Medina Charter: The First Form of the Constitutional Concept

The rehabilitation of the Muhajirs and the fusion of the tribes had made Medina sufficient for nation-building. The basic social problems of the nation were solved through this. Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) began to think of the Constitution as the most important element of a nation. Every nation gains a complete structure when its laws and civil rights are determined. This process named as ‘Medina Charter’ was the decisive point in Medina’s National building. Medina was a plural society consisting of diverse religions and tribal societies. The aim of the Charter was to unite them all under a single framework once and for all. Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) framed the Constitution of Medina in such a way that it could be followed by societies without any prototypes. As per the administration of Rousseau and Hobbes, beginning of a nation is a social contract between the rulers and the those who are being ruled. In such a view, the Medina Charter can be considered as the official beginning of the Medina Nation.

 

The initial discussions of the Charter took place at the house of Anas bin Malik(Allah be pleased with him). Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) consulted tribal chiefs of Medina, bringing the Charter to a democratic conclusion through dialogue. He never tried to impose the laws upon them forcefully. This constitution backed its final figure through the conclusive discussions held in the house of Bint Al Fareed. The Charter is known in Islamic texts as Al-Kithab and Al-Sawahifa.

 

According to Merriam-Webster, the Constitution is a set of basic principles that decree the authority and mission of the rulers and guarantee the rights of the people. When read in concurrence with this definition, the Medina Charter maintains all the characteristics of a constitution. The Charter specifically cites the rights and duties of the believers and idolaters in Medina. This Charter authorised Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) as the head of republic of Madinah and entrusted upon him the duty of administering justice.The Medina Charter is structured in such a way that it is in line with the modern constitutions, consisting of forty-seven articles and five sub-paragraphs. The Medina Charter was written in two phases. Verses one to twenty-three were on one occasion and twenty-four to forty-seven on another occasion. In this the first phase canvas it discusses about the ‘Ansar’ and ‘Muhajir’, while its second phase discusses about non-believers in Medina.

 

Several attempts have been made throughout history with a view to reducing the Medina Charter to a treaty made by Muslims and Jews.  However, all those who viewed the Charter objectively came to the conclusion that it was a constitution. The opinion of William Moore, who studied the Prophet himself critically, is relevant here. According to him,

 

“There were many rulers and governments in the world before Muhammad, and it was only Muhammad who brought such a precise declaration for the welfare of his fellow man.”

 

Professor Hamidullah described it as the first written constitution ever. Fati Usman also conveyed the Medina Charter as a constitution in his State of Ideology.

 

With the arrival of the Aws and Khazraj tribes, the Muslim community gained much more strength in Medina. Although under the control of the Jews in the early days, they established their dominance by the fifth century AD. With the arrival of Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), those who were divided became one community. In such a situation, there were all the opportunities in Medina to impose Islam. But Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) set a noble example of the need to take a stand in a pluralistic society. Everyone was given the opportunity to practice their own religion without any violation at all. Article 25 of the Medina Charter deals with the freedom of religion. The Constitution states that “Muslims have their own religion and Jews have their own religion.” In the light of the Medina Charter, even Orientalist scholars have regarded Islam as a monotheistic philosophy that indicates the rights of other religions. It even specified every tribes and equally considered every one of them. Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) unveiled that there is no any discrimination before national justice. It is impossible to find an era in history that Jewish people enjoyed their rights in such a level except the era in which there was an Islamic republic. This situation persisted not only during the prophetic period but also until the fall of Andalusia in 1492. However, the Jewish community in modern society denies the Medina Charter itself in order to justify its association with the Quraish.

 

The Western thinker, John Alden Williams observed that the Medina Charter emphasized relationships and personal responsibilities beyond kinship. Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) pointed up tolerance and mutual harmony. He taught the moral lessons of humanity to a society that had gone through tribal strife. Moral values ​​were instilled in them through political discourse. They were lifted from tribalism to nationalism. The different paragraphs in the charter were about nationalism. It should be read in alliance with W. Watt’s observation that the Charter outlines how agreements and disagreements between communities can be debated in the light of a common understanding. Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was strict even in matters of slaves. In verse twelve, Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) also contemplated the rights of minorities by explaining the nature of slaves. The Medina Charter explained how to create a peaceful atmosphere without terror and violence. Paragraph 40 speaks of foreigners and guests entering into Medina. Allah’s Messenger had even convinced the manners and considerations to be given to them. It was only after the Fourteenth Amendment of 1868 that the concept of citizenship arose in the American Constitution. But in the second paragraph of the Charter, Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) declared all the people of Medina to be its citizens.

 

King John formed the Magna Carta in 1215.  There have been several studies on comparing Magna Carta and the Medina Charter as a human rights document. Magna Carta came into existence as a result of the ongoing struggle to eliminate King John’s  transgression. The struggles were led by the lower nobility of feudal England. His government made it difficult for the people by imposing excessive taxes. Even after the Magna Carta came into existence, minorities did not enjoy their rights. The Constitution of Medina was very different from this. If the people of England were against King John, the situation in Medina was different. There were no attempt to seize power. He was elected as a leader who was widely accepted. That was why the power discussions of Abdullah bin Ubayy bin Sulool who had been ready for the coronation became insignificant. The Jews learned about the Prophets also through their ancient scriptures. Magna Carta came into action after the long-term agitations wherein Medina people never got into situations of fighting for their own rights. Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) considered all sects as a single community. Similar to the Magna Carta manuscripts, Medina Charter is also compared with Manusmriti and Kaudilya’s Arthashastram. But the fact is that none of this has been read as a constitution up to date.

 

Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) brought together the people of Medina, where wars and tribal conflicts were common. He taught the society new lessons of peace and justice. With the enactment of the Constitution, Yathrib became the Republic of Medina. Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) completed every stage of nation-building by creating accurate guidelines in economic and military affairs and Medina has become a model for the rest of the world.

About the author

Firdous Mansoor Is an independent junior research scholar in the field of bachelor business administration and modern Indian law. As part of his religious practice he is well played and skilled scholar in the field of Islamic jurisprudence of Imam Shafi and Ash-ari theology. his major studies follows Islamic ethics, Islamic civilizations and modern business.

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