Medina – The City of the Prophet, 2nd Holiest City of Islam!

Al-Hejaz, also called Hijaz which translates to “the barrier” in Arabic, is long region extending along the shores of the Red Sea through the west of modern Saudi Arabia. It is bordered on the north by Jordan, on the east by Najd, and on the south by Asir.

Detailed umbrellas covering a Medina courtyard

Detailed umbrellas covering a Medina courtyard

Its major urban centre is Jeddah, but it is known around the world for being the home of the Islamic holy city of Mecca and the second holiest city Medina. Being the site of Islam’s most important holy places, Al-Hejaz is an important area of the globe on the Arab and Islamic historical and political map.

As previously mentioned, Medina is the second holiest site in Islam.  The name of the city itself, “Medina” means the “City” and is often referred to as “the City of the Prophet”. Prior to the advent of Islam, this city was called Yathrib. Medina lies in the Al-Hejaz region of western Saudi Arabia. The long form of the Arabic name for Medina (Madinat Rasul Allah) translates to “City of the Prophet of Allah”, with Muslims adding the phrase “salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam” (“peace be upon him”) after mentioning the name of the Prophet Muhammad – therefore the full form of the name of this city is commonly given as “Madinat Rasul Allah salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam.”

Medina is very similar Mecca in a lot of respects. These two cities of great importance in Islamic tradition are both great centers of pilgrimage and prayer,  and sacred places for people of Muslim faith. Much like Mecca, there is a ban on non-Muslim residents however Medina differs slightly. Non-muslim visitors may enter the city of Medina, however they are not allowed to enter the city of Medina’s sacred core.

The ban on non-Muslim visitors to these sacred places can seem very confusing. It’s both a religious rule, as well as the regional solution to the sheer volume of visitors who overwhelm the holy places on a regular basis. The country pours a lot of its resources into supporting the pilgrimage of Muslims coming into Mecca as well as Medina annually, and there is even said to be a cap on the number of Muslims themselves coming into the region at certain times.

The Muslim-only rule can be traced back to a part of the Qur’an, 9:28, which reads:

 “O you who believe! Indeed, the polytheists (are) unclean, so let them not come near Al-Masjid Al-Haraam after this, their (final) year.”

This verse, the literal translation, specifically refers to the Grand Mosque in Mecca. It was later on that scholars began to include Medina in this ruling as well. There are in fact a number of Islamic scholars who would permit exceptions to this religious rule, for the purpose of trade or for people who have been granted treaty permission. There has been a long, ongoing debate about the precise area and borders of the restricted areas. The Saudi government, which controls all access to these holy sites, has concluded that a strict ban on both holy places be put into effect.


So why include Medina in this ban? What makes Medina a special, sacred and holy place? And what draws people here?

The reason this place is considered to be such a holy city, included in the Muslim-only regulation, is that it was the city where the Prophet Muhammad was welcomed after he was initially driven out of Mecca, and the city where he organized his first following.  The significance of Medina as an important religious site is partly due to the presence of the Masjid an-Nabawī, which is known as the “Mosque of the Prophet” in English, and was constructed on the grounds of the Prophet Muhammad’s home. It’s also the place where he is buried. The first mosque of Islam is also located in Medina, and is called Masjid al-Quba, or the Quba Mosque.

Al-Masjid an-Nabawī in Medina is the mosque that was established and originally built by the Islamic prophet Muhammad. It stands today within the city limits of Medina, and is a very important and popular site for everyone who visits Medina.  Al-Masjid an-Nabawi was actually the second mosque to ever be constructed in the history of Islam, and is now one of the greatest and largest mosques in the entire world. Being that it is the second-holiest site in Islam, after al-Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, it makes Medina the best of all holiday destinations for Muslims. The mosque is always open, day or night, no matter the day of the week.

The grounds where the mosque was built originally occupied the space next to Muhammad’s house. Muhammad made his home there following his emigration from Mecca to Medina, emigration translating to the world “Hijra”, during 622 CE. Muhammad took part in the responsibility of the construction of Al-Masjid an Nabawi, which originally was designed as an open-air building. After the construction was completed, Al-Masjid an-Nabawi served the community as a religious school, a courthouse, and a community centre for the public.

Al-Masjid an-Nabawi featured a raised platform that was used whenever people were teaching the Qur’an. It began as a modest platform, and was later decorated and made quite a bit larger by subsequent Islamic rulers. In 1909, it was the first very first place in the entire Arabian Peninsula to be illuminated with electrical lights.


