Constitution of Medina
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The Constitution of Medina (دستور المدينة, Dustūr al-Madīna), also known as the Charter of Medina (Arabic: صحيفة المدينة, Ṣaḥīfat al-Madīnah; or: ميثاق المدينة, Mīthāq al-Madina "Covenant of Medina"), was drawn up on behalf of the Islamic prophet Muhammad shortly after his arrival at Medina (then known as Yathrib) in 622 CE (or 1 AH), following the Hijra from Mecca.
The preamble declares the document to be "a book [kitab] of the prophet Muhammad to operate between the believers [mu'minin] and Muslims from the Quraysh tribe and from Yathrib and those who may be under them and wage war in their company" declaring them to constitute "one community [ummah wāḥidah] separate from all other people". It established the collective responsibility of nine constituent tribes for their members' actions, specifically emphasising blood money and ransom payment. The first constituent group mentioned are the Qurayshi migrants, followed by eight other tribes. Eight Jewish groups are recognized as part of the Yathrib community, and their religious separation from Muslims is established. The Jewish Banu Shutayba tribe is inserted as one of the Jewish groups, rather than with the nine tribes mentioned earlier in the document. The constitution also established Muhammad as the mediating authority between groups and forbids the waging of war without his authorization.
The constitution was created to end the bitter intertribal fighting between the rival clans of Banu Aws and Banu Khazraj in Medina and to maintain peace and co-operation among all Medinan groups. Establishing the role of Muhammad as the mediating authority between the two groups and the others in Medina was central to the ending of Medinan internal violence and was an essential feature of the constitution. The document ensured freedom of religious beliefs and practices for all citizens who "follow the believers". It assured that representatives of all parties, Muslim or non-Muslim, should be present when consultation occurs or in cases of negotiation with foreign states. It declared "a woman can only be hosted by a host with the consent of her family" and imposed a tax system for supporting the community in times of conflict. It declared the role of Medina as a ḥaram (حرم, "sacred place"), where no blood of the peoples included in the pact can be spilled.
The division of the constitution into numbered articles is not in the original text but added later by scholars. The numbering of clauses differs in different sources, but there is general agreement on the authenticity of the most widely-read version of the charter, which is found in Ibn Ishaq's Sirah Rasul Allah.
In Muhammad's last years in Mecca, a delegation from Medina from its twelve important clans invited him as a neutral outsider to serve as the chief arbitrator for the entire community. There had been fighting in Medina involving mainly its pagan and Jewish inhabitants for around 100 years before 620. The recurring slaughters and disagreements over the resulting claims, especially after the Battle of Bu'ath in which all the clans had been 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 the authority to adjudicate in disputed cases. The delegation from Medina pledged themselves and their fellow citizens to accept Muhammad into their community and to protect him physically as if he was one of them.
After emigration to Medina, Muhammad drafted the constitution, "establishing a kind of alliance or federation" of the eight Medinan tribes and Muslim emigrants from Mecca and specifying 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: the Jews and the other "Peoples of the Book".
Instead of an original document, several purported versions survive in early Muslim sources, although the first obtainable version doesn't appear until the Sira of Ibn Hashim allegedly repeated from the earlier preserved by the Sira of ibn Ishaq. The most-widely read version is found in the pages of Ibn Ishaq's Sirah Rasul Allah presented by Ibn Hashim; alternative copies are in Sayyid al-Nas and Abu ‘Ubayd's Kitab al-Amwal. With the exception of the revisionist scholars, both Muslim and Western scholars of Islam recognize the document's historical authenticity.
Montgomery Watt states that it must have been written in the early Medinan period because if the document been drafted later, it would have both had a positive attitude towards the Quraysh and given Muhammad a prominent place. Hubert Grimme states that it was drafted after the Battle of Badr. However, Leone Caetani claims that the document was complete before the battle.
According to RB Serjeant, 3:101–104 of the Qur'an refer to the constitution. He proposes it underwent recension, a hypothesis first proposed by Richard Bell. In its first recension, the 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 the proposal of three recensions is unacceptable, the verses must make reference to the two different treaties.
