With a population of some 1.3 million people, Madinah is one of Saudi Arabia’s largest cities and the second holiest city of Islam. When the Prophet Mohammed decided that he would be able to build followers of the new religion outside of Makkah, he headed for Madinah where it was known that the population was more enthusiastic about accepting Islam. Under Mohammed’s leadership, Madinah became the capital of growing Muslim empire. He stayed there for many years before returning to Makkah with his followers, entering the city peacefully.
The Prophet’s Mosque, an enormous structure that marks the burial site of the Prophet Mohammed, is at the center of the city’s religious area, known as the Harem, or holy, area. The Harem, like the entire city of Makkah, is closed to non-Muslims, but the rest of the city has no such restrictions. Outside the Harem lives a cosmopolitan mix of South Asians and Filipinos along with non-Saudi Muslim Arabs.
Historically, Madinah’s economy was based on the date trade. Today, religious tourism is an important part of its financial underpinnings, and numerous developments designed to attract more tourists throughout the year are currently underway. The city’s airport has been upgraded and modernized, and Madinah will serve as one terminal of the Haramain High-Speed Rail that will lead from Madinah to Jeddah and then on to Makkah.