When the Prophet Muhammad fled persecution in Makkah he faced many obstacles in his search for safety at the city of Madinah.
From Makkah to Madinah, traces the journey, known as the Hijrah or migration, which became the start date for the Islamic calendar in the year 622 CE.
A Saudi geographer, Dr Abdullah Alkadi, has followed the Hijrah route in precise detail using GPS and GIS mapping technology. Working with an old friend, photographer Peter Sanders, the route has also been documented in photographs.
‘The most important thing in locating the exact route is finding the exact origin,’ says Alkadi. ‘I needed to see people from the original area, which means [people] who lived in those places and were born in those places. That would make sure that when I asked for certain information about landmarks for valleys, I would be able to get answers about those places.’
He found many people on the route still living traditional lives and sought out elders to find out what had been passed down about the Hijrah in lore.
‘I tried to find people who were as old as possible because they would have more information and would not be affected by technology and modernism,’ says Alkadi.
‘I discovered buildings, settlements, calligraphy and drawing on stones and rocks. People, when they travelled, tried to prove their presence by drawing or writing and those writings and drawings can be traced back to a thousand years or more,’ he adds.
While he made several archaeological finds on his journey, Alkadi’s most significant discoveries were ancient milestones.
‘In Muslim, Arab and other histories there is not agreement over the exact distance of a mile. When I came to working out the exact distance, the milestone markers helped me a lot to discover new locations and distances,’ says Alkadi.
‘The idea of the milestones goes back to the Greeks,’ he says. Alkadi compared the shapes with other examples from the Milestone Society in Cardiff. ‘You are dealing with human beings so you have the same thing. They were almost identical until machines were introduced,’ he says. The oldest milestone Alkadi found on his journey was traced back 1,300 years. Alkadi combined the milestones with statistical methods to predict where he would find the next one.
What kept Alkadi motivated was the quest for the truth, and providing a reliable account of the Hijrah. The journey was not without hardship though. ‘There were places where we got lost or where a snake came over my feet, or where there were wolves and foxes,’ says Alkadi. ‘Honestly, there were friends who travelled with me who think I’m crazy. Now my wife would see the pictures and she got mad at me: “Why am I doing that?”’