Ask The Expert – Sami de Giosa

Ask The Expert – Sami de Giosa

11 October 2021

Sami De Giosa is currently a visiting assistant professor at the College of Fine Arts and Design, University of Sharjah. 

He was previously a research fellow at SOAS University of London in the department of Cultures and Languages and also at the University of Oxford. He has curated exhibitions on Islamic art around the world including Hajj: memories of a Journey exhibition at the Sheikh Zayed grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi in 2017-2018 and worked on some of the most important museums in the Middle East. Sami finished his PhD in Art history at SOAS on the revival or architecture and arts in Cairo during the late 15th century. His subject specialisms are  the Holy City of Madinah,  the arts of the Mamluk Period,  Museums and Museography in the Arab World.


How did Madinah look like by the time Prophet Mohammed moved to it?

Prophet Muhammad was invited by the leaders of Yathrib, as Madinah was known at the time, to come to the city to be an adjudicator for the disputes that the tribes were having at the time. In total, there had been 120 years of turmoil in Yathrib before the arrival of the Muslims. He arrived to the city in 622AD with an entourage of circa 70. In a short time, the city’s disputes were abated, many people converted to Islam, pagan Arabs and local Jews, and the first Mosques Quba and the mosque/house of the Prophet were built.

The relationship between the Muslims and the local Jewish population was one which evolved through time. When at the helm of the city, Prophet Muhammad and the elders agreed on a treaty, the so-called Constitution of Madinah, where all the parties (including Jews) were guaranteed safety and cooperation under pre-defined criteria. Some Jewish sources also relate of a treaty that the Muslims had specifically with the Jewish population of Madinah.

Of course, it wasn’t all friendly and cheerful, as the aftermath of The Battle of the Trench includes a clash where Muslims fought and won against the Banu Qurayza who stood accused of plotting with Abu Sufyan against them. However, other Jewish clans, which maintained the pledges contained in the Constitution, kept on living in Madinah after this episode.


Ibn Ishaq Sirat Rasulallah

Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Medina, 1956


Does the written evidence of the Quran match the archaological evidence of Madinah?

Largely, yes. Many of the locations mentioned in the Qur’an, Hadith and historical sources are found in the city. Amongst others, Masjed al-Nabawi, the Mosque which developed around the Prophet’s House which includes the remnants of Jannat al-Baqi, Masjid Quba the first Mosque, the site of the Battle of the Trench, the house with the waqf of Mariah the Copt and the site of Mount Uhud. Of course, the sites have changed due to the expansion of the city but we know the exact locations of many of the places mentioned in the sources. There are also plenty of new archaeological sites being excavated as we speak, within the city and in the surrounding areas.


What is briefly the history of this site?

At the time of Prophet Muhammad hijra to Madinah, the city was known as Yathrib after a name found in the Bible. After the battle of the Trench or غزوة الخندق the city came to be known as Taybah or Tabah or simply al-Madinah, as found in some Hadith literature

The city was populated by Arab tribes notably the Aws and the Khazraj and by a sizeable Jewish minority.

After the Rightly guided Caliphs, Madinah was in the hands of different Islamic dynasties such as the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Mamluks, the Ottomans and finally under the indigenous Arabian rule of the House of Saud. Today Madinah is a cosmopolitan city that retains its Hijazi, international flavor with many international residents and an increasingly developed cultural sector focused on the enhancement of historic sites.


Harry Munt, The Holy City of Medina: Sacred Space in Early Islamic Arabia, 2014