The Constitution of Medina

So Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his followers were now in Medina, in an attempt to escape the growing hostility, religious intolerance, and persecution of Mecca. They had migrated to Medina in the year 622 in search of freedom and peace. This year is also known as the year of migration, or hijrah. This is later taken as the year that starts the Islamic Calendar.

After the migration from Mecca to Medina, the Prophet (SAW) established the first Islamic state in history. In addition to being the leader of the emerging Muslim community, or ummah, in Arabia, the Prophet was also the political head of Medina. As Medina’s leader, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) exercised jurisdiction over both Muslims and non-Muslims in the city. His rule over Medina was legitimised based on his status as a Prophet (SAW) and on the Constitution of Medina, or also sometimes referred to as the compact of Medina or the Dastur al-Medina.

As the Prophet of Allah (SWT) , Muhammad (SAW) had sovereignty over all Muslims by divine decree. However, he did not rule over the non-Muslims of Medina just because he was the messenger of Allah (SWT) as they did not recognize his authority in this manner. Instead, he ruled over them by the virtue of the tripartite compact that was signed by the Muhajireen (the Muslim immigrants from Mecca), the Ansar (the indigenous Muslims of Medina) and the Yahud (the Jews).

With the tripartite compact signed, the first Islamic state was established in Medina. The Constitution of Medina was instrumental in determining how the government was to treat the people of Medina. Conceptually, the constitution established the concept of the community of believers, or ummat al-mu’minin, and recognised the various Jewish tribes living in Medina, granting each tribe the right to be in one community with the believers.

Within the community of believers itself, all Muslims were treated with equal respect and dignity, the distinction between natives and immigrants were dissolved and thereby offered justice and equality to all Muslims regardless of origin of birth, nationality, tribe, or any other racial or ethnic circumstance. No one group within the community was to have any superiority over the other.

As with the Jewish community of Medina, the Constitution did not treat them as one monolithic population. Just as it recognised the diversity of the ummat, the Constitution acknowledged the Jewish community similarly. Each Jewish tribe was given an equal status with each other as well as with the community of believers.

In the spirit of equality amongst all in the Medina community, everyone was given the freedom to practice their religion as they believed it. This demonstrated the highest possible form of religious tolerance and acceptance. No one was forced to become a Muslim in order to remain in Medina; as would become the policy in all the lands the Prophet (SAW) would later conquer, if a person wanted to become a Muslim, they were welcome to- if they wanted to remain practicing another religion, they were free to do so and worship as they wish, only to pay a tax to the government.

The Constitution of Medina illustrates what should be the relationship between a revelation and a constitution. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) could have merely used his status as the Messenger of Allah (SWT) as a basis to legitimize his rule of Medina and disregard the consent of the non-Muslims in accepting him as the leader of Medina. The Prophet (SAW) instead chose to act in the spirit of democracy and equality, drawing up a constitution based on the reality of Medina and agreed upon by real people of diverse backgrounds. The Constitution also established the importance of consent and cooperation in governance. All the people of Medina were equal citizens of the Islamic state, with identical rights and duties, and all enjoyed religious autonomy.

It is inspiring how Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was so democratic, tolerant, and compassionate towards one and all. Modern society should learn to follow the Prophet’s (SAW) example and learn from him the virtues of compassion, mercy, justice, equality and tolerance.