Lecture notes about Mecca and Medina



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Lecture notes about Mecca and Medina:
Neither of these cities has been significantly explored archaeologically. While numerous historical sites are known, many have since been destroyed with modern urbanization and the particular attitudes of the Saudi regime towards monuments of the historic past. Neverthess, it is important to try to establish a sense of these two sites and their early physical structure and institutional structures

Mecca and Medina – Cities?

What was the nature of these two cities? Were they cities?

What is a city? This has been a particularly fraught question in archaeology – much debated.
Both Wheatley and Whitcomb argue that Mecca was not – primarily because it was too hemmed in geographically and because it was associated with nomadic lifestyles. However, it was a center of pilgrimage and trade it lacked the kinds of institutions that achieve full urbanization. Mecca since it is in a wadi is prone to great flooding.

Major change comes to the city under Mu’awiyya who bought a number of houses and constructed palaces and established townships as well as infrastructure such as canals and gardens.


What was the relationship between these two towns in the early Islamic period before the emergence of the Umayyad dynasty and Damascus as the center?

Ka‘ba
The ka’ba and the haram in Mecca. Kaba – four corners are oriented to the cardinal directions. The major stone is in the east corner – the meteoric hajar al-aswad. Roof is held up by six columns. The kiswa may refer back to earlier kabas that were no more than tents. Wood for the kaba may have come from a shipwrecked vessel off the coast of Arabia.

Ibn al-kalbi talks about how the first ka‘ba was of stone and that these stones were then used in founding other ka‘bas throughout Arabia as idolatry came to reign. It was at onetime thought that the original ka‘ba was not at Mecca but at Taif but the people there did not corroborate this.


Role of the ka’ba in the early period of Umayyad’s is quite important. Destroyed in Umayyad siege in 683. Ibn zubayr rebuilds on the authority of Aisha. Then in 692 Ibn Zubayr killed, kaba torn down and rebuilt as was in Prophet’s lifetime. Was it in competition with the Dome of the Rock? Its relationship to the palace of Ghumdan in San’a.
Medina as haram and dar al-hijra:
What is a haram and how were they established? Importance of a holy figure. By transforming Medina into a haram – this symbolized a base of power and of sanctity for the Prophet.
Medinan geography – al-Safila and al-‘Aliya (the location of the Jewish tribes and their husun. Most important Jewish tribe was the Banu nadir.

Importance of the establishment of a market.


Also must mention Khaybar.
The structure of the utum. Importance for tribal identity. By the Caliphate of Uthman these were largely destroyed.

From dissertation about Medina:


The physical character of this landscape at the time of the Prophet reflected a pattern of oasis settlements throughout the region of the Arabian hijāz in which palm groves were interspersed with fortified tower-houses (ātām s. utum) as well as a number of more substantial fortresses (husūn s. husn).1 Despite a number of markets, prior to the arrival of the Prophet there are no clear indications of any institutional core to the town. The general topographic picture of Medina at the start of the hijra was generally divided into two regions al-‘Aliyā (or Upper Medina) to the south and al-Sāfila (or Lower Medina) to the north. During the early years of his rule, the Prophet’s territorial control was apparently greatest in this northern sector (Lecker 1995). This is where his mosque and house were constructed, and also the location of his closest ansārī allies of the Khazrāj tribe. Upper Medina, by contrast, was largely held by the Jewish tribes of Banu Nadir and Banu Qurayza as well as clans of the Aws confederation that had not converted to Islam. The landscape was organized along tribal and family lines, a substrate upon which was overlain the new immigrants and the Prophet’s own modifications to the urban structure and its institutions.2

With the arrival of the Prophet and the building of his mosque in a former cemetery in al-Safilā, the landscape was transformed into a haram or “protected” sanctuary. 3 It differed from the standard Arabian pattern for such sacred locales in that it was not centered on a shrine but on the very person of Muhammad himself and his own ability to organize the space of his community (Peters 1994: 68). This image of Medina as sanctuary, however, masks the territorial struggles that can be teased out of the sources in which to make sense of something like the incident with the dirār mosque. In fact, Much of Medina constituted a vast “silent majority” that was neither allied with the Prophet nor the enemies of the nascent Muslim community that received so much attention in the sira accounts (Lecker 1995: 71). Instead, these groups waited it out to see where power would fall and aligned themselves accordingly. The consolidation of power in the new Medina under the Prophet was very much a territorial politics rooted in the historical and sociological differences between Upper and Lower Medina.

