The Constitution of Medina is the earliest known written constitution. It was drafted in 622, and concerns the rights and responsibilities of the Muslim, Jewish, and other Arabic and tribal communities of Medina during the war between that city and its neighbors. The most important points with respect to the geographically close Jews were:
1. The Jews will profess their religion, and the Muslims theirs.
2. The Jews shall be responsible for their expenditure, and the Muslims for theirs.
3. If attacked by a third party, each shall come to the assistance of the other.
4. Each party shall hold counsel with the other. Mutual relation shall be founded on righteousness; sin is totally excluded.
5. Neither shall commit sins to the prejudice of the other.
6. The wronged party shall be aided.
7. The Jews shall contribute to the cost of war so long as they are fighting alongside the believers.
8. Madinah shall remain sacred and inviolable for all that join this treaty. Should any disagreement arise between the signatories to this treaty, then Muhammad shall settle the dispute.
9. The signatories to this treaty shall boycott Quraish commercially; they shall also abstain from extending any support to them.
10. Each shall contribute to defending Madinah, in case of a foreign attack, in its respective area.
11. This treaty shall not hinder either party from seeking lawful revenge.
It constituted a formal agreement between Muhammad and all of the significant tribes and families of Yathrib (later known as Medina), including Muslims, Jews, and pagans. 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, and pagan communities of Medina bringing them within the fold of one community-the “Ummah”.
The non-Muslims included in the ummah had the following rights:
1. The security (dhimma) of God is equal for all groups
2. Non-Muslim members have equal political and cultural rights as Muslims. They will have autonomy and freedom of religion.
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.
4. Non-Muslims will not be obliged to take part in religious wars of the Muslims.
The Constitution established: the security of the community, religious freedoms, the role of Medina as a 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).
The Constitution of Medina, “established 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”).
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.
Montogmery 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.
The Constitution was not a treaty in the modern sense, but a unilateral proclamation by Muhammad, Bernard Lewis states. One of the constitution’s more interesting aspects was the inclusion of the Jewish tribes in the Ummah, the Jewish tribes were “one community with the believers,” but they “have their religion and the Muslims have theirs.”
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.
Dr. Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri has written a book called the Constitutional Analysis of the Constitution of Madina which states an analysis and review of the Constitution. He has categorized the headings of the articles according to the modern legal constitutions consisting of 63 articles.
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. 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.
The Compact of Medina:
A Constitutional Theory of the Islamic State
M. A. Muqtedar Khan
Published in the Mirror international on May 30th, 2001
In this brief essay I wish to point out to one particular precedent set by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that not only supports the democratic theories of Islamic state but also provides a very important occasion for the development of political theory itself. The occasion I am referring to is the compact of Medina; some scholars also refer to it as the Dastur al-Medina (The Constitution of Medina). We must remember that everything the Prophet (PBUH) said and did is essentially an exegesis of the Qur’an. The Prophet s actions should be understood as an interpretation, a prophetic and divine interpretation, of the Holy Qur’an.
After Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) migrated from Mecca to Yathrib in 622 CE, he established the first Islamic state. For ten years Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was not only the leader of the emerging Muslim Ummah in Arabia but also the political head of Medina. As the leader of Median, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) exercised jurisdiction over Muslims as well as non-Muslims within the city. The legitimacy of his rule over Medina was based on his status as the Prophet (PBUH) of Islam as well as on the basis of the compact of Medina.
As Prophet of Allah (SWT) he had sovereignty over all Muslims by divine decree so profoundly manifest in the statement of Shahadah, Lailaha Illallah Muhammadur Rasoolullah (There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger). When Muslims declare their faith, they not only assert the sole divinity of Allah (SWT) but also the sovereignty of Muhammad (PBUH) as his messenger and agent on Earth. But Muhammad (PBUH) did not rule over the non-Muslims of Medina because he was the messenger of Allah. They did not recognize this particular credential of his. He ruled over them by virtue of the tri-partite compact that was signed by the Muhajirun (Muslim immigrants from Mecca), the Ansar (indigenous Muslims of Medina and the Yahud (Jews). It is interesting to note that Jews were constitutional partners in the making of the first Islamic state.
