This is an important historical mosque. It is one of the earliest mosques in Islam. It was established during the Prophet’s time for an outlying neighborhood of Madinah.
Its significance lies in the fact that after the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) received a commandment to change the qiblah or prayer direction from al-Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem to al-Masjid al-Haram (Ka’bah) in Makkah, the entire congregation led by a companion in this mosque changed direction in prayer.
Henceforth the mosque was known as Masjid al-Qiblatayn (the mosque of the two qiblahs) as both qiblahs were faced in a single prayer.
Al-Bukhari in his Sahih reports the incident as follows:
When the Prophet (peace be upon him) came to Madinah, he stayed first with his grandfathers or maternal uncles from Ansar. He offered his prayers facing Baitul-Maqdis (Jerusalem and its al-Masjid al-Aqsa) for sixteen or seventeen months, but he wished that he could pray facing the Ka’bah (in Makkah).
The first prayer which he offered facing the Ka’bah was the ‘Asr prayer in the company of some people. Then one of those who had offered that prayer with him came out and passed by some people in a mosque who were bowing during their prayers (facing Jerusalem). He said addressing them:
‘By Allah, I testify that I have prayed with Allah’s Apostle facing Makkah (Ka’bah).’
Hearing that, those people changed their direction towards the Ka’bah immediately. Jews and the people of the scriptures used to be pleased to see the Prophet facing Jerusalem in prayers but when he changed his direction towards the Ka’bah, during the prayers, they disapproved of it (Sahih al-Bukhari).
Architecturally, the mosque was meticulously attended to my many personalities throughout Muslim history. Many expansion, rebuilding and renovation programs took place. Among the first ones to do so was ‘Umar II. The Ottomans excelled in the same regard too.
The present form of the mosque dates back to 1987. It was constructed as part of various development initiatives in Madinah by King Fahd. The plan and design of the mosque referred to the Islamic traditional architectural language and vocabulary as a source of inspiration.
Read: The First Mosque the Prophet Muhammad Built in Madinah
“Externally, the architectural vocabulary is inspired by traditional elements and motifs in a deliberate effort to offer an authentic image for an historic site” (archnet.org). The architect was Abdul-Wahid al-Wakil from Egypt.
The mosque is much smaller than the Quba’ mosque. That is perhaps the case because it is not on the list of the places which the Prophet (peace be upon him) recommended to be visited in Madinah.
The comparatively small size is an indirect invitation to people not to regard it as important for visiting as the explicitly specified places, and so, not to throng to it needlessly.
The interior of the mosque is much similar to those of the mosque of Ahmad ibn Tulun and some Fatimid mosques in Cairo.
There are two minarets on the right and left sides of the main entrance. Though somewhat shorter, they resemble the four minarets of the Quba’ mosque.
The bases of the minarets are square and the shafts octagonal. There are three balconies on each minaret, the second and third being supported by muqarnas.