In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Medina

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Topography
  • Post-Abbasid History
  • Medina in Art

Islamic Studies Medina
Harry Munt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 November 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 November 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0234


Medina is a town in the Hijaz, a region that runs alongside the Red Sea in what is today the west of Saudi Arabia. It is approximately one hundred miles inland from Yanbuʿ, the nearest major port on the Red Sea, and just over two hundred miles north of Mecca. The town is in a valley, surrounded to the west, south, and east by extensive tracts of volcanic rocks as well as by a number of mountains. The area within this valley is itself, however, fairly flat and parts of it are—by Hijazi standards—relatively amenable to cultivation. Settlement in this valley is attested already by the middle of the first millennium BCE, at which point the area was known by the name Yathrib. There is very little extant contemporary information about Yathrib before the 7th century CE, but it was in the year 622 that the Prophet Muhammad undertook his famous emigration (Ar. hijra) from Mecca to Yathrib, inaugurating a new era in the town’s history. At some point, although it is not clear precisely when, this new significance was marked by a change of name to madinat al-nabi, “the Prophet’s city,” from which is derived the English name Medina. For the three decades following Muhammad’s death in Medina in 632, the town was the center of the new and expanding caliphate, although from the accession of the Umayyad caliph Muʿawiya in 661 onward, Medina was never again the seat of a reigning caliph. The town has remained, however, as an important local administrative and economic center, bolstered to a significant degree by its gradual emergence as a holy city, centered around the Prophet’s Mosque in the middle of the town, which contains Muhammad’s grave. The Prophet’s Mosque in Medina has come to be recognized almost universally among Muslims as the Islamic world’s second holiest site, after the Kaaba in Mecca, and it is a pilgrimage destination for an ever-increasing number of Muslims from around the world. This bibliography concentrates in particular on all these aspects of Medina’s history as well as finishing with some further suggestions of readings on Medina’s wider significance for Muslims outside of Arabia.

General Overviews and Topography

The second edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam (Bearman, et al. 1954–2006), perhaps the most fundamental reference work for Islamic history and studies in general, contains a number of important entries on many aspects of Medina’s history. Likewise, a handful of chapters in the New Cambridge History of Islam (Cook 2010) provide more analytical surveys of key developments in Medina’s history. There are a number of geographical surveys of Medina and its surrounding area, of which perhaps the most useful remains Makki 1982. Wüstenfeld 1873 is an admirable and still useful compilation of material on Medina’s topography from medieval Arabic sources. Lecker 2010 (cited under Topography) offers a useful map of Medina, with a particular focus on sites important in the town’s pre- and very early Islamic history, but al-Husayni 2005 is the most comprehensive historical map of the town. Three very helpful guides in Arabic to a number of significant historical sites in the town, some of which survived until fairly recently, are ʿAbd al-Ghani 1999, al-Ansari 1935 and al-Bakri and Taha 2004.

  • ʿAbd al-Ghani, Muhammad Ilyas. Al-Masājid al-athariyya fī al-Madīna al-munawwara. 2d ed. Medina: Matabiʿ al-Rashid, 1999.

    A useful survey of many historic mosques in Medina that are mentioned in biographies of Muhammad and in the town’s local histories.

  • al-Ansari, ʿAbd al-Qaddus. Āthār al-Madīna al-munawwara. Medina: al-Maktaba al-ʿIlmiyya, 1935.

    A good, if now slightly dated, introductory discussion of a range of historic sites in Medina, including (but not limited to) residential courts, villas, forts, and mosques, as well as many natural topographic sites that are mentioned in historical sources, including wadis, lava tracts, and mountains. It includes some photographs.

  • al-Bakri, Muhammad Anwar, and Hatim ʿUmar Taha. Baqīʿ al-Gharqad. Medina: Maktabat al-Halabi, 2004.

    A history (with some photographs) of Medina’s principal cemetery, called Baqiʿ al-Gharqad, the historic tombs in which have now been destroyed.

  • Bearman, Peri, Th. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, et al., eds. Encyclopaedia of Islam. 12 vols. 2d ed. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1954–2006.

    Contains a number of entries, some quite substantial, on the history and topography of Medina and its hinterland, as well as on many of the important personalities involved in its history. For an introductory article, see “al-Madīna” by W. M. Watt and R. B. Winder. A third edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam is now underway, but only a relatively small number of articles have been published to date.

  • Cook, Michael, ed. The New Cambridge History of Islam. 6 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    A collection of introductory overviews of a wide range of topics in the history of the Islamic world. Thoughtful surveys of Arabia’s history from the 7th to 21st centuries, which help to contextualize Medina’s history, can be found in Volumes 1 (chapter by Ella Landau-Tasseron), 2 (chapter by Esther Peskes) and 5 (chapters by David Commins and Paul Dresch).

  • Esin, Emel. Mecca the Blessed, Madinah the Radiant. New York: Crown, 1963.

    An aging overview of the history of Mecca and Medina, but with many important images and photographs.

  • al-Husayni, ʿAbd Allah. Al-Kharīṭa al-athariyya li-l-Madīna al-munawwara. Cairo: Majmuʿat Najjar li-l-Tijara wa-al-Tibaʿa, 2005.

    The most significant and comprehensive map to date of Medina, including many of the historic sites mentioned in medieval sources.

  • Makki, Mohamed S. Medina, Saudi Arabia: A Geographic Analysis of the City and Region. Amersham, UK: Avebury, 1982.

    An important and accessible topographical, geological, and climatological study of Medina and its hinterland.

  • Wüstenfeld, Ferdinand. Das Gebiet von Medina: Nach arabischen Geographen beschrieben. Göttingen, Germany: Verlag der Dieterichschen Buchhandlung, 1873.

    Although now very old, this remains an important introduction to the material about Medina’s topography that can be found in medieval Arabic geographies and some of the town’s local histories.

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