As the Hajj season begins, Medina (translated as the City of Light) is brimming with pilgrims from across the world. Though not part of Hajj rituals, a visit to Medina, either prior to, or immediately after Hajj, is highly recommended. Medina was declared the capital of Islamic tourism for the year 2017 by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
A four-hour drive from Mecca, it is from here in Medina that the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) spread the message of Islam, found unshakable support and is where he taught his companions the right way of life. The city lies in an agricultural settlement, surrounded by a chain of mountains; prominent is the Jabal Uhud to its north, the site of the Battle of Uhud.
As you enter Medina, peace reigns supreme. The most distinctive sight in Islam’s second holiest city is the sprawling and exquisitely beautiful Prophet’s Mosque. Also known as Masjid al-Nabawi, it is home to the Prophet’s tomb and those of Abu Bakr and Omar, Islam’s first and second caliphs. Pilgrims are allowed to offer salaams when they approach the burial enclosure, but nobody is permitted to offer any tomb worship.
The Prophet’s Mosque is surrounded by numerous historical sites, which can take the pilgrim through the early years of Islam. Quba Mosque, the first ever mosque built in Islam, is located in the southwest of Medina city. Built in 622 CE, it has four minarets and 56 domes. The Medina Development Authority, in cooperation with the Culture and Arts Society, organises a range of cultural activities at the Quba’s Boulevard. Opposite Quba, 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.
On the outskirts of Medina is the Masjid Al Fath (the Mosque of Victory), originally built at the time of Prophet (pbuh) to mark the spot where he prayed for victory. Not far away is the Qiblatain mosque (the Mosque of two Qiblas) with two prayer niches, one facing Jerusalem, towards which the Prophet (pbuh) had originally instructed Muslims to pray, the other facing Mecca.
Other important mosques include the Al-Khandaq mosque, Al Juma mosque, Ali ibn Abu Taleb mosque, Abu Bakr Al Siddique mosque, Omar ibn Al-Khattab mosque and Abu Dhar mosque. Apart from these places of worship, the valleys of Qanat Al-Mahares, Aqiq and Al-Mubarak, the Anbari Museum, Dar Al-Medinah Museum, the old Hejazi railway station and forts such as Khashm Al-Zaib and Quba are worth visiting.
Tours by taxi, ranging from a few hours to a whole day, will take you to these historical sites. These services can be found opposite the Prophet’s Mosque. The King Fahd Complex for Printing of the Holy Quran is another important landmark in Medina, but you need prior permission to visit it.
Also, Madain Saleh, 400 km northwest of Medina and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the GCC version of the world-famous Petra in Jordan. The majestic site is home to over 100 tombs, carved from sheer, sandstone cliff faces. They bear testimony to the skill and wealth of the Nabateans who created them over 2,000 years ago. Medina’s dates are famous all over the world, and the date bazaar is a sight to behold. Among the most famous date varieties are the Al-Ajwa, Al-Safawi, Al-Mabroom and Al-Sagaei.
Words: Aftab H. Kola