Saudi Arabian city, about 355 km/220 mi north of Mecca; population (2004) 918,900. It is the second holiest city in the Islamic world after Mecca, and contains the tomb of Muhammad, a focus for Muslim pilgrims during the hajj (annual pilgrimage).
History In ancient times, Medina was known as Yathrib. In the early Christian centuries it was a centre for Arab Jews. Nothing but their religion distinguished them from the tribes around them.
In AD 622, when Mecca became too dangerous for Muhammad, a group of his followers from Yathrib invited him to take refuge in their town. His flight from Mecca to Yathrib is known as the Hijrah. Muhammad was made welcome and built a mosque, and the town took the name of Medina. Renowned for his wisdom and kindness, Muhammad became the ruler of Medina, and made it the capital of the new Islamic state.
Fighting and unrest continued between Mecca and Medina, until in 627, at the Battle of the Ditch near Medina, Muhammad defeated the Meccans and their allies and forced them to recognize Medina as the leading centre of the new Muslim faith. He died in Medina in 632. Medina remained the capital of the Islamic state until the first Umayyad caliph removed the government to Damascus in 661. After that, Medina became a centre of religious learning and, with Mecca, a centre of commerce.
Features The old city is surrounded by a stone wall that is almost complete. There is an additional walled suburb. The whole is an oval over a kilometre long from east to west, and almost a kilometre from north to south. A notable feature is the Mosque of Quba, the earliest known mosque. The tomb of Muhammad is in the Prophet's Mosque, which Muhammad himself is said to have helped build and which stands on the site of the house of his favourite wife. The present building, with its walls faced with marble or coloured tiles, dates from the 15th century with later additions. The tombs of Muhammad and his first two successors are behind elaborate iron grilles, and the mosque also contains the library of Sheikh al-Islam Arif Hikmat.
Medina also contains the tombs of the caliphs or Muslim leaders Abu Bakr, Umar, and Fatima, Muhammad's daughter.
Economy Medina produces grain and fruit, while small-scale industries include pottery, bricks, tiles, and metalworking.
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