Madinah as a Haram (Sanctuary)

{jcomments on}Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia

The Prophet’s unique treatment of the environment reached a climax when he declared that the city of Madinah is sacred, or a sanctuary (Haram). According to the declaration, the city flora and fauna must be protected, not only by the general Islamic commandments encompassing the whole of earth, but also by a set of special ones meant only for it. This is something like what the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) did to Makkah.[1] Except for some pressing legitimate necessities, such as safety, welfare, medication and saving one’s life, the Madinah ecosystem is to be neither perturbed nor exploited. For example — according to Al-Sayyid Sabiq — because the residents of Madinah are not self-sufficient in terms of animal feed, they are allowed to use trees and grass for their animals. The residents of Makkah, on the other hand, are not permitted to cut even the grass for the purpose, because they have sufficient supply for their animal feed.[2] The Prophet (pbuh) likewise permitted the people of Madinah to cut trees for making plows, carts and other necessary tools and equipments.[3]

For some scholars, the penalty for cutting trees and killing the game in Madinah is that the perpetrator be dispossessed of what he has appropriated of the city’s ecosystem. The spoils thereupon will be handed over either to the poor of the city, or to the city’s treasury.[4] Some scholars would even suggest stripping the perpetrator of his clothes as a penalty – of course except that which covers the ‘awrah (body parts that must be properly covered in certain situations and under certain circumstances).[5] While dwelling on the subject in question, Al-Sayyid Sabiq, however, concluded that “killing the game or cutting off the trees in the sanctuary of Madinah carries no penalty nor requires any compensation, although doing so is a sinful act.”[6]   

The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said on the subject of the Madinah’s inviolability: “Ibrahim declared Makkah as sacred and I declare sacred the area between its (Madinah) two stony grounds (lava lands)”.[7] In another hadith with almost identical content, the Prophet (pbuh) added: “No tree should be (therefore) lopped and no game is to be molested (in Madinah).”[8]

The Prophet (pbuh) once pointed with his hands towards Madinah and said: “That is a sacred territory and a place of safety.”[9]

The Prophet (pbuh) declared Madinah as a sanctuary (Haram), in all likelihood, when he was returning from Khaybar in the seventh year. Why did he wait that long to make such a momentous decision, is as good as impossible to ascertain. Nonetheless, regardless of when, how and under what circumstances instituted, such an act had definitely aimed at cementing the preservation and sustainability of the bionetwork of the city-state of Madinah, thus making all the environmental matters run parallel with the city’s consolidated new vision and new outlook on life. After the right moment had come, and after the people had undergone what it takes of spiritual and mental training, the final avant-garde lessons in environmental ethics and sustainability were intended to be taught next, as a fresh dimension of the Prophet’s total reformatory educational system. So gripping and comprehensive such lessons had to be that their impact was to be felt everlastingly on the conscience of men. And surely, there was no better context and occasion for fulfilling the task, and for setting some high standards concerning the subject at hand, than the rising urban marvel of Madinah, which will be forever associated with the Prophet (pbuh) and his incredibly successful prophetic mission.

Al-Tahawi puts forward the issue of Madinah as a sanctuary (Haram) to the effect that the natural environment of the holy city was its exclusive ornament. Since it was the home of the Hijrah, its natural beauty and affluence had to be preserved so that the people could be attracted to it, and, once there, they could cope with the new life challenges. Without a doubt, this might have been one of the reasons, but certainly, not the only one. Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani thus inferred that if such had been the only reason, the status of Madinah as a sanctuary would have come to an end once the Hijrah to Madinah became no longer required, after the city of Makkah had been liberated in the eighth year.[10]

