On account of the mosque institution being as old as man himself, prophet Adam must have been the one who built the first mosque(s) on earth. It is inconceivable that a community of believers, led and managed by prophet Adam, regardless of its size and quantity, could have lived without a mosque, or mosques, no matter what its shape, dimensions and exact functions were. The earliest community of believers could not collectively practice the truth of Islam at all of its necessary levels in the absence of the idea of the mosque. Such would be unfeasible.
Allah says in the Qur'an: "The first House (of worship) appointed for man was that in Bakkah (i.e., Makkah): full of blessing and of guidance for all the worlds." (Alu 'Imran, 96)
Many people believe that, by virtue of human nature and the inseparability of man, Allah's words of guidance and Allah's houses on earth (mosques), the very first man on earth, prophet Adam, built the first House of worship referred to in the verse, i.e., al-Masjid al-Haram, or Ka'bah, or Baytullah (the House of Allah). Having descended on earth, Adam is said to have yearned for the exaltation and praises of Allah by angels he had accustomed himself to in the Garden of Eden, and, therefore, he desired to have a house which will resound with prayers, glorification and praises of Allah on the earth too. Allah fulfilled his wish and sent down Angel Jabra'il (Gabriel) to guide and help him in laying the foundations of and building al-Masjid al-Haram.
Some people even go further and assert that since Allah did not send Adam to the earth until it was fully equipped and set to accommodate him, lest he shall be unable to smoothly and responsibly carry out his duties as a vicegerent (khalifah), one of the necessary requirements which had to be attended to must have been the existence of a House of Allah, as a consequence of which some angels were assigned to build al-Masjid al-Haram or the Ka'bah.
Others, on the other hand, contend that prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Isma'il, also a prophet, built al-Masjid al-Haram. Although there might have existed earlier other houses of worship, albeit with no special historical and socio-cultural significance, al-Masjid al-Haram is reputed to have been the first mosque on the earth appointed to man for the purpose. This conclusion rests on the following Qur'anic verses: "And remember Ibrahim and Isma'il raised the foundations of the House (with this prayer): "Our Lord, accept (this service) from us: for You are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing." (al-Baqarah, 127)
"Behold! We pointed the site to Ibrahim of the (sacred) House, (saying): "Associate not anything (in worship) with Me; and sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or stand up, or bow, or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer)." (al-Hajj, 26)
However, in one hadith (the Prophet's tradition) the companion Abu Dharr is reported to have said: "I have asked the Prophet (pbuh): "Which mosque was built first on the earth?" The Prophet (pbuh) answered: "Al-Masjid al-Haram." Then I asked: "And which one thereafter?" He said: "Al-Masjid al-Aqsa." Then I asked: "What was the interval separating the two?" The Prophet (pbuh) replied: "Forty years."
It does not come as a surprise that this tradition of the Prophet (pbuh) has been causing considerable bewilderment among some scholars who held that al-Masjid al-Aqsa mosque was built by prophet Sulayman (Solomon), who had lived more than a thousand years after prophet Ibrahim, the builder of al-Masjid al-Haram. On that account, the whole matter needed some efforts for reconciliation. As for those who were of the opinion that al-Masjid al-Haram was constructed by Adam, they merely concluded that he, or some of his progeny, was instructed forty years after the completion of al-Masjid al-Haram to proceed to the designated location (later Jerusalem) and build there al-Masjid al-Aqsa. They construed the verses cited by the other group of scholars in a way that conforms with their understanding of the subject. According to them, neither Ibrahim nor Sulayman constructed for the first time the mosques in question. Rather, they only reconstructed or restored what had been formerly instituted and built but disintegrated and even disappeared altogether during their respective eras. Thus, the referred to verses imply nothing but reconstruction, renewal or restoration; so does every Prophet's tradition in which Ibrahim and Sulayman were mentioned in the connection with the building of al-Masjid al-Haram and al-Masjid al-Aqsa respectively.
