This year, as they have for more than fourteen centuries, Muslims from across the world performed the Hajj, the pilgrimage to the Holy Mosque in Makkah. The standing at Arafat, the most important day of the Hajj, fell on April 6. Although the rituals of the Hajj are exclusively performed in and around Makkah, most of the more than two million Muslims who complete them also undertake a pilgrimage to Madinah.
The Prophet's Mosque dominates the Madinah skyline. King Fahd, who oversaw the latest expansion of the mosque, wrote an inscription on the base of the last of the 23-foot brass crescents that top its six new minarets
For the world's more than one billion Muslims, the Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is the spiritual high point of a Muslim's life to visit the Ka'abah, the House of God, in the Holy Mosque, towards which Muslims around the globe face to pray five times a day. On the other hand, Muslims are drawn to Madinah, not as a religious duty as in the case of Makkah, but out of love and respect for God's last Prophet. For it is in this city that the Prophet Muhammad established the first Islamic community, spent the last years of his life, and where he and many of his companions are buried.
Known by more than 90 names that generally denote respect and devotion, the city is most commonly called Madinah (city), short for Madinah Al-Nabi (City of the Prophet) or Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarah (the Radiant or Enlightened City), a reference to its association with the Prophet.
Although Madinah came to prominence with the introduction of Islam, its roots date back hundreds of years into the pre-Islamic era when it was known as Yathrib. Situated on a plain with aquifers fed by runoff from the surrounding hills, the city had abundant water supplies that fed vast date palms and vegetable gardens. The availability of food and water made Madinah an important reprovisioning point for caravans that plied the commercial routes from the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula along the Red Sea to Syria and Egypt. Its inhabitants sold food to these passing caravans and, over time, became involved in trade.
Yathrib may have languished in relative anonymity were it not for events that took place in Makkah, more than 200 miles to the south, at the turn of the seventh century AD. What was taking place in Makkah would not only transform Yathrib, but also much of the known world.
Unlike Yathrib and other oasis settlements that relied on agriculture, Makkah's primary significance was as a pilgrimage site. Large numbers of people visited the Ka'abah, the House of God built by the Prophet Abraham. However, at this time monotheism had been swept aside, and the Ka'abah housed numerous idols belonging to the inhabitants of Makkah and nearby tribes.
It was against this backdrop that the Prophet Muhammad was born in 570 AD in Makkah and received the first verses of the Holy Qur'an in the year 610. Based on the worship of God, the absolute and single Creator, Islam rejected the idolatry that was prevalent in Makkah at the time. As such, Islam was viewed as a threat to the livelihood and power base of the ruling tribe of Makkah, and its growing number of followers were harassed, persecuted and threatened.
During this period, leaders of Yathrib, familiar with the Prophet Muhammad's reputation for honesty and sincerity, had sent envoys asking that he mediate a dispute between two powerful tribes. Impressed by the Prophet's character and teachings, these envoys soon accepted Islam and were followed by other converts. Observing the growing threat to their fellow Muslims in Makkah, the people of Yathrib offered a safe haven to them, and beginning in 620 AD, the Prophet Muhammad started sending groups of Muslims to live in Yathrib.
Having learned of a plot to murder him, the Prophet Muhammad himself left Makkah for Yathrib, arriving in the city in September 622. This event is known as the Hijrah (emigration). The Prophet's arrival in Yathrib was a turning point in world history. It marked the establishment of the first Islamic state and the rapid growth of the new faith. From then on, the city became Madinah Al-Nabi, and the date of the Prophet's arrival there marked the first year of the Islamic calendar.
The second-holiest site in Islam, the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah contains the chamber in which the Prophet Muhammad is buried.
With the emigration, Madinah became a center of activity. Upon his approach to the oasis in 622, the Prophet established the first mosque in Islam at Quba, a village on the outskirts of Madinah. Called Masjid Al-Taqwa (Mosque of Piety), the mosque still stands, albeit modernized and enlarged.
Once settled in Madinah, the Prophet built another mosque adjacent to his house. Called Masjid Al-Nabawi (the Prophet's Mosque), the first structure on today's site was a simple one supported by the trunks of standing palm trees, and was built by the Prophet himself. It was this mosque at which the Prophet and his companions prayed, and which soon became the social and economic center of the city and the Islamic state. With the growth of Islam, more mosques were established throughout the city and its environs.
The first eight years of the Hijrah were spent strengthening the ummah (Islamic community) in Madinah and in warding off the aggression of the armies sent from Makkah. In the eighth year of the Hijrah, 630 AD, the Prophet and his followers entered Makkah without bloodshed. He ordered the removal of all idols from the Ka'abah, and within weeks all inhabitants of Makkah had accepted Islam. He returned to Makkah in 632 for his final pilgrimage, the rituals of which are followed by all Muslims who have since performed the Hajj.
