Belief in Brief: Medina

Friday, November 16, 2007 | 1:00 p.m. CST; updated 5:51 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Medina is the second-most holy city of Islam. Located in the Hejaz region in western Saudi Arabia, it is known as the “City of the Prophet.”


When Muhammad fled from Mecca during the Hijrah of 622, a migration to escape persecution, he landed nearly 500 miles north in Medina. His arrival marked the first year of the Islamic calendar and the establishment of the first Islamic state.

Medina became the administrative harbor of Islam. Islamic leaders compiled the verses of the Holy Qu’ran and the Hadith, the teachings of Muhammad. The practices of Medina also served as the foundation for Islamic law, or Shari’ah.

When Muhammad died in 632, a mosque was built on the site of his home and burial site. This “Prophet’s Mosque” draws more than 1 million pilgrims each year in the season of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to the Holy Mosque of Mecca.

The original mosque over Muhammad’s burial site was an 8,661 square-foot structure of mud bricks and tree trunks. Expansion projects have colored the mosque’s history.

In 1938, King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud established the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and in 1950, his plans for expansion of the mosque were implemented. The expansion was the largest the city had ever seen. Pilgrimages spiked in the 1960s as transportation to the city and the mosque’s accommodations improved. By 1970, the number of pilgrims reached 1 million each year.


The mosque is over 100 times its original size and can accommodate more than 1 million worshipers. As with Mecca, only Muslims are allowed into the city. The 1.78 million square-foot tribute to Muhammad has 27 courtyards open to the sky with sliding concrete domes that close during inclement weather. Six newly-added minarets with five-ton brass crescents tower over the city at 360 feet high.

Medina’s population numbers more than 918,000 people, most of whom are Sunni Muslims.

The city has also expanded beyond the temple. The Islamic University was established in 1961. The King Fahd Holy Qu’ran Printing Complex, which King Fahd built on 37 acres in 1985, produces more than 14 million copies of the Quran each year.


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