Medina (; , , “the radiant city” (officially), or ), also officially transliterated as Madinah on Saudi maps and in modern Islamic literature generally, is a modern city in the Hejaz region of western Saudi Arabia, and serves as the capital of Al Madinah Province. An alternative name is Madinat Al-Nabi ("The City of the Prophet," i.e. Muhammad). The Arabic word madinah simply means "city." Before the advent of Islam, the city was known as Yathrib but was personally renamed by Muhammad.
It is the second holiest city in Islam after Mecca and the burial place of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Medina is critically significant in Islamic History for being where Muhammad's final religious base was established after the Hijrah and where he died in 632 AD/11 AH. Medina was the power base of Islam in its first century, being where the early Muslim community (ummah) developed under the Prophet's leadership, then under the leadership of the first four caliphs of Islam: Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman and Ali.
Medina is home to the three oldest mosques in Islam, namely Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (The Prophet's Mosque), Quba Mosque (the first mosque in Islam's history), and Masjid al-Qiblatain (The Mosque of the Two Qiblahs - the mosque where the direction of Muslim prayer, or qiblah, was switched from Jerusalem to Mecca).
Similarly to Mecca, entrance to the sacred core of Medina (but not the entire city) is restricted to Muslims only; non-Muslims are permitted neither to enter nor cross through the city center.
The first mention of the city, under its old Arabic name Yathrib, dates to the 6th century BC. It appears in Assyrian texts (namely, the Nabonidus Chronicle) as Iatribu. In the time of Ptolemy the oasis was known as Lathrippa. Post-Muhammad, of course, the city was renamed Madinat al-Nabi, or "City of the Prophet," shortened to Medina.
Into the older Arab town of Yathrib, Jews arrived as refugees in the 2nd century AD in the wake of the Jewish–Roman wars. There were three prominent Jewish tribes that inhabited the city into the 7th century AD: the Banu Qaynuqa, the Banu Qurayza, and Banu Nadir. Ibn Khordadbeh later reported that during the Persian Empire's domination in Hejaz, the Banu Qurayza served as tax collectors for the shah.
Most modern historians accept the claim of the Muslim sources that after the revolt, the Jewish tribes became clients of the Aus and the Khazraj. However, according to scholar of Islam William Montgomery Watt, the clientship of the Jewish tribes is not borne out by the historical accounts of the period prior to 627, and he maintained that the Jews retained a measure of political independence.
Early Muslim chronicler Ibn Ishaq tells of a pre-Islamic conflict between the last Yemenite king of the Himyarite Kingdom and the residents of Yathrib. When the king was passing by the oasis, the residents killed his son, and the Yemenite ruler threatened to exterminate the people and cut down the palms. According to Ibn Ishaq, he was stopped from doing so by two rabbis from the Banu Qurayza tribe, who implored the king to spare the oasis because it was the place "to which a prophet of the Quraysh would migrate in time to come, and it would be his home and resting-place." The Yemenite king thus did not destroy the town and converted to Judaism. He took the rabbis with him, and in Mecca, they reportedly recognized the Ka'ba as a temple built by Abraham and advised the king "to do what the people of Mecca did: to circumambulate the temple, to venerate and honour it, to shave his head and to behave with all humility until he had left its precincts." On approaching Yemen, tells ibn Ishaq, the rabbis demonstrated to the local people a miracle by coming out of a fire unscathed and the Yemenites accepted Judaism.
Eventually the Banu Aus and the Banu Khazraj became hostile to each other and by the time of Muhammad's Hijra (emigration) to Medina in 622 AD/1 AH, they had been fighting for 120 years and were the sworn enemies of each other. The Banu Nadir and the Banu Qurayza were allied with the Aus, while the Banu Qaynuqa sided with the Khazraj. They fought a total of four wars.
Their last and bloodiest battle was the Battle of Bu'ath that was fought a few years before the arrival of Muhammad. The outcome of the battle was inconclusive, and the feud continued. Abd-Allah ibn Ubayy, one Khazraj chief, had refused to take part in the battle, which earned him a reputation for equity and peacefulness. Until the arrival of Muhammad, he was the most respected inhabitant of Yathrib. To solve the ongoing feud, concerned residents of the city met secretly with Muhammad in Aqaba, inviting him and his small band of believers to come to Yathrib, where the Prophet could serve as disinterested mediator between the factions and his community could practice its faith freely.
