بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Here are five ahadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be on him) specifically about the virtues of Al Quds.
Abu Umamah (ra) reports that the Prophet (peace and blessings be on him) said, "Prophethood descended upon me from/in three places: Makkah, Madinah and Al Sham. Once it is brought out from any of them, it shall never return to it". (Sunan Abu Dawud)
Another version states that the Prophet (peace and blessings be on him) said:
"The Quran was revealed in three places: Makkah, Madinah and Al Sham". (Al Tabarani)
The great islamic scholar Ibn Kathir comments that in this hadith Al Sham is referring to Bayt Al Maqdis. It's clear from this hadith that Allah Almighty blessed Al Aqsa and therefore Al Quds (Jerusalem), as He chose it as only one of three places in the world where He sent His revelation to His final Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him.
Abu Dharr (ra) reported that he asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be on him), "O Prophet of Allah, which Masjid was built first on earth?". The Prophet replied, "The Sacred Masjid of Makkah". Abu Dharr again asked, "Which was next?". The Prophet (peace and blessings be on him) said "The Masjid Al Aqsa". "How long was the period between them?" Abu Dharr asked. The Prophet (peace and blessings be on him) said "Forty years. Apart from these, offer your prayers anywhere when it is time to pray, although excellence is in praying in these Masajids". (Sahih al Bukhari)
To clarify RasulAllah (peace and blessings on him) was not referring to any contemporary buildings in this hadith, but to the original establishment of Makkah and Al Aqsa as places of worship on this earth (more about this in later posts, inshaAllah). The fact that Al Aqsa was the second masjid (house of Allah) on earth speaks volumes about the status of Al Quds (Jerusalem).
Abu Hurayrah (ra) narrated that the Messenger of Allah said: “Do not travel to visit any mosques except three: al-Masjid al-Haraam [in Makkah], this Masjid of mine [in Madeenah] and al-Masjid al-Aqsa [in Jerusalem]” (Bukhari and Muslim).
This hadith leaves room for no doubt. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be on him) made it clear that an extended, special journey to visit any masjid is not allowed except for the three most blessed, which include Al Aqsa in Al Quds.
Examples 4 and 5
Abdullah Ibn Umar (ra) relates, I asked the Prophet (saw), "Apostle of Allah, tell us the legal injunction about (visiting) Bayt Al-Maqdis (Jerusalem)." The Apostle of Allah (saw) said, "Go and pray there. If you cannot visit it and pray there, then send some oil to be used in the lamps". (Al Bukhari)
Maymunah Bint Sa'd (ra) relates that she asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be on him), "O Prophet, inform us about Bayt Al-Maqdis (Jerusalem)". He said, "Visit it for prayer". She further asked, "If one of us cannot visit it, what should we do?" He said, "If you cannot go for prayer then send some oil to be used for its lamps, will be as if he has prayed in it". (Imam Ahmad, Ibn Majah, Sunan Abu Dawud and Al Tabarani)
The last two ahadith reveal something amazing. The blessings of Al Aqsa in Al Quds are so great, that RasulAllah (peace and blessings be on him) taught us that even if one cannot pray in Al Aqsa, they should still try to associate themselves with the masjid. In the hadith above he (peace and blessings be on him) explained that being involved in the maintenance of the masjid (sending oil for its lamps) is equal in reward to praying in the masjid, so blessed is it. The responsibilites of maintaining the masjid are not absolved for Muslims today, but how many of us are aware of this?