As regards those scholars who contended that prophet Ibrahim was the builder of al-Masjid al-Haram in Makkah, they concluded that the first construction of al-Masjid al-Aqsa in what later became to be known as Jerusalem, was undertaken really forty years subsequent to Ibrahim's completion of al-Masjid al-Haram but, in all likelihood, by Ishaq (Isaac), Ibrahim's another son, or Ya'qub (Jacob), Ishaq's son and Ibrahim's grandson, and which was later restored, expanded and reconstructed by prophet Sulayman. Even Sulayman's father, Dawud (David), also a prophet, might have started the (re)construction which, nevertheless, was intensified and completed by Sulayman. Some people even ended affirming, as a way out, that the above tradition (hadith) of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) does not imply the actual construction of the two mosques. Rather, it connotes just a divine decision on having the two mosques as the foremost ones on the earth, as well as on their respective geographical locations and historical and socio-cultural roles and positions.
In the final analysis, it appears - and Allah knows best -- that al-Masjid al-Haram, most likely, was first built by prophet Adam and not prophet Ibrahim, and that al-Masjid al-Aqsa, most likely, was not first built by prophet Sulayman but by someone during prophet Adam's time. To further corroborate the viewpoint that al-Masjid al-Haram and al-Masjid al-Aqsa were inaugurated and built long before Ibrahim and Sulayman respectively, we shall add that the Qur'an in this regard says that Ibrahim and his son Isma'il actually "raised (yarfa'u) the foundation of the House", rather than "laid (assasa or even wada') the foundation of the House". The former phrasing basically indicates the physical rebuilding plus the restoration of the status of al-Masjid al-Haram, while the latter one -- the one that is not employed in the verse in question -- would mean its establishment and construction, for it is generally used when something is instituted or established for the first time. For example, the word assasa is used in the context of the construction of the "Mosque of Piety" by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), as well as the "Mosque of Mischief" by the hypocrites of Madinah. (al-Tawbah 107-109) Also, in the verse wherein Allah says that the first mosque appointed for man was that in Makkah, the word used is wada' in its passive form wudi', thus clearly indicating the commencement of the existence of al-Masjid al-Haram in Makkah.
Furthermore, in another Qur'anic verse, after Ibrahim, under Allah's guidance, had brought Isma'il, an infant then, and his mother Hajar to the barren land of Makkah, and after he had found there a dwelling place for them, he left them uttering the following supplication: "O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring to dwell in a valley without cultivation, by Your 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." (Ibrahim, 37)
The phrase "by Your Sacred House" denotes that the evidence, either physical or conceptual, of al-Masjid al-Haram had already existed at the time when Ibrahim first arrived in Makkah. The rebuilding of the mosque was executed afterwards by both Ibrahim and Isma'il, after the latter had grown up, during one of Ibrahim's subsequent visits. The Prophet (pbuh) likewise attested to this when he divulged some more information concerning the matter of Ibrahim's first visit to the barren land of Makkah. In one of his authentic traditions (hadith), he stated that Ibrahim left Isma'il and Hajar in the immediate vicinity of al-Masjid al-Haram (wada'ahuma 'ind al-bayt), and while reciting the aforementioned supplication, he faced it, i.e., he faced al-Masjid al-Haram, (istaqbala bi wajhihi al-bayt).
Moreover, the Qur'an says that Allah "enjoined Ibrahim and Isma'il saying: purify My House for those who visit (it) and those who abide (in it) for devotion and those who bow down (and) those who prostrate themselves." (al-Baqarah, 125) According to some interpretations of this verse, prophets Ibrahim and his son Isma'il were asked to purify the K'abah and al-Masjid al-Haram from the impurities -- both physical and spiritual -- of all the statues and deities which had been associated with the first mosque on earth since the days of prophet Nuh (Noah) when the notion of outright polytheism was first tackled. This is yet another proof that the first mosque on earth, the Ka'bah and its al-Masjid al-Haram, was established long before prophet Ibrahim.
Also, in a hadith (tradition), the Prophet (pbuh) said that two early prophets, Hud and Salih, who lived long before prophet Ibrahim and his son Isma'il, and who lived on the south and north of the Arabian Peninsula respectively, performed a pilgrimage to the Ka'bah or al-Masjid al-Haram, the ancient house (al-bayt al-'atiq). The Prophet (pbuh) disclosed this when on the way to Makkah for the pilgrimage himself, he passed through a valley through which, according to him, both Hud and Salih had passed for the same purpose.
