As the second holiest city in Islam and the grave site of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, the city of Medina has great historical and religious significance in the world, particularly in Middle Eastern culture. The Hijrah, Muhammad’s emigration into Medina, marked a turning point in world history and the establishment of the religion of Islam. Literally translated, “Medina” means “the city.” The rise of Islam has brought not only important religious changes to Medina and the surrounding areas, but also important political, social and other secular changes.

Location, Geography, and Importance of the Hejaz

By: Zachary Zurek

Medina is located in the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia. The Hejaz region contains the two holiest cities in Islam – the first being Mecca, the second being Medina. Besides these two cities, the Hejaz region can be distinguished mostly because of the Red Sea. Saudi Arabia consists of 13 provinces or emirates in total. Medina is the capital of the Al-Madinah emirate of Saudi Arabia.

Although the city of Medina did not have any great distinction until the introduction of Islam, it has always held an important place in trade and agriculture because of its location in a fertile region of the Hejaz. The city was able to maintain decent amounts of food and water, and therefore was an important pit stop for trade caravans traveling along the Red Sea. This was especially important given the merchant culture of Arabia. Along with the port of Jidda, Medina and Mecca kept as thriving cities throughout the years through pilgrimage.

Being a harsh, hot, dry climate, the geographical and environmental aspects of the Hejaz region have had an impact on politics and religion. According to Arabic scholar William Oschenwald, the alternation of the pilgrimage as the lunar and solar calendars interacted meant that the key day of the pilgrimage, and therefore the most important economic event of the year, would sometimes fall in the summer and sometimes in the cooler parts of the year. The harsh climate, steep mountains, lack of rainfall, and coral reefs for ships only made it harder for those on pilgrimage.
The Al-Madinah Emirate of Saudi Arabia
The Al-Madinah Emirate of Saudi Arabia

Historically, the concepts of time and the calendar were regulated by religious events and not seasonal and agricultural changes like it may have been for other cultures. Life in the holy cities like Medina, however, was very different from that of the nomads and merchants. Oshenwald has said that “the richness of religious life; the facilities, amenities, and services available in Mecca, Medina, and Jidda; and a pride in local unique characteristics developed a separate and distinct style of living in the towns.” In turn the nomads had their own distinctive ways of life which often were very different from those of the towns.

Despite these differences, Islam still has been the historical driving force that brought people to Medina throughout the years. According to Oshenwald “underneath all the sharp distinctions of town and desert and even more important than the limited economic base of the area was the tremendous force of religion, which had been since the seventh century as constant, continuous, and a vital factor for the Hijaz.”


By: George Brooks

The city was originally founded by a descendant of Noah named Yathrib and was named after him until the beginning of the Islamic period. During the Pre-Islamic period the city was inhabited by three distinct groups of people or tribes, all of whom were drawn to Yathrib for the accessibility of food and water and the crucial location of Yathrib along important caravan routes connecting the areas of the Arabian Peninsula to the Red Sea in the west. The first tribe to establish Yathrib were the descendants of Noah named the Amalekites. The Amalekites were originally from Babylon but were forced to spread across areas of the Arabian Peninsula due to difficult living conditions
Medina Under Ottoman Rule, Prophet Mosque
. The second group to inhabit Yathrib were the Jewish tribes who migrated there around 586 BCE from Palestine when the Kingdom of Judea was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Larger Jewish migrations to Yathrib occurred in 70 CE and 132 CE when they were thrown out of Palestine by the Roman emperor Hadrian. The first two Jewish tribes to settle in Yathrib were the Banu Quraizah and the Banu An-Nadir. The third group to settle there were two Qahtani tribes that migrated to Yathrib in the 3rd century CE, known as the Aws and the Khazraj. Descendants of these three groups of people comprised the ethnic makeup of Yathrib by the beginning of the Islamic period.

