The central argument in the Medina constitution is the establishment and advancement of pluralism. Against the current Muslim ideologies that discourage pluralism, the Medina constitution is one of the evidences indicating that early Muslims were democratic and embraced pluralism. The pluralistic ideals are spelt out in almost every chapter in the Medina constitution.
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The constitution of Medina outlines a series of agreements that were drawn up in the first three years after the Hirja to end the differences between the people of Yatrib and the Muhajirun. As a result, a number of rights as well responsibilities were drafted for the Jews and Muslims in Medina to bring them as Umma, a distinct community from the surrounding pagan society1. The constitution instituted an Islamic state. In addition, the constitution was also drafted to take into action the interests of the emigrants from Mecca spelling out their rights and bond that connects the emigrants with other communities in Medina. The Medina’s constitution also established a free state that in effect was a pluralistic society including Muslims, Jews, and pagans.
The document is partitioned into two segments. The first part stipulates the mutual relations among Muslims while the second part addresses the rules that control inter-communal concerns between the Muslims and the Jews. The Medina’s constitution opens by establishing one community consisting of the emigrants from Mecca and the native Muslims.
The agreement states that the Muslims of Yatrib together with their followers as well as those who labored with them are one community of believers known as the Umma. The provisions assert that the Umma are to make war as one. The believers shall not leave anyone needy among them by failing to disburse his liberation money in a show of kindness. Further, believers are to seek revenge if any Muslim is killed fighting in the way of God.
However, if a Muslim kills a fellow Muslim, then the customary laws of revenge keep on functioning2. Moreover, the constitution asserts that believers shall be in opposition to any person who seeks to spread hatred, corruption as well as prejudice among the believers. In other words, any one practicing the vices should be considered a non-believer. Besides, the rules apply to the believers only. The constitution also emphasizes on the equal handling of all Muslims with value and decorum.
The charter disbands the divisions between the inhabitants and the emigrant Muslims thereby presenting principles of equity and fairness to all Muslims irrespective or their origin of birth, tribe or ethnic background. In addition, the constitution does not condone the inhabitants to acquire the status of superiority over the immigrants. On the other hand, the immigrants are not supposed to be considered more important. The constitution also recognizes that the Jews who follow Muslims are not to be mistaken nor shall his foes be helped to carry out an injustice to him.
The indivisibility of unbelievers is emphasized in the constitution. As such, when the believers are struggling in the way of God, the establishment stresses on a single peace made by all believers ensuring justice and equity to all. Moreover, when believers disagree on an issue, the charter stipulates that it have to be submitted to God and Muhammad. In addition, the establishment provides for believers to revenge for the blood of one another shed in the way of God. The constitution further provides for the believers to hit back to whoever found guilty of murdering a believer devoid of any good reason.
The constitution further expands the range of the population that it governs. For instance, the charter asserts that the bond between the members of the Umma exceeds any relation or accords between them and the pagans. Furthermore, the charter recognizes the various religious, cultural, ethnic and linguistic attributes of the Jews just as it recognizes the similar multiplicity within the Muslim fraternity. As such, the constitution acknowledges the principles of equity and fairness amongst all the tribes of the Jews.
The charter goes further to eliminate the notion that some Jewish tribes are better placed3. The acknowledgement shows that the constitution embraces equality and self-respect among all the Jews. In addition, the medina constitution contributes immensely in the establishment of a pluralistic society where Medina is not considered as a Muslim society but a community consisting of people of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Further, the constitution grants the liberty of faith by stating that the Muslims have their own religious convictions and the Jews have their own faith. In addition, the Jews are expected to fight along their Muslim brothers but covering their own cost. The Medina charter also recognizes that at times of war, the Muslims pay for their own expenses and the Jews bear their expenses as long as there is no betrayal. The charter asserts that Medina was to be haram for its people and Muhammad is its founding holy man.
The responsibilities of Muhammad range from arbitration of disputes to solving the problems of justice within the city as well as relations with outsiders. Further, Muhammad conducted an efficient fight back against Mecca to establish power within Medina. The Jews and the Muslims are not to go to war without the authorization of Muhammad. Through the establishment of a pluralistic state, the constitution acknowledges that Medina is not only a Muslim state but also includes the believers of other faiths. For instance, Medina comprised of the Muslims, the Jews and even pagans.
The charter also recognizes the importance of religious tolerance by leaving every believer to practice its own faith. The constitution recognizes Muhammad as a prophet of God having a divine connection with God in all sides of life. Given these complete assurance in the reality envisaged in Islam, the charter fails to institute a sanctimonious state that forces its citizens to embrace the faith of Islam. Further, the agreement establishes mutual coexistence between the Jews and the Muslims so that each community helps each other during attacks.
Through seeking of shared counsel as well as consultations and development of loyalty between the communities, there is a potential elimination of treachery. Clearly, it is observed that with the charter, the prophet was able to establish his authority in Medina, work out alliances with the neighboring tribes and as a result, carry out an effective struggle against Mecca. The consequent success was the eventual success of Medina.
Kennedy, Hugh. The Prophet and the age of the Caliphates: the Islamic Near East from the sixth to the eleventh century. London: Pearson/Longman, 2004.
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1 Kennedy Hugh, The Prophet and the age of the Caliphates: the Islamic Near East from the sixth to the eleventh century (London: Pearson/Longman, 2004), 28.
2 Kennedy Hugh, The Prophet and the age of the Caliphates: the Islamic Near East from the sixth to the eleventh century (London: Pearson/Longman, 2004), 31.
3 Kennedy Hugh, The Prophet and the age of the Caliphates: the Islamic Near East from the sixth to the eleventh century (London: Pearson/Longman, 2004), 33.