In 622 AD/1 AH, Muhammad and around 70 Meccan Muhajirun believers left Mecca for sanctuary in Yathrib, an event that transformed the religious and political landscape of the city completely; the longstanding enmity between the Aus and Khazraj tribes was dampened as many of the two Arab tribes and some local Jews embraced Islam. Muhammad, linked to the Khazraj through his great-grandmother, was agreed on as civic leader. The Muslim converts native to Yathrib of whatever background—pagan Arab or Jewish—were called Ansar ("the Patrons" or "the Helpers").
According to Ibn Ishaq, the local pagan Arab tribes, the Muslim Muhajirun from Mecca, the local Muslims (Ansar), and the Jews of the area signed an agreement, the so-called Constitution of Medina, which committed all parties to mutual cooperation under the leadership of "Muhammad the Prophet". The nature of this document as recorded by Ibn Ishaq and transmitted by Ibn Hisham is the subject of dispute among modern Western historians, many of whom maintain that this "treaty" is possibly a collage of different agreements, oral rather than written, of different dates, and that it is not clear exactly when they were made. Other scholars, however, both Western and Muslim, argue that the text of the agreement—whether a single document originally or several—is possibly one of the oldest Islamic texts we possess.
The Battle of Badr
The Battle of Badr was a key battle in the early days of Islam and a turning point in Muhammad's struggle with his opponents among the Quraysh in Mecca.
In the spring of 624, Muhammad received word from his intelligence sources that a trade caravan, commanded by Abu Sufyan ibn Harb and guarded by thirty to forty men, was traveling from Syria back to Mecca. Muhammad gathered an army of 313 men, the largest army the Muslims had put in the field yet. However, many early Muslim sources, including the Qur'an, indicate that no serious fighting was expected, and the future Caliph Uthman ibn Affan stayed behind to care for his sick wife.
As the caravan approached Medina, Abu Sufyan began hearing from travelers and riders about Muhammad's planned ambush. He sent a messenger named Damdam to Mecca to warn the Quraysh and get reinforcements. Alarmed, the Quraysh assembled an army of 900–1,000 men to rescue the caravan. Many of the Qurayshi nobles, including Amr ibn Hishām, Walid ibn Utba, Shaiba, and Umayyah ibn Khalaf, joined the army. However, some of the army was to later return to Mecca before the battle.
The battle started with champions from both armies emerging to engage in combat. The Muslims sent out Ali, Ubaydah ibn al-Harith (Obeida), and Hamza ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib. The Muslims dispatched the Meccan champions in a three-on-three melee, Hamzah killed his victim on very first strike although Ubaydah was mortally wounded.
Now both armies began firing arrows at each other. Two Muslims and an unknown number of Quraysh were killed. Before the battle started, Muhammad had given orders for the Muslims to attack with their ranged weapons, and only engage the Quraysh with melee weapons when they advanced. Now he gave the order to charge, throwing a handful of pebbles at the Meccans in what was probably a traditional Arabian gesture while yelling "Defaced be those faces!" The Muslim army yelled "Yā manṣūr amit!" and rushed the Qurayshi lines. The Meccans, understrength and unenthusiastic about fighting, promptly broke and ran. The battle itself only lasted a few hours and was over by the early afternoon. The Qur'an describes the force of the Muslim attack in many verses, which refer to thousands of angels descending from Heaven at Badr to slaughter the Quraysh. Early Muslim sources take this account literally, and there are several hadith where Muhammad discusses the Angel Jibreel and the role he played in the battle.
Ubaydah ibn al-Harith (Obeida) was given the honour of "he who shot the first arrow for Islam" as Abu Sufyan ibn Harb altered course to flee the attack. In retaliation for this attack Abu Sufyan ibn Harb requested an armed force from Mecca.
Throughout the winter and spring of 623 other raiding parties were sent by Muhammad from Medina.
The Battle of Uhud
In 625, Abu Sufyan ibn Harb, King of Mecca, who paid tax to the Byzantine empire regularly, once again led a Meccan force against Medina. Muhammad marched out to meet the force but before reaching the battle, about one third of the troops under Abd-Allah ibn Ubayy withdrew. With a smaller force, the Muslim army had to find a strategy to gain the upper hand. A group of archers were ordered to stay on a hill to keep an eye on the Meccan's cavalry forces and to provide protection at the rear of the Muslim's army. As the battle heated up, the Meccans were forced to somewhat retreat. The battle front was pushed further and further away from the archers, whom, from the start of the battle, had really nothing to do but watch. In their growing impatience to be part of the battle, and seeing that they were somewhat gaining advantage over the Kafiruns, these archers decided to leave their posts to pursue the retreating Meccans. A small party, however, stayed behind; pleading all along to the rest to not disobey their commanders' orders. But their words were lost amongst the enthusiastic yodels of their comrades.