All things considered, however, Madinah was a sanctuary and will remain so till the end of days. One of the most pertinent implications meant to be thus presented was the fact that since the city of Madinah – together with Makkah – always occupied a special place in the hearts, minds and souls of Muslims, its ordained environmental status was likely to constitute a benchmark for the overall conduct of the Muslims towards the environment elsewhere on the face of the earth. Madinah – together with Makkah – was set to become both a source of motivation and a point of reference. Whenever facing an environmental crisis, and whenever at crossroads with reference to any perplexing environmental issues, even the non-Muslims could draw a degree of inspiration from the Prophet’s pioneering environmental experiences, provided they are examined systematically and rationally with an open mind and without any cultural or historical prejudice. One of the permanent names given to Madinah thus was al-Haram (the Sanctuary) or Haram Rasul Allah (The Prophet’s Sanctuary).[11]

The Prophet (pbuh) also said about Madinah: “Madinah is a sanctuary from that place to that (from the ‘Ayr mountain to the Thawr hill near the Uhud mountain). Its trees should not be cut and no heresy should be innovated nor any sin should be committed in it, and whoever innovates in it a heresy or commits sins (bad deeds) then he will incur the curse of Allah, the angels, and all the people.”[12]

The ‘Ayr mountain is the southern boundary of the Madinah Haram, while the Thawr hill is the northern boundary (they are both as identifiable today as they were at the time of the Prophet (pbuh)). The Prophet (pbuh) once said that “the ‘Ayr mountain detests us and we detest it; it is one of the gates of Jahannam (Hellfire).”[13] By saying in another hadith that Madinah is a Haram between the two stony grounds (lava lands), the Prophet (pbuh) meant the city’s eastern and western boundaries known as al-Harrah al-Gharbiyyah (the western lava land) and al-Harrah al-Sharqiyyah (the eastern lava land).[14]


Ayr Mountain


Given that Madinah is surrounded by numerous mountains and hills, the ‘Ayr mountain and Thawr hill were not easily identifiable and recognizable like the western and eastern lava lands (the western and eastern boundaries of the city’s Haram), and, as such, were not quite known to everybody in Madinah, especially to the Migrants from Makkah and elsewhere. Because it is relatively small, plus “hidden” behind the Uhud mountain on the latter’s northern side, it was the Thawr hill that from time to time stirred some debate as to its exact location. Such was not as much the case with regard to the ‘Ayr mountain, however, which, as a matter of fact, accounts for one of the prominent mountains in Madinah about six miles away from the Prophet’s mosque. Hence, determining exactly the boundaries of Madinah as a Haram (sanctuary) was for some a difficult task to do. As a result, some people even ended up asserting that the Prophet (pbuh) might have singled out the ‘Ayr and Thawr names randomly without really intending any specific places in Madinah. Yet some suggested, on the other hand, that the Prophet (pbuh) by mentioning the ‘Ayr and Thawr names actually meant two known with the same names places in Makkah – already a sanctuary (Haram) – which the Prophet (pbuh) and the Migrants were familiar with. In this case, the boundary of the Madinah Haram would be equivalent to the distance between the two meant points in the city of Makkah.[15]

Shedding more light on the words of the Prophet (pbuh), which we have referred to earlier, the companion ‘Ali b. Abi Talib said: “Madinah is a sanctuary from the ‘Ayr mountain to such and such a place, and whoever innovates in it a heresy or commits a sin, or gives shelter to such an innovator in it will incur the curse of Allah, the angels, and all the people, non of his compulsory or optional good deeds of worship will accepted. And the asylum (of protection) granted by any Muslim is to be respected by all the other Muslims; and whoever betrays a Muslim in this respect incurs the curse of Allah, the angels, and all the people, and none of his compulsory or optional good deeds of worship will be accepted…”[16]

The companion Anas b. Malik was asked whether the Prophet (pbuh) had declared Madinah as sacred. He said: “Yes, it is sacred, so its tree is not to be cut; and he who did that let the curse of Allah and that of the angels and of all people be upon him.”[17]

Abu Hurayra reported that the Prophet (pbuh) declared sacred the territory between the two lava mountains of Madinah. He then added: “If I were to find deer in territory between the two mountains, I would not molest them.”[18]

