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Muhammad's Friendliness to the Jews

3255 2008/08/11 2024/05/24

by this new brotherhood, muhammad achieved an operational muslim unity. politically, it was a very wise move destined to show muhammad's sound judgment and foresight. we shall better appreciate its wisdom when we learn of the attempts to divide al aws against al khazraj, and al ansar against al muhajirun. the politically greater achievement of muhammad was his realization of a unity for the, city of yathrib as a whole, his construction of a political structure in which the jews entered freely into an alliance of mutual cooperation with the muslims. we have already seen how the jews gave muhammad a good welcome in the hope of winning him as an ally. he, too, returned their greeting with like gestures and sought to consolidate his relations with them. he visited their chiefs and cultivated the friendship of their nobles. he bound himself to them in a bond of friendship on the grounds that they were scripturists and monotheists. so much had muhammad defended the jews that the fact that he fasted with them on the days they fasted and prayed toward jerusalem as they did increased his personal and religious esteem among them. everything seemed as if the future could only strengthen this muslim jewish friendship and produce further cooperation and closeness between them. similarly, muhammad's own conduct, his great humility, compassion, and faithfulness, and his outgoing charity and goodness to the poor, oppressed and deprived, as well as the prestige and influence which these qualities had won for him among all the people of yathrib-all these enabled him to conclude the pact of friendship, alliance, and cooperation in the safeguarding of religious freedom throughout the city. in our opinion, this covenant is one of the greatest political documents which history has known. such an accomplishment by muhammad at this stage of his career had never been reached by any prophet. jesus, moses, and all the prophets that preceded them never went beyond the preaching of their religious messages through words and miracles. all of them had left their legacy to men of power and political authority who came after them; it was the latter who put their powers at the service of those messages and fought, with arms where necessary, for the freedom of the people to believe. christianity spread at the hands of the disciples of jesus and after his time, but only in extremely limited measure. the disciples as well as their followers were persecuted until one of the kings of the world favored this religion, adopted it, and put his royal power behind its missionary effort[the allusion here is to conszantine who began to show favors toward christianity in 312 c.e. and decreed the edict of toleration in 313. he supported both paganism as well as christianity. to the end of his life he bore the title of pontifex maximus, being the chief priest of the pagan state cult and classed among the gods by the roman senate. he was not baptized until the latter part of his life. -tr.]. all other religions in the east and the west have had nearly the same history, but not the religion of muhammad. god willed that islam be spread by muhammad, and that the truth be vindicated by his hand. he willed muhammad to be prophet, statesman, fighter, and conqueror, all for the sake of god and the truth with which he was commissioned as prophet. in all these aspects of his career muhammad was great, the exemplar of human perfection, the typos of every realized value.

the covenant of madinah concluded between muhajirun and ansar on one side and jews on the other, was dictated by muhammad. it was the instrument of their alliance which confirmed the jews in both their religion and position in society, and determined their rights as well as their duties. following is the text of this important document:

"in the name of god, the compassionate, the merciful. this is a covenant given by muhammad to the believers and muslims of quraysh, yathrib, and those who followed them, joined them, and fought with them. they constitute one ummah to the exclusion of all other men. as was their custom, the muhajirun from quraysh are bound together and shall ransom their prisoners in kindness and justice as believers do. following their own custom, banu `awf are bound together as they have been before. every clan of them shall ransom its prisoners with the kindness and justice common among believers. [the text here repeats the same prescription concerning every clan of the ansar and every house including banu al harith, banu sa'idah, banu jusham, banu al najjar, banu `amr ibn `awf and banu al nabit.] the believers shall leave none of their members in destitution without giving him in kindness what he needs by way of ransom or bloodwit. no believer shall take as an ally a freedman of another muslim without the permission of his previous master. all pious believers shall rise as one man against whosoever rebels or seeks to commit injustice, aggression, sin, or spread mutual enmity between the believers, even though he may be one of their sons. no believer shall slay a believer in retaliation for an unbeliever; neither shall he assist an unbeliever against a believer. just as god's bond is one and indivisible, all believers shall stand behind the commitment of the least of them. all believers are bonded one to another to the exclusion of other men. any jew who follows us is entitled to our assistance and the same rights as any one of us, without injustice or partisanship. this pax islamica is one and indivisible. no believer shall enter into a separate peace without all other believers whenever there is fighting in the cause of god, but will do so only on the basis of equality and justice to all others. in every military expedition we undertake our members shall be accompanied by others committed to the same objective. all believers shall avenge the blood of one another whenever any one of them falls fighting in the cause of god. the pious believers follow the best and most upright guidance. no unbeliever shall be allowed to place under his protection against the interest of a believer, any wealth or person belonging to quraysh. whoever is convicted of killing a believer deliberately but without righteous cause, shall be liable to the relatives of the killed. until the latter are satisfied, the killer shall be subject to retaliation by each and every believer. the killer shall have no rights whatever until this right of the believers is satisfied. whoever has entered into this covenant and believed in god and in the last day shall never protect or give shelter to a convict or a criminal; whoever does so shall be cursed by god and upon him shall the divine wrath fall on the day of judgment. neither repentance nor ransom shall be acceptable from him. no object of contention among you may not be referred to god and to muhammad, may god's peace and blessing be upon him, for judgment. as the jews fight on the side of the believers, they shall spend of their wealth on equal par with the believers. the jews of banu aws are an ummah alongside the believers. the jews have their religion and the muslims theirs. both enjoy the security of their own populace and clients except the unjust and the criminal among them. the unjust or the criminal destroys only himself and his family. the jews of banu al najjar, banu al harith, banu sa'idah, banu jusham, banu al aws, banu tha'labah, jafnah, and banu al shutaybah-to all the same rights and privileges apply as to the jews of banu aws. the clients of the tribe of tha'labah enjoy the same rights and duties as the members of the tribe themselves. likewise, the clients of the jews, as the jews themselves. none of the foregoing shall go out to war except with the permission of muhammad, may god's peace and blessing be upon him though none may be prevented from taking revenge for a wound inflicted upon him. whoever murders anyone will have murdered himself and the members of his family, unless it be the case of a man suffering a wrong, for god will accept his action. the jews shall bear their public expenses and so will the muslims. each shall assist the other against any violator of this covenant. their relationship shall be one of mutual advice and consultation, and mutual assistance and charity rather than harm and aggression. however, no man is liable to a crime committed by his ally. assistance is due to the party suffering an injustice, not to one perpetrating it. since the jews fight on the side of the believers they shall spend their wealth on a par with them. the town of yathrib shall constitute a sanctuary for the parties of this covenant. their neighbors shall be treated as themselves as long as they perpetrate no crime and commit no harm. no woman may be taken under protection without the consent of her family. whatever difference or dispute between the parties to this covenant remains unsolved shall be referred to god and to muhammad, the prophet of god, may god's peace and blessing be upon him. god is the guarantor of the piety and goodness that is embodied in this covenant. neither the quraysh nor their allies shall be given any protection. the people of this covenant shall come to the assistance of one another against whoever attacks yathrib. if they are called to cease hostilities and to enter into a peace, they shall be bound to do so in the interest of peace. if, on the other hand, they call upon the muslims to cease hostilities and to enter into a peace, the muslims shall be bound to do so and maintain the peace except when the war is against their religion. to every smaller group belongs the share which is their due as members of the larger group which is party to this covenant. the jews of al aws, as well as their clients, are entitled to the same rights as this covenant has granted to its parties together with the goodness and charity of the latter. charity and goodness are clearly crime and injury, and there is no responsibility except for one's own deeds. god is the guarantor of the truth and good will of this covenant. this covenant shall constitute no protection for the unjust or the criminal. whoever goes out to fight as well as whoever stays at home shall be safe and secure in this city unless he has perpetrated an injustice or committed a crime. god grants his protection to whosoever acts in piety, charity and goodness."


new horizons in political life

the foregoing political document, which muhammad wrote down fourteen centuries ago, establishes the freedom of faith and opinion, the invioliability of the city, human life, and property, and the forbiddance of crime. it certainly constitutes a breakthrough in the political and civil life of the world of that time. for that age was one in which exploitation, tyranny, and corruption were well established. though the jews of banu qurayzah, banu al nadir, and banu qaynuqa` did not sign this covenant at its conclusion, they did enter later on into like pacts with the prophet. thus madinah and all the territories surrounding it became inviolate to their peoples who were now bound to rise to their defense and protection together. these peoples were now bound to guarantee one another in the implementation of the covenant, in the establishment of the rights arising there from, and in the provision of freedom it has called for.


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