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Medina [Al Madinah, Yathrib]

Medina [Al Madinah, Yathrib] is the second most important holy city of Islam, containing the tomb of Muhammad. Noted for its mosque enclosing the tomb and its palaces and fountains, the city was the refuge of Muhammad after his flight from Mecca. The Arabic word for city, medina, connotes the center of political or economic power.

Considered to be the second most important holy city of Islam, the city of Medina is located in a well-watered oasis 110 miles (180 km) inland (east) of the Red Sea. Much fruit and some grain are raised in and around the city. The chief building is the large mosque, which contains the tombs of Mohammed, his daughter Fatima, and the Caliph Omar. When making the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, usually a visit to Medina is part of the trip.

The city is surrounded by the low rugged hills of the eastern Hijaz Massif, which parallels the Red Sea coast. The Rahat Lava Field (elongated, black features) is to the south and east of the city. The complex geology of the poorly explored portion of Saudi Arabia known as the Hejaz, north of the Islamic holy city of Medina, includes geologic forms such as lava fields and flows, intrusive and extrusive basalts, extensive faulting, volcanos, playa lakes, as well as dendritic and trellis drainage.

Medina (Ar. al Medinah, the city; or more fully Medinat al Nabi, the city of the Prophet; called also Tayyibah, the perfumed, or al Munaxcwarah, the illumined; before the time of Mohammed known as Yathrib, whence it is mentioned by Ptolemy as Jathrippa). One of the sacred cities of Islam, the scene of Mohammed's labors after his emigration from Mecca, and the place of his tomb. It is about 250 miles north of Mecca and 140 north by east of the port of Yambu. The population was estimated by Burton at the time of his visit (1852) at 16,000; a later estimate placed it at 50,000.

In the third century AD the tribes of Aus and Khazraj emigrated to Yathrib from Yemen. It was by representatives of these tribes that Mohammed was invited to Medina; with them be entered into an alliance, and they were his "helpers" (ansar) after he had taken up his residence in Medina (622 AD), though among the members of both tribes there were many who hesitated, vacillated, and occasionally took sides with the opponents of the Prophet, the so-called Munafikuna. There was also a large Jewish population in Medina, the leading tribes being the Kainuka and the Nadhir, who were driven out after the battle of Ohod (625), and the Kuraiza, who were slaughtered by the Moslems later. Medina remained the residence of Mohammed even after the capture of Mecca in 630, and he died there in 632. It was the capital of Abu Bekr (630-632), Omar (632-644) and Othman (644-656), until Ali removed the seat of government to Kufa (656-661) and Moawiyah made Damascus the capital of the Ommiad dynasty.

In the early 20th Century it consisted of three principal parts a town, a fort, and suburbs of about the same extent as the town itself, from which they are separated by a wide space. Medina forms an irregular oval within a walled inclosure, 35 to 40 feet in height, and flanked by 30 towers a fortification which renders the city the chief stronghold of "Hejaz. Two of its four gates, viz., the Bab al Jum'ah (Assembly Gate, in the eastern wall) and the Bab al Misri (Egyptian Gate), are massive buildings with double towers. The streets, between 50 and 60 in number, were narrow and paved in only a few places. The houses are flat-roofed and double-storied and are built of a basaltic scoria, burned brick, and palm wood. Very few public buildings of any importance were to be noticed except the mosque, erected near the spot where Mohammed died.

It is of smaller dimensions than that of Mecca, being a parallelogram, 420 feet long and 340 feet broad, with a spacious central area called al Sahn, which is surrounded by a peristyle with numerous rows of pillars. The Mausoleum, or Hujrah, itself behind the mosque proper, is an irregular square, 50 to 55 feet in extent, situated in the southeast corner of the building and separated from the walls of the mosque by a passage about 26 feet broad. A large gilt crescent above the "green dome" springing from a series of globes surmounts the Hujrah, a glimpse into which is attainable only through a little opening, called the Prophet's window; but nothing more is visible to the profane eye than costly carpets or hangings, with three inscriptions in large gold letters stating that behind them lie the bodies of the Prophet of Allah and the two caliphs (Abu Bekr and Omar) and an empty tomb for Jesus. These curtains, changed whenever worn out or when a new Sultan ascends the throne, are supposed to cover a square edifice of black marble, in the midst of which stands Mohammed's tomb. Its exact place is indicated by a long, pearly rosary {Kaukab al Durrl) suspended from the curtain. The Prophet's body is supposed to lie (undecayed) stretched at full length on the right side with the right palm supporting the right cheek, the face directed towards Mecca. Outside the drapery is the tomb of Fatima, the daughter of Alohammed. Close behind him is placed, in the same position, Abu Bekr, and behind the latter, Omar.