However, the Meccans' retreat was actually a manufactured manouvre that paid off. The hillside position had been a great advantage to the Muslim forces, and they had to be lured off their posts for the kafiruns to turn the table over. Seeing that their strategy had actually worked, the Meccans cavalry forces went around the hill and re-appeared behind the pursuing archers. Thus, ambushed in the plain between the hill and the front line, the archers were systematically slaughtered, watched upon by their desperate comrades who stayed behind up in the hill, shooting arrows to thwart the raiders, but to little effects. So they suffered defeat in the Battle of Uhud.
However, the Meccans did not capitalize on their victory by invading Medina and returned to Mecca. The Medinans suffered heavy losses, and Muhammad was injured.
The Battle of the Trench
In 627, Abu Sufyan ibn Harb once more led Meccan forces against Medina. Because the people of Medina had dug a trench to further protect the city, this event became known as the Battle of the Trench. After a protracted siege and various skirmishes, the Meccans withdrew again. During the siege, Abu Sufyan ibn Harb had contacted the remaining Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayza and formed an agreement with them, to attack the defenders from behind the lines. It was however discovered by the Muslims and thwarted. This was in breach of the Constitution of Medina and after the Meccan withdrawal, Muhammad immediately marched against the Qurayza and laid siege to their strongholds. The Jews eventually surrendered. Some members of the Banu Aus now interceded on behalf of their old allies and Muhammad agreed to the appointment of one of their chiefs, Sa'd ibn Mua'dh, as judge. Sa'ad judged by Jewish Law that all male members of the tribe should be killed and the women and children enslaved as was the law stated in the Old Testament for treason.(Deutoronomy) This action was conceived of as a defensive measure to ensure that the Muslim community could be confident of its continued survival in Medina. The historian Robert Mantran argues that from this point of view it was successful — from this point on, the Muslims were no longer primarily concerned with survival but with expansion and conquest.
Capital City of Early Islam and the Caliphate
In the ten years following the Hijra, Medina formed the base from which Muhammad and the Muslim army attacked and were attacked, and it was from here that he marched on Mecca, entering it without battle in 629 AD/8 AH, all parties acquiescing to his leadership. Afterwards, however, despite Muhammad's tribal connection to Mecca and the ongoing importance of the Meccan kaaba for Islamic pilgrimage (hajj), Muhammad returned to Medina, which remained for some years the most important city of Islam and the capital of the early Caliphate.
Pagan Yathrib was renamed Medina from "Madinat al-Nabi" ("city of the Prophet" in Arabic) in honor of Muhammad's prophethood and death there. (Alternatively, Lucien Gubbay suggests the name Medina could also have been a derivative from the Aramaic word Medinta, which the Jewish inhabitants could have used for the city.)
Under the first three Caliphs, Abu Bakr, Omar, and Othman, Medina was the capital of a rapidly increasing Muslim Empire. During the period of Othman, the third caliph, a party of Arabs from Egypt, disgruntled at his political decisions, attacked Medina in 656 AD/35 AH and murdered him in his own home . Ali, the fourth caliph, changed the capital of the caliphate from Medina to Kufa in Iraq. After that, Medina's importance dwindled, becoming more a place of religious importance than of political power.
World War I to Saudi control
In the beginning of 20th century during World War I, Medina witnessed one of the longest sieges in history. Medina was a city of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Local rule was in the hands of the Hashemite clan as Sharifs or Emirs of Mecca. Fakhri Pasha was the Ottoman governor of Medina. Ali bin Hussein, the Sharif of Mecca and leader of the Hashemite clan, revolted against the caliph in Istanbul and sided with Great Britain. The city of Medina was besieged by the Sharif's forces and Fakhri Pasha tenaciously held on during the Siege of Medina from 1916, but on 10 January 1919 he was forced to surrender.
After the First World War, the Hashemite Sayyid Hussein bin Ali was proclaimed King of an independent Hejaz, but soon after, in 1924, he was defeated by Ibn Saud, who integrated Medina and the whole of the Hejaz into the modern kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Today, Medina ("Madinah" officially in Saudi documents), in addition to being the second most important Islamic pilgrimage destination after Mecca, is an important regional capital of the western Saudi Arabian province of Al Madinah. In addition to the sacred core of the old city, which is off limits to non-Muslims, Medina is a modern, multi-ethnic city inhabited by Saudi Arabs and an increasing number of Muslim and non-Muslim expatriate workers: other Arab nationalities (Egyptians, Jordanians, Lebanese, etc.), South Asians ( Bangladeshis, Indians, Pakistanis, etc.), and Filipinos.