In the first thirteen years of his mission, when Hadrat Mohammad (upon whom be
peace) lived in Mecca, the al-Aqsa mosque (the Remote Mosque) in Jerusalem was
the Muslims qibla (prayer direction), the first. Two years after his migration
to Medina, at the Bani Sulameh mosque in Medina, the qibla of the Muslims was
changed on Gods command from the al-Aqsa mosque to the al-Haram mosque (the
Sacred Mosque containing the Kaba) in Mecca. Perhaps the most important reason
for the change was to rob the Jews of the excuse to pour scorn on the Muslims
for praying in this direction.
After the death of the Prophet, at the time of the first caliph, the Muslim army
was sent to face the Byzantines in Syria and Palestine. It was during the rule
of the second caliph, however, that the Byzantine armies were defeated and Syria
and Jerusalem fell into Muslim hands. The inhabitants of the city initially put
up strong resistance and a siege lasted for many months leading to food
shortages and the spread of disease which, among other things, finally forced
The second caliph entered the conquered city to conclude a peace treaty wearing
simple even shabby raiment and riding an unembellished mount, much to the
surprise of the inhabitants. The caliph treated his subjects with tolerance and
moderation. Under his rule, Jews were allowed to return and Christians given
freedom of worship.
From 637 AD (15 AH) until the twentieth century, Palestine was to remain in
Muslim hands. The population of Jerusalem comprised mostly Muslim Arabs and
because it had been the first qibla for Muslims, it was held in great esteem and
was recognized as a holy place.