; and it also became the centre and gathering ground of all Muslims in the universal pilgrimage (Hajj), which was instituted with it.
Forbidden City for Non Muslims: After conquest of Makka by Muslims, Ka’ba was reserved for Muslims only. Allah says: “O believers! Know that polytheist are unclean; therefore, do not let them come near the Masjid-al-Haram after this year's pilgrimage. If you fear poverty, soon Allah - if He so wills - enrich you out of His bounty. Allah is All-Knowledgeable, All-Wise.”( Qur’an;9:128). Any apprehensions abut loss of revenue due to this restriction Allah, promised to enrich them, as can be seen.
Site of Annual Pilgrimage Hajj: Hajj means effort, the obligatory pilgrimage to Makka for every Muslim if he is healthy and can financially afford. It is one of the five pillars of Islam and takes place during the Islamic month of Zhul al-Hijjah. As mentioned above Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him), had initiated and established the holy Pilgrimage. The degenerated descendants of Abraham and Isma’il (Peace be upon them), defiled Allah’s Holy Ka'bah into a huge pantheon. They injected pagan rites into the purely Islamic Pilgrimage laid down by Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him). Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), cleansed the Holy Ka'bah from its heathen idols and again restored the original pilgrimage to its pristine purity.
Reconstruction of Ka’ba-Historic Perspective:
After Adam and Abraham, Ka’ba has been rebuilt many times, when ever the building got damaged due to floods or calamities. Years before the declaration of Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him), Ka’ba got damaged due to flash floods. Quraish, the custodian tribes did not have sufficient funds so, the reconstruction did not include the entire foundation of the Ka’ba as built by Prophet Abraham(peace be upon him). This was the first time that Ka’ba acquired the cubical shape it has now unlike its earlier rectangular  shape. The portion of the Ka’ba left out is called Hateem, it is adjacent to the Ka’ba, enclosed by a low semi-circular wall. In the lifetime of the Prophet there was no wall around the Ka'ba and the people used to pray around the Ka'ba till 'Umar became the Caliph and he built the wall around it. 'Ubaidullah further said, "Its wall was low, so Ibn Az-Zubair built it." (Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith: 5.171, Narrated by Amr bin Dinar and Ubaidullah bin Abi Yazid). 'Aisha said that the Prophet said to her, "O Aisha! Were your nation not close to the pre-Islamic period of Ignorance, I would have had the Ka'ba demolished and would have included in it the portion which had been left, and would have made it at a level with the ground and would have made two doors for it, one towards the east and the other towards the west, and then by doing this it would have been built on the foundations laid by Abraham." That was what urged Ibn-Az-Zubair to demolish the Ka'ba. Jazz said, "I saw Ibn-Az-Zubair when he demolished and rebuilt the Ka'ba (64-65 Hijrah) and included in it a portion of Al-Hijr (the unroofed portion of Ka'ba which is at present in the form of a compound towards the northwest of the Ka'ba). I saw the original foundations of Abraham which were of stones resembling the humps of camels." So Jarir asked Yazid, "Where was the place of those stones?" Jazz said, "I will just now show it to you." So Jarir accompanied Yazid and entered Al-Hijr, and Jazz pointed to a place and said, "Here it is." Jarir said, "It appeared to me about six cubits from Al-Hijr or so." (Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith: 2.656, Narrated by Yazid bin Ruman from Urwa).
In 74 Hijra (693 C.E) Al-Hajjaj bin Yusuf al-Thaqafi, the known tyrant of that time, with the approval of Umayyad Caliph Abdul Malik bin Marwan, demolished what Ibn az-Zubayr had added and restored the old structure of the Quraish. When Abdul Malik bin Marwan came for Umra and heard the Hadith that it was wish of Prophet for the Ka’ba to be constructed the way Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr had built it, he regretted his actions. Abbasi Caliph Harun al Rasheed wanted to rebuild the Ka’ba the way the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) wanted and the way Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr built it. Imam Malik advised that frequent demolition and rebuilding of Ka’ba is against its sanctity because it may become a practice by the Caliphs and Kings to demolish and rebuild it. The Caliph refrained, thus the structure remains the same with minor repairs here and there. After damage by the floods in 1040 Hijrah (1596 C.E) the reconstruction took place under the guidance of the Ottoman Caliph Sultan Murad. The latest  major reconstruction of Ka’ba took place in 1996. The original stones including black stone are part of the new construction, while other material has been replaced including the ceiling , roof and its wood.
Sacred Rituals:
The ritual of circumambulation of Ka’bah  (twaf) is part of Umrah and Hajj. Kissing of the Black Stone (Hajr-e-aswad) or from distance pointing by hand marks the start of  each circumambulation of Ka’bah to count seven circumambulations. The Black Stone thus, serves to mark the start of each round. Bukhari, Muslim and Abu Dawud reported, narrated by Abis bin Rabia that, Umar, the second Caliph  approached the Black Stone and kissed it. Then he said: "I know that you are a mere stone that can neither harm nor do any good. If I had not seen the Prophet (peace be upon him) kissing you, I would have never kissed you."(Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith,2.667). Kissing of Black Stone is a sign of respect like people kiss their holy scriptures (Bible, Geeta) or children. In 929 C.E, the Qarmatians (the most un-Islamic sect in Islam) sacked Makka and carried away the Black Stone to Bahrain, it was restored back to Ka'bah after 20 years. During this period all rituals and circumambulation (Twaf) of Ka’bah continued as usual. This stone is revered by Muslims nothing more. Muslims only worship Allah and pray to Him alone.

