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Madinah City Guide

Religious and Historical Sites to Visit

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Madinah is the second-holiest city in Islam, with significant religious and historical significance to Muslims. Learn more about the City of the Prophet, and find a list of must-see sites in and around the city.

Significance of Madinah

Prophet's Mosque
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Madinah is also known as Madinah An-Nabi (The City of the Prophet) or Madinah Al-Munawwarah (The Enlightened City). In ancient times, the city was known as Yathrib. Located 450 kilometers (200+ miles) north of Makkah, Yathrib was an agricultural center in the harsh desert landscape of the Arabian Peninsula. Blessed with an abundant water supply, the city of Yathrib became a stopping point for caravans passing through, and its citizens were heavily involved in trade.

When the Prophet Muhammad and his followers faced persecution in Makkah, they were offered refuge by the main tribes of Yathrib. In an event known as the Hijrah (Migration), the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions left Makkah and traveled to Yathrib in 622 A.D.. So significant was this migration that the Islamic calendar begins counting time from the year of the Hijrah.

Upon the Prophet's arrival, the city became known as Madinah An-Nabi or Madinah ("The City") for short. Here, the small and persecuted Muslim community was able to become established, administrate their own community, and implement elements of religious life that they were unable to do under Makkan persecution. Madinah thrived and became the center of the growing Islamic nation.

Prophet's Mosque

Prophet's Mosque
Muhannad Fala'ah/Getty Images
Upon arrival in Madinah, one of the first things the Prophet Muhammad wished to do was build a mosque. The story is told that the Prophet Muhammad let his camel loose, and waited to see where it would wander and then stop to rest. The place where the camel stopped was selected as the location of the mosque, which is known as the "Prophet's Mosque" (Masjed An-Nawabi). The entire Muslim community (original residents of Madinah, as well as the migrants who had moved from Makkah) came together to help build the mosque out of mud bricks and tree trunks. The Prophet Muhammad's apartment was constructed on the eastern side, adjacent to the mosque.

The new mosque soon becamse the center of the city's religious, political, and economic life. Throughout Islamic history, the mosque has been expanded and improved upon, until it is now 100 times larger than its original size and can accommodate more than half a million worshippers at a time. A large green dome now covers the Prophet Muhammad's residential quarters, where he is buried along with the first two Caliphs, Abu Bakr and Omar. Over two million Muslim pigrims visit the Prophet's Mosque each year.

Prophet Muhammad's Tomb

The tomb of the Prophet Muhammad, inside the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Upon his death in 632 A.D. (10 H.), the Prophet Muhammad was buried in his house which adjoined the mosque at the time. Caliphs Abu Bakr and Omar are also buried there. Over centuries of mosque expansion, this area is now enclosed within the mosque walls. The tomb is visited by Muslims as a way of remembering and respecting the Prophet. However, Muslims are careful to remember that a grave is not a place for worship of individuals, and frown on extensive displays of mourning or reverence at the site.

Mount Uhud Battle Site

Mount Uhud
Huda, About.com Guide to Islam
North of Madinah lies the mountain and plain of Uhud, where Muslim defenders battled with the Makkan army in 625 A.D. (3 H.). This battle serves as a lesson to Muslims about remaining steadfast, vigilant, and not to be greedy in the face of success. The Muslims initially seemed to be winning the fight. A group of archers posted on a hilltop abandoned their post, eager to reach the bounties of battle. The Makkan army took advantage of this gap, and came around in an ambush to defeat the Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad himself was injured, and over 70 Companions were killed. Muslims visit the site to remember this history and its lessons.

Baqi' Cemetery

Most of the Prophet Muhammad's family members and Companions of the Prophet (early followers of Islam) are buried in the Baqi' Cemetery in Madinah, located to the southeast of the Prophet's Mosque. Like all Muslim cemeteries, it is an open piece of land without decorative grave markers. (Domes which covered some of the grave sites were destroyed by the Saudi government.) Islam forbids believers from visiting cemeteries in order to worship or ask intercession from the dead. Rather, cemeteries are visited to show respect, to remember those who have died, and to remain conscious of our own mortality.

There are an estimated 10,000 graves in this site; some of the more famous Muslims who are buried here include many of the Mothers of the Believers and daughters of the Prophet Muhammad, Uthman bin Affan, Hasan, and Imam Malik bin Anas among others (may Allah be pleased with them all). It is reported that the Prophet Muhammad used to supplicate when passing by the cemetery: "Peace be upon you, O abode of the faithful! God willing, we should soon join you. O' Allah, forgive the fellows of al-Baqi." The cemetery is also known as Jannat Al-Baqi' (Tree Garden of Heaven).

Qiblatayn Mosque

In the early years of Islam, Muslims turned towards Jerusalem in prayer. The Prophet Muhammad and his Companions were in this mosque when Allah revealed that the qibla (direction of prayer) should change to the Ka'aba in Makkah: "We see the turning of thy face (for guidance) to the heavens: now Shall We turn thee to a Qibla that shall please thee. Turn then Thy face in the direction of the sacred Mosque: Wherever ye are, turn your faces in that direction" (Quran 2:144). Within this mosque, they turned the direction of their prayers on the spot. Thus, this is the only mosque on earth with two qiblas, hence the name Qiblatayn ("Two Qiblas").

Quba Mosque

Quba Mosque
Huda, About.com Guide to Islam
Quba is a village located on the outskirts of Madinah. Upon his approach to Madinah during the Hijrah, the Prophet Muhammad established here the first mosque designated for Islamic worship. Known as Masjed At-Taqwa (Mosque of Piety), it has been modernized but still stands today.

King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Quran

This printing house in Madinah has published over 200 million copies of the Holy Quran in Arabic, in dozens of language translations, and other religious books. The King Fahd Complex, built in 1985, covers an area of 250,000 square meters (60 acres) and includes the printing press, administrative offices, a mosque, stores, a library, a clinic, restaurants, and other facilities. The printing press can produce 10-30 million copies each year, which are distributed within Saudi Arabia and around the world. The complex also produces audio and video recordings of the Quran, and serves as a central research facility in Quranic studies.
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