The compact of Medina provides an excellent historical example of two theoretical constructs that have shaped contemporary political theory and should therefore be of great value to those scholars who are involved in the theorizing of the Islamic state. Political theory relies heavily on the ideas of a social contract and a constitution. A social contract, made famous by the French philosopher Rousseau is an imaginary agreement between people in the state of nature that leads to the establishment of a community or a state. In the state of nature people are free and are not obliged to follow any rules or laws. They are essentially sovereign individuals. But through the social contract they surrender their individual sovereignty to the collective and create the community or the state. This state then acts as an agent of the sovereign people, exercising the sovereignty that has been delegated to it by the people through the social contract in order to realize the wishes of the people enshrined in the objectives of the social contract.
While western political thinkers like Rousseau and Locke have used this idea of an imaginary social contract as a fundamental premise for theorizing the modern state, there are really very few real examples of such an event in human history. In the American history, the Mayflower compact is one example. The writing and signing of the constitution after six months of deliberation in Philadelphia may be considered as another example of a social contract. But Muslims are fortunate to have the compact of Medina as a tradition upon which the foundations of a modern state can be built.
The second idea that underpins contemporary political theory is the concept of the constitution. In many ways the constitution is the document that enshrines the conditions of the social contract upon which any society is founded. The writing of a constitution is a very old idea. Aristotle himself had collected over 300 written constitutions in his lifetime. The compact of Medina clearly served a constitutional function since it was the constitutive document for the first Islamic state.
Thus we can argue that the compact of Medina serves the dual function of a social contract and a constitution. Clearly the compact of Medina by itself cannot serve as a modern constitution. It would be quite inadequate since it is a historically specific document and quite limited in its scope. However it can serve as a guiding principle to be emulated rather than a manual to be duplicated.
The compact of Medina also illustrates what should be the relationship between the revelation and a constitution. Muhammad (PBUH) if he so wished could have merely indicated the truth revealed by Allah (PBUH) shall serve as the constitution of Medina or the basis for the new community and force this revelation upon non-Muslims. But if he did that then he would have ruled Medina with the authority of Allah behind him but without the complete consent of those under his rule. Muhammad (PBUH) in his great wisdom demonstrated a democratic spirit quite unlike the authoritarian tendencies of many of those who claim to imitate him today. He chose to draw up a historically specific constitution based on the eternal and transcendent principles revealed to him and sought the consent of all who would be affected by its implementation.
In simple terms, the first Islamic state established in Medina was based on a social contract, was constitutional in character and the ruler ruled with the explicit written consent of all the citizens of the state. Today we need to emulate Muhammad (PBUH) and draw up our own constitutions, historically and temporally specific to our conditions and based on the eternal and transcendent principles revealed by Allah (SWT). We can use the compact of Medina as an example of how to develop manuals from principles.
In conclusion, I would like to summarize the principles manifest in Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) constitution of Medina. I recommend that all Muslims read this wonderful document themselves. I regret that there is no place in this brief column to reproduce it in its entirety. but readers are welcome to rad its entire text at http://msanews.mynet.net/books/lessons/constitution.html.
The Constitution of Medina establishes the importance of consent and cooperation for governance. According to this compact Muslims and non-Muslims are equal citizens of the Islamic state, with identical rights and duties. Communities with different religious orientations enjoy religious autonomy. Which essentially is wider in scope than the modern idea of religious freedom. The constitution of Medina established a pluralistic state — a community of communities. It promised equal security to all and all were equal in the eyes of the law. The principles of equality, consensual governance and pluralism are beautifully enmeshed in the compact of Medina.
It is amazing to see how Muhammad’s (PBUH) interpretation of the Qur’an and the Maqasid al-Shariah was so democratic, so tolerant and compassionate, while contemporary Muslims (like the Taliban for example) interpretation of the same is so harsh, so authoritarian and so intolerant. I hope this discussion will invite us to look at the Sunnah of our dear Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), more closely. We must learn from him not only the principles of faith but also human virtues of mercy, compassion, equality, justice and tolerance. The constitution of Medina is an excellent manifestation of the Prophet’s (PBUH) virtuous personality.
The Madina Constitution (Charter)
In the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful.
(1) This is a document from Muhammad the prophet (governing the relations) between the believers and Muslims of Quraysh and Yathrib, and those who followed them and joined them and labored with them.
(2) They are one community (umma) to the exclusion of all men.
(3) The Quraysh emigrants according to their present custom shall pay the bloodwit within their number and shall redeem their prisoners with the kindness and justice common among believers.
