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Publication of "The Holy City of Medina: Sacred Space in Early Islamic Arabia" by Harry Hunt (July 2014)

Publication of "The Holy City of Medina: Sacred Space in Early Islamic (…)

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MUNT (Harry), The Holy City of Medina: Sacred Space in Early Islamic Arabia, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, ("Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization"), 2014, 240 p. ISBN 978-1107042131

The author

Harry Munt is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Oriental Institute and Wolfson College at the University of Oxford.


This is the first book-length study of the emergence of Medina, in modern Saudi Arabia, as a widely venerated sacred space and holy city over the course of the first three Islamic centuries (the seventh to ninth centuries CE). This was a dynamic period that witnessed the evolution of many Islamic political, religious and legal doctrines, and the book situates Medina’s emerging sanctity within the appropriate historical contexts. The book focuses on the roles played by the Prophet Muḥammad, by the Umayyad and early Abbasid caliphs and by Muslim legal scholars. It shows that Medina’s emergence as a holy city, alongside Mecca and Jerusalem, as well as the development of many of the doctrines associated with its sanctity, was the result of gradual and contested processes and was intimately linked with important contemporary developments concerning the legitimation of political, religious and legal authority in the Islamic world.


1. Haram and himā: sacred space in the pre-Islamic Hijāz
2. Muhammad and the Constitution of Medina: the declaration of Medina’s haram
3. Debating sanctity: the validity of Medina’s haram
4. The construction of a sacred topography
5. Following in the Prophet’s footsteps, visiting his grave: early Islamic pilgrimage to Medina
6. The Prophet’s inheritance: Medina’s emergence as a holy city in the first-third and seventh-ninth centuries

(Source : Cambridge University Press)

PhD Presentation

This thesis investigates the emergence of Medina in the Ḥijāz as a widely-venerated holy city over the first three Islamic centuries (seventh to ninth centuries CE) within the appropriate historical context, with special attention paid to the town’s ḥaram. It focuses in particular upon the roles played by the Prophet Muḥammad, Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs, and early Islamic legal scholars in this development. It shows that Medina’s emergence as a widely-venerated holy city alongside Mecca was a gradual and contested process, and one that was intimately linked with several important developments concerning legitimate political, religious, and legal authority in the Islamic world. The most important sources for this study have been Medina’s local histories, and Chapter One investigates the development of a tradition of local history-writing there. The Prophet Muḥammad first created a form of sacred space, a ḥaram, at Medina, and Chapter Two seeks to provide the context for this by investigating some forms of sacred and protected space found in the pre-Islamic Arabian Peninsula. Chapter Three then examines a rare early document preserved in the later Islamic sources, which deals in part with Muḥammad’s creation of Medina’s ḥaram, the so-called “Constitution of Medina”, and investigates why and how Muḥammad created that particular form of sacred space at Medina. The remaining two chapters deal with the history of Muḥammad’s ḥaram at Medina after his death as its original raison d’être disappeared. Chapter Four analyses some aspects of Muslim legal scholars’ discussions concerning Medina’s ḥaram, and demonstrates that certain groups disputed its existence. Chapter Five then seeks to understand why caliphs and other scholars invested so heavily in actively promoting its widespread veneration and Medina’s status as a holy city. It concludes that caliphs from the late first/early eighth century patronised Medina to associate themselves with legitimate political authority inherited from Muḥammad, and that from the late second/eighth century certain legal scholars argued for the continued existence of Medina’s ḥaram because of its association with the Prophet and his Companions who had come to be for them the ultimate source of legal authority. (Reference: Thomas H. R. Munt, (2011). The sacred history of early Islamic Medina: the prophet, caliphs, scholars and the town’s Ḥaram. DPhil. University of Oxford.)

(Source : Oxford University Research Archive)