Sacred Cities; Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem

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(part 1 of 2) Description:  The importance of the sacred cities and why they hold a special place in the hearts of all Muslims. Objective · ...

(part 1 of 2)

Description: The importance of the sacred cities and why they hold a special place in the hearts of all Muslims.
Objective
·       To understand why the three sacred cities are important.
Arabic Terms
·       Masjid - the Arabic term for mosque.
·       Sahabah - the plural form of “Sahabi,” which translates to Companions.   A sahabi, as the word is commonly used today, is someone who saw Prophet Muhammad, believed in him and died as a Muslim.
·       Kabah - The cube-shaped structure located in the city of Mecca.   It serves as a focal point towards which all Muslims face when praying.
·       Hajj - A pilgrimage to Mecca where the pilgrim performs a set of rituals.   The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, which every adult Muslim must undertake at least once in their life if they can afford it and are physically able.
·       Qiblah - The direction one faces during the formal prayers.
Sacred-Cities-Part-1.jpgOne of the sahabah once asked Prophet Muhammad which was the first masjid built on earth.  He replied, “The Sacred Mosque in Mecca”.  “Which was next?” the sahabi asked and the Prophet replied “Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem”.[1]
Prophet Muhammad advised his followers not to prepare for a religious journey except to three mosques.[2]
These three mosques are the three holiest sites in Islam and are situated in three sacred cities, Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.  All three cities are in the Middle East, two in present day Saudi Arabia and the other in the Holy Land, now known as either Palestine or Israel.  In two lessons we will look closely at the significance of the three cities and discuss what they mean to Muslims around the globe.

Mecca

Mecca is home to the largest masjid in the world, Masjid Al-Haraam (The Sacred Mosque).  It surrounds the Kabah, a cube shaped structure that Muslims believe is the world’s first house of worship.  In the 21st century the masjid has a large outdoor terrace with white marble floors that reflect the bright light during the day and are floodlit at night.   It is a huge space that allows for the influx of up to 4 million people in the Hajj season.  It is a space that is always awake and where people from all over the globe congregate to spend their days and nights in worship and contemplation.   Mecca nowadays is a far cry from its humble beginnings.
The area in which Mecca stands has been the subjects of stories stretching back to the very beginning of time.  Both the Quran and the Bible mention Mecca’s earlier name of Becca as a place of worship.  “…Blessed are those whose strength is in You who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.  As they pass through the valley of Becca, they make it a place of springs…”[3]
“Verily the first house of worship appointed for mankind was at Becca…” (Quran 3:96)
The first Muslims prayed towards Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem.   While in exile in Medina Prophet Muhammad received a revelation from God instructing him to turn towards the Kabah.   Thus it became the qibla for Muslims throughout the world.  The historians and scholars of Islam have differed on who built the Kabah.  Some say that it was built by the angels.   Others say the father of humankind, Adam built the Kabah but over many centuries it fell into disrepair only to be rebuilt by Prophet Ibrahim and his son Ishmael.   All agree that the Kabah was either built or rebuilt by Prophet Ibrahim.
“And remember when Ibrahim and his son were raising the foundations of the House (the Kabah at Mecca), (saying), ‘Our Lord! Accept this service from us.  Verily, You are the All-Hearer, the All-Knower’” (Quran 2:127)
Prophet Muhammad was born in the city of Mecca in 570 BCE.  At that time Mecca was an oasis on the trade routes between Yemen and the Mediterranean Sea.  There is historical evidence indicating that goods from all over the known world flowed through the markets of Mecca.   And pilgrims used to come to visit the Kabah.  At that historical point in time, it was filled with statues and idols.   
Each year pilgrims travelled to Mecca and Prophet Muhammad’s tribe, the Quraish[4], made a very good living by trading with the pilgrims.  Muhammad’s prophethood put their very lucrative livelihoods into jeopardy and this was one of a complex myriad of reasons why they wrought havoc upon the Muslims and eventually drove them from the city.   
Prophet Muhammad once said of Mecca, “By Allah, you are the best and the dearest of all lands of Allah to Him.  Had I not been driven out of you, I would have never left you.”[5]And, he once observed, “Allah, not the people, has made Mecca a sanctuary; therefore, any person who believes in Allah and the Last Day should neither shed blood in it nor cut down its trees.”[6] 
When Prophet Muhammad returned to Mecca he took control of the city with great diplomacy, and with boundless mercy towards its inhabitants.  He purged the Kabah of idols and the Arabian Peninsula of any worship except to Allah.   Mecca took its place in history as the spiritual centre of Islam. 

Medina

Sacred-Cities-Part-1_b.jpgMedina, also in present day Saudi Arabia, is the second most sacred city in Islam.  Its importance derives from the presence of Masjid Al-Nabawi (also called the Prophet's Mosque).  It is on the site of Prophet Muhammad’s home in Medina and it is also the place where he is buried.  Medina also contains two other significant masjidsMasjid Al-Quba the first mosque built when the Prophet and the sahabah fled to Medina, then known as Yathrib, and Masjid Al-Qiblatain built on the site where Prophet Muhammad received the revelation to change the qibla direction from Jerusalem to Mecca.  Al-Baqi, the cemetery where several members of Prophet Muhammad’s family, Caliphs and scholars are buried, is also within the precincts of Medina.