Lecker’s reading of the non-sīra sources has produced a geographical rendering of political relations that captures some of the inter-confessional and inter-tribal mechanisms of authority and control over the social order. Various changes to the physical topography of the city were implicated in these processes. One major aspect was the abandonment and demolition of the many ātām that formed such a major part of the substrate landscape. Accounts such as that of Ibn Zabāla (second half of the second century AH) have clarified that these structures held symbolic significance as markers of ansārī (the native Muslims of Medina) tribal independence and prestige (ibid: 13). Their eventual removal, while a source of grievance for some, was a marker not only of the changing social relations of the umma, but also of the physical transformation of the city from its proto-urban Arabian patterns to a more centralized urban form with significant architectural institutions, including major religious monuments, palaces and markets.

The politically oriented social negotiations that marked the Muslim community’s engagement with the substrate landscape of Medina resulted in a city whose physical form was very much the product of its local context. Medina’s ability to serve as model of spatial organization was less tied to the particulars of its topography than to the broader sense in which it served as a refuge granted by God for the settlement of Muslims and the promotion of the faith. This notion became taken up for instance in Baladhurī’s (d. c.892) chronicle of the early conquests, Futuh al-Buldān. In this work he extended notion of dar al-hijra to the various new urban establishments (amsār, s. misr) constructed for the Muslim armies as they conquered territories to be consolidated within an Islamic realm.

In his account Baladhurī reported that the ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-Azīz, the second caliph, penned a letter to the commander of his army, Sa‘ad ibn Abi Waqas, stating that following the conquest of Persia “the Muslims should identify for themselves a dar al-hijra and a Qairawan.” The importance of this correspondence lies not only in what the caliph said, but also in what he did not say. He did not ask his general to establish a misr, specifying, instead, a dar al-hijra. Alsayyad (1991: 54-55) suggests that the difference is that between an urban locale designed for the administration of conquered territory, the notion of misr as a garrison town, and a city with symbolic links to the Prophet’s own Medina that would serve to populate and settle the region with Muslim residents. He writes (ibid.):4
The Arabs, at least in this early stage, were not interested in building cities for the sake of what cities had to offer in return. Their main interests were in consolidating the gains of Islam, and at times this required the introduction of concepts like Dar al-Hejrah and Mesr. From this we can conclude that an urban place became a Mesr when it acquired an important economic, political, or defensive role for itself within the urban hierarchy of the Islamic empire. Its designation as Dar al-Hejrah was usually an essential earlier step in its development as a Muslim town, although this evolutionary relationship does not apply in all cases. Both Basrah and Kufa [new urban foundations in southern Iraq] must have served as symbolic Dur al-Hejrah before being declared administrative Amsar.
This distinction between the spiritually symbolic role of these new towns and their administrative role is perhaps overdrawn. The point to emphasize, however, is that with the extension of a concept of dar al-hijra beyond the confines of Medina itself such discourses established a particular spatiality that highlights the original act of emigration and not other aspects of Prophetic settlement practices. This selective designation of what aspects of the sunna should become emphasized in relation to urban landscape of Medina as a model space is a key component of what I have termed contingent spatiality.

It hardly seems coincidental that emigration and notions of transporting the umma into new lands would take primacy at historical moment in which territorial conquest was a principle theo-political objective. Drawing on Baladhurī’s account, Wheeler (2000) has suggested that the dar al-hijra was further extended to “that area constituted by the artificial imitation of the Prophet Muhammad, through the means of ritual, construction and artifacts.” Through the spread of the relics, ahadīth (s. hadīth, sayings of the Prophet which are the major source by which Muslims have established the sunna), and Companions of the Prophet to cities like Fustat, Basra, Kufa and Ramleh, to name just a few, there emerged a sense in which Medina itself was expanding. Thus, in order for one to appreciate fully what constituted the space of the community, to know it completely, one needed to travel and collect the knowledge and blessings that were being deposited in these increasingly distant points. This spreading and collecting of Prophetic traces constituted one conception of how new territory became sanctified.

