The second holly city of Islam
The city of Madinah Al-Munawarah is the capital of Madinah Province. It hosts the Mosque of the Prophet of Islam named in Arabic Al-Masjid An-Nabawi which is the second most holy place in Islam after the Kaaba in Mekkah. As such it is also the second most important site of Islamic pilgrimage.
Madinah is located on the east of the Hejaz mountains which is part of the 2 000 kilometer long Sarawat mountains running from Yemen to Jordan. It lays in a volcanic area as attested to by the presence of the massive lava fields of the Harrat Khaybar on the north and the Harrat Rahat on the south whose ancient lava flows stretch till the south of the modern city.
The city is surrounded by a number of mountains which have religious and historical significance: Al-Hujaj, or Pilgrims' Mountain to the West; Salaa to the north-west; Al-E'er or Caravan Mountain to the south; and Uhud to the north. Madinah is situated on a flat mountain plateau at the junction of the three valleys of Al-Aql, Al-Aqiq, and Al-Himdh which provide water to large green areas amidst a dry mountainous region.
The religious importance of Madinah is due to the role it played in the history of Islam as the city where the Prophet of Islam moved after being forced to leave Mekkah, an event which set the year zero of the Muslim calendar. For this reason the ancient name of the city Iathrib (referred as such in the Holy Quran) was changed to the name City of the Prophet (Madinah Al-Nabawiyah) or City of the Enlighment (Madinah Al-Munawarah).
In Madinah Al-Munawarah took place some of the major events of the beginning of the Islamic era and the tracks of this glorious history are still visible today in the modern city.
The first mosque built during Muhammad's time is also located in Medina and is known as the Quba Mosque. Its first stones are supposed to have been positioned by the Prophet Mohamed after his arrival from Mekkah.
The Masjid Al-Qiblatain is another mosque also historically important to Muslims as one of the three oldest mosques along with those of Nabwiyah and Quba. It is supposed to have been built in 623 CE / 1 H meaning during the first year of the Islamic calendar.
According to Muslim belief the Masjid Al-Qiblatain is where the command was sent to Muhammad to change the direction of prayer (qibla) from Jerusalem to Mekkah according to authentic Hadith. Thus it was the only mosque containing two prayer niches (mihrab) but the one oriented towards Jerusalem was recently removed.
But the most important mosque of the city is the Masjid Al-Nabawiyah which stands for the "Mosque of the Prophet" as it hosts the tomb of the Prophet of Islam. This mosque was originally established by Mohamed and lays next to the house where he settled after his immigration from Mekkah in 622 CE / 1 H.
This mosque is the resting place of the Prophet Mohamed as well as the first two caliphs Abu Bakr As-Sediq and Umar Bin Al-Khattab. Al-Masjid An-Nabawi is one of the largest mosques in the world and its glorious history made of it the second holiest site in Islam after the Kaaba in Mekkah. As such it is an important pilgrimage site for Muslims performing the Hajj.
Madinah Al-Munawarah was also a place of decisive battles for the expansion of Islam, the most famous being the one taking place in 627 CE / 5 H when Abu Sufyan ibn Harb led Mekkan forces against Medinah. Because the people of the besieged city had dug a trench to further protect the city, this event became known as the Battle of the Trench. After a protracted siege and various skirmishes, the Mekkans withdrew.
It is important to note that the city center where the holy mosque lies and which is named Haram is forbidden to non-Muslim. Therefore travelers driving to Madinah will be imposed to take the ring road as indicated on the road posts "Muslims only". Non-Muslim entering the Haram will be kindly guided out by the people of Madinah who are used to helping travelers find their way.
The second holly city of Islam (author: Florent Egal)