The New International Encyclopædia/Medina

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

MEDI'NA (Ar. al-Medinah, the city; or more fully Medinat al-Nabi, the city of the Prophet; called also Tayyibah, the perfumed, or al-Munawwarah, the illumined; before the time of Mohammed, known as Yathrib, whence it is mentioned by Ptolemy as Jathrippa). One of the sacred cities of Islam, the scene of Mohammed's labors after his flight from Mecca (see Mohammed; Hejira), and the place of his tomb. It is situated about 250 miles north of Mecca, and 140 north by east of the port of Yambu on the Red Sea. The population was estimated by Burton at the time of his visit (1852) at 16,000; a later estimate places it at 40,000. The city originally contained a large Aramean population; but in the third century A.D. the tribes of Aus and Khazraj emigrated thither from Yemen, and gave it an Arabic character; later they became the ‘helpers’ (Anṣār) of Mohammed when he fled from Mecca. Medina also contained a large Jewish population, who were influential in the early days of Islam, but whom the Prophet severely repressed. It was the capital of the new Mohammedan power until Moawiyah exchanged it for Damascus. It consists of three principal parts — a town, a fort, and suburbs of about the same extent as the town itself, from whicli they are separated by a wide space. Medina forms an irregular oval within a walled inclosure, 35 to 40 feet in height, and flanked by thirty towers — a fortification which renders the city the chief stronghold of Hedjaz. Two of its four gates, viz. the Bab al-Jum‘ah (Assembly Gate, in the eastern wall), and the Bab al-Miṣri (Egyptian Gate), are massive buildings with double towers. The streets, between fifty and sixty in number, are narrow and paved only in a few places. The houses are flat-roofed and double-storied, and are built of a basaltic scoria, burned brick, and palmwood. Very few public buildings of any importance are to be noticed except the mosque, erected near the spot where Mohammed died. It is of smaller dimensions than that of Mecca, being a parallelogram, 420 feet long and 340 feet broad, with a spacious central area called al-Ṣaḥn, which is surrounded by a peristyle, with numerous rows of pillars. The Mausoleum, or Ḥujrah, itself behind the mosque proper, is an irregular square, 50 to 55 feet in extent, situated in the southeast corner of the building, and separated from the walls of the mosque by a passage about 26 feet broad. A large gilt crescent above the ‘green dome’ springing from a series of globes, surmounts the Hujrah, a glimpse into which is only attainable through a little opening, called the Prophet's Window; but nothing more is visible to the profane eye than costly carpets or hangings, with three inscriptions in large gold letters stating that behind them lie the bodies of the Prophet of Allah and the two caliphs (Abu Bekr and Omar), and an empty tomb for Jesus. These curtains, changed whenever worn out, or when a new Sultan ascends the throne, are supposed to cover a square edifice of black marble, in the midst of which stands Mohammed's tomb. Its exact place is indicated by a long, pearly rosary (Kaukab al-Durrī) suspended from the curtain. The Prophet's body is supposed to lie (undecayed) stretched at full length on the right side with the right palm supporting the right cheek, the face directed toward Mecca. Outside the drapery is the tomb of Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed. Close behind him is placed, in the same position, Abu Bekr, and behind the latter Omar. The fact, however, is that when the mosque, which had been struck by lightning, was rebuilt in 892, three deep graves were found in the interior, filled only with rubbish. Many other reasons make it more than problematic whether the particular spot at Medina really contains the Prophet's remains. Of the fabulous treasures which this sanctuary once contained, little now remains. As in Mecca, a great number of ecclesiastical officials are attached in some capacity or other to the mosque, as ulemas, imams, khatibs, etc.; and not only they, but the townspeople in general, live to a great extent on the pilgrims' alms, the city having little trade. The mosque was destroyed by fire in 1257, and was rebuilt 1258-88; it was restored in 1487 by Khaid Bey, of Kgypt. The city was conquered by the Turkish sultans in the sixteenth century. It fell into the power of Saud, the Wahhabite general, in 1803, and was reconquered by Tussun Pasha in 1815. There are few other noteworthy spots to be mentioned in Medina, save the minor mosques of Abu Bekr, Ali, Omar, etc. The private houses, however, surrounded by gardens, fountains, etc., have a very pleasing appearance; and the city, although in its decay, is yet busy and agreeable. A number of medreses, or endowed schools, represent what learning there is left in Medina, once famed for its scholars. As is the case with Mecca, non-Mohammedans are rigorously excluded from the sacred city, yet it has been visited by Burckhardt (1811) and Burton (1852). Consult: Burckhardt, Travels in Arabia (London, 1820); Burton, Journal of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Mecca (London, 1855); Soubhy, Pèlerinage à la Mecque et à Medine (Cairo, 1894); Wellhausen, Medinah vor dem Islam, in his Skizzen, iv. (Berlin, 1889).