PROPHET'S MOSQUE AT MEDINA



Historic Background: Prophet's Mosque at Medina is one of three most sacred mosques built in 622 C.E. The history of its construction and background is well explained in the Hadith; Narrated by Anas: When the Prophet arrived Medina he dismounted at 'Awali-i-Medina amongst a tribe called Banu 'Amr bin 'Auf. He stayed there for fourteen nights. Then he sent for Bani An-Najjar and they came armed with their swords. As if I am looking (just now) as the Prophet was sitting over his Rahila (Mount) with Abu Bakr riding behind him and all Banu An-Najjar around him till he dismounted at the courtyard of Abu Aiyub's house. The Prophet loved to pray wherever the time for the prayer was due even at sheep folds. Later on he ordered that a mosque should be built and sent for some people of Banu-An-Najjar and said, "O Banu An-Najjar! Suggest to me the price of this (walled) piece of land of yours." They replied, "No! By Allah! We do not demand its price except from Allah." Anas added: There were graves of pagans in it and some of it was unleveled and there were some date-palm trees in it. The Prophet ordered that the graves of the pagans be dug out and the unleveled land be leveled and the date-palm trees be cut down. (So all that was done). They aligned these cut date-palm trees towards the Qibla of the mosque (as a wall) and they also built two stone side-walls (of the mosque). His companions brought the stones while reciting some poetic verses. The Prophet was with them and he kept on saying, "There is no goodness except that of the Hereafter, O Allah! So please forgive the Ansars and the emigrants."(Sahih Al Bukhari Hadith, Volume 1, Hadith Number  420).
Role and Functions: Prophet’s Mosque served as  a model for all later mosques. A small part of the space  was used to house Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his family. The home of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his family was a simple structure, made of raw brick, that opened on an enclosed courtyard where people gathered to hear him, it was a special place for worship and congregation. In 624 C.E when it was decreed (Qur’an;2:144) that prayer be directed toward Mecca instead of Jerusalem; against the wall facing Mecca, the Qiblah wall, was built as a roofed shelter supported by pillars made of palm trunks. Against the opposite wall of the courtyard stood a roofed gallery to shelter the companions of Prophet, the antecedent of the roofed oratories in later mosques. In 628 C.E a minbar, or pulpit, was added so that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was raised above the crowd; besides leading prayer, the Prophet (peace be upon him) settled the disputes from the minbar according to Islamic Law. Later mosques also combined political, judicial, and religious functions.
Garden of Paradise (Riaz-ul-Jannah): Narrated by Abu Huraira; The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "There is a garden from the gardens of Paradise (riaz-ul-jannah)between my house and my pulpit, and my pulpit is on my Lake Fount (Al-Kauthar)."(Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 3.112). Jabir bin Abdullah reported that Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said: "Ibrahim (peace be upon him) made Makkah Haram (sacred), and I declare Medina and what lies between its two black tracts Haram.(Fiqh us Sunnah:5.63a). Like Makka non Muslims are not permitted to visit this sacred mosque.
Place of Safety (Harem): It is desire of every Muslim to offer prayer at this place. Medina is a sanctuary; it is forbidden to cut its trees. Any one who innovates an heresy or commits a sin therein, will incur the curse of Allah, the angels, and all the people. Anas bin Malik reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "Whoever prays forty prayers consecutively in my mosque without missing any of the obligatory prayer, he will be removed from Hell, from punishment, and from hypocrisy." This was reported by Ahmad and At-Tabarani with a sound chain. Like Ka’ba, non Muslims are not allowed to visit this mosque.
Resting Place of Prophet (peace be upon him) and Companions: The mosque, containing the resting place of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his close companions, Abubakar Siddiq and Umar al Khattab. In 706C.E Caliph Al-Walid I replaced the original brick buildings and created a new building of mosque on the site. The original structure was rebuilt and expanded many times to cater for ever rising numbers of faithfuls. According to the famous narrative, Nureddin, Zangi (1118-1174 C.E), the pious Muslim ruler of Syria, through a dream got an indication from the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) about mischievous activities of some Jews, digging a tunnel towards his mausoleum. While the culprits were traced and punished, he built an underground protective shield of metal (lead etc) to protect the holy mausoleum from future miscreants. Though not obligatory but most Muslim make it a point to visit the mosque  during pilgrimage (Hajj or Umrah) period.