In 620 CE, when Islam was still very young, Muhammad was building a good reputation with the people of Yathrib. While in Mecca, Muhammad was asked to arbitrate a dispute between two of the major tribes of Yathrib, the Aws and the Khazraj. His success in arbitrating the dispute upheld his reputation with the people of Yathrib while converting many of them to Islam. This also led to an offering of a sanctuary in Yathrib for Muhammad and his people when they needed to escape Mecca due to rising conflict over Islam. Muhammad and his people migrated to Yathrib in 622 in what is known as the Hijra. The arrival of Muhammad in Yathrib is a defining moment in the city’s history. After the Hijra, Yathrib becomes the central hub of Islam, precipitating the spread of Islam throughout the surrounding Hejaz. It is at this time the city becomes known as al-Madinah al-Munawwarah (the radiant or enlightened city) or just Medina. In 630, after years of multiple conflicts between Medina and Mecca, Muhammad convinced the leaders of Mecca to accept Islam and allow Muhammad and his people a pilgrimage to Mecca, where they destroyed the idolatry in the Kaaba and made it the new center of the Islamic religion. This pilgrimage is known as the Hajj and is repeated annually by many followers of the Islamic faith. Muhammad returned to Medina and subsequently died there in 632.

After the first Hajj the center of the Islamic religion shifted from Medina to Mecca, while the administration of the spread of Islam continued to be conducted from Medina. Medina and Islam continued to grow after the death of Muhammad under the direction of three different caliphs: Abu Bark as-Siddiq, Umar Ibn al-Khattab, and Uthman Ibn Affan. This growth continued until 661 when the capital of the Umayyad caliphate was transferred to Damascus. Consequently Medina is reduced from a city with substantial political power to a city only associated with Muhammad and the beginning of Islam. After this Medina’s growth stagnates and few events of significant historical importance happen up until the occupation of the Ottomans in 1517. The Ottomans ruled Medina with minimal military intervention until the Wahhabi sect gained control of the city in 1804. The Ottomans regained control over the city during the Battle of Medina in 1812. One important duty of the Ottoman Caliphate was to insure the safety of the Hajj caravans traveling from Damascus to Mecca every year, which included traveling through Medina. From 1904 to 1908, the Ottomans built a railway connecting Damascus to Medina for this very purpose. Ottoman rule over this area ended with World War I and Hussayn, a sharif of Mecca and member of the Wahhabi sect, came into power when he helped end Ottoman control over the Hijaz railway. Hussayn then conflicted with Ibn Saud over power and Medina fell under the rule of the Saudi dynasty in 1925. In 1932 the Arabian Peninsula was united under the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. After Saudi Arabia was formed Medina regained prominence especially in regard to the Hajj pilgrimage. Major revenues from oil production in Saudi Arabia during the 1970s allowed for the improvements that make Medina the modern metropolis it is today

Religious Significance

By: Joshua Aquino

Medina’s religious significance to Islam is attributed to two things: first Medina being the city to which Muhammad fled after initially being driven out of Mecca and where he attracted his first followers and ultimately established the foundations of Islam. Secondly, Medina’s significance to Islam is derived from the presence of the Masjid al Nabawi, “the Mosque of the Prophet.”
Medina is the second holiest city in Islam after Mecca, it is otherwise known also as the “City of the Prophet.” The long form of the Arabic name for Medina (Madinat Rasul Allah) means "City of the Prophet of Allah", while the short form (al-Madina) just means "the City.” [1]

In 622, Medina became the seat of Muhammad's growing movement after the Hijra (emigration). That year Muhammad was invited to come and live in Yathrib (yet the old name of Medina) and serve as a governor of sorts. Despite Medina being greatly divided in those times with different clans and religions constantly quarreling and bickering, Muhammad brought unity to the city. All parties agreed to a pact drawn up by Muhammad and his followers. He invited all people in the city to follow the new religion of Islam.

A decade preceding the Hijra, Medina formed the base from which Muhammad launched and was engaged in armed military conflict by his enemies and it was from here that he marched on the city of Mecca, becoming its ruler without battle. Even after Islamic rule was established and solidified, Medina remained for some years the most important city of Islam. [1]

16-742086.jpgWith more relation to Islam as a religion, Medina attributes its significance to Islam mostly due to the presence of the first mosque in Islam ever to be constructed: the Quba Mosque. The original Prophet's Mosque was built by the Prophet himself. The site was founded next to the house where he settled after his Hijrah to Medina in 622 AD; construction was carried out by his earliest followers and even the Prophet himself. It was an open-air building with a raised platform for the reading of the Qur'an.