Footnotes:
[1] Saheeh Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim
[2] Saheeh Bukhari
[3] Psalm 84
[4] Quraish is the name of the most powerful tribe in Mecca at the advent of Islam and the tribe to which Prophet Muhammad belonged.   It is also the name of a chapter of the Quran.
[5] At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasai
[6] Saheeh Bukhari & Saheeh Muslim

Sacred Cities; Mecca, Medina, & Jerusalem (part 2 of 2)

Description: The second lesson covering the sacred cities Medina and Jerusalem and why they hold a special place in the hearts of Muslims.
Objective
·       To understand the importance of the second and third most sacred cities, Medina and Jerusalem.
Arabic Terms
·       Masjid - the Arabic term for mosque.
·       Sahabah - the plural form of "Sahabi," which translates to Companions.  A sahabi, as the word is commonly used today, is someone who saw Prophet Muhammad, believed in him and died as a Muslim.
·       Qiblah - The direction one faces during the formal prayers.
·       Kabah - The cube-shaped structure located in the city of Mecca.  It serves as a focal point towards which all Muslims face when praying.

Medina (continued)

Sacred-Cities-part-2.jpgThe second most sacred city in Islam is Medina. It is in the western region of Saudi Arabia in the area known as the Hejaz. Medina is the Arabic word for city and it is known as “the city” meaning it is the city of Prophet Muhammad. It is also sometimes known as Medina Munawwarah meaning the city of enlightenment.  Originally called Yathrib, Medina is the city to which Prophet Muhammad and the fledgling Muslim community migrated when life became too difficult in Mecca.
The original Prophet's Mosque was an open-air building with a raised platform for sermons. It was a square enclosure of approximately 30 by 35 meters and was built from palm trunks with mud walls. It could be accessed through three doors and its basic plan has since been adopted in the building of many other mosques throughout the world.
The Masjid also contained a shaded area to the south and a prayer area facing north towards Jerusalem. When the qiblah was changed to Mecca, the Masjid was re-oriented to face Mecca. This space also served as a community centre, court, and school. In only seven years the Masjid space was doubled to accommodate the ever increasing number of Muslims.
It is here in the Masjid that the tomb of Prophet Muhammad is located. Because prophets are generally buried where they die, Prophet Muhammad was buried in the home of his wife Aisha. This was originally attached to the Masjid but in the intervening centuries theMasjid has expanded to such a degree that even the cemetery known as Al-Baqi, once on the outside of the city, now marks the outer precincts of the Masjid.  The graves of some of Prophet Muhammad’s family members and many sahabah and early generations of scholars can be found here.
One of the most significant and important reasons why Muslims all over the world long to visit this city filled with light and learning is the fact that it has many blessings.
"The person who offers 40 prayers consecutively in my Masjid, without missing a prayer in between, will secure immunity from the fire of Hell and other torments and also from hypocrisy."[1] 
Prophet Muhammad said, "I was ordered to migrate to a town which will swallow (conquer) other towns and is called Yathrib and that is Medina, and it turns out (bad) persons as a furnace removes the impurities of iron.” And he also said, "There are angels guarding the entrances (or roads) of Medina, neither plague nor the Dajjaal (Antichrist) will be able to enter it.”[2]
Medina and its surrounds are filled with the places and sights that are infused with Islamic history. The site of the Battle of Badr is approximately 20 miles south west of Medina, and four miles north is the site of the Battle of Uhud. Also within a short distance is the place where the Battle of the Ditch was fought.  Masjid Al-Quba the first mosque built  in Islam and whose foundation stone was laid by Prophet Muhammad himself can be found here in Medina, so too is Masjid Al-Qiblatain, the mosque built on the  site where the revelation  to change the qiblah direction came. Before this revelation the first Muslims prayed facing towards Jerusalem.

Jerusalem

The city of Jerusalem is the third most sacred site in Islam. According to Islamic history, Prophet Jacob, built a masjid on the Al-Aqsa site approximately 40 years after his grandfather Prophet Abraham built the Kabah in Mecca. It was later rebuilt or expanded by King Solomon, a man considered by Islam to also be a Prophet.
Glorified be He Who took His slave on a journey by night from Masjid Al-Haraam to Masjid Al-Aqsa, the neighbourhood whereof We have blessed, in order that We might show him of Our signs.  Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer. (Quran 17:1)
Muslims are much attached to Jerusalem because God refers to it in the Quran as “the neighbourhood whereof we have blessed”.  A compound called Masjid Al-Aqsa lies within the city of Jerusalem.  The name Al-Aqsa translates to the farthest masjid. However there are multiple mosques and centres of learning on the 144,000 square metre site including the most identifiable building in Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock.
The golden shining dome stands out on the Jerusalem skyline and can be recognized by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In an event known as the Night Journey and Ascension, Prophet Muhammad ascended to the lowest heaven from a rock that is now found inside this most famous symbol.  On the same journey Prophet Muhammad led the previous prophets in prayer and that site is on the other side of Al-Aqsa. More about the Night Journey and Ascension can be found here. http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/1511/
When the direction of prayer was changed from Jerusalem to Mecca the significance of Jerusalem was in no way diminished; the change merely represented one more step in the establishment of the message of Islam. Jerusalem’s immense  worth in the eyes of Muslims continued then, as it does now.
One prayer in Masjid Al-Aqsa is worth 250 prayers elsewhere, excluding the Prophet’s Masjid in Medina where one prayer is the equivalent of 1,000 prayers and the Sacred Masjid in Mecca where one prayer contains the reward of 100,000 prayers.[3]


Footnotes:
[1] Imam Ahmad
[2] Saheeh Bukhari
[3] Saheeh Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim

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