Al-Quds (Jerusalem) is a holy city for all Muslims. It derives its holiness from several religious and historical factors, including the following:
The First Qiblah
The first thing Jerusalem stands for in Muslims’ consciousness is that it was the first Muslim Qiblah (direction of prayers) that the Prophet and his Companions directed their faces to in prayers ever since they had been prescribed three years before the Hijrah, and they continued to face it as their Qiblah until 16 months after the Hijrah when Allah instructed them to turn their faces in prayer towards the Ka’bah within the Holy Mosque in Mecca as their new Qiblah, saying, “So from wherever you go out [for prayer, O Muhammad] turn your face toward al- Masjid al-Haram, and indeed, it is the truth from your Lord. And Allah is not unaware of what you do.” (Al-Baqarah: 149) The two-Qiblah Mosque (Masjid al-Qiblatin) in Medina is a landmark that stands as a witness to that historic change of the prayer direction.
The Center of al-Israa and al-Miraj
Jerusalem marks the end of the Prophet’s miraculous Israa' (night journey) and the beginning of Mi’raj (ascension to the heavens). This incident is so important in the Islamic history that there is a chapter in the Quran entitled “Al-Israa” that has, at its very beginning, the verse “Exalted is He who made His Servant travel by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al-Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the All Hearing, the All Seeing.” (Al-Israa': 1)
It is during Mi’raj that the Prophet led his fellow Prophets in prayers, marking the transfer of leadership to a new Prophet and new nation through a universal religion and message. The selection of Jerusalem as the central station of this mission was neither arbitrary nor random; it reveals how holy and important it is for Muslims, for otherwise, the Prophet would have been made to ascend directly from Mecca. Moreover, this journey from Mecca to Jerusalem hints at the linkage between the Holy Mosque and al-Aqsa Mosque.
A Holy City
Jerusalem comes third as a Holy Islamic city after Mecca and Medina, respectively and exclusively. It derives its Islamic Holiness from comprising al-Aqsa Mosque that Allah described as a blessed site in the above verse. Al-Aqsa Mosque is also a religious destination to which the Prophet made travelling recommended. The Prophet (PBUH) said, "Do not set out on a journey except for three Mosques i.e. al-Masjid-AI-Haram, the Mosque of Allah's Messenger (PBUH), and the Mosque of al-Aqsa, (Mosque of Jerusalem)." (Recorded by Al-Bukhari and Muslim) Prayers at al-Aqsa Mosque merit additional reward as provided in the authentic hadith: "A prayer at al-Aqsa Mosque is equal to five-hundred prayers at all other mosques except for the Holy Mosque and the Mosque of the Prophet.” (Recorded by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
A Blessed City
Jerusalem is a part of Palestine, a land which Allah described as “blessed” five times in the Quran. God says, e.g., “And We delivered him and Lot to the land which We had blessed for the worlds,” (Al-Anbiya': 71) and “And to Solomon [We subjected] the wind, blowing forcefully, proceeding by his command toward the land which We had blessed. And We are ever, of all things, Knowing.” (Al-Anbiya': 81) Some scholars even said that “the fig and the olive” that Allah swears to in the Quran refer to the land where fig and olive grow, i.e. Jerusalem.