A square enclosure of 30x35 meters, the mosque was built with palm trunks and mud walls and accessed through three doors: Bab Rahmah to the south, Bab Jibril to the west and Bab al-Nisa' to the east. The basic plan of the building has since been adopted in the building of other mosques throughout the world. [3]

Inside, the Prophet created a shaded area to the south called the suffrah aligning the prayer space northwards toward Jerusalem. When the qibla (prayer direction) was changed to Mecca, the mosque was re-oriented to the south. The mosque also served as a community center, a court, and a religious school. Seven years later (629 AD/7 AH), the mosque was doubled in size to accommodate the increasing number of Muslims. [3]
Upon the site same of the Quba Mosque and over the course of 1400 years the first mosque would gradually be expanded to become what today is the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi “the Prophet's Mosque.” The Prophet's Mosque is the second holiest mosque in the world after Al-Haram in Mecca. (Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem comes in third.)
[3] The Prophet's body lies within the mosque as well.

As the mosque stands today, it has a rectangular plan on two floors with the Ottoman prayer hall projecting to the south. The main prayer hall makes up for the entire first floor. It has a flat paved roof interrupted by twenty-four domes raised on square bases. Forty-eight pierced into the base of each dome illuminate the interior. The roof is also used for prayer during peak times, when the twenty-four domes slide out on metal tracks to shade areas of the roof, creating light wells for the prayer hall.

The roof is accessed by stairs and escalators. The paved area around the mosque is also used for prayer, equipped with umbrella tents. The north facade has three evenly spaced porticos, while the east, west and south facades have two. The walls are composed of a series of windows topped by pointed arches with black and white voussoirs. There are six peripheral minarets attached to the new extension, and four others frame the Ottoman structure. [4]

Today, the mosque enclosure is one hundred times bigger than the first mosque built by the Prophet and can accommodate more than half a million worshipers.

Modern Medina

By: Colton Leppink


In the city of Medina, like much of Saudi Arabia, does not have much nightlife or other popular forms of entertainment. Tourism as a whole is not encouraged in many Saudi Arabia cities including Medina. Those who are foreigners or whom are not Muslim will find it very difficult to travel to any of the holy cities, Medina being the second most holy city in Saudi Arabia. There is also complete abstention to any form of alcohol in Medina. Also, there are no nightclubs, movie theaters, or any other similar type of entertainment. Medina has very strict regulations regarding clothing and modesty of dress, especially regarding females. As for codes of conduct dealing with different mosques within the holy city, those who are not Muslim aren’t allowed inside the walls or any other holy site. To obtain a Visa to tour or travel in Medina, you have to be a part of an approved organized tour group which follows a strict itinerary. These Visas, which require a sponsor, usually take seven to eight months to process, and must be obtained prior to the visit.

Modern day

Medina happens to be one of the richest cities in Saudi Arabia (which is also one of the wealthiest countries in the world). The city has many five star hotels. These hotels, like many of the other establishments, obey and follow Islamic laws. These rules can extend from special rooms in buildings designated for prayer only to fitness centers being exclusively for men.

Mosgue.jpgAs of today, the city is in the form of a giant oval. It is still surrounded by the giant wall thirty to forty feet high which protected it from invaders since the twelfth century. This wall is actually a double wall flanked by bastions and perced with only nine gates. Beyond the walls of the city to the west and south are different suburbs which have low standing houses, gardens, and yards. These different living areas are traditional and hold the heritage and beauty, many of which are still guarded by smaller walls constructed centuries ago.

The main structure within these walls is the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (Prophet’s Mosque). This mosque contains the tombs of Muhammad and his daughter Fatima, and also the caliphs Umar and Abu Bakr. It stands at the eastern end of the city, and looks like a smaller scale version to the mosque at Mecca. The grand courtyard is just short of five hundred feet in length. It is said that if a Muslim prays here just once, it is equivalent to a thousand prayers elsewhere


Masjid al-Qiblatain

Literally translates to: Mosque of the two Qiblas. This is a very important historical mosque in Medina. This is the place where Muhammad altered the direction in which Muslims prayed. Muslims would pray five times a day, and each time they did they would face the city of Jerusalem. During one of his prayers, Muhammad received a revelation from God, basically telling him to turn and face the holy city. Muhammad instantly turned around mid-prayer to face Mecca. All those praying behind him turned around as well and continued with their daily prayer.This mosque was renovated not too long ago, and had the prayer niche which was facing Jerusalem taken out leaving the true niche facing Mecca there. Masjid al-Qiblatain is an architectural masterpiece, with one giant master dome and two minarets.

