The Constitution of Medina: A Symbol of Pluralism in Islam

medina mosque II

Mosque of Medina, first built by the Prophet Muhammad, in the first year after migration to the city. The Muslim Times has the best collection of articles on the theme of pluralism

The Constitution or Charter of Medina pre-dated the English Magna Carta by almost six centuries. It was executed and implemented for 10 years (622-632 A.D.) and applied to 10,000 citizens living in Medina at that time. Remarkably 45% of the total population in Medina consisted of non-Muslim Arabs, 40% consisted of Jews, and only 15% consisted of Muslims, at the start of this treaty. These numbers were recorded by Prophet Muhammad himself through a census that he commissioned. In others words, Prophet Muhammad penned the Charter of Medina as a minority sovereign. His express goal was to govern a multi-religious pluralistic society, in a manner that allowed religious freedom for all of them. The Charter consists of 47 clauses which set forth the formation of a sovereign nation-state with a common citizenship for all communities. The Charter protects fundamental human rights for all citizens, including equality, cooperation, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. Clause 25 specifically states that Jews and non-Muslim Arabs are entitled to practice their own faith without any restrictions. In short, the Charter of Medina was the first document in history to establish religious freedom as a fundamental constitutional right. Read further in Alislam.org.

Here I link an article from the Fountain:

By Sean William White

The clash of civilizations, cultures, tribes, and religions seems to be prevalent throughout all of history. At the same time, history reveals simultaneous conflict and efforts to resolve tensions and division feeding animosity through mediation, diplomacy, and dialogue. Many conflicts seem too complicated for an agreement to be established on just one point, whether or not the conflict revolves around territory, religion, or ethnic discrimination. So what approach is best to mediate issues in a contemporary world that seems to be driven by economics, natural resources, and ethnic or religious ideologies? The Medina Charter serves as an example of finding resolve in a dispute where peace and pluralism were achieved not through military successes or ulterior motives but rather through respect, acceptance, and denunciation of war – aspects that reflect some of the basic tenets of the religion Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was guiding and promoting. Through an examination of the Medina Charter, I will show how pluralism was advanced and instated in Medina and the reasons reflecting on such a document could help avoid the divide and misunderstanding plaguing much thought, rhetoric, and media today between Muslims, Christians, and Jews all over the world.

When the Prophet was forced to immigrate to Medina, the population was “a mixture” (akhlāt) of many different tribes (predominantly Arabic and Jewish), who had been fighting for nearly a century, causing “civil strife,” and it was for this reason that the Prophet was summoned there (Peters 1994, 4). Tribal fighting and a lack of governance in Medina (known as Yathrib) meant disputes were dealt with “by the blade” on many occasions, which deepened the divides and fueled conflicts. Karen Armstrong explains aptly the mentality and workings of the tribal system dispersed through war-torn Arabia, where the Prophet was striving for peace (Armstrong 2006, 19). “The tribe, not a deity, was of supreme value, and each member had to subordinate his or her personal needs and desires to the well-being of the group and to fight to the death, if necessary, to ensure its survival” (Armstrong 2006, 24). Such a system was, in a political sense, representative of the little cooperation between the tribes in the Yathrib. In this region reigned power hungry strategies, an emphasis on arms and strength in military, and a belief that clearly mediation was unachievable except by a trustworthy outsider who had no connections to the issues or the tribes. Not only did the Prophet fit these prerequisites, but his personal ambition as given to him by God was also one of spreading peace and unity, creating a community, or ummah, made up of diverse groups, through the teachings of the Quran and in the name of Islam. Read further.

Different biographers of the Holy Prophet about the Charter of Medina:

The comment section has the English translation from Ibn Ishaq’s record of all the clauses. In near future I will provide English translation from the other earlier biographer of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, Ibn Hisham.

I have an article which collects descriptions from some recent Muslim and non-Muslim biographers: The Constitution of Medina: the First written Constitution of the World.

The following information is reproduced from Wikipedia to ensure its longevity:

The Constitution of Medina (Arabic: صحیفة المدینه‎, Ṣaḥīfat al-Madīna), also known as the Charter of Medina, was drafted by the Islamic prophet Muhammad. It constituted a formal agreement between Muhammad and all of the significant tribes and families of Yathrib (later known as Medina), including Muslims, Jews, Christians[1] and pagans.[2][3] This constitution formed the basis of the future caliphate. The document was drawn up with the explicit concern of bringing to an end the bitter inter tribal fighting between the clans of the Aws (Aus) and Khazraj within Medina. To this effect it instituted a number of rights and responsibilities for the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and pagan communities of Medina bringing them within the fold of one community—the Ummah.[4]

The precise dating of the Constitution of Medina remains debated but generally scholars agree it was written shortly after the Hijra (622).[5] It effectively established the first Islamic state. The Constitution established: the security of the community, religious freedoms, the role of Medina as a haram or sacred place (barring all violence and weapons), the security of women, stable tribal relations within Medina, a tax system for supporting the community in time of conflict, parameters for exogenous political alliances, a system for granting protection of individuals, a judicial system for resolving disputes, and also regulated the paying of blood money (the payment between families or tribes for the slaying of an individual in lieu of lex talionis).

Contents

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Background

In the last years of Muhammad in Mecca, a delegation from Medina, consisting of the representatives of the twelve important clans of Medina, invited Muhammad as a neutral outsider to Medina to serve as the chief arbitrator for the entire community.[6][7] There was fighting in Medina mainly involving its pagan and Jewish inhabitants for around a hundred years before 620. The recurring slaughters and disagreements over the resulting claims, especially after the battle of Bu’ath in which all the clans were involved, made it obvious to them that the tribal conceptions of blood-feud and an eye for an eye were no longer workable unless there was one man with authority to adjudicate in disputed cases.[6] The delegation from Medina pledged themselves and their fellow-citizens to accept Muhammad into their community and physically protect him as one of themselves.[8]

After emigration to Medina, Muhammad drafted the Constitution of Medina, “establishing a kind of alliance or federation” among the eight Medinan tribes and Muslim emigrants from Mecca, which specified the rights and duties of all citizens and the relationship of the different communities in Medina (including that of the Muslim community to other communities, specifically the Jews and other “Peoples of the Book“).[6]

Sources

Scholars do not possess the original document but rather a number of versions can be found in early Muslim sources. The most widely read version of the Constitution is found in the pages of Ibn Ishaq‘s Sirah Rasul Allah (see wikisource), while alternative copies are located in Sayyid al-Nas and Abu ‘Ubayd’s Kitab al-Amwal. Most scholars accept the authenticity of the document.

Montgomery Watt suggests that the constitution must have been written in the early Medinan period. He supports his view by arguing that had the document been drafted later, it would have had a favorable attitude towards Quraysh, and given Muhammad a prominent place. Hubert Grimme believes the Constitution was drafted in the post-Badr period, while Cetani argues that the document was complete before the Battle of Badr.[9]

According to RB Serjeant, verses 101–4 of sura 3 of the Qur’an make reference to the Constitution. He proposes that this section of the Qur’an underwent recension (a hypothesis first proposed by Richard Bell). In its first recension, this text sanctioned the establishment of a confederation. In its second, it admonished the Aws and Khazraj to abide by their treaty. In its third, in conjunction with the proceeding verses, it is an encouragement of Muhammad’s adherents to face the Meccan forces they eventually fought at Uhud. He states that even if this proposal of three recensions be unacceptable, it must be affirmed that these verses make reference to the two different treaties.[10]

Analysis

Bernard Lewis claims that the Constitution was not a treaty in the modern sense, but a unilateral proclamation by Muhammad.[11] One of the constitution’s more interesting aspects was the inclusion of the Jewish tribes in the Ummah because although the Jewish tribes were “one community with the believers,” they also “have their religion and the Muslims have theirs.”[12]

Legal Scholar L. Ali Khan says the Constitution of Medina was a social contract derived from a treaty and not from any fictional state of nature or from behind the Rawlsian veil of ignorance. The contract was built upon the concept of one community of diverse tribes living under the sovereignty of one God.[13]

The first ever “Constitutional Analysis” of the Constitution of Medina was done by Islamic Scholar Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri. He analysed the Constitution of Medina and formed 63 articles; he argues that it is the first written constitution.[14]

The Medina Constitution also instituted peaceful methods of dispute resolution among diverse groups living as one people but without assimilating into one religion, language, or culture.[15] Welch in Encyclopedia of Islam states: “The constitution reveals his Muhammad‘s great diplomatic skills, for it allows the ideal that he cherished of an ummah (community) based clearly on a religious outlook to sink temporarily into the background and is shaped essentially by practical considerations.”[16]

Significance of the Ummah

Another important feature of the Constitution of Medina is the redefinition of ties between Muslims. The Constitution of Medina sets faith relationships above blood-ties and emphasizes individual responsibility.[17] Tribal identities are still important, and are used to refer to different groups, but the “main binding tie” for the newly-created ummah is religion.[18] This contrasts with the norms of pre-Islamic Arabia, which was a thoroughly tribal society, although Serjeant postulates the existence of earlier theocratic communities.[19] According to Denny, “Watt has likened the Ummah as it is described in the document to a tribe, but with the important difference that it was to be based on religion and not on kinship”.[18] This is an important event in the development of the small group of Muslims in Medina to the larger Muslim community and empire.[20]