Abu Ayyub al-Ansari once came across some boys who had driven a fox into a corner, and he chased them away from it saying: “Is this done in the sanctuary of the Prophet (pbuh)?”[19]

Imam Malik b. Enes, the most outstanding jurist of Madinah in the 2nd AH / 8th CE century and the founder of the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence, said about Madinah: “The Prophet had declared an area of 12 miles around Madinah as reserved for the protection of shrubs growing there and an area of four miles prohibiting hunting in it.”[20]


Ayr Mountain Salhill View


Moreover, the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have designated al-Naqi’ – an area about sixty miles from Madinah – as a conservation site for the horses of the Muslims to graze in. The size of the area was one mile by eight miles. The Prophet (pbuh) also proclaimed that the valley of al-‘Aqiq in the vicinity of Madinah was a blessed one, on the basis of what the angel Jibril had previously informed him about it.[21]

Later, the second caliph ‘Umar b. al-Khattab designated another two areas: al-Sharaf and al-Rabadhah, which lie between Makkah and Madinah, as preserved ones for the livestock and camels of the people to graze in them.[22] In order to ward off the adverse effects on the agricultural industry of Madinah, ‘Umar b. al-Khattab further appointed a man whose main duty was to monitor the implementation of the Islamic code of conduct for preserving the crops and reserved areas for grazing, as well as to penalize those who violated it.[23] The initiative, which forthwith indirectly affected the whole of the natural environment in the state, was confined not only to Madinah, the capital of the Islamic state, but also to the rest of the ever-proliferating Islamic cities and provinces.

Because it is a sanctuary, on the one hand, and because of its exceptional historical role, as a result of which the Prophet (pbuh) and most members of the first and best Muslim generation had lived and died there, on the other, some scholars later construed that Madinah is even superior to Makkah. In his book Wafa’ al-Wafa, al-Samahudi presented as many as 99 reasons for which Madinah is different from other places.[24] However, since some of the cited qualities are common to both Makkah and Madinah, and since there is a whole bunch of exclusive merits enjoyed by the former only, it could be argued that Makkah was the finest spot on earth during the early phases of Islam, i.e., before the Hijrah. However, after the Hijrah, Madinah became, more or less, as superior, due to the creation of the Muslim spiritual, intellectual and socio-political foundation in it, and on which the future of the Islamic cause depended. Undoubtedly, this is a gist implied by the Prophet’s words that he was ordered to migrate to a town – that is, Madinah – which will swallow (conquer) other towns.[25]

Nonetheless, the majority of scholars believe that Makkah has preference over Madinah, as asserted by al-Sayyid Sabiq. They back their claim by a hadith in which the Prophet (pbuh) explicitly said that Makkah is the best of Allah’s land, and most beloved to him. “Had I not been driven away from you, I would have never departed from you”, the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said while “unwillingly” migrating from Makkah to Madinah.[26]  

On top of being a sanctuary (Haram) where the first and best generation of Muslims together with their Prophet (pbuh) lived, Madinah likewise – as disclosed by the Prophet (pbuh) —  is protected from terrors and evils to establish themselves in it and reign, including such as will be caused by Dajjal (the Impostor, Antichrist) when the Day of Judgment nears;[27] Madinah was and still remains as a nucleus of belief and righteousness, it expels the bad persons from its domain “as fire expels the impurities of iron”;[28] between the Prophet’s house and his pulpit (minbar) there is a garden (rawdah) from the gardens of Jannah;[29] a valley of Madinah called Batahan is also reported to be on a pool of Jannah,[30] as is said about the Mountain Uhud to be on one of the gates of Jannah;[31] etc. So much did the Prophet (pbuh) love Madinah that whenever he returned from a journey he would make his mount go fast as soon as the first city elements came into sight.[32] While returning from the expedition to Tabuk, the Prophet (pbuh) said upon sighting the mountain of Uhud: “This is the mountain which loves us and we love it.”[33]


