Mosque of the Prophet

Located in the city of Medina, the Mosque of the Prophet (the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi) was originally built in 622 AD. It is the second largest mosque (and the second holiest in Islam to both Sunni and Shia Muslims) in the world after the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca. The third holiest is the Al Aqsa Mosque located in Jerusalem, Israel. Its towering minarets, from which the faithful are called to prayer five times a day, dominate the city's skyline. The Green Dome of the Prophet is directly over the revered Tomb of Mohammed that has never been disturbed through the centuries of repair, reconstruction, and enlargements.

While the Green Dome of the Prophet sits on the flat roof in splendid isolation, there are 24 other smaller white domes over the prayer spaces on either side of the mosque. They are each perforated with two holes, providing diffused light to illuminate the interior. When the roof is in use for prayer, these domes slide out on metal tracks to shade the roof and create light wells in the prayer hall.

The Mosque of the Prophet was established by the Prophet himself on land next door to his home, after his Hijra (emigration) from Mecca to Medina. This Hijra has since marked the beginning of the Islamic calendar. Originally, the mosque's prayer space faced north towards the holy city of Jerusalem, as were the prayer spaces of all Islamic mosques of the time. The orientation of the prayer space (qibla) was set to face south toward Mecca after the prophet's revelation, as all prayer spaces have been set since. The mosque became the tomb of Mohammed after his death in 632.

The Mosque of the Prophet is more than 100 times larger than the original mosque built by the Prophet, and its enclosure can accommodate a staggering half a million worshippers. The sacred nature of the mosque is because it is the final resting place and tomb of Mohammed the Prophet. Two other early Muslim leaders, Abu Bakr and Umar, who were both born in Mecca, are buried in a neighboring area of the mosque. There is an empty tomb next to the Prophet's that many believe awaits Jesus, whom Muslims also revere as a holy man.

The Green Dome of the Prophet is the structure's most notable feature, and it is believed a dome was built over the tomb as early as the 678, only a short time after the Prophet's death. It was burned in the late ninth century. The existing dome was constructed in 1817, and painted green in 1839. It was after the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that King Abdul Aziz and King Faisal enlarged the Mosque of the Prophet to its current huge proportions. The Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) is the single largest pilgrimage in the world, involving several million faithful Muslims. It is an obligatory journey for all Muslims who are physically and financially able to embark on it. Pilgrims traditionally travel in groups to symbolize unity, and historic gathering points include Damascus in Syria and Cairo in Egypt. While only the visit to Mecca (where huge numbers of pilgrims circle the huge square stone Kaaba) is considered obligatory, many of the faithful also visit the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina as well as the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

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