AL-AQSA  MOSQUE:

Al-Aqsa  Mosque is located at Jerusalem (Hebrew Yerushalayim; Arabic Bayt al-Muqaddas, or al-Quds), one of the world's oldest and holiest cities. The city plays a central role in the spiritual and emotional perspective of the three major monotheistic religions. For Jews throughout the world, Jerusalem is the focus of age-old yearnings, a living proof of ancient grandeur and independence and a centre of national renaissance; for Christians, it is the scene of their Saviour's agony and triumph; for Muslims, it is the goal of the Prophet Muhammad's (peace be upon him) night journey and the site of one of Islam's most sacred shrines. For all three faiths it is a centre of pilgrimage; the Holy City, the earthly prototype of the heavenly Jerusalem.
MUSLIM CLAIM & LEGACY:
The site of Al-Aqsa  Mosque in Jerusalem is sacred to Muslims, for three main reasons:
The Second House of Worship of One God: According to the Islamic traditions, the site of Al-Aqsa  Mosque is the second place built in the history of mankind for the worship of One God, the first being at Makka. Muslims, as the true inheritors and followers of the faith of Abraham believe in the prophets of Bible to be the prophets of Islam. Hence as true inheritors of the legacy of Abraham, rightly claim  the Al-Aqsa Mosque (also known as Temple of Jerusalem).  It is called ‘farthest’, because it was the place of worship farthest west which was known to the Arabs at that time.
Venue of Prophet  Ascend to Heaven : Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him),  ascended into heaven from this site, it is mentioned in Qur’an: “Glorified be He Who carried His servant by night from the Inviolable Place of Worship to the Far Distant Place of Worship (Al-Aqsa Mosque) the neighborhood whereof We have blessed, that We might show him of Our tokens! Lo! He, only He, is the Hearer, the Seer.”(Qur’an;17:1). Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is believed to have lead the prayer which was attended by all the prophets at this blessed place. The building did not exist at that time, Majsid [mosque] is the place of prostration [sajood], worship, Muslims can pray at any clean poece of land. 
Initial Direction of Prayer (Qibla) of Muslims: Islam declared the site of Solomon Temple as a sacred house of worship and direction of prayer for Muslims. This remained the direction of prayer for quite some time, however later it was changed to Makka on direction of Allah: “..To Allah belong both East and West;”(Qur’an;2:142). Hence it is one of three most holiest sites of Islam other being Ka’ba and Mosque of the Prophet at Medina.
HISTORY :
First Temple-Housed the Ark of the Covenant:
Al-Aqsa Mosque is located at the place called Mount Moriah or the Temple Mount. It is the same place  (or near) where Temple of Solomon was constructed to house the Ark of Covenant and for the worship of One God, preached and worshiped by Abraham.  The Ark of the Covenant, (Hebrew Aron Ha-Berit) was most sacred to the Israelites. As per the Biblical traditions it  is  the ornate, gold-plated wooden chest that in biblical times housed the two tablets of the Law given to Moses by God (Ten Commandments engraved on stone, with relics of Moses and Aaron). This was a sacred possession to Israel. It was lost to the enemy in the early part of prophet Samuel's ministry. Qur’an mentions about it: “And their Prophet (Samuel) said unto them (Israelites): Lo! the token of his kingdom is that there shall come unto you the Ark (Tabut u fihi Sakinatum) wherein is peace of reassurance from your Lord, and a remnant of that which the house of Moses and the house of Aaron left behind, the angels bearing it. Lo! herein shall be a token for you if (in truth) ye are believers...”(Qur’an;2:248). ‘Sakina’ is understood to mean; safety, tranquility, peace. Later Jewish writings use the same word Shekhina, for a symbol of God's Glory in the Tabernacle or tent or Temple of  Solomon in which the Ark was kept.
In the time of prophet Samuel, Israel had suffered from much corruption within and many reverses. The Philistines had made a great attack and defeated Israel with great slaughter. The Israelites, instead of relying on Faith and their own valour and cohesion, brought out their most sacred possession, the Ark of the Covenant, to help them in the fight. But the enemy captured it, carried it away, and retained it for seven months. The Israelites forgot that wickedness cannot screen itself behind a sacred relic.  Nor can a sacred relic help the enemies of faith. The enemy found that the Ark brought nothing but misfortune for themselves, and were glad to abandon it. It apparently remained twenty years in the village (qarya) of Yaarim (Kirjath-jeafim): (I.Samuel;7: 2.) Meanwhile the people pressed Samuel to appoint them a king. They thought that a king would cure all their ills, whereas spirit of unity, discipline and a readiness on their part to fight in the cause of God was required. However Saul was appointed as king. When the Ark came back, it remained in a village for twenty years and was apparently taken to the capital when kingship was instituted. It thus became a symbol of unity and authority. (The final fate of the Ark is unknown).