(4-8) The B. ‘Auf according to their present custom shall pay the bloodwit they paid in heatheism; every section shall redeem its prisoners with the kindness and justice common among believers. The B. Sa ida, the B. ‘l-Harith, and the B. Jusham, and the B. al-Najjar likewise.
(9-11) The B. ‘Amr b. ‘Auf, the B. al-Nabit and the B. al-‘Aus likewise.
(12)(a) Believers shall not leave anyone destitute among them by not paying his redemption money or bloodwit in kindness.
(12)(b) A believer shall not take as an ally the freedman of another Muslim against him.
(13) The God-fearing believers shall be against the rebellious or him who seeks to spread injustice, or sin or animosity, or corruption between believers; the hand of every man shall be against him even if he be a son of one of them.
(14) A believer shall not slay a believer for the sake of an unbeliever, nor shall he aid an unbeliever against a believer.
(15) God’s protection is one, the least of them may give protection to a stranger on their behalf. Believers are friends one to the other to the exclusion of outsiders.
(16) To the Jew who follows us belong help and equality. He shall not be wronged nor shall his enemies be aided.
(17) The peace of the believers is indivisible. No separate peace shall be made when believers are fighting in the way of God. Conditions must be fair and equitable to all.
(18) In every foray a rider must take another behind him.
(19) The believers must avenge the blood of one another shed in the way of God.
(20)(a) The God-fearing believers enjoy the best and most upright guidance.
(20)(b) No polytheist shall take the property of person of Quraysh under his protection nor shall he intervene against a believer.
(21) Whoever is convicted of killing a believer without good reason shall be subject to retaliation unless the next of kin is satisfied (with blood-money), and the believers shall be against him as one man, and they are bound to take action against him.
(22) It shall not be lawful to a believer who holds by what is in this document and believes in God and the last day to help an evil-doer or to shelter him. The curse of God and His anger on the day of resurrection will be upon him if he does, and neither repentance nor ransom will be received from him.
(23) Whenever you differ about a matter it must be referred to God and to Muhammad.
(24) The Jews shall contribute to the cost of war so long as they are fighting alongside the believers.
(25) The Jews of the B. ‘Auf are one community with the believers (the Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs), their freedmen and their persons except those who behave unjustly and sinfully, for they hurt but themselves and their families.
(26-35) The same applies to the Jews of the B. al-Najjar, B. al-Harith, B. Sai ida, B. Jusham, B. al-Aus, B. Tha’laba, and the Jafna, a clan of the Tha‘laba and the B. al-Shutayba. Loyalty is a protection against treachery. The freedmen of Tha ‘laba are as themselves. The close friends of the Jews are as themselves.
(36) None of them shall go out to war save the permission of Muhammad, but he shall not be prevented from taking revenge for a wound. He who slays a man without warning slays himself and his household, unless it be one who has wronged him, for God will accept that.
(37) The Jews must bear their expenses and the Muslims their expenses. Each must help the other against anyone who attacks the people of this document. They must seek mutual advice and consultation, and loyalty is a protection against treachery. A man is not liable for his ally’s misdeeds. The wronged must be helped.
(38) The Jews must pay with the believers so long as war lasts.
(39) Yathrib shall be a sanctuary for the people of this document.
(40) A stranger under protection shall be as his host doing no harm and committing no crime.
(41) A woman shall only be given protection with the consent of her family.
(42) If any dispute or controversy likely to cause trouble should arise it must be referred to God and to Muhammad the apostle of God. God accepts what is nearest to piety and goodness in this document.
(43) Quraysh and their helpers shall not be given protection.
(44) The contracting parties are bound to help one another against any attack on Yathrib.
(45)(a) If they are called to make peace and maintain it they must do so; and if they make a similar demand on the Muslims it must be carried out except in the case of a holy war.
(45)(b) Every one shall have his portion from the side to which he belongs.
(46) The Jews of al-Aus, their freedmen and themselves have the same standing with the people of this document in purely loyalty from the people of this document. Loyalty is a protection against treachery. He who acquires ought acquires it for himself. God approves of this document.
(47) This deed will not protect the unjust and the sinner. The man who goes forth to fight and the man who stays at home in the city is safe unless he has been unjust and sinned. God is the protector of the good and God-fearing man and Muhammad is the apostle of God.
This text is taken from A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad — A Translation of Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 1955; pp. 231-233. Numbering added.
(islamfactor.org / 25.08.2011)