While the Holy Mosque in Makkah was the spiritual center of Islam, Madinah became the administrative hub of the new Islamic state during the Prophet Muhammad's lifetime. It was from here that the successful campaign to convince the tribes to abandon idolatry was waged.
It was also in Madinah that the Prophet's companions compiled the verses of the Holy Qur'an and collected the Hadith (teachings and sayings of the Prophet) that would serve as the basis of Shari'ah (Islamic law).
And it was also in Madinah that the Prophet died on June 8, 632, and where he was buried in his house adjoining the mosque he had helped build with his own hands.
The Quba Mosque (left) and the Qiblatain Mosque (right) are two of the oldest in the world.
After his death, the first three caliphs, Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq, Omar Ibn Al-Khattab and Othman Ibn Affan, continued to administer from Madinah the expanding Islamic nation, which had by now spread to Persia and Syria. In time, Abu Bakr and Omar were buried in a separate chamber next to the Prophet. Othman and several members of the Prophet's immediate family were buried at the nearby Baqi' Cemetery.
The administrative and political demands of a growing empire, one that over the next hundred years would reach from Spain and Morocco in the west through the Middle East, to the Indian Subcontinent and beyond in the east, forced subsequent Islamic leaders to move their capital away from Madinah.
Although its political and commercial fortunes declined in the following centuries, the City of the Prophet continued to hold a special place in the hearts of Muslims. The small mosque the Prophet had established next to his house was enlarged by various Muslim rulers over time and continued to draw pilgrims from around the world as Islam's second holiest site.
Yet the instability and turmoil that had gripped the Arabian Peninsula in recent centuries made the pilgrimage to Makkah and Madinah a demanding and often dangerous undertaking, with the result that the number of Muslims visiting the holy sites each year seldom exceeded 40,000, even into the early part of this century.
In 1926 a defining event took place that made the City of the Prophet more accessible to Muslims and also changed the fortunes of its inhabitants. In that year, King Abdul Aziz Ibn Abdul Rahman Al-Saud extended his protection to Makkah and Madinah in his effort to unify the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula. In 1932 he accomplished his goal and founded the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
King Abdul Aziz's rule brought an immediate end to the turmoil and instability that prevailed in the peninsula. For the first time in 13 centuries, pilgrims and merchants could travel safely to the holy cities and, indeed, anywhere else in the Kingdom, without concern for their lives and property.
As the Kingdom entered a new era of development, which began after the end of World War II, it started building roads, ports and airports throughout the country, further facilitating travel to Makkah and Madinah.
With the attention lavished by King Abdul Aziz and his successors on the holy cities, Madinah blossomed, undergoing a veritable transformation. Whereas once only the adventurous dared undertake a journey to the city, the trip became safe and secure, and could now be completed with little anxiety. With the arrival of more pilgrims from across Saudi Arabia and the globe King Abdul Aziz realized that the Prophet's Mosque was in dire need of expansion.
The original mosque, built with mud bricks and tree trunks in 622, covered an area of 8,661 square feet. The caliphs Omar and Othman expanded the mosque in 638 and 650, respectively. Further expansions were undertaken in the early and late parts of the eighth century AD. By this time, the rooms in which the Prophet and his companions Abu Bakr and Omar were buried were incorporated into the mosque and a dome had been built over the rooms.
For eleven centuries no major additional improvements were made to the mosque, although various Muslim rulers funded renovation work and endowments for the mosque's operations and upkeep. The last expansion before the modern era was completed in 1849 by Sultan Abdul Majid the Second, bringing the mosque's total area to a little more than 120,000 square feet.
In 1950, Saudi Arabia undertook the largest expansion project the mosque had ever witnessed. It more than doubled the size of the complex to accommodate the ever-increasing number of Muslims visiting the site, which grew steadily year by year, reaching more than 100,000 in 1955.
The establishment of a modern infrastructure and improved accommodations for visitors saw the number of pilgrims to Makkah and Madinah increase rapidly beginning in the 1960s. By 1970, the number of pilgrims had reached one million. In 1973, King Faisal Ibn Abdul Aziz ordered that the west side of the mosque be shaded from the sun. Although this project increased the area in which visitors to the mosque could pray, it was only a temporary solution.
A more permanent arrangement for the mosque was needed. A panel of experts headed by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd Ibn Abdul Aziz launched a three-year study to formulate plans for a major expansion of the mosque. Once the plans were approved and preparations completed, construction began in earnest in 1985.
The project would take seven years of continuous work. Once completed in 1992, it expanded the mosque's area approximately 15-fold to 1.78 million square feet, allowing more than 700,000 visitors to pray simultaneously.
A similar expansion project for the Holy Mosque in Makkah, undertaken concurrently with that for the Prophet's Mosque, more than doubled its size, allowing more than one million worshippers. The implementation of these two projects would cost more than 70 billion Saudi riyals (18.66 billion U.S. dollars).