The Ark rested in the Holy of Holies inside the Tabernacle of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem and was seen only by the high priest of the Israelites on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The Levites (priestly functionaries) carried the Ark with them during the Hebrews' wanderings in the wilderness. Following the conquest of Canaan, the Promised Land, the Ark resided at Shiloh, but from time to time it was carried into battle by the Israelites. After King David's capture of Jerusalem, however, the Ark was moved to that city, later placed in Temple of SolomonThis action joined Israel's major religious object with the monarchy and the city itself into a central symbol of union of the Israelite tribes. As the site for a future temple, David chose Mount Moriah, or the Temple Mount, where it was believed (according to Jewish traditions) Abraham had built the altar on which he was prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. (As per Muslim traditions and belief, it was Ishmael and not Isaac and the place was around Makka, Muslims perform Hajj (annual pilgrimage) to commemorate the event). The First Temple was constructed during the reign of David's son, Solomon, and completed in 957 BC. It was built as an abode for the Ark and as a place of assembly for the entire people, hence the Temple of Jerusalem  was  the centre of worship and national identity in ancient Israel. The First Temple contained five altars: one at the entrance of the Holy of Holies, two others within the building, a large bronze one before the porch, and a large tiered altar in the courtyard. A huge bronze bowl, or "sea," in the courtyard was used for the priests' ablutions. Within the Holy of Holies, two cherubim of olive wood stood with the Ark; this innermost sanctuary was considered the dwelling place of the Divine Presence (Shekhina) and could be entered only by the high priest and only on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
Destruction by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia-586 B.C: The Temple suffered at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia, who removed the Temple treasures in 604 BC and 597 BC and totally destroyed the building in 587/586 B.C. This destruction and the deportations of Jews to Babylonia in 586 B.C and 582 B.C were seen as fulfillments of prophecy and, therefore, strengthened Judaic religious beliefs and awakened the hope for the reestablishment of the independent Jewish state.
Rebuilt 515 BC : Cyrus II, of Persia and conqueror of Babylonia, in 538 BC allowed exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. Work was completed in 515 BC. This is known as the Second Temple, which was constructed as a modest version of the original building.  It did not include the Ark of the Covenant which was lost. During the Persian and Hellenistic (4th-3rd century BC) periods, the Temple generally was respected, and in part subsidized, by Judea’s foreign rulers.
Desecrated - 167 BC: Antiochus IV Epiphanes, however, plundered it in 169 BC and desecrated it in 167 BC by commanding that sacrifices be made to Zeus on an altar built for him. This final act touched off the Hasmonean revolt, during which Judas Maccabaeus cleansed and rededicated the Temple; the event is celebrated by Jews in the annual festival of Hanukkah.
Rebuilding of the Second Temple Starts- 20 BC : During the Roman conquest, Pompey entered (63 BC) the Holy of Holies but left the Temple intact. In 54 BC, however, Crassus plundered the Temple treasury. Of major importance was the rebuilding of the Second Temple begun by Herod the Great, king (37 BC-4 C.E) of Judea. Construction began in 20 BC and lasted for 46 years. The area of the Temple Mount was doubled and surrounded by a wall with gates. The Herodian Temple was again the centre of Israelite life. It was not only the focus of religious ritual but also the repository of the Holy Scriptures and other national literature and the meeting place of the Sanhedrin, the highest court of Jewish law during the Roman period.
Second Temple's Destruction by Romans -70 C.E & Expulsion of Jews: The rebellion against Rome that began in C.E 66 soon focused on the Temple and effectively ended with the Temple's destruction on the 9th/10th of Av, C.E 70. The Jews were expelled. All that remained of the Second Temple was a portion of the Western Wall ( also called the Wailing Wall), which continues to be the focus of Jewish aspirations and pilgrimage.
Christian Control of Jerusalem: During 7th century, Jerusalem  was a sacred place to both Jews and Christians, but the Christians had the upper hand after conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity (306-337 C.E), as it was included in the Byzantine Empire, which maintained a Patriarch at Jerusalem.
Jerusalem Under Muslims-Jews Allowed to Return:  Jerusalem fell to Muslims (638 C.E). It is scared to Muslims being the venue of Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him)  ascend to heaven, and first Qibla  (direction of prayer) hence the holy site was cleaned by the 2nd Muslim Caliph Omar himself, and he prayed. It was rebuilt as a Muslim place of worship (Mosque) in 691 C.E by   Caliph 'Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan. (also called Dome of the Rock , Arabic QUBBAT AS-SAKHRAH,  Bait al-Maqdis, Mosque of Omar). It is virtually the first monumental building in Islamic history after Ka’ba and is of considerable aesthetic and architectural importance besides the spiritual sacredness. The Jews were allowed to return by Muslims after 500 years. It changed hands between Christians and Muslims during Crusades till final eviction by Salhud-din-Ayoubi in 1187 C.E, ending its 88-year occupation by the Franks. Jerusalem  remained under Muslim rule till 1917 , after the retreat of the Turks it was ruled under the British Mandate till 1948,  then made part of Jordan.
