he Prophet's Mosque in Madinah is the second most revered place of worship for Muslims around the world. Millions of Muslims visit the Mosque each year, to worship, to visit the Prophet's grave, and to see the city that gave birth to Islam. This pilgrimage is not mandatory as is the one to Makkah, but nevertheless popular. It is important to remember, however, that a visit to the Prophet's grave is not in any way to worship or revere him, but to commemorate his role as God's messenger, and to remind Muslims of his mortality and humanity.
The Prophet's Mosque was the first institution to be built following Prophet Muhammad's migration in 622 AD from Makkah, where he was born, to the town of Yathrib, which became known as 'Al-Madinah an-Nabi", or 'City of the Prophet', and is today simply Madinah.
Surrounded as it was by the shops and stalls of all kinds of merchants, the new mosque soon became the political and economic as well as the spiritual nucleus of the city, and played both a practical and a symbolic role in unifying the citizens, ultimately providing a solid foundation from which the Prophet and his companions could set forth and establish the Islamic state.
According to history, the manner in which the Prophet decided on its location, was to let his camel loose, and choose the site where it finally stopped to rest. The entire Muslim community, both the residents of Yathrib and those who had migrated from Makkah with the Prophet, participated in the construction of this first mosque, which was simply an open courtyard about 805 square meters in area surrounded by a wall made from bricks and tree trunks. On the eastern side apartments were built to house the Prophet and his family. By 629 the Prophet had enlarged the area of the mosque to 2,475 square meters.
Under the first four Caliphs, Madinah and the Mosque where the Prophet was buried continued to be the seat of government, reinforcing the synthesis of religion and governance in the Islamic state. The first two Caliphs, Abu Bakr and Omar, were buried next to the Prophet in the place that had originally been the Prophet's home, and which today is covered by the famous green dome of the mosque.
Throughout Islamic history, successive Islamic regimes have spared no cost or effort in dignifying and honoring the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah. In 638, the Caliph Omar Bin Al-Khattab increased the area by 1,100 square meters, and in 650 the Caliph Othman Bin Affan increased it by 496 square meters. The Caliph Al-Walid Bin Abdul Malik in 706 ordered an extension of 2,379 square meters, and 73 years later Caliph AL-Mahdi AL-Abbasi increased it by 2450 square meters.
For over seven centuries no additional improvements were made until Sultan Qaid Bey added another 120 square meters in 1483. Another three centuries passed, and in 1849 Sultan Abdul Majid initiated another extension of 1,293 square meters.
Soon after the establishment of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud issued a royal decree ordering the expansion of the Prophet's Mosque, a plan implemented by his son King Saud in 1950. This first Saudi expansion was the largest the mosque had ever seen, and not only doubled it in size, but also brought about changes in the city of Madinah itself. The number of pilgrims continued to increase rapidly, from an average of 100,000 annually in 1955 to one million in 1970 and more than two million in 1980. In 1973 King Faisal Bin Abdul Aziz ordered the construction of awnings on the west side of the mosque as a temporary solution to protect visitors from the elements, and in 1981 Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz began research into plans for further extensions that would ultimately result in a five-fold increase in the size of the mosque. The mosque today is one hundred times the size it was when the Prophet first established it, and can accommodate at any one time, more than half a million worshipers. Indicative of the facilities now available is an underground parking garage designed to hold nearly 5,000 cars.