The Medina Charter: First Formal Constitution in History?

 “O People, we created you from the same male and female and rendered you into distinct peoples and tribes that you may recognize one another. The Best of you in the sight of God is most righteous….” Quran, Chapter 49, verse 13.

Rest assured that Whosoever from among the Muslims or the Jews or the Christians or the Sabeans believe in God and the Last Day, and performs good deeds, he will have his reward with his Lord and he will have no cause for fear and grief.Quran, Chapter 2, verse 62.

What is the Medina Charter?

The Medina Charter was drafted by Prophet Muhammad in the year 622 A.D. after the migration to the City of Yathrib (currently known as Medina). It is known to be the first constitution in Islam and arguably the first formal constitution written in history. The charter was the first declaration of Medina as a City-State. It established a government system that addressed social and political issues in an area that was rife with chaos and tribal conflict.

This Islamic constitution provided equal rights to Muslims and Non-Muslims. The “Ummah” (community), in this historic document, was defined to include not just Muslims, but Non-Muslims, unbelievers, and pagans alike. There is a gross misconception amongst Muslims that the “Ummah” (community) means the Muslim community. But this was not the intention of the Prophet Muhammad. If it were the intentions of the Prophet, he never would have drafted this charter giving equal rights to all in the community.

The Medina Charter covered a range of issues: right of each community to practice their own religion, freedom to choose one’s own religion, freedom of speech, and the unity and cooperation amongst all citizens. “A person given constitutional shelter shall be granted an equal right of protection as long as he commits no harm and does not act treacherously.” (Article 50).

There is particular emphasis placed on the rights of Jews in the area that is covered in 10 separate articles (Articles 30-40), giving them equal rights. The only group that was not protected in Medina was the Pagan tribe of Quraysh (the tribe that Prophet Muhammad used to belong to) due to their hostile relations with Muslims and Medina, “There shall be no refuge for the Quraysh (the enemies of the state) nor for their allies” (Article 53).

Significance?

It is argued that the Medina Charter was the first written Constitution in history. Some argue that it was the Athenian Constitution written by Aristotle in 350 B.C. that was the oldest constitution in history. I tend to disagree with this assertion. If you look at Sir Frederic G. Kenyon’s translation of the Athenian Constitution, it reads rather like a treatise or an account on the history of the political situation of Aristotle’s era. There are barely any laws or regulations regarding the formation of a City-State. The World English Dictionary defines a constitution as “The fundamental political principles on which a state is governed, especially when considered as embodying the rights to the subjects of that state”. The Athenian Constitution is far from this definition.

My article has a message to Muslims and Non-Muslims. To Muslims, I would like to say that the term “Ummah”, which translated into “community” in English does not only encompass Muslims. This term includes all people from all backgrounds. We should embrace everyone because God created everyone equally. Build bridges of love and not hate. Find common ground with your fellow human beings. Do not discriminate, do not hate, do not exclude, and give everyone their due rights. This was the intention of Islam and the intention of the Prophet Muhammad. No matter how much the world may misunderstand you or your religion, your duty is to be true to your faith, and to be the best human being that you can be. Continue to do good deeds, be patient, and kind regardless of how people treat you. Show your character through your actions and focus on the bigger picture of Islam instead of getting tangled in the technical man-made details of it.

Most importantly, READ. Read the Quran from the beginning to the end with the history behind each chapter. Read it in the exact order it was put together so you can understand the context of all the verses. You do not skip around in a fictional novel, so why do you skip from chapter two to chapter 35 in the Quran? Open your mind and think. Embrace reasoning and do not rely on the opinions and interpretations of scholars and imams. Every imam or scholar will have their own interpretation and opinion. Research on your own. You do not need scholars because the Quran was revealed to a lay person and meant for common people. If was meant to be revealed for elites and scholars, it would have been, but it was not. Have confidence in your understanding of the Quran and live it the best way you can.

To Non-Muslims: Do not base your opinion of an entire faith based on the actions of a few. Never judge a religion or faith based on its people or the culture of the people. People do not define faith or religion. People, culture, and faith should be kept separate in our minds because these three categories differ greatly. [See article on Culturalization of Religion Article]. We see governments and some people committing horrendous acts in the name of Islam and use Islam as a scapegoat for all negative actions, but this is not Islam. I have realized through my research of the Quran, its history behind each chapter, and the history of the Prophet that Islam teaches equality, religious tolerance, peace, love, and the right to self-defense in cases of persecution or oppression. Religion exists for maintaining social order in society and creating an environment of peace where people can co-exist with one another. Commanding them to hate or kill is simply contradictory to any faith.

 

Citations:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitution_of_Medina

http://www.constitutionofmadina.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Constitution-of-Madina_Articles.pdf

http://www.interfaithathens.org/article/art10171.asp

Watt. Muhammad at Medina and R. B. Serjeant “The Constitution of Medina.” Islamic Quarterly 8 (1964) p.4

http://www.constitution.org/cons/medina/kassim2.htm

The First Written Constitution in the World, Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, Lahore, 1968. First published in England, 1941

Peter John Rhodes. A Commentary on the Aristotelian Athenaion Politeia (Oxford University Press), 1981, 1993: introduction, pp. 2–5.

http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/constitution

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