The expansion project for the Prophet's Mosque involved new buildings on three sides of the existing structure, and a vast courtyard surrounding it paved with marble and inlaid with geometric Islamic designs. The new buildings provide extensive roofed prayer areas. Within the new structure there are also 27 courtyards open to the sky. In inclement weather concrete domes slide into place to cover these courtyards. Two larger, open courtyards each have six mechanized, retractable umbrellas that are opened or closed depending on the weather.
Retractable umbrellas (top) and domes (above) in the Prophet's Mosque are opened or closed electronically depending on the weather.
The retractable domes and umbrellas, as well as the other electrical and mechanical systems in the complex, are monitored and controlled from the computerized automation center in the basement. This center also controls the air conditioning system, one of the largest and most innovative of its kind. Located at a plant 4.3 miles away, the system pumps 17,000 gallons of chilled water per minute through pipes into the basement of the mosque, where it is used to cool air circulating throughout the complex.
The expansion project added six new minarets to the mosque's four existing ones. Each of the new minarets is 360 feet high, topped by a 23-foot brass crescent weighing close to five tons.
Several kinds of marble and granite were used to build the vast, open courtyard plaza that surrounds the new structure. Lights mounted on marble and brass pillars illuminate the entire area at night.
With the completion of the expansion project, the Prophet's Mosque can easily accommodate the more than two million worshippers that congregate around the Hajj season and visit throughout the year.
As the mosque has expanded in recent decades, so has the city that surrounds it. The City of the Prophet is no longer the small town enclosed by walls that it was at the turn of the century. Today, it is a vibrant city of half a million people where the old and the new blend in harmony, complementing each other. The religious and historic sites in and around the city have been preserved and renovated to allow visitors to appreciate their role in the history of the Kingdom and Islam.
At the same time, new amenities and services have been established to facilitate the city's social and physical growth. As Madinah slowly expanded in every direction, the provision of adequate water supplies was a primary concern. The Kingdom addressed this issue not only by tapping the aquifers that have traditionally supplied the city with water, but also by laying massive pipes to bring in water from desalination plants along the Red Sea. These projects have met all the city's water requirements. Furthermore, water recycling has allowed the city to establish more than 60 major parks and playgrounds where residents and their families can relax and take refuge from the heat.
An employee (top) of the King Fahd Holy Qur'an Printing Complex checks a page from the Holy Book prior to publishing. Over the past half century Madinah (above) has been transformed into a modern urban center.
Once only accessible by caravan trails, the city is now an integral part of the network of modern highways and roads that connect all major urban centers in the Kingdom. An airport established seven miles northeast of the city connects the City of the Prophet to other cities in the Kingdom as well as the world.
For the past 14 centuries, Madinah has been a center of learning, attracting Islamic scholars and students from around the world. Today, a vast, modern educational structure consisting of hundreds of elementary, intermediate and secondary schools enrolls the city's young. Moreover, the Islamic University, established in 1966, draws thousands of students from Madinah, other parts of the Kingdom and more than 100 countries around the world.
In 1985, King Fahd inaugurated a unique complex near Madinah. The King Fahd Holy Qur'an Printing Complex was built on over 37 acres of land to produce high-quality copies of the Holy Book in large numbers. Employing some 1,500 scholars, artists and technicians, the facility now produces more than 14 million copies of the Holy Qur'an in Arabic and six other major languages, as well as 200,000 sets of audio cassettes of the Holy Book each year. These are distributed free to visitors to the two holy mosques and are donated to mosques, religious institutions, schools and universities in the Kingdom. Millions of copies of the Holy Qur'an are also donated each year to mosques and Islamic centers throughout the world.
Madinah also boasts a modern health care network of nine major hospitals and 76 health care centers, which provide services to residents as well as religious pilgrims. During the Hajj season, numerous temporary health centers are set up to ensure that permanent facilities are not over- burdened and quality care is available to all in need.
A state-of-the-art telecommunications system that supports both land and mobile telephones, computers and facsimile and telex machines is maintained by the Ministry of Posts, Telegraphs and Telephones for residents and visitors.
An ancient oasis, Madinah continues to cultivate extensive gardens and farms that produce a variety of dates and vegetables.
Like the city itself, Madinah's traditional date farms and vegetable gardens have also prospered. Of the 500 varieties of dates produced in the Kingdom, some 120 are cultivated here. Indeed, some of the most popular varieties, including the Ajwa, are grown primarily in the date groves surrounding the city.
While the lives of the people of Madinah continue to revolve around the Prophet's Mosque, and in the service of its visitors, the city's inhabitants now support a dynamic business and commercial sector. Thousands of new stores and shops have been established in recent decades to cater to the needs of visitors and inhabitants alike.
In the latter part of the twentieth century, Madinah has evolved into a modern urban center while retaining its strong religious and cultural values.