The following is a translation of the original text of the Constitution of Medina by Muslim scholar and polymath Muhamad Hamidullah based on the following historical sources: the Seerah of Ibn Hisham which quotes the Seerah of Ibn Ishaq, Abu Ubaid's Kitab-al-Amwal, and Ibn Kathir's al-Bidayah-wan-Nihaya. A comparative translation of the two versions by Ibn Ishaq in Ibn Hisham's recension and Abu Ubaid has been published by Michael Lecker, who highlights the differences between the two texts.
A Translation of the Constitution of the City-State of Madina in the Time of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم)
[I have tried to make the translation very clear so as not to require any marginal notes for its understanding. The clauses have been numbered, to facilitate easy reference. Since this numbering has been agreed upon and is the same in Germany, Holland, Italy and other places, so whenever I have had to differ I have indicated my difference by subdividing the clause into (a), (b), etc., so as not to interfere with the international numbering.]
In the name of God, the Beneficent and the Merciful
(1) This is a prescript of Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم), the Prophet and Messenger of God (to operate) between the faithful and the followers of Islam from among the Quraish and the people of Madina and those who may be under them, may join them and take part in wars in their company.
(2) They shall constitute a separate political unit (Ummat) as distinguished from all the people (of the world).
(3) The emigrants from the Quraish shall be (responsible) for their own ward; and shall pay their blood-money in mutual collaboration and shall secure the release of their own prisoners by paying their ransom from themselves, so that the mutual dealings between the believers be in accordance with the principles of goodness and justice.
(4) And Banu ‘Awf shall be responsible for their own ward and shall pay their blood-money in mutual collaboration, and every group shall secure the release of its own prisoners by paying their ransom from themselves so that the dealings between the believers be in accordance with the principles of goodness and justice.
(5) And Banu Al-Harith-ibn-Khazraj shall be responsible for their own ward and shall pay their blood-money in mutual collaboration and every group shall secure the release of its own prisoners by paying their ransom from themselves, so that the dealings between the believers be in accordance with the principles of goodness and justice.
(6) And Banu Sa‘ida shall be responsible for their own ward, and shall pay their blood-money in mutual collaboration and every group shall secure the release of its own prisoners by paying their ransom from themselves, so that the dealings between the believers be in accordance with the principles of goodness and justice.
(7) And Banu Jusham shall be responsible for their own ward and shall pay their blood-money in mutual collaboration and every group shall secure the release of its own prisoners by paying their ransom so that the dealings between the believers be in accordance with the principles of goodness and justice.
(8) And Banu an-Najjar shall be responsible for their own ward and shall pay their blood-money in mutual collaboration and every group shall secure the release of its own prisoners by paying their ransom so that the dealings between the believers be in accordance with the principles of goodness and justice.
(9) And Banu ‘Amr-ibn-‘Awf shall be responsible for their own ward and shall pay their blood-money in mutual collaboration and every group shall secure the release of its own prisoners by paying their ransom, so that the dealings between the believers be in accordance with the principles of goodness and justice.
(10) And Banu-al-Nabit shall be responsible for their own ward and shall pay their blood-money in mutual collaboration and every group shall secure the release of its own prisoners by paying their ransom so that the dealings between the believers be in accordance with the principles of goodness and justice.
(11) And Banu-al-Aws shall be responsible for their own ward and shall pay their blood-money in mutual collaboration and every group shall secure the release of its own prisoners by paying their ransom, so that the dealings between the believers be in accordance with the principles of goodness and justice.
(12) (a) And the believers shall not leave any one, hard-pressed with debts, without affording him some relief, in order that the dealings between the believers be in accordance with the principles of goodness and justice. (b) Also no believer shall enter into a contract of clientage with one who is already in such a contract with another believer.
