The 'Other' Hajj City

Though not a Hajj requirement, a visit to Medina is an intrinsic part of a pilgrim's sacred journey.

If the most unforgettable and spiritual moments of my Hajj pilgrimage last year were when I first laid eyes on the Ka'ba in the Grand Mosque and the day I spent praying on the blessed plains of Arafat, then a close second was my trip to the city of


and my first glimpse of the

Masjid an Nabi,

the Prophet's Mosque.

I was anxious and excited as we boarded the bus at Medina's small airport. What would I see? How would it feel? "Just watch for it," my husband whispered to me, as our religious group leader lectured us in Arabic on the city's history, the love that The Prophet Muhammad had for it, and what he must have felt as he entered it after fleeing Mecca more than 1,400 years ago.

As our leader's melodious voice rose in the welcoming song that the Medinans are said to have sung to the Prophet, others on our bus joined in. I don't know Arabic, and my Islamic history is weak--but I listened to the song and was moved to tears. And every pilgrim on that bus strained to see the Prophet's Mosque. When the mosque came into view, it was like coming home. And after all the spiritual turmoil I had endured--reconciling my need to do the Hajj with leaving my small children behind--I finally felt a sense of serenity, a feeling of real belonging. Medinah is special that way.

As more than two million Muslims descend on Mecca and its surrounding lands for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, nearly all will also trek a few hundred miles to Medina. There are no special clothes to wear in Medina during the Hajj season, no mantra to recite, no rituals to follow. In fact, visiting Medina and the Prophet's Mosque are not requirements of Hajj.

Hajj always focuses the world's attention on Mecca, the Haram (Grand) Mosque, and the Ka'ba, or House of Allah. And rightly so: Mecca is the birthplace of Islam, where The Prophet Muhammad first received revelations of the Qu'ran. The city is deeply rooted in Islamic history and known to Muslims and non-Muslims around the world.

But ask any Hajj pilgrim what they fondly remember about their experience, and visiting Medina and the Prophet's Mosque is right up there with the Hajj itself. It is intrinsically bound up in the holy pilgrimage, but largely unknown to non-Muslims. So why do most pilgrims place such importance on visiting Medina? The answer rests in Medinah's status as the Prophet's city of refuge, the city where adherents flocked to Islam as his preaching deepened.

It also has to do with the Prophet's status as a flesh-and-blood man who did the most of any human for Islam. Allah--the same God known to Christians and Jews--is an unknown entity: all-powerful, almighty. Muslims go to Mecca and perform the Hajj because we love Allah, because He commanded us to do so, because it is the ultimate path to connect with Him.

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