Constitution of Medina

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The Constitution of Medina (Arabic: دستور المدينة‎, Dastūr ul-Madīnah or صحيفة المدينة Ṣaḥīfat ul-Madīnah), 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 first Islamic state. The document was created to bring 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 is uncertain, 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).


In Muhammad's last years in Mecca, a delegation from Medina, consisting of the representatives of the twelve important clans of Medina, invited him 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]


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]

Expulsion of Banu Qaynuqa[edit]

According to Islamic tradition, the Invasion of Banu Qaynuqa[11] also known as the expedition against Banu Qaynuqa,[12] occurred in 624 AD. The Banu Qaynuqa were a Jewish tribe expelled by the Islamic prophet Muhammad for allegedly breaking the treaty known as the Constitution of Medina[13][14]:209 by pinning the clothes of a Muslim woman, which lead to her being stripped naked. A Muslim killed a Jew in retaliation, and the Jews in turn killed the Muslim man. This escalated to a chain of revenge killings, and enmity grew between Muslims and the Banu Qaynuqa, leading to the siege of their fortress.[13][15][16]:122 The tribe eventually surrendered to Muhammad, who initially wanted to kill the members of Banu Qaynuqa but ultimately yielded to Abdullah ibn Ubayy's insistence and agreed to expel the Qaynuqa.[17]

Traditional Muslim sources view these episodes as a violation of the Constitution of Medina.[13] Muhammad himself regarded this as casus belli.[14]:209 Western historians, however, do not find in these events the underlying reason for Muhammad's attack on the Qaynuqa. According to F.E. Peters, the precise circumstances of the alleged violation of the Constitution of Medina are not specified in the sources.[18]:218 According to Fred Donner, available sources do not elucidate the reasons for the expulsion of the Qaynuqa. Donner argues that Muhammad turned against the Qaynuqa because, as artisans and traders, they were in close contact with Meccan merchants.[19]

Weinsinck views the episodes cited by the Muslim historians, such as the story of the Jewish goldsmith, as having no more than anecdotal value. He writes that the Jews had assumed a contentious attitude towards Muhammad, and as a group possessing substantial independent power, they posed a great danger. Wensinck thus concludes that Muhammad, strengthened by the victory at Badr, soon resolved to eliminate the Jewish opposition to himself.[20] Norman Stillman also believes that Muhammad decided to move against the Jews of Medina after being strengthened in the wake of the Battle of Badr.[16]:13


Bernard Lewis claims that the Constitution was not a treaty in the modern sense, but a unilateral proclamation by Muhammad.[21] 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."[22]

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.[23]

An analysis of the Constitution of Medina was written by Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, who argues that it is the first written constitution.[24] He has published an e-book of the 63 constitutional articles.[25]

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.[26] Welch in Encyclopedia of Islam states: "The constitution reveals 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."[27]

In the best-selling book, In the shadow of the sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World, Tom Holland writes [28] "The Constitution of Medina is accepted by even the most suspicious of scholars as deriving from the time of Muhammad. Here in these precious documents, it is possible to glimpse the authentic beginnings of a movement that would succeed, in barely two decades, in prostrating both the Roman and the Persian Empires."[28]

Significance of the Ummah[edit]

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.[29] 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.[30] This contrasts with the norms of pre-Islamic Arabia, which was a thoroughly tribal society, although Serjeant postulates the existence of earlier theocratic communities.[31] 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”.[30] This is an important event in the development of the small group of Muslims in Medina to the larger Muslim community and empire.[32]

Rights of non-Muslims[edit]

The non-Muslims included in the ummah had the following rights:[33]

  1. The security of God is equal for all groups,[34]
  2. Non-Muslim members will have the same political and cultural rights as Muslims. They will have autonomy and freedom of religion.[35]
  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.[36]
  4. Non-Muslims will not be obliged to take part in religious wars of the Muslims.[37]


See also[edit]


  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. ^ Mubarakpuri, Saifur Rahman Al (2005), Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum, Darussalam Publications, p. 117 
  12. ^ Mubarakpuri, Saifur Rahman Al (2002), When the Moon Split, DarusSalam, p. 159, ISBN 978-9960-897-28-8 
  13. ^ a b c Sirat Rasul Allah [The Life of Muhammad], transl. Guillaume, p. 363  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  14. ^ a b Watt (1956), Muhammad at Medina .
  15. ^ Mubarakpuri, Saifur Rahman Al (2005), The sealed nectar: biography of the Noble Prophet, Darussalam Publications, p. 284, ISBN 978-9960-899-55-8 
  16. ^ a b Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book .
  17. ^ Cook, Michael, Muhammad, p. 21 .
  18. ^ Peters, Muhammad and the Origins of Islam .
  19. ^ Donner, Muhammad's Political Consolidation in Arabia up to the Conquest of Mecca, pp. 231–2 .
  20. ^ Wensinck, AJ, "Kaynuka, banu", Encyclopaedia of Islam .
  21. ^ Lewis, Bernard, The Arabs in History, p. 42 .
  22. ^ Berkey, Jonathan, The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600–1800, Cambridge University Press, p. 64 .
  23. ^ "The Medina Constitution". 
  24. ^ "First Islamic State". 
  25. ^ "The Constitution of Medina: 63 constitutional articles". 
  26. ^ Ramadan, Hisham M (2006). Understanding Islamic Law: From Classical to Contemporary. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 0-7591-0990-7. 
  27. ^ Welch, "Muhammad", Encyclopedia of Islam .
  28. ^ a b In the shadow of the sword, The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World By Tom Holland, ISBN 978-0-349-12235-9 Abacus Page 383
  29. ^ Williams, John Alden, Themes of Islamic Civilization, p. 12 .
  30. ^ a b Denny, Frederick (Jan 1977), "Umma in the Constitution of Medina", Journal of Near Eastern Studies 36 (1), The University of Chicago Press, p. 44 .
  31. ^ Ibid, Serjeant, page 4.
  32. ^ Ibid, Serjeant, page 4.
  33. ^ Ahmed (1979), p. 46-7
  34. ^ Article 15, as quoted in Ahmed (1979), p. 46-7
  35. ^ Article 25, as quoted in Ahmed (1979), p. 46-7
  36. ^ Article 37, as quoted in Ahmed (1979), p. 46-7
  37. ^ Article 45, as quoted in Ahmed (1979), p. 46-7

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