The fact, however, is that when the mosque, which had been struck by lightning, was rebuilt in 892, three deep graves were found in the interior, filled only with rubbish. Many other reasons made it more than problematic whether the particular spot at Medina really contained the Prophet's remains. Of the fabulous treasures which this sanctuary once contained little now remains. As in Mecca, a great number of ecclesiastical officials are attached in some capacity or other to the mosque, as ulemas, imams, khatibs, etc.; and not only they, but the townspeople in general, live to a great extent on the pilgrims' alms, the city having little trade.

The mosque was destroyed by fire in 1257 and was rebuilt 1258-88; it was restored in 1487 by Khaid Bey of Egypt. It is one of the very few mosques with three minarets. From 929 to 950 the Karmathians were masters of the city. Medina recognized the authority of Selim I in 1517. It fell into the power of Saud, the Wahabi general, in 1803, and was reconquered by Tussun Pasha in 1815. There are few other noteworthy spots to be mentioned in Medina, save the minor mosques of Abu Bekr, Ali, Omar, etc. The private houses, however, surrounded by gardens, fountains, etc., have a very pleasing appearance, and the early 20th Century city, although in its decay, was yet busy and agreeable. A number of madrasahs, or endowed schools, represent what learning there is left in Medina, once famed for its scholars. As is the case with Mecca, non Mohammedans are rigorously excluded from the sacred city.


Muhammad built the first mosque in the courtyard of his house in Medina in 622. It was one of the events that marked the establishment of the Islamic community. Muslims assembled at this house-mosque for prayer and to discuss business matters. The mosque became Muhammad's burial site.

The mosques of Medina, Mecca, and Jerusalem have special status in Islam. According to the hadith, a visit to the Medina mosque will win Muhammad's intercession on the Day of Judgment. The Kaaba, a shrine located near the center of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, is said to be the earthly representation of God's throne in heaven. Muslims believe that the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem is the site of the Prophet's famous Night Journey.

The Prophet's Mosque in Madinah is the second most revered place of worship for Muslims around the world. Millions of Muslims visit the Mosque each year, to worship, to visit the Prophet's grave, and to see the city that gave birth to Islam. This pilgrimage is not mandatory as is the one to Makkah, but nevertheless popular. It is important to remember, however, that a visit to the Prophet's grave is not in any way to worship or revere him, but to commemorate his role as God's messenger, and to remind Muslims of his mortality and humanity.

The Prophet's Mosque was the first institution to be built following Prophet Muhammad's migration in 622 AD from Makkah, where he was born, to the town of Yathrib, which became known as 'Al-Madinah an-Nabi", or 'City of the Prophet', and is today simply Madinah. Surrounded as it was by the shops and stalls of all kinds of merchants, the new mosque soon became the political and economic as well as the spiritual nucleus of the city, and played both a practical and a symbolic role in unifying the citizens, ultimately providing a solid foundation from which the Prophet and his companions could set forth and establish the Islamic state.

According to history, the manner in which the Prophet decided on its location, was to let his camel loose, and choose the site where it finally stopped to rest. The entire Muslim community, both the residents of Yathrib and those who had migrated from Makkah with the Prophet, participated in the construction of this first mosque, which was simply an open courtyard about 805 square meters in area surrounded by a wall made from bricks and tree trunks. On the eastern side apartments were built to house the Prophet and his family. By 629 the Prophet had enlarged the area of the mosque to 2,475 square meters.

Under the first four Caliphs, Madinah and the Mosque where the Prophet was buried continued to be the seat of government, reinforcing the synthesis of religion and governance in the Islamic state. The first two Caliphs, Abu Bakr and Omar, were buried next to the Prophet in the place that had originally been the Prophet's home, and which today is covered by the famous green dome of the mosque.

Throughout Islamic history, successive Islamic regimes have spared no cost or effort in dignifying and honoring the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah. In 638, the Caliph Omar Bin Al-Khattab increased the area by 1,100 square meters, and in 650 the Caliph Othman Bin Affan increased it by 496 square meters. The Caliph Al-Walid Bin Abdul Malik in 706 ordered an extension of 2,379 square meters, and 73 years later Caliph AL-Mahdi AL-Abbasi increased it by 2450 square meters.

