Building the City of Light
Al-Madinah consisted of various communities, principally Muslim Arabs from Makkah (the Muhajirun or Emigrants), Muslim Arabs from Yathrib (the Ansar or Supporters), the Jews from Yathrib, and other people who were at that time still pagans. The Prophet (pbuh) set a precedent and promulgated for its plural society the Constitution of Al-Madinah, the first written democratic constitution in the world,1 giving equal rights as well as equal responsibilities to citizens, and establishing the principle of consultation with the people as a method of government.
(Pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the affairs. And when you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah.)
(Al-‘Imran 3: 159)
The concept of constitution certainly brought about a revolutionary change to Arabia by providing the people with a public legal entity for seeking justice, in place of everyone seeking it with the power of his own hand or, at best, that of his family. It brought an end for all time to the chaos of tribalism and laid the basis for a wider institution, namely, a state.
The Prophet (pbuh) set another precedent by inviting the Jews to join this new society as an independent community within the Muslim State. The Jews accepted, and the agreement known as the Covenant of Al-Madinah (Constitution of Al-Madinah) was signed in 622 A.C., where they became equal citizens of the new society of Al-Madinah.
It was a giant leap for humanity that established the basis for treatment of non-Muslim minorities within the Muslim State, which was far superior to the norms of the time.
The Constitution of Al-Madinah guaranteed for all the parties of the covenant equality and freedom of religion; emphasized the sanctity of Al-Madinah, life, and individual possessions; and prohibited crime.
The Constitution of Al-Madinah stressed the importance of showing belonging and patriotism to the society. All residents of Al-Madinah, according to the articles of its Constitution, should cooperate in establishing justice, support one another in combating aggression, and help one another do righteous acts.
The charter made it clear that this is a general duty shared by all, regardless of creeds, races, or complexions. The charter stipulated the following:
- They (those who sign the treaty) should support one another in combating the attacks waged against any of them.
- They, together, should back up the oppressed.
- They, together, should fight against any enemy attacking Yathrib (Al-Madinah).
The early Muslim community that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) built blossomed into a group of people who cooperated with people of other religions, with whom they lived in the same society of Al-Madinah, and fought with against whoever tried to destabilize their community.
Mutual cooperation in worldly affairs encompassed all citizens of Al-Madinah, who shared a common destiny, neighborhood, and sometimes kinship, and extended to include economic and commercial fields, thus promoting tolerance, understanding, mutual respect, and peaceful coexistence within their society.2
For ten years, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was not only the leader of the emerging Muslim Ummah in Arabia, but also the political head of Al-Madinah.
As the leader of Al-Madinah, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) exercised jurisdiction over Muslims and non-Muslims within the city.
The legitimacy of his rule over Al-Madinah was based on his status as the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) and on the basis of the Covenant of Al-Madinah.
As the Prophet of Allah (pbuh) he held sovereignty over all Muslims by Divine Decree, so profoundly manifest in the statement of the Testimony of Faith: There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.
But Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not rule over the non-Muslims of Al-Madinah because he was the Messenger of Allah. They did not recognize this particular credential of his.
He (pbuh) ruled over them by virtue of the tripartite covenant that was signed by the Muhajirun (Muslim emigrants from Makkah), the Ansar (indigenous Muslims of Al-Madinah), and the Jews. Thus, the Jews were constitutional partners in the making of the first Islamic state.
In simple terms, the first Islamic state established in Al-Madinah was based on a social contract, constitutional in character, and the ruler ruled with the explicit written consent of all the citizens of the state.3
- The First Written Constitution in the World, Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, Lahore, 1968. First published in England, 1941.
- Details of the Constitution of Al-Madinah are adapted from content excerpted from: Kassim Ahmad, A Short Note on the Medina Charter; Professor M. Hamidullah, The First Written Constitution; Zuleyha Keskin, Fear and Fascination: The Other in Religion; European Council for Fatwa and Research, Elections in non-Muslim Countries: Role of Muslims. Islamonline.net.
- Adapted from content excerpted from M. A. Muqtedar Khan, The Compact of Medina: A Constitutional Theory of the Islamic State.