 Batahan Valley 

Uhud Mountain


[1]If truth be told, the city of Makkah was purified and sanctified by Allah Almighty as early as when the universe was created, and again by the prophet Ibrahim when he left his wife Hajar and son Isma’il there, and yet again when he constructed the Ka’bah. One of Ibrahim’s supplications thus was: “My Lord, make this a City of Peace, and feed its People with fruits, – such of them as believe in Allah and the Last Day.” (al-Baqarah 126)

Also: “O my Lord, make this city one of peace and security; and preserve me and my sons from worshipping idols.” (Ibrahim 35)

Allah – be He exalted – when He swore by Makkah, termed it “the City of Security.” (al-Tin 3) (See: Mukhtasar Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Ikhtasarahu al-Sabuni Muhammad ‘Ali, (Beirut: Dar al-Qur’an al-Karim, 1981), vol. 1 p. 121)

[2] Sabiq al-Sayyid, Fiqh al-Sunnah (Hajj and ‘Umrah), translated into English by Muhammad Sa’id Dabas and Jamal al-Din M. Zarabozo, (Washington: American Trust Publications, 1991), vol. 5 p. 64.

[3] Ibid., vol. 5 p. 64.

[4] Al-Samahudi, Wafa’ al-Wafa, (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1997), vol. 1 p. 108.

[5] Ibid., vol. 1 p. 108.

[6] Sabiq al-Sayyid, Fiqh al-Sunnah (Hajj and ‘Umrah), vol. 5 p. 64.

[7] Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Hajj, Hadith No. 3151.

[8]Ibid., Hadith No. 3153.

[9] Ibid., Hadith No. 3177.

[10] Al-‘Asqalani Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, (Cairo: Maktabah al-Kulliyyat al-Azhariyyah, 1978), vol. 1 p. 210.

[11] Al-Samahudi, Wafa’ al-Wafa, vol. 1 p. 13.

[12]Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab Fada’il al-Madinah, Hadith No. 91.

[13] Ibn Majah, Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Manasik, Hadith No. 3106.

[14] Al-‘Asqalani Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 8 p. 218.

[15]Ibid., vol. 8 p. 209.

[16] Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab Fada’il al-Madinah, Hadith No. 94.

[17] Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Hajj, Hadith No. 3160.

[18] Ibid., Hadith No. 3169.

[19] Malik b. Anas, al-Muwatta’, Book 45, No. 45.3.12.

[20] Abu Yusuf, Kitab al-Kharaj, Translated by A. Ben Shemesh, (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1969), p. 121.

[21] Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Hajj, Hadith No. 1436.

[22] Ibid., Kitab al-Musaqah, Hadith No. 2197.

[23]Abd al-‘Aziz Abdullah b. Idris,Mujtama’ al-Madinah fi ‘Ahd al-Rasul, (Riyad: Jami’ah al-Malik Su’ud, 1992), p. 205.

[24] Al-Samahudi, Wafa’ al-Wafa, vol. 1 p. 73-89.

[25]Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab Fada’il al-Madinah, Hadith No. 95.

[26] Sabiq al-Sayyid, Fiqh al-Sunnah (Hajj and ‘Umrah), vol. 5 p. 65.

[27] Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab Fada’il al-Madinah, Hadith No. 101-106.

[28] Ibid., Hadith No. 100, 108, 109.

[29] Ibid., Hadith No. 112.

[30] Hamid Khalid Muhammad, Dhikra min al-Madinah al-Munawwarah, (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’mun li al-Turath, 2002), p. 120.

[31] Ibid., p. 93.

[32] Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab Fada’il al-Madinah, Hadith No. 110.

[33] Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Hajj, Hadith No. 3157.

2 thoughts on “Madinah as a Haram (Sanctuary)”

  1. Asalam Alaikumm

    JazakAllah for the info. Can you please draw the boundaries of Madinah on google maps and share with us.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *