The Constitution of Medina: Islam’s First Legislative Treaty12/18/2020
The Constitution of Medina, sometimes also called the “Ummah Document”1, is a charter that contains the first legal and administrative principles regarding the obligations and rights between the Muslims and the inhabitants of Yathrib, later also called al-Madinah, or simply Medina (ANTHONY, 2020).
Even though the original document of the Constitution of Medina has not reached the present day, its existence is widely known among specialists in Islamic history, preserved in several literary sources, being considered as authentic and dating from the time of the Prophet’s life (LECKER, 2004), also accepted by authors with some dislike for the Islamic religion, such as Tom Holland (2012). The Constitution would form the basis of the Islamic State of Medina, which in turn coexisted with several religions simultaneously.
The Document was created with the goal of putting an end to the endless tribal fights between the two main clans of Medina, the Banu Aws and the Banu Khazraj, also aiming to ensure peace and cooperation between the other groups in the city.
In Muhammad’s last years at the city of Mecca, a delegation from Medina of its twelve important clans invited him as a neutral foreigner to serve as the main arbiter for the entire community. In 622 there was the Migration of the Prophet to Yathrib (Medina) in the episode known as Hijra after the Quraysh clans tried to kill him. Thus, Muhammad would leave with Abu Bakr, since the other Muslims had already been sent by the Prophet to the city.
Right after arriving in Medina:
Soon after arriving in Medina, Muhammad drew up a written agreement with the peoples of the town establishing relationships and obligations between the Meccan refugees, now known as “The Immigrants” (Muhajirun) and the Medinan Muslims, now known as “The Helpers” (Ansar). The agreement put forth articles such as “No believer will kill another believer because of an unbeliever, and no believer will aid an unbeliever against another believer”. Many of the smaller Jewish clans of the town were also included in this compact and were guaranteed the same security and rights as Muslims. All these groups together were “one community” (BROWN, 2011, p. 27)
Before the Prophet’s arrival in Medina, there had been some fights involving mainly the Jewish and pagan inhabitants of the city for almost 100 years before the Hijra occurred. Thus, massacres were recurrent, along with disagreements surrounding the claims made mainly after the Battle of Bu’ath, where all clans were involved, mainly the Banu Aws and Banu Khazraj. Due to the widespread involvement in the feud, the residents of Yathrib realized that the tribal system of feuds and bloodshed was unsustainable, resulting in the search for an outside and impartial referee who could resolve their disputes, applying Muhammad to the role (WATT, 2008).
Thus, the Medina delegation promised both to themselves and their countrymen to accept the Prophet and his companions when he arrived in the city, protecting him as if he were one of them. Upon arriving, Muhammad drafted the aforementioned Constitution, establishing something that can be called an alliance or even a federation between the eight tribes of Medina and the Muslims of Mecca, specifying the rights and duties of all.
About the Jews, Hajjah Amina Adil (2002) in his biography of the Prophet based on classical Turkish sources, notes that:
The Jews were Ahl al-Kitabi (People of the Book), and possessors of knowledge, while the Khazraj still worshipped idols. Whenever they happened to be on badterms with the Jews, the latter would say to them, “Soon a prophet will be sent,his day is at hand. When he appears, we shall follow him and you will perish; we will destroy you entirely”. However, when Muhammad had come to Madinah, they said, “This man is no prophet!” As it is written in the holy verses of the Quran: When there came to them a Book from God, confirming what was with them and they aforetimes prayed for victory over the unbelievers –when there came to them that which they recognized, they disbelieved in it. (The Cow, 89) (ADIL, 2002, p. 259).
For Bernard Lewis (2002) in his The Arabs in History, the Constitution was not a mutual treaty in the modern sense, but an unilateral proclamation on the part of Muhammad. According to Welch (2009), the Constitution reveals the great diplomatic skills of the Prophet.
In any case, the Document can be summarized in the opinion of Berkey (2003), who states that one of the most interesting aspects of the Constitution is the inclusion of Jews as an integral part of the ummah (despite their visible betrayal as mentioned above), considering the Jewish tribes as “one community with the believers”, since they ” have their religion and the Muslims have theirs”.
The Ummah Document, in the version provided by Lecker (2004), comprises 47 articles, in his translation to the English language below:
In the name of God, the Beneficent and the Merciful
 This is a prescript of Muhammad, 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.
 They shall constitute a separate political unit (Ummat) as distinguished from all the people (of the world).
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 (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.
 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.