The caliph ‘Umar played a fundamental role in this process. He demonstrated a distinct preference for those Muslims who had taken up residence in the new expanding cities of the Muslim empire because these were the loci for the collection of the knowledge of the Qur’ān and the sunna. The city was the site for the religio-political consensus (ijmā‘) that would emerge as an important legal category for establishing the rulings of the sharī‘a. Moreover he instituted a policy for settling the Companions in the amsār that had sprung up in Iraq, Persia, Syria, Egypt and North Africa (Jabali 2003: 104). These settlement patterns were thus tied to important religious motivations and were not simply the result of economic opportunities or the exigencies of conquest (ibid: 110).

These various settlement practices highlight the particularly powerful role played by the prophetic sunna in spatial production. However, the idea of the ever enlarged dār al-hijra was not fully realized and subject to the social and material contingencies of imperial expansion. The famous eighth-century Muslim jurist Malik ibn Anas (93/712-179/795) articulated a much more constrained vision of how Medina served as a privileged space, particularly for determining the origins of Islamic jurisprudence (usūl al-fiqh). Imam Malik, eponym of one of the four orthodox schools of Sunni Islamic law, was himself a lifetime resident of Medina and a member of the third generation of scholars following the Prophet (tabi’ al-tabi’īn). What distinguished Malikī legal reasoning from other schools was the role that he gave to the scholars of Medina (āhl al-madīna) in determining the sunna of the Prophet as a source of Law (‘Abd-Allah 1978).



There are two aspects to the preference he gives to Medina in such matters: 1) consensus of the community (ijmā‘), and 2) the concept of practice (‘aml).5 Consensus emerged as an important source of law, based in part on the hadīth of the Prophet which stated that “my community shall never agree on an error.”6 Imam Malik, however, argued that it was acceptable to limit that “community” to the scholars of Medina, thereby expanding the possibility that consensus might serve as a legal source. He reasoned that not only was Medina the city of the Prophet and thus had the advantage of proximity to his authority, it was also a center of scholarship that virtually every scholar of any stature would have to visit. While the notion of consensus already demonstrates the kind of legal authority that Malik attached to the people of Medina, he extended this by articulating that this authority not only be extended to matters of consensus but to what was considered the normative practice of the people of Medina. For him the notion of ‘aml (practice) provided a clearer indication of what constituted the sunna of the Prophet than even the hadīth themselves.7



1 Lecker (1995: 10-18) reports that in the first years of the hijra the fortresses of upper Medina were in the hands of the major Jewish tribes or of their close allies, the pagan clans of the Aws Allah.

2 These new arrivals from Mecca tended to congregate in the region around the Prophet’s mosque and while others settled many of the uncultivated areas. In this way much of the topography of the region, despite the increased density of settlement, was still organized on a tribal basis (al-‘Ali 1961: 65).

3 Aside from the building of mosques one of the major amendments to the institutional life of the city initiated by Muhammad was to construct a central market despite the fact that there were already four or five according to different sources in various parts of the town (al-‘Ali 1961: 86f.). The political implications of this move towards centralization of authority were part of a larger spatial politics for gaining control of the city (Lecker 1986).

4 The concept of misr and the role of this urban form for the settlement and colonization of new territories by the Muslim polity will be more fully explored in Chapter 5 in the context of the site of Qinnasrīn in northern Syria. It is important here to note that there is much debate on the nature of these new urban foundations and their role first as military encampments and later as fully urban centers for the settlement of Muslims outside of the towns of the local inhabitants. What is interesting about the region of Bilād al-Shām is the apparent lack of this type of urban form.

5 For a detailed investigation of Mālikī fiqh and its disputes see ‘Abd-Allah (1978) and Brockopp (2001).

6 See Kamali (1991: 178-182) for an extensive collection of the variations of this hadīth as reported by Muslim scholars of Islamic jurisprudence. It should also be noted that there are numerous Quranic proofs that are cited for establishing ijmā‘ as a source of law.

7 These practices were a living text that could be relied upon as a source for the knowing the sunna and thus applying it to new social contexts. Malik considered this to be more reliable than the collections of ahadīth which first as oral texts and later written texts lacked the same authority as lived social practice.



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