Rights of non-Muslims

The non-Muslims included in the ummah had the following rights:[21]

  1. The security of God is equal for all groups,[22]
  2. Non-Muslim members have equal political and cultural rights as Muslims. They will have autonomy and freedom of religion.[23]
  3. Non-Muslims will take up arms against the enemy of the Ummah and share the cost of war. There is to be no treachery between the two.[24]
  4. Non-Muslims will not be obliged to take part in religious wars of the Muslims.[25]

Reforms

See also

References

  1. ^ R. B. Serjeant, “Sunnah Jāmi’ah, pacts with the Yathrib Jews, and the Tahrīm of Yathrib: analysis and translation of the documents comprised in the so-called ‘Constitution of Medina'”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (1978), 41: 1-42, Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^See:
    • Reuven Firestone, Jihād: the origin of holy war in Islam‎ (1999) p. 118;
    • “Muhammad”, Encyclopedia of Islam Online
  3. ^ Watt. Muhammad at Medina and R. B. Serjeant “The Constitution of Medina.” Islamic Quarterly 8 (1964) p.4.
  4. ^ Ibid, Serjeant, page 4.
  5. ^ Watt. Muhammad at Medina. pp. 227-228 Watt argues that the initial agreement was shortly after the hijra and the document was amended at a later date specifically after the battle of Badr (AH [anno hijra] 2, = AD 624). Serjeant argues that the constitution is in fact 8 different treaties which can be dated according to events as they transpired in Medina with the first treaty being written shortly after Muhammad’s arrival. R. B. Serjeant. “The Sunnah Jâmi’ah, Pacts with the Yathrib Jews, and the Tahrîm of Yathrib: Analysis and Translation of the Documents Comprised in the so called ‘Constitution of Medina’.” in The Life of Muhammad: The Formation of the Classical Islamic World: Volume iv. Ed. Uri Rubin. Brookfield: Ashgate, 1998, p. 151 and see same article in BSOAS 41 (1978): 18 ff. See also Caetani. Annali dell’Islam, Volume I. Milano: Hoepli, 1905, p. 393. Julius Wellhausen. Skizzen und Vorabeiten, IV, Berlin: Reimer, 1889, p 82f who argue that the document is a single treaty agreed upon shortly after the hijra. Wellhausen argues that it belongs to the first year of Muhammad’s residence in Medina, before the battle of Badr in 2/624. Wellhausen bases this judgement on three considerations; first Muhammad is very diffident about his own position, he accepts the Pagan tribes within the Umma, and maintains the Jewish clans as clients of the Ansars see Wellhausen, Excursus, p. 158. Even Moshe Gil a skeptic of Islamic history argues that it was written within 5 months of Muhammad’s arrival in Medina. Moshe Gil. “The Constitution of Medina: A Reconsideration.” Israel Oriental Studies 4 (1974): p. 45.
  6. ^ a b c Watt, The Cambridge History of Islam, p. 39
  7. ^ Esposito (1998), p. 17.
  8. ^ Alford Welch, Muhammad, Encyclopedia of Islam
  9. ^ Watt (1956), pp. 225-6
  10. ^ Serjeant, p. 8.
  11. ^ Lewis, Bernard, The Arabs in History, p. 42.
  12. ^ Berkey, Jonathan, The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600–1800, Cambridge University Press, p. 64.
  13. ^ “The Medina Constitution”. papers.ssrn.com.
  14. ^ “First Islamic State”.
  15. ^ Ramadan, Hisham M (2006). Understanding Islamic Law: From Classical to Contemporary. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 0-7591-0990-7.
  16. ^ Welch, “Muhammad”, Encyclopedia of Islam.
  17. ^ Williams, John Alden, Themes of Islamic Civilization, p. 12.
  18. ^ a b Denny, Frederick (Jan 1977), “Umma in the Constitution of Medina”, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 36, The University of Chicago Press, p. 44.
  19. ^ Ibid, Serjeant, page 4.
  20. ^ Ibid, Serjeant, page 4.
  21. ^ Ahmed (1979), p. 46-7
  22. ^ Article 15, as quoted in Ahmed (1979), p. 46-7
  23. ^ Article 25, as quoted in Ahmed (1979), p. 46-7
  24. ^ Article 37, as quoted in Ahmed (1979), p. 46-7
  25. ^ Article 45, as quoted in Ahmed (1979), p. 46-7

Further reading

  • Ahmad, Barakat (1979). Muhammad and the Jews. Vikas Publishing House.
  • Watt, Montgomery (1956). Muhammad at Medina. Oxford University Press.
  • Wensinck, Arendt Jan (1908). Muhammad and the Jews of Medina. Leiden.

External links

Wikisourcehas original text related to this article:

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