Israel’s Control : Israel captured Jerusalem in 1967. Israel has declared Jerusalem as its indivisible capital against UN Resolutions, which is not internationally recognized. The Palestine have declared it as the capital of their state as and when it is established. The Old Jerusalem city is dominated by the raised platform of the Herodian Temple Compound, claimed as the site of the First and Second Temples of the Hebrews and Jews; the compound includes the Islamic holy places of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. Its Western (Wailing) Wall is the most sacred of Jewish shrines. Though one of the three most sacred places for Muslims, they are being denied free access ever since Israeli occupation. With the passage of time the Muslim world appears to be forgetting Al-Aqsa Mosque, considering that it will get resolved with the establishment of Palestinian state, a remote possibility in near future. This apathy has encouraged the enemies of Islam to threaten the other two holiest Muslim sites as well.
Jewish Defiance and Divine Punishment:
The Jews were rebellious in implementation of Divine commandments, it is mentioned in Bible: “And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiff necked people: (Exodus; 32:9)”, “Understand therefore, that the LORD thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiff-necked people. Remember, and forget not, how thou provokedst the LORD thy God to wrath in the wilderness: from the day that thou didst depart out of the land of Egypt, until ye came unto this place, ye have been rebellious against the LORD. Also in Horeb ye provoked the LORD to wrath, so that the LORD was angry with you to have destroyed you.” (Deuteronomy; 9:6-8), “Likewise when the LORD sent you from Kadeshbarnea, saying, Go up and possess the land which I have given you; then ye rebelled against the commandment of the LORD your God, and ye believed him not, nor hearkened to his voice. Ye have been rebellious against the LORD from the day that I knew you.” (Deuteronomy; 9:23-24), “Remember thy servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; look not unto the stubbornness of this people, nor to their wickedness, nor to their sin”: (Deuteronomy; 9:27).
Allah says: “If they would have observed the Laws of Torah and the Gospel and other Revelations which were sent to them from their God, they would have certainly enjoyed abundance from above and from beneath. Though there are some among them on the moderate course; but most of them do nothing but evil”.(Qur’an;5:66).  “Over shadowed by ignominy are they wherever they may be, save (when they bind themselves again) in a bond with God and a bond with men; for they have earned the burden of God’s condemnation, and are over shadowed by humiliation: for all this (has befallen them)” because they persisted in denying the truth of God’s message and in slaying the prophets against all right: transgressing the bounds of what is right”(Qur’an;3:112). Thus they had to suffer the Divine punishment in the form of destruction of their temple, enslavement and dispersion. Allah says: “However, if any one of you, after this, violates this covenant, he will indeed go astray from the Right Way. Even after that, they broke their covenant; as a result, We laid on them Our curse and hardened their hearts. They tempered with words out of their context and neglected much of what they were enjoined. You will always find most of them deceitful except for a few of them. Yet forgive them and overlook their misdeeds. Allah loves those who are kind to others. Likewise We also made a covenant with those who call themselves Christians, but they too have neglected much of what they were enjoined.. ”(Qur’an;5:13-14). Allah may punish any one who disobeys Him. Allah says: “The Jews and the Christians say: "We are the children of God and His beloved ones." Ask them, "Why then does He punish you for your sins? Nay! In fact you are human beings like others which He has created. He forgives whom He pleases and He punishes whom He pleases..”(Qur’an;5:18).
The divine punishment for rebellion and disobedience is not restricted to the Jews only, Allah has been punishing the rebellious people and replacing them with others, He says: “How many populations that insolently opposed the command of their Lord and of His apostles did We not then call to account to severe account? And We imposed on them an exemplary Punishment. Then did they taste the evil result of their conduct and the End of their conduct was Perdition.”(Qur’an;65:8-9),  “Your Lord is Self-Sufficient, Lord of Mercy. If He wants, He can destroy you all and replace you with others as He pleases, just as He raised you from the offspring of other people.”(Qur’an;6:133). There area lessons for the Muslims in the Divine punishment accorded the Children of Israel for violating Covenant with Allah.
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Historic Mosques around Makkah

