An Insight on Masjid :Major(R)Khalid Nasr We will begin by dealing with the word masjid from both the linguistic and legal points of view. The Arabic word for "mosque" is masjid. Discussing with the word masjid from a linguistic point of view al-Zarkashi says:
Masjid from a linguistic point of view Linguistically, it comes on the scheme of maf`il with a kasrah [i.e. the 'i' of masjid] which is ism makan [i.e., name of location] for prostration, while with a fathah [i.e., masjad] it is a masdar. Abu Zakariyya al-Farra' [a famous grammarian] said: Every verb coming on the scheme of fa`ala [in the past form] yaf`ulu [in the present form] like dakhala yadkhulu [which means "to enter"] admits the form maf`al with a fathah as a noun or masdar without distinction like in dakhala madkhalan. There are some nouns that were bound to take a kasrah on the second letter of its root like masjid, matli`, maghrib, mashriq and others, thus making the kasrah a sign of the noun, and some Arabs may say it with a fathah. Indeed, masjid and masjad, and matli` and matla` were all narrated. He said: Putting a fathah in all these forms is admissible even if we did not hear it before. He said in Al-Sihah: Masjad with a fathah refers to one's forehead which is the place involved in prostration.The Arab grammarians classify masjid as "ism makan", i.e., "name of location"; it indicates the place where an action takes place. Masjid being derived from the root sa-ja-da (to prostrate), it means "place of prostration". Since a place of worship is a place where believers prostrate to God, "masjid" is a general term to designate any place of worship without any religious distinction. Later, this word was used to designate Islamic places of worship in particular, i.e., the mosques.The Prophet's night journey was from "the inviolable place of worship" (al-Masjid al-Haram) to "the farthest place of worship" (al-Masjid al-Aqsa). The former is certainly located in Makkah, but what about the latter? The reference to Allah blessing its surroundings (... whose precincts We did bless) suggests a location in the "Holy Land" (cf. 21:81; 7:137; 34:18). Neal Robinson states: The [Muslim] tradition which identifies it [i.e., al-Masjid al-Aqsa] with the Temple Mount in Jerusalem makes admirable sense in view of the fact that the 'place of worship' (masjid) whose destruction is evoked in v. 7 [i.e., 17:7] is clearly the Temple.This view is also shared by many western scholars.As it was mentioned earlier that masjid refers to a place of prostration without any religious distinction; an excellent example of the usage of the word "masjid" referring to a non-Islamic sanctuary can be seen in the verse 17:7. The verse describes briefly the destruction of the masjid in Jerusalem (i.e., the Temple) by the enemies of Children of Israel. Allah says in the Qur'an that the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem was a punishment was inflicted upon the Children of Israel for their tyranny and arrogance.Now that the linguistic issues are clarified, let us now turn to the legal issues (i.e., Islamic Law) concerning the word masjid. Al-Zarkashi says:
Masjid from a legal point of view From a legal point of view it refers to every place on earth since the Prophet - peace be upon him - said: "The earth was made a masjid for me" which is a particularity of this ummah. This was said by the Qadi `Iyad because the previous nations used not to pray except in the places they were sure of their pureness whereas we were allowed to perform the prayers in any place not known to be impure.Further he emphasizes:
Since prostration is the most honourable act in prayer because of the nearness of the servant to his Lord, the name of the location was derived from it. This is why we call it masjid [location of sujud / prostration] and not marka` [place of ruku` / inclination].In summary, masjid from a linguistic point of view means a "place of prostration" without any religious distinction. From a legal point of view the word masjid in shari`ah constitutes every place on earth that is fit for prostration. In other words masjid does not designate a building but only a "place of prostration"; the place may or may not have the building. In support of the argument, we quote hadith #323 in Sahih al-Bukhari that has already been mentioned by al-Zarkashi: Muhammad Ibn Sinan, i.e., al-`Awqi told us, Hushaym told us; and Sa`id Ibn an-Nadr told me, Hushaym informed us that Sayyar informed us, Yazid, i.e., Ibn Suhayb al-Faqir told us, Jabir Ibn `Abd Allah told us: The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, "I have been given five things which were not given to any amongst the Prophets before me. These are: 1. Allah made me victorious by awe [by His frightening of my enemies] for a distance of one month's journey. 2. The earth has been made for me [and for my followers] a "masjid" [Arabic: a place for prostration] and a means of purification. Therefore, my followers can pray wherever the time of a prayer is due. 3. The booty has been made halal [lawful] for me [and was not made so for anyone else]. 4. Every Prophet used to be sent to his nation exclusively but I have been sent to all mankind. 5. I have been given the right of intercession [on the Day of Resurrection]. So, according to this hadith, any place on the earth is a masjid for Muslims. Therefore, whether there was a building or not when the Prophet made his heavenly trip, it is the location of the "Farthest Mosque" that is intended by the verse and not a building per se because the location where it lies was blessed by God as mentioned in verse 17:1 "the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless". Therefore, no one can claim that the word "masjid" in the Islamic terminology refers necessarily to a building. Imam Ibn Hajar confirms this opinion in Fath al-Bari (his commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari) : (the earth has been made for me a "masjid") means a place for prostration, i.e., prostration is not restricted to any particular place of the earth. It may also be a metaphor of a construction built for prayer. This is due to the fact that once prayer is authorized everywhere on earth it becomes like a mosque for that purpose. Ibn al-Tin said: "The earth has been made for me a masjid and a means of purification" both were given to the Prophet, peace be upon him, while it was only a place for worship for others and was not a means of purification, because Jesus used to walk around and pray whenever prayer was due. Al-Dawudi said likewise before him. It was also said that they [the previous generations] were authorized to perform prayer in places known for sure to be pure, whereas this ummah is authorized to pray anywhere on earth except in the places known for sure to be impure. The strongest opinion is that of al-Khattabi who says that earlier nations were authorized to perform prayer in special places like synagogues and churches. This is confirmed by the wording of the narration of Ibn Shu`ayb "And before me people prayed in their churches." This is a controversial[?] wording but the specificity was established [??]. This is supported by the narration of al-Bazzar from the hadith of Ibn `Abbas similar to the present hadith which includes "Prophets did not pray until they reached their chamber". Before we close this issue, one should realize that verse 17:1 also speaks of "The Sacred Mosque" which is in Makkah around the Ka`bah. Did a building for the mosque exist there in the time of the Prophet? The answer is that the Ka`bah was there but there was no building for the mosque. This further adds to the argument that the word masjid in this verse refers to a place of performing the prostration and does not imply the presence of a "building" in the modern understanding.The above understanding of the word masjid as a place of worship not building per se is also well supported by archaeological and historic evidence.
It is worth noting that the Prophet disliked extravagance and impressive architecture in buildings, especially mosques. The relative simplicity of early mosques is in fact a historical example of how the Prophet's Companions diligently followed his wishes. The word masjid from a linguistic point of view refers to a place of prostration without any religious distinction. From a legal point of view the word masjid in shari`ah constitutes every place on earth that is fit for prostration, whether or not it is a building.