Medina is the second holiest city in Islam and the site of the prophet Muhammad’s death. Medina was first known as Yathrib, dating back to the sixth century BCE. Jewish tribes settled in the city in the second century CE and maintained a strong presence until the coming of Islam. The prophet Muhammad and his followers left Mecca for Medina in 622, an event known as the hijra that marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar. Tribal tensions in the city dissipated as Islam spread and Muhammad united the population—Muslims, pagan Arabs, and Jews—into one community, the first ummah in Islamic history. Medina remained Muhammad’s home for the rest of his life, and his tomb is located in Medina’s Mosque of the Prophet (Al-Masjid al-Nabawi). Medina waned in political importance after the first four caliphs and was incorporated into Saudi Arabia in 1924. Today, the city is a major pilgrimage site, often visited before or after the hajj to Mecca.
Medina’s significance comes from its historical position as the home and final resting place of Muhammad, and its status as the first Islamic state during its rule by the prophet. It was in Medina where Islam first flourished, allowing Muhammad to gain a large following and subdue pagan antagonism from Mecca to solidify Islam’s hold across Arabia. The city holds the first mosque in the world (the Quba Mosque), the mosque where Muhammad switched the Muslim direction of prayer (qibla) from Jerusalem to Mecca (the Mosque of the Two Qiblas), and, most importantly, the mosque where Muhammad is buried and where his house stood (the Mosque of the Prophet). The Saudi king is styled “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” referring to the Sacred Mosque in Mecca and the Mosque of the Prophet, which gives Medina its holy status.