 And no believer shall kill another believer in retaliation for an unbeliever, nor shall he help an unbeliever against a believer.
 And the protection of God is one. The humblest of them (believers) can, by extending his protection to any one, put the obligation on all; and the believers are brothers to one another as against all the people (of the world).
 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.
 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.
 And all those detachments that will fight on our side will be relieved by turns.
 And the believers as a body shall take blood vengeance in the way of God.
 (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.
 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.
 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.
 And that whenever you differ about anything, refer it to God and to Muhammad.
 And the Jews shall share with the believers the expenses of war so long as they fight in conjunction.
 And the Jews of Banu ‘Awf shall be considered as one political community (Ummat) along with the believers—for the Jews their religion, and for the Muslims theirs, be one client or patron. He, however, who is guilty of oppression or breach of treaty, shall suffer the resultant trouble as also his family, but no one besides.
 And the Jews of Banu-an-Najjar shall have the same rights as the Jews of Banu ‘Awf.
 And the Jews of Banu-al-Harith shall have the same rights as the Jews of Banu ‘Awf.
 And the Jews of Banu Sa‘ida shall have the same rights as the Jews of Banu ‘Awf
 And the Jews of Banu Jusham shall have the same rights as the Jews of Banu ‘Awf.
 And the Jews of Banu al-Aws shall have the same rights as the Jews of Banu ‘Awf.
 And the Jews of Banu Tha‘laba shall have the same rights as the Jews of Banu ‘Awf. Of course, whoever is found guilty of oppression or violation of treaty, shall himself suffer the consequent trouble as also his family, but no one besides.
 And Jafna, who are a branch of the Tha’laba tribe, shall have the same rights as the mother tribes.
 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.
 And the mawlas (clients) of Tha’laba shall have the same rights as those of the original members of it.
 And the sub-branches of the Jewish tribes shall have the same rights as the mother tribes.
 (a) And that none of them shall go out to fight as a soldier of the Muslim army, without the per-mission of Muhammad. (b) And no obstruction shall be placed in the way of any one‟s retaliation for beating or injuries; and whoever sheds blood shall be personally responsible for it as well as his family; or else (i.e., any step beyond this) will be of oppression; and God will be with him who will most faithfully follow this code (sahifdh) in action.
 (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.
 And the Jews shall be bearing their own expenses so long as they shall be fighting in conjunction with the believers.
 And the Valley of Yathrib (Madina) shall be a Haram (sacred place) for the people of this code.
 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.
 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).
 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; and God will be with him who will be most particular about what is written in this code and act on it most faithfully.
 The Quraish shall be given no protection nor shall they who help them.
 And they (i.e., Jews and Muslims) shall have each other‟s help in the event of any one invading Yathrib.
 (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.
 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.
 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”.
Among the non-Muslims who appear in the articles above, it is important to note two groups: 1- The Quraysh and 2- The non-Muslims from Medina.
In the first group, those who were in Medina are sometimes mentioned, together with the Quraysh who performed the Migration with the Prophet. However, there is also the mention of the “enemy Quraysh”, the same ones who had tortured and beaten the Muslims many times before the Hijrah and who also tried to kill Muhammad. These are the pagan Quraysh from Mecca, who did not convert to Islam and tried everything to stop its preaching, appealing countless times for physical attacks, such as torture and murder attempts.
In the case of non-Muslims from Yathrib, such as Jews and pagans, if they comply with the provisions of the Constitution, they are mainly guaranteed:
- Security for all groups;
- Non-Muslim members of the new community have the same political and cultural rights as Muslims, and also have autonomy and religious freedom;
- The enemies are the enemies of the community, that is, non-Muslims take up arms against the nation’s enemy and share the costs of the war. There should be no betrayal between the believers and the non-believers, and both should fight side by side if necessary;
- Non-Muslims would not be forced to fight in wars over religion waged by the believers of Islam. By the way, this was also one of the conditions of the dhimmis throughout Islamic history, who have always been exempt from compulsory military service, unlike Muslims themselves.
With the Medina Constitution, the ties between Muslims are redefined, now a relation based on the faith, being above the blood ties that until then were mandatory in the tribal society from which they came. Although blood ties are important, the strongest link between the ummah is precisely their religiousness, belonging to the Islamic faith.
The Ummah Document has an extremely important character for the Islamic community of the time, since it better defined the relationship of Muslims with each other and also with the other religions that made up the context of 7th century Arabia, being notorious for the development of the small (and growing) number of Muslims who inhabited Medina.
 Ummah means “community”, designating all the Muslims.
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