Medina, Saudi Arabia
The Prophet Muhammad spent most of the later years of his life in Medina, at first as an exile and later as a permanent resident. During this period he erected a mosque in Medina so that he and his followers would have a regular place to pray when not in Mecca. This was the Masjid Al-Quba, and it is considered the first mosque ever built, not counting the Kaaba, as well as the oldest in continual use. Although it pales in size, splendour and importance to the neighboring Masjid Al-Nabawi, it nevertheless has a very special place in the heart of Muslims because of its association with the Prophet Muhammad. Because of this the Masjid Al-Quba is an all-but-mandatory stop for pilgrims visiting Medina, and is considered by many to be the third most sacred Islamic shrine in Saudi Arabia
The exact founding date of the Masjid Al-Quba is somewhat vague, and it is uncertain as to whether construction began during the early exile of Muhammad or later after he had already conquered much of the Arabian Peninsula. Most scholars seem to think it was the former. The most common story is that the Prophet Muhammad personally laid some of the foundation stones of the Masjid Al-Quba shortly after arriving in Medina sometime in 622 or 623 AD. However, as he was exceptionally busy during his early years in Medina, it is quite possible that the foundation stones were laid at a later time, possibly as late as 630.
Whichever the case was, the original mosque building was almost certainly completed during Muhammad’s lifetime. According to tradition, the construction of the Masjid Al-Quba became an important endeavor of the Prophet’s companions, at least when they weren’t busy fighting desparate battles of survival against neighboring warlike tribes. After its completion the mosque became the center of Islamic religious life in Medina, at least until the Masjid Al-Nabawi was built in the years after Muhammad’s death.
One interesting legend associated with Masjid Al-Quba tells that the Prophet Muhammad inaugurated worship at the new mosque by praying for twenty consecutive days there. The legend further goes on to say that during these twenty days Muhammad awaited the arrival of his cousin Ali, who apparently lived next door. It is unknown why Muhammad wanted Ali, or waited so long for him; nor is it known why Ali was so long delayed, or if he even ever showed up.
The original mosque that the Prophet Muhammad built stood for well over thirteen centuries, during which time it was in continual use. However, by the late 20th century, the Masjid Al-Quba was definitely showing the signs of its age, and the agonizing decision was made to replace the old mosque with a new one. So, in the 1980s, the world’s oldest surviving Islamic building was largely torn down, and a new one rose in its place in 1986. Despite this, the site remains as revered as ever.
The new Masjid Al-Quba is an architectural jewel designed by Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil, a prominent Egyptian architect and one of the world’s foremost experts in the design of modern mosques. If it didn’t stand in the shadow of the immense Masjid Al-Nabawi it would be the grandest mosque in Medina. Despite this it is a modern architectural masterpiece in its own right, incorporating classic Islamic styles with modern engineering. The mosque’s exterior features a quartet of minarets and a cluster of brilliant white domes that create a perfect symmetry above and around the main building.
While the original Masjid Al-Quba building is now a thing of the past, some of the old construction materials were reused and incorporated into the new structure, though for no other reason other than nostalgia. Because the Masjid Al-Quba is such a modern mosque, it incorporates facilities that are rare in the other major mosques of Saudi Arabia, such as shops and modern-style offices.
The Masjid Al-Quba is located on the outskirts of Medina’s old city, almost due south of the Masjid Al-Nabawi along the Qiba Road. Medina is absolutely off-limits to non-Muslims. For Muslims, the mosque is open year-round. There is no cost of admission beyond any required or voluntary tithes and donations. Web: http://saudtourism.sa/en (official tourism website of Saudi Arabia).
Obviously Medina’s most important site is the Masjid Al-Nabawi. Next door to the Masjid Al-Nabawi is the Maqbarat Al-Baqi Cemetery, where many prominent early followers of Muhammad are buried. Mount Uhud is to the north of the city, where the Battles of Uhud and The Trench were fought.