Latitudinal-Longitudinal Coordinates: 24°29′02.71″N 39°34′44.07″E


Quba Mosque

This is the very first mosque to ever be built in Medina and the oldest mosque in all of Saudi Arabia. It was actually constructed with the help of Muhammad, who helped lay some of its first stones. He also spent over twenty nights in the mosque after his migration.

Quba Mosque was rebuilt in 1986, but most of the older Medina architecture was kept for tradition. This mosque is grand and lavish. With a prayer hall that is actually raised on a second platform (which was very technical for those times). This hall is situated around a central courtyard. The outer courtyard is comprised of black, white, and red marble, and has giant screens in order to block the mid day sun. A two bay depth portico borders the courtyard on the east and west, and a one bay depth portico borders on the north. This separates the men’s prayer area from the women’s prayer area.


Higher Education

By: Keenan C. Michael

One of the modern attractions in the city of Medina is it’s universities. The schooling that it offers is two higher-level educations ranging from the two universities is one of the finest in the country Saudi Arabia.

Taibah University

The Royal decree was signed in 10/05/1424 AH was issued to imply the approval of the resolution of the Council of Higher Education under the number in 17/03/1424 AH. Taibah use to be two different schools until the integration of the two campuses of King Muhammad Bin Saud University and King Abdul-Aziz University located in Medina.

The main message for Tabiah University is “To establish an Islamic community through the introduction of academic and practical knowledge that corresponds to the standards of academic distinctiveness and in which parties involved in the educational process cooperate in a productive and responsible way.”—Tabiah University.
Some of the main goals and strategies that they try to achieve include: to provide quality education that corresponds to the community needs, to fulfill the standards of academic accreditation in all educational programs and domains, to develop academic research and graduate studies to serve the community needs.
Taibah is a very religious university and it also as goals in which it peruses for each student as they come apart of the community. Some of The spiritual and cultural values of Taibah university include: the Islamic faith heart and mind, academic distinctiveness, active learning through applicatory projects, the integration of different sciences, modernization and reinforcement of human and physical abilities just to name a few.

Taibah University has many colleges ranging from Engineering to Education programs helping people find what they want to do in life and get on the path to success with their degrees. It has multiple deanships and centers helping people who cannot speak English every well to come to the center and get tutoring by the university.

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Islamic University of Medinah

Founded in 1961 for higher education in Islamic arts. There is about 80% of the students at Islamic University of Medinah are from all over the world with a international status as students. There is about 6,000 students enrolled in the University. Students may receive a Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate degree at this institute. There is also a degree that may be received after the Bachelors degree after one year of schooling. Like any other School it reviews applications on a yearly basis giving the most qualified people a chance at this great honor in their education. The University is on a two semester school year starting in September and ending in June.
Students who are not familiar with the Arabic language can study in a Arabic learning center for two years and if the pass a standardized test based on their knowledge of the language with an 80% or higher, then they are granted with access to the University.


Academic Articles:

Oshenwald, William. "Religion, Society, and the State in Arabia." Ohio State University Press, 1984.
Bartels, Edien; De Jong, Inge. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 2.3 (2007). 26 Feb. 2010
Prophets Mohammed Mosques, Medinah, Saudi Arabia Wasim A. Orfali and Wolfgang Ahnert, J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 119, 3369 (2006), DOI:

Historical Sources:

Dumper, Michael, and Bruce E. Stanley. Cities of the Middle East and North Africa: A Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2007.
Mubārakfūrī, Ṣafī al-Raḥmān, and Nasiruddin Khattab. History of al-Madinah al Munawarah. Riyadh: Darussalam, 2002.

Other Sources: