Medina, Saudi Arabia
The Maqbarat Al-Baqi Cemetery in Medina is, along with the Jannatul Mualla Cemetery in Mecca, the most important and famous cemetery in the Islamic world. Also known as the Garden of Heaven, it is home to the gravesites of literally dozens of major personages associated with the early days of Islam. In addition to the many members of the Prophet Muhammad’s family who are buried in the Maqbarat Al Baqi, the gravesites of Uthman ibn Affan, the third of the Rashidun Caliphs, and four of the Twelve Imams can be found here. Unfortunately, the gravestones and shrines which once marked many of the most prominent burials are now gone, destroyed in an effort to deter visiting pilgrims from venerating the dead. Nevertheless, the Maqbarat Al-Baqi cemetery remains an integral part of any visit to Medina for almost all visitors to the neighboring Masjid Al Nabawi.
The Maqbarat Al-Baqi cemetery has been hallowed ground for Muslims as far back as Muhammad’s day. According to tradition, the Prophet himself personally selected the site and hallowed it for use as a burial ground sometime around 623 AD, when his companion Asa’ad ibn Zararah died. Uthman ibn Mazoun, another companion of Muhammad and one of the Mujahirun, was buried there a year or so later after the Battle of Badr. Many others of the Prophet’s earliest converts and associates would be buried here in the years after his death, including Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, one of the Ten Companions.
The cemetery’s importance and fame was cemented when Roqayyah, the daughter of Muhammad and Khadijah, was interred there by her husband, Uthman ibn Affan, the third caliph. In the years that followed, Maqbarat Al Baqi became the defacto burial ground for the Prophet’s family. Virtually every important relative of Muhammad that was not buried in Mecca was interred here. Among them were several of Muhammad’s wives, including Aisha; his children Ibrahim and Fatimah; his uncle Abbas ibn Abdul Muttalib; his aunt Fatimah bint Al Asad; and others.
The Prophet’s family notwithstanding, the most famous gravesite of all at Maqbarat Al-Baqi is that of Uthman ibn Affan, a son-in-law of the Prophet and the third of the Rightly Guided Caliphs. This makes the cemetery one of only three places, along with the neighboring Masjid Al Nabawi and the Masjid Imam Ali in Najaf, to possess a Rashidun tomb. Maqbarat Al-Baqi is also home to the gravesites of four of the Imams: Hasan ibn Ali (2nd), Ali ibn Hussayn (4th), Muhammad ibn Ali (5th) and Jafar ibn Muhammad (6th), all of whom are direct descendents of the Prophet’s daughter Fatimah.
On two occasions, the Maqbarat Al-Baqi cemetery became the target of efforts to put an end to graveside worship, which some Muslims have historically viewed as idolatry. Many of the most prominent gravestones and shrines were destroyed so that pilgrims could no longer find them, thus discouraging visitors from praying to the dead for intercession. Despite the outrage these incidents incited in Muslim communities around the world, the damage has been done, and some of the gravesites are now considered lost. Nevertheless, pilgrims armed with maps and books still visit the cemetery in droves in search of these historic figures.
The Maqbarat Al-Baqi Cemetery is a shadow of its former self. Only sketches exist of what it once looked like prior to the demolitions of 1925. It now consists primarily of a vast, open field with only the barest minimal markings to identify the ancient burial sites. The cemetery’s main gate is on the west side close to the Masjid Al-Nabawi. Most of the Prophet’s relatives are buried in the vicinity of the gate on the west side of the cemetery. A family plot near the southwest corner contains most of the prominent graves of Shi’ite interest, including those of the four imams.
The burial sites of Muhammad’s wives, his daughters and his son Ibrahim can be found in the cemetery’s northwestern quadrant. The grave of Uthman ibn Affan is close to the eastern end of the cemetery on a plot that was later acquired by the Umayyads. Unfortunately, like the Shi’ite sites, the shrine of Uthman is now long gone, and the exact site of his burial is not known with certainty.
The Maqbarat Al-Baqi cemetery stretches out from the east side of the compound of the Masjid Al Nabawi in the center of Medina, approximately 200 miles north of Mecca and 430 miles west of Riyadh. Like Mecca, Medina is absolutely off-limits to non-Muslims. For Muslims, the mosque is open year-round. There is no cost of admission. Web: http://sauditourism.sa/en (official tourism website of Saudi Arabia)
Obviously Medina’s most important site is the Masjid Al-Nabawi. Besides the Masjid Al-Nabawi is the Masjid Al-Quba, the mosque founded by the Prophet himself. Mount Uhud is to the north of the city, where the Battles of Uhud and The Trench were fought.