For over seven centuries no additional improvements were made until Sultan Qaid Bey added another 120 square meters in 1483. Another three centuries passed, and in 1849 Sultan Abdul Majid initiated another extension of 1,293 square meters.

Soon after the establishment of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud issued a royal decree ordering the expansion of the Prophet's Mosque, a plan implemented by his son King Saud in 1950. This first Saudi expansion was the largest the mosque had ever seen, and not only doubled it in size, but also brought about changes in the city of Madinah itself. The number of pilgrims continued to increase rapidly, from an average of 100,000 annually in 1955 to one million in 1970 and more than two million in 1980. In 1973 King Faisal Bin Abdul Aziz ordered the construction of awnings on the west side of the mosque as a temporary solution to protect visitors from the elements, and in 1981 Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz began research into plans for further extensions that would ultimately result in a five-fold increase in the size of the mosque. The mosque today is one hundred times the size it was when the Prophet first established it, and can accommodate at any one time, more than half a million worshipers. Indicative of the facilities now available is an underground parking garage designed to hold nearly 5,000 cars.

No effort was spared in the pursuit of excellence in skill and craftsmanship, no expense spared in the acquisition of the finest materials and technologies the world can provide. Each of the extension's six new minarets is crowned by a massive brass crescent, 7 meters in length and specially treated for protection against the elements. Each crescent weighs close to five tons and had to be hoisted by a tower crane to its resting place, over 110 meters from the ground. On the last to be hoisted, there is an inscription by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz which says:

In the name of Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate, praise belongs to Allah the Lord of the Universe. We praise Him for that with which He has blessed us, that He has enabled us, Great and Glorious is He, the Lord of the worlds, to undertake this work by which we hope for nothing but the pleasure of Allah and to render this amongst the actions acceptable to Him by His Will.

One of the splendors of the newly-expanded Prophet's Mosque is the technology used for climatic control in the large open courtyards that are integral to the design of the mosque, involving an innovative system of sliding domes and umbrellas which are deployed during the hot hours of the day to contain the circulating chilled air, and retracted during the cool hours of the night to allow the release of accumulated warm air. The 27 domes have interiors of Moroccan cedar, carved with splendid traditional designs. Each of the twelve mechanized retractable umbrellas, six in each of the courtyards, is 17 meters by 18 meters across and stands 17 meters high, and the armatures extend to carry covers which together give shade to almost 300 square meters. The shading material is made of special micro-porous Teflon fabric, self-cleaning in the sun's ultra-violet light.

Since it is one of the largest structures the world has ever seen, the Prophet's Mosque at Madinah and its new extension required an innovative air conditioning system. This is located some seven kilometers away at a chiller plant which houses the world's largest air-cooled condenser, and pumps a total of 17,000 gallons of chilled water per minute through pipes that run under the highway to the city and into the basement of the mosque. There, the chilled water passes through huge air handling units, and the cooled air is filtered through insulated ducting to be distributed from vents set into the base of each column to create a cool and comfortable ambiance for worshippers throughout the year.

The 2,017 columns throughout the Mosque, including those that carry the umbrellas, are clad in white marble from Carara in Italy, cut with expert care to ensure a seamless fitting. The columns are crowned with brass ornamental capitals and lighting fixtures. The brass is echoed in the 68 chandeliers that illuminate the interior, and white Carara marble covers the 82,000 square meters of the floor, the stairways leading to the vast roof area, and the roof itself.

The exterior walls feature granite, of which the Kingdom is a rich source. Crimson granite from the area of Najran was used for the decorative pillars in the mosque's windows. Dark pink granite from north of Raniyya was used for the external skirting. From Qasim Province came the pale pink granite that clads the exterior walls, and the gray granite that forms the steps and entrances. Each entrance features massive teakwood double doors, weighing two and a half tons. These doors were made in Spain using centuries-old techniques without screws or glue. They are embellished with ornamental brass, cast in foundries in France, and then plated with gold in the United Kingdom.

For the 208 ornamental windows, the stained glass work reflects another traditional Islamic craft, the geometric designs executed by hand by skilled artisans. Also hand made are the fine ceramic tiles that cover, inside and out, the seven domes above the King Fahd entrance.

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Page last modified: 13-12-2015 18:00:18 ZULU