Makkah and the surrounding holy places are home of historical mosques that have played great roles in the history of Islam as some of them have witnessed historical events. Some of them also still carry the old shapes of construction, others enjoyed rehabilitation during different times of history.

Al-Taneem, located some seven kilometers from the Grand Mosque in Makkah is where the mother of Muslims, Aiyesha bint Abi Bakr, wife of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), started Umrah (minor Haj) in the year 29 H. and where pilgrims coming to Makkah who missed a Miqat (where to dress (Ihram — Haj white cloth-) could make a new start for Haj or Umrah. With a total area of 84000 sq.m. and a cost of SR100 million, it was rehabilitated in the era of late Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd bin Abdulaziz.

In the eastern parts of Makkah, Al-Juaranah Mosque, located at 24 kilometers, is the spot for Makkah residents to start Haj, dressing of Ihram. Al-Juranah is also the site of giving away by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) of the gains Muslims have captured from their enemy at Hunain battle.

Al-Baiaa (allegiance pledge) mosque is located in the eastern part of Makkah. It still carries its historical shape, and is believed to be built during the era of Caliph Abu-Jaafar Al-Mansour in the year 144H. In the spot where the mosque is existing, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has concluded an allegiance pledge with 12 leaders of two great Arabian tribes: Al-Aws and Al-Khazraj who came from Al-Madinah Al-Munawarah.

Al-Jinn mosque is some 2000 meters north of the holy mosque. It is where a group of Jinn offered allegiance pledge to the prophet . It is also called Al-Haras (guard) mosque, rehabilited in 1421 H.

Heading toward Jeddah from Makkah along the old expressway, you will find Al-Hudaybiyah mosque, now called Al-Shamsi, 24 km from the holy Haram of Makkah. Still the old mosque, built of black stone and mud, is surviving. However, a new one was built in the adjacent.

Al-Kheef mosque in Mina valley on the way pilgrims take to the mount of Arafat, the peak of Haj, is where the prophet performed the dawn prayer while ascending to Arafat. It was rehabilitated at a cost of SR90 million in 1407H.

