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Volume 25, Number 6November/December 1974

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The Second City

Written by Michael E. Jansen

Medina, the second holiest city of Islam, is the city of visitation as Mecca is the city of pilgrimage. Almost without exception, pilgrims to Mecca also visit Medina, where they pray in the mosque built by Muhammad and invoke God's blessing on the Prophet.

The trip to Medina carries the pilgrims through the early heroic years of Islam. It starts as soon as they turn inland from the Red Sea and approach the small village of Badr, where the Muslims, then a numerically weak religious sect, fought and won the battle that eventually sent them westwards to North Africa and Spain and eastwards to India.

After Badr the pilgrims wind through ranges of steep, wind-weathered hills and then descend to the outskirts of Medina where, in Kuba, there stands the first mosque of Islam. Now a simple whitewashed building, it was originally a structure of wattle and clay built by the Prophet himself and his fellow exiles.

Those early years are present in all the suburbs of Medina. Opposite Kuba, on the far side of Medina, the rusty red shape of Jabal Uhud looms over the palm groves stretching along the watercourse at the foot of the mountains. At Uhud the Prophet's tiny army was defeated by the Meccans—but survived to challenge them again and, at the Battle of the Trench two years later, break their power forever. Also in the outskirts of Medina is the Masjid al-Fath (the Mosque of Victory), originally built at the time of the Prophet to mark the spot where he prayed for and was vouchsafed, victory.

Not far away is the Masjid al-Qiblatayn (the Mosque of the two Qiblas) with two prayer niches, one facing Jerusalem (Aramco World, July-August 1974), towards which the Prophet had originally instructed the believers to pray, the other facing Mecca.

In Medina proper stands the Prophet's Mosque, a low, brown brick enclosure with delicate soaring minarets. Here the visitors chant the "unity," the chapter of the Koran affirming the Unity and uncreatedness of God and calling upon God to bless the Prophet Muhammad. The tomb chamber, which encompasses the dwelling of the Prophet's wife Aisha—the site of his death—was later incorporated into the Mosque when it became necessary to enlarge it. The chamber is of heavy iron filigree painted green and decorated with burnished brass inscriptions from the Koran. A drape of dark green silk totally enshrouds the Prophet's tomb and those of Abu Bakr and Omar, the first and second Caliphs. Above the chamber rises a green dome and adjoining it there is an enclosure marking the house of Fatimah, the Prophet's daughter.

The Prophet's Mosque is simple, with high, pointed arches and a sunny courtyard. It was in this Mosque that Abu Bakr, Muhammad's beloved Companion, said after the Prophet's death to the grief-stricken Muslims assembled there: "O men, if anyone worships Muhammad, let him know that Muhammad is dead. But he who worships God let him know that God is living and undying."


This article appeared on page 21 of the November/December 1974 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for November/December 1974 images.