Medina at Dusk

Medina at Dusk

Al-Masjid an-Nabawi is overseen by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, and can be found in what was originally the center of the city of Medina where it is close to the convenience of many markets and accommodations. To this day, it remains a major pilgrimage site that grows greater in its popularity by the year; a lot of the Muslim pilgrims who perform the Hajj also visit Medina to pay their respects at the mosque. It’s a journey that a lot of people are making from all over the world, so their time in the region is best spent taking the opportunity to visit both of these incredibly important sites while they are in the area, it’s an opportunity many only have once in their lifetime.

Following a significant al-Walid I era expansion, Al-Masjid an-Nabawi was made to incorporate the final resting place of Muhammad as well as the first two Rashidun caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar. Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the structure is its Green Dome, standing over the south-east corner of the structure. This dome was originally Muhammad’s wife Aisha’s house, and is the location of the tomb of Muhammad. Over the centuries it’s been rebuilt and renovated, reconstructed and fixed up. The dome currently built was an 1818 addition, built by the Ottoman sultan Mahmud II. It was first painted green in 1837, garnering the name it is popularly known by, “Green Dome”.

The oldest mosque in the world, Quba Mosque, is found on the periphery of Medina proper. This is the place where the Prophet Muhammad first arrived and stayed, along with Abu Bakr – the father of Aisha who would become Muhammad’s wife. They date they arrived in Medina was Monday 12th Rab’i al-Awwal, fourteen years after the Prophethood, and this date marks the start of the Islamic calendar, Hijra. This date translates to 16th July 622 CE. A mosque was established here by the Prophet, the very first of his to be built in Islam. The Prophet made it a part of his weekly routine to come to Quba Mosque each Saturday, either riding his camel or on foot and offer two rak’at prayers.

Quba Mosque underwent significant reconstruction, completely re-building the structure in 1986. The new mosque contains residential areas, ablution facilities, shops, a library, and offices. The northern, eastern and western sides of the mosque were given six new entrances, and the corners of the prayer hall were marked with four minarets. The prayer hall itself was built around a central courtyard, and along the east and west side of the courtyard are double-aisled porticos. A one-aisle portico stretches across the north side, bordering the women’s prayer area. The mosque’s newer construction made room for 64 toilets for men and 32 toilets for women. Quba Mosque is cooled by its three central units each with a capacity of one million and eighty thousand thermal units. This incredible mosque is a unique landmark, standing out from the city and its white facade can be clearly seen from quite a distance.

Masjid Quba

Masjid Quba or Quba Mosque

Quba Mosque experiences an influx of worshippers and visitors each year, and the numbers increase owing to the holy month of Ramadan. Large gatherings can be observed coming and going from the mosque’s precincts, particularly during the early hours of the morning.

If you’re planning a visit to Medina, you will be able to experience the city’s fascinating architecture and streets making their way to and around the Prophet’s Mosque, each one of them lined with houses and shops selling their goods of all sorts. Dates from Medina are one of the more popular goods visitors come to buy. There are all kinds of shopping opportunities from the tiniest market stall to large shopping complexes selling products from all over the world. Visitors to the city of Medina typically make purchases of traditional prayer rugs, prayer rugs woven with with magnets that point towards the Kaaba, caps, Tasbih or prayer beads, Abayas and dresses, pictures of the holy city and mosques, religious music CDs, copies of the Holy Qur’an, clocks that sound the Azan or the call to prayer made correct to the second for nearly 5 million cities, as well as other souvenirs to bring back home with them and to give as gifts for family and friends. Bring cash with you, as credit cards are not commonly accepted.

Bear in mind that alcohol is prohibited within the city of Medina, but you can find a wealth of restaurants selling pretty much every type of food from all around the world. Medina offers an abundance of Indian, Pakistani And Bangladeshi fare, and there are Egyptian, Turkish, Chinese and Indonesian restaurants. Popular fast food chains like McDonalds, Hardees, KFC and Pizza Hut can also be found in the holy city, as well as Saudi Arabia’s own Al Baik that sells mostly chicken and shrimp fast food. Kudu, another Saudi Arabian franchise is located within Medina as well selling fresh sandwiches and other fast food. The cheapest local food you will find around the city consist of shawarma, taamiyya which is a type of vegetable sandwich, cooked beans called foul (with tameez, a bread) and roasted chicken.

Enjoy the city’s variety of food, pay a visit to the grand mosque, Masjid Al-Nabawi, see the Masjid Nabawi also known as the Prophet’s Mosque where devout Muslims offer their prayers, do some shopping and enjoy the time spent in this holy land.

Visit the Middle East destinations category to learn more about other tourism opportunities available in Middle East!