Our Beacon Forum

The Medinah Charter - 1
By:Sidqi, ca
Date: Sunday, 20 September 2020, 6:26 am

Medinah Charter is an objective of current Pakistan government led by PM Imran Khan. Following is a compilation by Mr. Kassim Ahmed.
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A Short Note On The Medina Charter
Kassim Ahmad
The Medina Charter, written and promulgated by Prophet Muhammad for the multi-religious ten thousand-strong citizens of the city-state of Medina in 622 A.D is truly a remarkable political-constitutional document. The claim made by Professor M. Hamidullah that it was the first written constitution (FN1) in the world is not without basis. Aristotle's Constitution of Athens (FN2), written on papyrus, discovered by an American missionary in Egypt in 1890 and published in 1891, was not a constitution. It was an account of the constitution of the city-state of Athens. Other legal writings on the conduct of ancient societies have been found, but none can be described as a constitution. The Medina Charter is the first, and in this it preceded the American Constitution of 1787, considered by Western authorities as "a landmark document of the Western world … the oldest written national constitution in operation" (FN3) by more than a thousand years! It also preceded the English feudal bill of rights, the Magna Carter of 1215, by almost six centuries!
Not only is the Madina Charter important in the sense that it is the first written constitution; it is also modern in the sense that it was promulgated for a plural society, giving equal rights to every citizen as well as giving them a say in governmental matters, as we shall see.
Considering all these, it is amazing that those Muslim leaders and writers who talk and write about the Islamic state seldom refer to this important seminal political document of Islam.
It is to be remembered that Muhammad had become a prophet, reciting God's revelations to his fellow-Meccans, for twelve years before he and his followers migrated to Yathrib, two hundred and ten miles to the north of Mecca. There was going to be another ten years to his mission before he completed the delivery of the Divine message to the Arabs and to mankind in God's final scripture, the Quran. So this Medina Charter was provisional in the sense that it could not contain all the provisions of statecraft contained in the Quran. Yathrib was later to known as "The City of the Prophet " or simply Medina. The reason for the migration was the growing opposition of the Quraisy aristocracy to his teachings and the receptive attitude shown by some Yathrib pilgrims to Mecca at this time.
The whole text of the Charter has been reproduced, word for word, by Ibn Ishaq and Abu Ubaid in their respective books from the original preserved by Ibn Abi Khithamah. (FN4)
The Charter consists of 47 clauses, but due to different numbering, Prof. Hamidullah counts it to be 52 (FN5). Clauses 1, 2 and 39 state the formation of a sovereign nation-state with a common citizenship, consisting of various communities, principally Muslim Arabs from Mecca (the Muhajirin or Immigrants), