National Geographic

The Prophet’s Mosque

Medina, Saudi Arabia, 24°28'6" N, 39°36'6" E

It was during Ramadan, in the fasting month. The cleansing month. The holiest month of the Muslim lunar calendar. It was at Medina—just outside Al-Masjid al-Nabawī, the mosque of the Prophet Mohammed, the second holiest site in Islam after Mecca. Sixty thousand people had gathered at dusk to break the day’s fast together. There was a certain vibration of light in the air. A pale, tender, yellow sky at sunset. Across from me sat a big man from Afghanistan—a red-haired Nuristani. There were people from all over the world, hungry, musing quietly inward, waiting. I am not Muslim. But I had been fasting all month as well, out of respect, in order to know. The Nuristani passed me his orange. Passed him mine. We did this several times, laughing. And then we ate in silence.

There are 69 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. barbara mahany
    September 21, 2013

    beautiful. a morning prayer….

  2. maria
    September 21, 2013

    Hi Paul, I feel so fortunate that your amazing posts are enabling so many to participate in your adventure! The incredible photograph & evocative articles are a delightful experience
    Best wishes to you and the team
    maria 🙂

    • Paul Salopek
      September 22, 2013

      Very kind, Maria. Especially about the snapshots, which aren’t my forte.

  3. Lara Armes-Venter
    September 21, 2013

    This is beautiful… Makes me want to go back to Saudi so badly.

  4. HikerBob
    September 22, 2013

    You can feel the devotion.

  5. ssendejas
    September 22, 2013

    Hi Paul. Thank you for providing us with all this wonderful knowledge. I was just wondering…. what actually is the fast you kept for the month? What foods were you allowed to eat?

    • Paul Salopek
      September 22, 2013

      Ramadan is a holy month on the Muslim lunar calendar—a time for spiritual reflection, cleansing, and renewal. It was during this month, according to Islamic scripture, that the Quran was revealed by Allah to the Prophet Muhammed.

      There are no restrictions on the food you eat. But fasting during daylight hours is required. After sunset, families usually break their fast together, around 7 p.m. A lighter meal, served before sunrise, is also the norm. The practice of fasting during Ramadan is also meant to bring Muslims closer the suffering of the poor. Exceptions are made for illness, menstruation, and pregnancy and for travelers.

  6. Shirley Goode
    September 22, 2013

    “WOW!” sounds so trivial, but your video with no commentary was amazing…thank you!

  7. Linda Hoernke
    September 22, 2013

    I am so enriched by your writing. Thank you again Paul~~

  8. Jill Simpson
    September 23, 2013

    What an amazing place. Everywhere looks so clean. Paul you are lucky to have been able to be there. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, you bring to life places we will never see, except through your eyes.

  9. chefbrucewest
    September 23, 2013

    Enriching. Thanks Paul

  10. Bilal
    September 23, 2013

    My hat’s off to you Paul. May you be protected throughout your entire journey. Looking forward to your comments during Hajj season.

    • Paul Salopek
      September 27, 2013

      Very kind, Bilal. I’ll be walking some very old Hajj roads through the desert over the next few weeks, so I’ll be waving in the distance.

  11. Salwa
    September 24, 2013

    It’s so amaazing even the feeling it’s something you all deserve to have Islam is the most beautiful path,if you want some ifor. find me or my friends they are Canadian reverent @Salwa7s

  12. Fatimah
    September 24, 2013

    Thank you Paul for sharing your experiences so beautifully&capturing the essence of the breaking of fast. All your posts are truly enriching, May Allah protect you as you journey further

    • Paul Salopek
      September 27, 2013

      Thanks, Fatimah.

  13. Maya
    September 25, 2013

    Mr. Salopek,
    My 6th grade social studies class is learning about homonids and how you are retracing their steps. I think what you are doing is so neat! By the time you are finished with your journey we will be seniors in high school!

    Maya 🙂

    • Paul Salopek
      September 27, 2013

      My education partners are trying to come up with online learning platforms to help guide students through the whole seven years of the walking route. So I hope to be hearing about your graduation, Maya, when I hit Chile.

  14. Kelly
    September 27, 2013

    Such an honor to be a part of other people’s traditions! May you stay healthy and open in your travels!

  15. Jessica
    September 27, 2013

    Beautiful and inspiring! I love following your journey!

  16. beth
    September 27, 2013

    Thanks for sharing, I get very excited when I get the email.God Bless, be safe!

  17. Penny Moody
    September 27, 2013

    I look forward to each of your postings. This one is beautiful-love learning about other cultures and religions. I am sending good thoughts for a safe journey.

  18. Joyce
    September 27, 2013

    With all the problems in Africa and the Middle East right now I am so glad you are safe. God bless you in your travels, thanks for sharing them with us. I spent a couple of years in Africa from Egypt to South Africa and all in between in the 1960s, it isn’t the same now for sure.

