The Prophet's Mosque: An insight into Islam’s second-holiest site
Muslims are attached to many sacred places, mostly burial sites of Islamic figures that are regularly visited by devotees
Muslims are attached to many sacred places, mostly burial sites of Islamic figures that are regularly visited by devotees. We can observe this from Morocco all the way to Indonesia.
But all those places are believed to derive their sacredness from another source, the Saudi holy city of Madinah – the site of a deadly suicide bombing on Monday that sent shockwaves across the world.
While Muslims pray towards Makkah five times a day - home to the Kaaba - and millions flock to it to perform the hajj and umrah pilgrimages, it is Madinah that is the Muslim world's other focal point - home to the Prophet's Mosque, Islam's second holiest site. Many pilgrims travel from Makkah to Madinah to visit the mosque due to its connections to the life of the prophet.
But to understand the significance of the Prophet’s Mosque, one must be fully introduced to Madinah.
Before Prophet Mohammad's arrival to the city in 622 C.E. it was known as Yathrib. After he arrived, fleeing persecution and seeking a new community of the faithful, the city was renamed to Madinah which literally means “the city.”
It was actually less of a city and more of “a collection of scattered settlements surrounded by groves of date-palms and cultivated fields” but would become for about 20 years the capital of the new Muslim empire.
It was the center of politics in the Muslim community till 656 C.E. after which the political and cultural center of Islam moved to the Levant and Iraq. But its spiritual significance as a focal point of religious experiences has continued till today.
The most important site in Madinah is without doubt the resting place of the Prophet. Muslims may disagree on how to conceptualize the Prophet, but they all agree about his central place in their lives.
Inside the Prophet’s Mosque
After the prophet’s arrival to Madinah, he set upon building the mosque. He and his companions also built their chambers around it. He would ultimately be buried in one of his chambers, that which had his wife Aisha. Next to him, two of his companions would also be buried: Abu Bakr and Omar.
The mosque was originally around 1000 m² and from the beginning of the 8th C.E. the mosque would undergo various expansion projects, the last of which was in King Abdullah’s reign.
At present, the mosque covers an area of 98,000 m². As a result of those expansions, the prophet’s chamber was incorporated in the mosque structure. In 1282 C.E. a dome was built on his chamber to distinguish its roof from the roof of the other areas of the mosque. The burial place itself is not visible. It has a wall built around it, and around that wall there are the golden grills we see today.
Next to prophet’s chamber is what has been described as a “piece of paradise.” A small area of around 300 m² which the prophet designated by saying: “Between my house and my pulpit lays a garden from the gardens of Paradise.” Muslims have long debated the meaning of this, but have all agreed on the significance of that place. It is almost impossible to find a place there as worshipers compete for the limited space available.
To the east of the prophet’s chamber is a large cemetery called al-Baqi. It is considered the most sacred burial place on earth.
Al-Baqi holds a number of the most important figures in the Prophet’s life and in Islamic history: his son Ibrahim, his daughter Fatimah, his grandson al-Hassan, his wives, score of his companions, among other members of the prophet’s family and Muslim sages across the centuries.
Many Muslims say they feel more serenity in Madinah than anywhere else in the world, due to being surrounded by the burial sites of those who founded Islam under the leadership of the prophet.