Medina is a city in the Hejaz region of western Saudi Arabia, and serves as the capital of the Al Madinah Province. It is the second holiest city in Islam, and the burial place of Muhammad. It was also the place where Muhammad and his followers left after attacks against them in Mecca, now known as the Hijrah.

Overview Medina currently has a population of more than 1,300,000 people (2006). It was originally known as Yathrib which was founded by Jewish refugees who fled the aftermath of the war with the Romans, but later the city's name was changed to Madīnat al-Nabī "city of the prophet". Medina is celebrated for containing the mosque of Muhammad, and so ranks as the second holiest city of Islam, after Mecca. Medina is 210 miles north of Mecca and about 120 mi from the Red Sea coast. It is situated in the most fertile part of all the Hejaz territory, the streams of the vicinity tending to converge in this locality. An immense plain extends to the south; in every direction the view is bounded by hills and mountains.

The city forms an oval, surrounded by a strong wall, 30 to 40 feet high, that dates from the 12th century C.E., and is flanked with towers, while on a rock, stands a castle. Of its four gates, the Bab-al-Salam, or Egyptian gate, is remarkable for its beauty. Beyond the walls of the city, west and south are suburbs consisting of low houses, yards, gardens ,and plantations. These suburbs have also walls and gates.

Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (Mosque of the prophet) stands at the east of the city and resembles the mosque at Mecca on a smaller scale. Its courtyard is almost 500 ft. in length, the dome is high with three picturesque minarets . The tomb of Muhammad, who wafat (past away) and was buried here in 632 C.E., is enclosed with a screen of iron filigree, at the south side of which the hajji goes through his devotions, for all of which he pays, but is consoled with the assurance that one prayer here is as good as a thousand elsewhere. [2]

The tombs of Fatimah (Muhammad's daughter) and Abu Bakr (first caliph and the father of Muhammad's wife, Aisha), and of Umar (Umar ibn Khattab), the second caliph, are also here. The mosque dates back to the time of Muhammad, but has been twice burned and reconstructed.

Medina 's religious significance in Islam Medina 's importance as a religious site derives from the presence of the 'Tomb of Prophet Muhammad'. The mosque was built on a site adjacent to Muhammad's home, and as Muslims believe that prophets must be buried at the very same place they leave this mortal world, Muhammad was thus buried in his house. The tomb later became part of the mosque when it was expanded by the Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid I. The first mosque of Islam is also located in Medina and is known as Masjid Quba, (the Quba Mosque). It was destroyed by lightning, probably about 850 C.E., and the graves were almost forgotten. In 892 the place was cleared up, the tombs located and a fine mosque built, which was destroyed by fire in 1257 C.E. and almost immediately rebuilt. It was restored by Qaitbay, the Egyptian ruler, in 1487.

Like Mecca, the city of Medina only permits Muslims to enter, although the haram (area closed to non-Muslims) of Medina is much smaller than that of Mecca, with the result that many facilities on the outskirts of Medina are open to non-Muslims, whereas in Mecca the area closed to non-Muslims extends well beyond the limits of the built-up area. Both cities' numerous mosques are the destination for large numbers of Muslims on their Hajj (annual pilgrimage). Hundreds of thousands of Muslims come to Medina annually to visit the 'Tomb of Prophet' and to worship at mosques in a unified celebration. Muslims believe that praying once in the Mosque of the Prophet is equal to praying at least 1000 times in any other mosque.

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