According to another tradition of the Prophet (pbuh), even prophet Nuh performed the hajj or pilgrimage to the Ka'bah or al-Masjid al-Haram, treading the same valley as prophets Hud, Salih and Ibrahim did after him. In his famous book entitled Qisas al-Anbiya' (the Stories of Prophets), Ibn Kathir, a renowned commentator of the Qur'an and a historian, dedicated a section to the matter entitling it "the Account of His (prophet Nuh's) Hajj (Pilgrimage)".
When Thamud, the people of prophet Salih, were destroyed by "an excessively severe punishment" (al-Haqqah, 5), a disbelieving man from the same community happened to be in the haram, or the consecrated environs, of Makkah (Bakkah) where everyone is to enjoy safety and protection. He thus temporarily was granted the immunity from the chastisement which was befalling his people in their country. However, as soon as he left the haram of Makkah, he too was chastised in the same manner as his people. A rock from the sky might have fallen on him killing him instantly on the spot. The name of this man was Abu Rughal Abu Thaqif. On one occasion, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) showed to the people the man's grave, informing them of what exactly had happened to him and why his grave was where it was.
It is even believed -- as reported by Ibn Kathir - that after the destruction of his people, Thamud, prophet Salih moved permanently to the haram of Makkah. He stayed there until his death.
Thus, the foundation, both the physical and spiritual, and a certain form of both al-Masjid al-Haram and al-Masjid al-Aqsa were established long before prophets Ibrahim and Sulayman, most likely during the lifetime of prophet Adam. Thereafter, the two mosques served as the centers of worship for many succeeding prophets and their peoples. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said that every prophet who had been gravely ill-treated and eventually expelled by his mischievous people, took refuge in the sanctuary of al-Masjid al-Haram, worshipping Allah therein until his demise. The Prophet (pbuh) is also reported to have said that many prophets, including Musa (Moses) and Yunus (Jonah), had visited al-Masjid al-Haram and had circumambulated it as part of their pilgrimage to Makkah.
There are even assertions that during the flood with which Allah destroyed the unbelieving and rebellious sections of mankind, to whom one of the earliest prophets, Nuh (Noah), had been sent as a guide and a warner, Makkah was destroyed as well. Its al-Masjid al-Haram (Ka'bah) was saved and elevated to the seventh heaven where the angels frequented it for worship before it was transported back again to the earth after the flood calamity. In the seventh heaven, the earthly Ka'bah might have been integrated with the heavenly Ka'bah or al-Bayt al-Ma'mur. Nonetheless, these and similar assertions are too conjectural and unfounded that they ought to be viewed with a great deal of reservation and suspicion, in case we do not wish to rebuff them altogether. Ibn Khaldun rightly pointed out in his Muqaddimah: "... Later on, Makkah was destroyed in the flood. There is no sound historical information in this connection on which one can rely."
However, the first two mosques on the earth, al-Masjid al-Haram and al-Masjid al-Aqsa, were intermittently throughout history altering their original roles and positions in consequence of the frequent spiritual weakening and corruption in those who had been entrusted to guard them and hold unadulterated and sacred for all purposes. Al-Masjid al-Haram ended up containing about three hundred and sixty idols which belonged to different tribes and communities that lived scattered all over the Arabian Peninsula. Nonetheless, it remained the center to which all the Arab tribes resorted for trade, poetic contest and worship. It was a sacred territory, and was respected by friend and foe alike. At all seasons, all fighting was forbidden within its limits, and even arms were not allowed to be carried, and no game or other thing was allowed to be killed. Makkah was recognized by Arab custom as inviolable for the pursuit of revenge or violence.