(13) And the hands of pious believers shall be raised against every such person as rises in rebellion or attempts to acquire anything by force or is guilty of any sin or excess or attempts to spread mischief among the believers ; their hands shall be raised all together against such a person, even if he be a son to any one of them.
(14) A Believer will not kill a Believer [in retaliation] for a non-Believer and will not aid a non-Believer against a Believer.
(15) The protection (dhimmah) of Allah is one, the least of them [i.e., the Believers] is entitled to grant protection (yujīr) that is binding for all of them. The Believers are each other’s allies (mawālī) to the exclusion of other people.
(16) And that those who will obey us among the Jews, will have help and equality. Neither shall they be oppressed nor will any help be given against them.
(17) And the peace of the believers shall be one. If there be any war in the way of God, no believer shall be under any peace (with the enemy) apart from other believers, unless it (this peace) be the same and equally binding on all.
(18) And all those detachments that will fight on our side will be relieved by turns.
(19) And the believers as a body shall take blood vengeance in the way of God.
(20) (a) And undoubtedly pious believers are the best and in the rightest course. (b) And that no associator (non-Muslim subject) shall give any protection to the life and property of a Quraishite, nor shall he come in the way of any believer in this matter.
(21) And if any one intentionally murders a believer, and it is proved, he shall be killed in retaliation, unless the heir of the murdered person be satisfied with blood-money. And all believers shall actually stand for this ordinance and nothing else shall be proper for them to do.
(22) And it shall not be lawful for any one, who has agreed to carry out the provisions laid down in this code and has affixed his faith in God and the Day of Judgment, to give help or protection to any murderer, and if he gives any help or protection to such a person, God‟s curse and wrath shall be on him on the Day of Resurrection, and no money or compensation shall be accepted from such a person.
(23) And that whenever you differ about anything, refer it to God and to Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم)
(24) And the Jews shall share with the believers the expenses of war so long as they fight in conjunction,
(25) And the Jews of Banu ‘Awf shall be considered as one community (Ummat) along with the believers—for the Jews their religion, and for the Muslims theirs, be one client or patron. But whoever does wrong or commits treachery brings evil only on himself and his household.
(26) And the Jews of Banu-an-Najjar shall have the same rights as the Jews of Banu ‘Awf.
(27) And the Jews of Banu-al-Harith shall have the same rights as the Jews of Banu ‘Awf.
(28) And the Jews of Banu Sa‘ida shall have the same rights as the Jews of Banu ‘Awf
(29) And the Jews of Banu Jusham shall have the same rights as the Jews of Banu ‘Awf.
(30) And the Jews of Banu al-Aws shall have the same rights as the Jews of Banu ‘Awf.
(31) And the Jews of Banu Tha‘laba shall have the same rights as the Jews of Banu ‘Awf. But whoever does wrong or commits treachery brings evil only on himself and his household.
(32) And Jafna, who are a branch of the Tha’laba tribe, shall have the same rights as the mother tribes.
(33) And Banu-ash-Shutaiba shall have the same rights as the Jews of Banu ‘Awf; and they shall be faithful to, and not violators of, treaty.
(34) And the mawlas (clients) of Tha'laba shall have the same rights as those of the original members of it.
(35) And the sub-branches of the Jewish tribes shall have the same rights as the mother tribes.
(36) (a) And that none of them shall go out to fight as a soldier of the Muslim army, without the per-mission of Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم). (b) And no obstruction shall be placed in the way of any one‟s retaliation for beating or injuries; and whoever sheds blood brings it upon himself and his household, except he who has been wronged, and Allah demands the most righteous fulfillment of this [treaty].
(37) (a) And the Jews shall bear the burden of their expenses and the Muslims theirs.
(b) And if any one fights against the people of this code, their (i.e., of the Jews and Muslims) mutual help shall come into operation, and there shall be friendly counsel and sincere behaviour between them; and faithfulness and no breach of covenant.
(38) And the Jews shall be bearing their own expenses so long as they shall be fighting in conjunction with the believers.
