Medina was originally a desert oasis located on a flat mountain plateau. It was surrounded by low mountains and stony plains. The city’s population is now over two million, with some 750,000 non-Saudi residents from Arab and Asian nations.
Saudi leaders, influenced by Wahhabi ideology, believe that preserving sites with religious significance is not a good idea, as it could lead to idolatry. As a result, much of Medina’s physical heritage has been destroyed, including many ancient buildings.
Though Medina was the base for Muhammad’s first Muslim conquests, it has not been a politically important city since then. It used to be famous for its agriculture, particularly its date production, but it now has a more diversified economy with a number of small industries in addition to the tourist economy built on the millions of pilgrims.
Medina has a hot, dry desert climate with extreme heat in the summer (110 degrees F) and cooler winter weather (averaging highs of 77 degrees F).
Known as The City of the Prophet (Madinat al-Nabi), Medina is Islam’s second most sacred city. It is revered as the place from which Muhammad conquered all of Arabia after his escape from Mecca in 622 AD. Following Muhammad’s death in 632, it was the seat of the first Muslim government, from 632-661. Like Mecca, only Muslims are permitted to enter the sacred center of Medina.
Every year millions of Muslims make pilgrimages to visit The Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, which contains Muhammad’s tomb. The mosque has been rebuilt and expanded many times, and today the mosque and its surrounding massive umbrella-covered courts can accommodate more than 1.6 million worshippers at one time.
There are two other significant mosques in Medina. The Quba mosque was said to have been the first mosque that Muhammad himself built. The Masjid al-Qiblatain (the Mosque of the Two Qiblas) is where it is believed that Allah told Muhammad to change the direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Mecca.
Increasing numbers of Saudis throughout the country are becoming disillusioned with Islam. Media ministries to Arabic-speaking Muslims are reporting growing responsiveness from Saudis, including people living in Medina. Internet, satellite TV, and social media ministries are reporting increasing openness to the Gospel across Saudi Arabia, despite repeated government attempts to block access.
Unlike Mecca, non-Muslims can live in Medina, as long as they live outside of the sacred “Haram” city center, and never enter it. Among the tens of thousands of non-Saudi Muslims living in Medina are some Asian and Arab Christians. God is using them in quiet ways to be light to their Saudi employers. There are believed to be a small number of secret believers in Medina.
Persecution of believers from family, society, and the local and state officials can be ruthless. Pressure and oppression by family members is the worst. The biggest challenge for new believers is overcoming fear.