Jerusalem with its al-Masjid al-Aqsa at many occasions forsook its monotheistic (tawhid) paradigm too and even became at one point a harlot city and a city of abomination. This was the case especially after the onus of activating, sustaining and guarding al-Masjid al-Aqsa had been placed on the shoulders of the Children of Israel following their exodus from Egypt and their eventual admission into the Holy Land. As a consequence, Allah frequently punished the Children of Israel using their neighboring enemies for the purpose, for He had covenanted with them that they must sanctify their mosque and under no circumstances should renounce the monotheistic worldview of their forefathers: Ibrahim (Abraham), Ishaq (Isaac) and Ya'qub (Jacob).
The (re)construction of al-Masjid al-Aqsa by prophet Sulayman (Solomon) is one of the most remarkable moments in the history of the Children of Israel, so much so that the Old Testament furnishes us in detail with some of the supposed architectural features of the edifice referred to therein as the Temple of Solomon. The temple proper, of dressed stone, was said to be about 30 meters long, 11 meters wide, and 15 meters high. Apparently, it faced east and had three main rooms disposed axially with the entrance. The anteroom was a rectangular space entered through one of the short sides. Flanking this room were square rooms that led to the small storage rooms that surrounded the Temple on the other three sides. Beyond the anteroom was the main sanctuary, and beyond that a flight of stairs that led to the Holy of Holies, a windowless cube containing the Ark of the Covenant with Tawrat (Torah) inside it. The Temple had a flat wooden roof made from imported cypresses and cedar. Two bronze pillars, one to the south and one to the north, stood in front of the edifice, each with a capital on top. Interwoven chains were made and put on top of the pillars. The inside of the Temple was lined with cedar, and the floor, doorposts and doors were overlaid or inlaid with gold. Every surface was carved with cherubim, palms or flowers.
However, due to the silence of the Holy Qur'an on the subject matter, and the silence of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) -- who does not say anything of his own desire, "it is no less than inspiration sent down to him" (al-Najm, 4) -- the mentioned architectural aspects of the Temple of Solomon (al-Masjid al-Aqsa) as documented by the Old Testament need to be viewed with maximum reservation. While some accounts on the subject are fairly ambiguous and, worse still, contradict each other, others, on the other hand, conflict with several fundamental tenets of Islam and as such ought to be rejected outright. However, those accounts which seem to be downright harmless and unobjectionable, they are to be neither accepted nor rejected, as such is the general standard for dealing with the Old and New Testaments. The two Testaments must always be cross-checked against the Last Testament, i.e., the Holy Qur'an.
Abdullah Yusuf 'Ali believes that in the Qur'anic chapter Saba' some hints as to prophet Sulayman's construction of al-Masjid al-Aqsa (the Temple of Solomon) are given. The Qur'an says: "And to Solomon (We made) the wind (obedient): its early morning (stride) was a month's (journey), and its evening (stride) was a month's (journey); and We made a font of molten brass to flow for him; and there were Jinns that worked in front of him, by the leave of his Lord, and if any of them turned aside from Our command, We made him taste of the chastisement of the blazing Fire. They worked for him as he desired, (making) arches, images, basins as large as wells, and (cooking) cauldrons fixed (in their places): "Exercise thanks sons of David, but few of My servants are grateful!" (Saba', 12, 13)
According to Abdullah Yusuf 'Ali -- the translator and commentator of the Qur'an -- the word "arches" may be applied to any fine, elevated, spacious architectural structure, but in this verse it, most likely, accounts for structural ornaments in the Temple (the Mosque); "images" would be like images of bulls and cherubim therein, as mentioned in 2 Chronicles, 4:3 and 3:14; "basons" were perhaps huge dishes round which many men could sit together and eat (2 Chronicles, 4:22); and the "cooking cauldrons" were fixed in one place, being so large that they could not be moved about. The general view, though, is that the messages of the cited verses are expansive accounting not only for al-Masjid al-Aqsa but also for other Sulayman's architectural feats.
This article is an excerpt from the author's forthcoming book "The Mosque as a Community Center: A Concept and Evolution".
Dr. Spahic Omer, a Bosnian currently residing in Malaysia, is an Associate Professor at the Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design, International Islamic University Malaysia. He studied in Bosnia, Egypt and Malaysia. His research interests cover Islamic history, culture and civilization, as well as the history and philosophy of the Islamic built environment. He can be reached at spahicoyahoo.com; his blog is at www.medinanet.org .