(39) And the Valley of Yathrib (Madina) shall be a Haram (sacred place) for the people of this code.
(40) The clients (mawla) shall have the same treatment as the original persons (i.e., persons accepting clientage). He shall neither be harmed nor shall he himself break the covenant.
(41) And no refuge shall be given to any one without the permission of the people of the place (i.e., the refugee shall have no right of giving refuge to others).
(42) And that if any murder or quarrel takes place among the people of this code, from which any trouble may be feared, it shall be referred to God and God‟s Messenger, Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم); and God will be with him who will be most particular about what is written in this code and act on it most faithfully.
(43) The Quraish shall be given no protection nor shall they who help them.
(44) And they (i.e., Jews and Muslims) shall have each other‟s help in the event of any one invading Yathrib.
(45) (a) And if they (i.e., the Jews) are invited to any peace, they also shall offer peace and shall be a party to it; and if they invite the believers to some such affairs, it shall be their (Muslims) duty as well to reciprocate the dealings, excepting that any one makes a religious war. (b) On every group shall rest the responsibility of (repulsing) the enemy from the place which faces its part of the city.
(46) And the Jews of the tribe of al-Aws, clients as well as original members, shall have the same rights as the people of this code: and shall behave sincerely and faithfully towards the latter, not perpetrating any breach of covenant. As one shall sow so shall he reap. And God is with him who will most sincerely and faithfully carry out the provisions of this code.
(47) And this prescript shall not be of any avail to any oppressor or breaker of covenant. And one shall have security whether one goes out to a campaign or remains in Madina, or else it will be an oppression and breach of covenant. And God is the Protector of him who performs the obligations with faithfulness and care, as also His Messenger Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم).
Muhammad's Quraysh (or Quraish) tribe appear in the document as both a principal constituent of the community and the enemy. The Quraysh referred to are sometimes the followers of Muhammad as "migrants" or "believers", but other times, the word refers to those members of the tribe who expelled Muhammad and his followers from Mecca, the Qurayshi capital.
Bernard Lewis claims that the charter was not a treaty in the modern sense but a unilateral proclamation by Muhammad. 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".
L. Ali Khan says that it was a social contract derived from a treaty and not from any fictional state of nature or from behind the Rawlsian veil of ignorance. It was built upon the concept of one community of diverse tribes living under the sovereignty of one God.
It 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 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."
Tom Holland writes, "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".
Significance of Ummah
Another important feature of the Constitution of Medina is the redefinition of ties between Muslims. It sets faith relationships above blood-ties and emphasizes individual responsibility. Tribal identities are still important to refer to different groups, but the "main binding tie" for the newly-created ummah is religion. That contrasts with the norms of pre-Islamic Arabia, which was a thoroughly tribal society, but Serjeant postulates the existence of earlier theocratic communities. 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". That is an important event in the development of the small group of Muslims in Medina to the larger Muslim community and empire.
Rights of non-Muslims
The non-Muslims had the following rights on the condition they "follow" the Muslims:
- The security of God is equal for all groups,
- Non-Muslim members have the same political and cultural rights as Muslims. They have autonomy and freedom of religion.
- Non-Muslims take up arms against the enemy of the nation and share the cost of war. There is to be no treachery between the two.
- Non-Muslims are not obliged to take part in the Muslims' religious wars.
- Al-Risalah al-Huquq
- Ashtiname of Muhammad
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- List of expeditions of Muhammad
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- Lecker, Michael (26 August 2014). "The Constitution of Medina". Oxford Bibliographies. Retrieved 16 December 2019.
- Watt (1956), pp. 227–228 argues that the initial agreement was shortly after the Hijra and the document was amended later, after the Battle of Badr (AH [anno hijra] 2, = AD 624). Serjeant argues that the charter 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 (1905), p. 393 and Wellhausen (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; Muhammad is very diffident about his own position, he accepts the pagan tribes within the Umma, and he 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 (1974). "The Constitution of Medina: A Reconsideration". Israel Oriental Studies. 4: 45.
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