Al-Mashaer Al-Haram mosque, located in Muzdalifah, where pilgrims stay the night after coming back from Arafat, was expanded and rebuilt during the Saudi era at a cost of five million Saudi Riyal.

Namirah mosque which was first built by Prophet Muhammad when he came to ascend mount Arafat to address Muslims on that day is located in the middle of Arafat valley. The now one of the most equipped among the ancient mosques, Namirah mosque was expanded and rebuilt in the Saudi era on an area of 110,000 sq.m. Since several years ago during the current Saudi era, the worshipping of noon and afternoon joint prayer is transmitted from Namirah mosque live to the world via satellite every year.
http://www.arabnews.com/saudi-arabia/makkah-historical-mosques-enjoy-great-respect-muslims

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BLIGATIONS OF MUSLIMS AS INHERITORS OF QUR’AN & LEGACY OF ABRAHAM:
Though Judaism and Christianity claim their roots with Abraham (peace be upon him), it is Islam alone, which can truly declare to be the intact legacy of Abraham (peace be upon him). Allah says: “Abraham was not a Jew, nor yet a Christian; but he was an upright man who had surrendered (to Allah), and he was not of the idolaters.”(Qur’an;3:67), “Jews and Christians say: "Be Jews or Christians, you shall then be rightly guided." (O Muhammad), say: "By no means! We follow the faith of Abraham, the upright one; and he joined not gods with Allah.”(Qur’an;2:135), “(O Muhammad),Say: Lo! As for me, my Lord has guided me unto a straight path, a right religion (din qiyam), the community of Abraham, the upright, who was no idolater.”(Qur’an;6:161), “Say: Allah speaks truth. So follow the religion of Abraham, the upright. He was not of the idolaters.”(Qur’an;3:95). Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him ), the last messenger of God, said: “..you (Muslims) are an heir to the heritage of Abraham”(Sunan Abu Dawood;770). Allah appointed Muslims to inherit Qur’an, Allah says: “We have given the Book (Qur’an) as an inheritance to those of Our servants (Muslims) whom We have chosen, among them there are some who wrong their own souls, some follow a middle course and some, by Allah's leave, excel in good deeds; which is the supreme virtue.”(Qur’an;35:32).
As inheritors of legacy of Abraham and Qur’an, Muslims have a great responsibility, towards mankind. Allah says: “We have made you (Muslims) a moderate (wasat-justly balanced) community so that you may be witness against the mankind and that your own Messenger may be witness against you…”(Qur’an;2:143). The essence of Islam is to avoid all extravagances and extremism on either side. It is a sober, practical balanced (wasat) religion. When two persons dispute, they advance extravagant claims. A just witness comes between them, and brings the light of reason to bear on them, pruning all their selfish extravagances. So the mission of Islam is to curb, for instance, the extreme formalism of the Mosaic law and the extreme "other-worldliness" professed by Christianity. Similarly use of violence is against the spirit of moderation. The witness must be unselfish, equipped with first-hand knowledge, and ready to intervene in the cause of justice. Such is the position claimed by Islam among rival systems. Similarly, within Islam itself, the position of witness to whom disputants can appeal is held by the last Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him). Hence the Muslims bear great responsibility with in themselves and then to the mankind, Allah says: “You (Muslims) are the best of peoples which has ever been raised for the guidance of mankind. You enjoin good, forbid evil, and believe in Allah.”(Qur’an;3:110). Qur’an advises patience in enjoining good and forbidding the evil, because the persuasion and preaching requires patience, Luqman’s (sage) advised his son: “O my son! Be constant in prayer (Salah), enjoin good and forbid the evil. Endure with patience whatever befalls you, surely this shows your determination in conducting the affairs.”(Qur’an;31:17). The Muslims have to understand,  practice and preach the message of Qur’an to humanity. The Children of Israel were advised: “Why do not the Rabbis and the doctors of laws forbid them from their (habit of) uttering sinful words and eating things forbidden? Evil indeed are their works.”(Qur’an;5:63).
Islam being the Universal Religion (Din- way of life) urges its adherents to realize their global responsibility towards guidance of mankind, for Islam is just submission to the Will of Allah. This implies (1) Faith, (2) doing right, being an example to others to do right, and having the power to see that the right prevails, (3) avoiding wrong, being an example to others to eschew wrong, and having the power to see that wrong and injustice are defeated. Islam therefore lives, not for itself, but for the mankind as a whole.