  19. Blanca P
    September 27, 2013

    Much thank you for sharing … an experience not to be missed … blessings and do keep safe …

  20. Nanette
    September 27, 2013

    Thank you.

  21. muhajjirah
    September 27, 2013

    It’s not allowed for non-Muslims to be in the sacred areas of Madinah.You must have kept that part of your journey on the down-low! But thank you for showing the beauty of Muslims and Islam through your piece.

    • Paul Salopek
      September 29, 2013

      Islam, like many religions, makes exceptions for almost any rule—as long as the goal is a larger good. I was invited to Medina by a Muslim friend, Muhajjirah. There was nothing clandestine about my visit. Local religious authorities were fully aware of my presence.

  22. Lisa
    September 27, 2013

    What an amazing journey. Your posts are inspirational. Praying for your safe journey!

  23. Don Dusette
    September 27, 2013

    I have a real problem in standing in line for a meal. Your trip however is inspirational. Truck on!

    • Paul Salopek
      September 29, 2013

      Thanks, Don, and I agree unless it comes to street food. Always go to the roadside vendor surrounded by a crowd. It’s an informal measure of quality control—and a sidewalk starring system.

  24. Troy Richard
    September 27, 2013

    Hi Bud,
    My name is Troy and I am your cousin Bobby’s son. Your journeys and stories are very interesting and I enjoy keeping up with your walk. When you are back in the states I hope I can meet you in person. I was wondering if there was any way you could Skype chat with a class of mine to talk about a career in journalism. I saw on your website that there are still spots available for chatting. Looking forward to your response and would really like to meet you one day.
    Be safe and know your family is proud of you.
    Your 2nd cousin Troy Richard

    • Paul Salopek
      September 29, 2013

      Hello Troy. Glad to hear from you. I’d be pleased to chat with your class. Ask your teacher or school administrators to contact Mark Schulte at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting: Mark has developed a curriculum around the walk and helps me connect electronically with classrooms. Also, Liz Dawes Duraisingh at Project Zero at Harvard has just launched a new online learning platform pegged to the walk. Your teacher can email her at:

  25. Dorian
    September 28, 2013

    I very enjoy following your travels and enjoy learning about the culture of the places you visit. I do wonder where the women are in the video? Are they allowed in the mosque? What is their role?

    • Paul Salopek
      September 29, 2013

      Good question. I wasn’t able to film women’s participation in the breaking of the Ramadan fast because in Saudi Arabia the sexes are officially segregated in public. (Though this gender barrier has been eroding slowly for many years at thousands of shared spaces such as shopping malls, markets, airports, and, now, certain universities.) The women took their meals and listened to the evening prayers at a separate, high-walled entrance to the mosque.

  26. Sandie Ward
    September 28, 2013

    I love the simplicity of your video and images. You let the images speak to us instead of your voice..powerful. Safe journey and we are with you. Heartfelt thanks for the hours and hours of work to shoot, edit and write to share. Engage, Inspire, Indulge Sandie Ward

    • Paul Salopek
      September 29, 2013

      Thanks, Sandie

  27. Faisal Abordaif
    September 28, 2013

    I met you in Yanbou, good luck, you are one of a kind

    • Paul Salopek
      September 29, 2013

      We’re all one of a kind, Faisal. Great to hear from you.

  28. Jerzy PL
    September 29, 2013

    Thank you Paul once more for allowing us to experience distant lands and cultures through your eyes.

    Could you just let me know how did it happen that you were allowed to enter Medina being non-Muslim? Also – did not you put yourself to danger by filming inside Medina? I thought Muslims are very protective about their Holy Places.

  29. Caroline Mitchell
    September 29, 2013

    What a wonderful opportunity Paul. Your stories inspire me to go on my own planned journey!

  30. Caroline Mitchell
    September 29, 2013

    Your stories inspire me to go on my own planned journey!

  31. Kimberly Richardson
    September 30, 2013

    Simply amazing, Paul. Brought tears to my eyes.

  32. Barbara Standley
    September 30, 2013

    Good day to you, Paul. I hope that my practical questions find you well.
    Who prepares, packages, and lays out the meals for all those people? Are the 60,000 all men? If so, how many women and children would also need to be fed? What an enormous undertaking, especially if the preparers and servers are also fasting!

    • Paul Salopek
      October 6, 2013

      Private benefactors, companies, government religious agencies—all have a hand in that gargantuan task. It has clearly been perfected over the years. It flowed like a ballet—from the distribution of the first cup of yoghurt to the clean-up.

  33. Zeljka Radak
    October 8, 2013

    I´m wondering, how did you get into Meka, becouse for Non Muslim People the entering of Holy City is forbidden.
    I´m not Muslim, but hearing Al Fatihah every time brings tears in my Eyes…Strange. It must be great experience for you to be in Meka iin the Time of Ramadan. Keep being amazing

  34. Zeljka Radak
    October 8, 2013

    Ach , sorry this was in Medina…but anyway is Medina open for the non Muslims?

