Around Medina, across history

Around Medina, across history

December 18, 2007, Tuesday/ 20:36:00
While the Mosque of the Prophet is a personal and present-time experience, a trip around the city carries pilgrims through the corridors of early Muslim history.
I am not speaking about the Ottoman train station, the final stop of the Ottoman project to join İstanbul to Mecca, or other historical landmarks engraved onto the face of the city by Turks. A trip through Medina is also a trip through decisive events of the Prophet's Medinan life.

Not far from the city center sits the Quba Mosque, the place where the Prophet performed the first Friday prayer during his flight from Mecca to Medina. I have read certain political Islamists claim that this act of Friday prayer was actually a declaration of independence, since Friday prayers are performed only in free countries. Visiting the mosque I realized that what was declared on that day was the Ummah, the Muslim nation, as the term would be in frequent use after the Covenant of Medina, which counted Jews as the part of the Muslim nation. Today, apart from the Jews, one can see a small representative section of the Muslim nation in the Quba Mosque.

Some claim that the Quba Mosque is the one referred to in the Quranic verse that mentions a mosque whose foundations were set from the very beginning on piety. Though others claim the reference is to the Mosque of the Prophet, I think the Quba interpretation has the upper hand, as such an interpretation would refer to the Ummah as a mosque also, just like the term "Church" referring both to a building and to the body of believers in a certain faith.

Another historical building is Masjid al-Qiblatayn -- the Mosque of two Qiblas. The qibla is the direction of prayer for Muslims. Some time in the Medinan period of the Prophet's life, the Quran ordered him to turn his face towards Mecca instead of Jerusalem as the Muslims had been doing up until then. The revelation came during a prayer, and the Prophet turned from north to south during the prayer; hence, the name "qiblatayn" -- two qiblas.

A place loaded with meaning and feeling is Uhud. Uhud is the site of the second war between the Meccans and the Medinan Muslims, which ended with a loss for the Muslims. Uhud stands in the middle of a waste desert, hugging the Archers' Hill. According to our knowledge of this war of defense imposed upon the tiny Ummah of the Muslims, the Prophet stationed several archers so as to prevent a possible strike by the Meccans at the back of the Muslim army. The archers were asked not to leave their strategic locations even if they thought the war was over and that the Muslim side had won. They didn't follow the order. When they saw that the Meccan idol worshippers were fleeing the battleground, most of them left their posts and ran to grab the booty. Seeing that the Archers' Hill was left unguarded, then-commander of the Meccan forces Khalid ibn Walid rode his horsemen to the back of the Muslim army. Trapped between two armies, the Muslims suffered heavy losses. The Prophet himself was wounded and his brave uncle Hamza was killed.

Standing on the Archers' Hill and looking at the reddish stones of Uhud Mountain makes one wonder why Muslims who gave their word to protect the Prophet at the expense of their lives didn't obey orders. The answer is in the question. Why have I abandoned the orders and advice of the Prophet several times in my life? He told me to build defense lines against Satan, and I didn't listen to him. He told me to put archers on the hills of egoism, consumerism, excessive eating, hatred, gossiping… and what did I do? The answer is really in the question.

Given the loss of the war, it would only be natural that Muslims should start regarding the place as a cursed one. The Prophet did the opposite. He was not the kind of person who loads their responsibilities on nature, conditions and other pretexts: "Uhud is a mountain from among the mountains of Paradise," he said on one occasion. In another, "Uhud loves us and we love Uhud," he reiterated.

Having seen a mountain from Paradise, we too love Uhud.