The Muslims have to put their own house in order, they stop defiance of Commands of Allah and adhere to the teachings of Islam, which provide complete way of life. The misguided militant groups have to be tackled, who are posing threat not only to the world peace but tarnishing the image of Islam, their genuine concerns are to be addressed so that they are brought in to the folds of mainstream Islam. Muslims have to catch up in the race for the development in scientific, other fields and acquiring knowledge, (their lost treasure of the past) so that they can undertake the great responsibilities with dignity and honor to guide the humanity towards peace and stability. The houses of worship of Allah should become symbol of unity. The Jewish and the history of mankind is full of examples where by the rebellious and defiant nations were punished by Allah. This is sufficient to serve as a warning for the Muslims.
In 571 C.E, Allah protected Ka’ba by miraculously destroying the army of Abraha, (the Christian Abyssinian ruler of Yemen) while the polytheist Arabs abandoned and took to the hills. Now it the responsibility of Muslims as heir of legacy of Abraham and Qur’an to counter any threat to symbols of Muslim unit, the Ka’ba and other holy places of worship of Allah. Allah may again protect His house of worship, or He may not, (like Jewish Temple of Solomon housing the Ark of Covenant, destroyed),  as a mark of punishment if Muslims, like Jews continue to disobey Him. Any threat to the sacred Muslims sites is the test and trial of the true faith of Muslims, they have to protect them with all the might at their disposal. Allah says: “O believers! What is the matter with you that when you are asked to go forth in the cause of Allah, you cling to the earth? Do you prefer the life of this world to the life of the hereafter? If it is so, then you should know that the comforts of this life are little compared to the life of the hereafter. If you do not go  forth, He will inflict on you a painful punishment and replace you with other people, and you cannot harm Him at all, for Allah has power over everything.”(Qur’an;9:38-39).
CONCLUSION :
The three most sacred places of Islam are the places of worship of Allah. Ka’ba is the first house of worship built by Adam and rebuilt by Abraham the ancestor of Jews, Christians and Muslims. The two fundamentals of Islam, the Hajj and daily worship  Salah, are directly linked with Ka’ba. This is the common point of convergence. The Al Aqsa mosque is again related with the second house of worship of God, sacred place for Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Prophet’s Mosque represents the house of worship of God built by the Last messenger of God. There will be no messenger any more, though numerous mosques will continue to be built but the honor granted to this sacred mosque is unique. Al-Aqsa mosque is already under Israeli control, threatened by the excavations carried out by Israeli government with the covert design to rebuild the Temple by the Jews. Ka’ba, Prophet’s Mosque at Medina and Al-Aqsa are the most sacred and most dear sites to all the Muslims, whether practicing or non practicing,  moderate or non moderate, religious or fanatic, Sunni or Shi’a, black or white, Arab or non Arab alike.
The irresponsible statements by the US Presidential candidates will serve no good purpose but to further strengthen the extremists and weaken the peace loving moderates on both sides. Such irrational threats indicate the sick and terrorist mindset of US leadership (Presidential candidate). It is time that the tendency to threaten the Muslim holy sites is curbed right at the outset. Any lapse or delay will be considered as a weakness by the enemy’s of Islam, which ultimately may result in to materializing the threat in to reality, a nightmare scenario for the world. The Muslim world (governments and people) have to react sharply (not by damaging own properties in protests) in appropriate manner, representing the aspirations and sensitivity of Muslims. It should be made clear to the Americans and the world that, they should keep Islam, Muslims and their holy sites out of politics and so called War On Terror.
As inheritors of legacy of Abraham and Qur’an, it is the responsibility of Muslims to use all  the means, resources and their lives in the cause of Allah by protecting the holy mosques, the symbol of unity of the faith and reverence. If they fail in this they should draw lessons from the history. Allah punished the Children of Israel for defying His Commandments and not fulfilling responsibilities and betraying Divine trust. Any threat to the Muslim holy sites, will result in unimaginable consequences which no one can predict. During the Gulf War, (1991) Pakistan had sent its troops to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the protection of these holy sites. The sharp reaction to the mere rumor, of Americans taking over Ka’ba in 1979 in the form of public violence resulting in the destruction of US embassy at Islamabad and other capitals should be enough to highlight the sensitivity of matter.
Short link to this post:
Most Sacred Sites of Islam: http://goo.gl/na0t3

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