    • Paul Salopek
      October 11, 2013

      It depends on the circumstances. Usually, no. But exceptions are made for special reasons, such as education or inter-faith understanding.

  35. abdulaziz
    October 11, 2013

    One of the tasks that fasting do is to be able to know and feels of greatness blessings that God-given you and feel about poor people with their needs.
    poverty and hunger make the person less vanity and bullying.
    I think you feel it when you are fasting

  36. Abdulrehman Altaf
    October 15, 2013

    thanks @Paul

  37. Gary Boivin
    October 16, 2013

    This has to be one of the most rewarding moments of your trek, thus far. Soul to soul is the finest of connections.

  38. Ramze Elzahrany
    October 17, 2013

    Most of pilgrims to Makkah/Mecca visit al-Madinah/Medina before or after concluding their pilgrimage to Makkah. Although, it is not mandatory or part of hajj “pilgrimage” rituals, al Madinah witnesses the visit of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year.

    To know more about al Madinah, its significance and the prophet mosque, you may visit this link:

    Best wishes and regards to you all.

  39. Win Grace
    October 27, 2013

    We feed just under 100 folks once a month and it takes about a dozen volunteers to do that in two hours. I cannot even fathom feeding 60,000! It’s an inspiration to see! Very beautiful. Thank you again.

  40. Muhammad Ghulaam Mia
    October 28, 2013

    Great stuff , but just to ask HOW did you get into the country(Saudi Arabia)???? because as far as i know no non Muslims are allowed in the country not even near to the holy city’s of makkah and madinah. i know all of this as my entire family,from my grandfather, is travel agents that specialize in take people to Saudi Arabia for there pilgrimage from South Africa, and we are the leading agents here in southern Africa.

    • Paul Salopek
      December 2, 2013

      A small number of foreign tourists do get into Saudi. Unfortunately, the volume is nowhere near as many as the place merits. Visas are tough. I applied. I waited eight months. I was admitted thanks largely to the intercession of the Saudi Commission on Tourism and Antiquities. Its president, Prince Sultan Bin Salman, is a fan of the walk.

  41. CoCo-Nut
    November 12, 2013

    That must be AMAZING! Same question as above, how did you get into Saudi Arabia?

  42. @FinkTeach
    November 27, 2013

    As an educator, I am giddy with excitement for the opportunity to take my students on this journey with you. I just started exploring and have already learned so much!

    • Paul Salopek
      December 2, 2013

      Walk on over to our educational hub, FinkTeach. Thanks for your interest.

  43. Sultan bin Salman
    January 3, 2014

    I’m glad that Paul made the trip to madeenah, and had a chance to experience Ramadhan. Always grt hearing from you Paul, and look forward to join with you again somewhere ion this planet. Keep me posted

    • Paul Salopek
      January 15, 2014

      You are welcome any time, Prince Sultan. Thank you for your great hospitality and please pass on my thanks to your hardworking staff. Saudi Arabia’s cultural resources are of global importance. (I believe some of the old Hajj roads I walked, for example, merit World Heritage status.) I wish you success in your important work of preserving this cultural memory.

  44. Zachary G
    February 11, 2014

    I find it amazing that Paul fasted for a month along with traveling on foot.

  45. Sami aljohani
    April 10, 2014

    Good gob

  46. Chairul Bahri
    November 1, 2014

    Very fascinating journey. Am glad to be able to return to this site. Thank you again, Paul.

  47. Miren Agote Dalmàs
    November 17, 2014

    I can hear they are singing? What do they sing, what are the words that they sing, who are they talking about in their singing. Thank you Paul.

  48. Ramze A. Elzahrany
    November 17, 2014

    They are not singing, but reciting verses of the Holy Quran, the holy book of Muslims. It is part of the ritual of their prayers.
    Best regards.

  49. chinese.zyc
    December 16, 2014

    This knowledge is very useful to us.Religion is very important to many cities.This knowledge only gets in the transport.

  50. hira mehboob
    April 5, 2015

    mashAllah wonderful

  51. Fazel
    April 13, 2015

    How long exactly do they not eat during the month of Ramadan? I thought it was for only 36 hours.

  52. eleni papadopoulou
    April 6, 2016

    Hello Paul, we ‘ve watched the video from the mosque and the children are very excited. We’ ve seen the mospue, the peple praying and we ‘ve heard the invitation to pray. We are excited because we ve heard your message, we’ ve seen the photos and they are really beatiful and interesting.We are doing interesting things at our school and we want to thank you because you’ve sent us phoos and we are learning interesting things through them. Greetings and kisses from the 8th public kindergarden school at Galatsi, Athens Grece. We are looking forwards to hear from you

  53. Harper&Devon
    April 26, 2016

    We think that you have great cause! It is amazing that you are prepared to support 60,0000 people at the end of the fast.

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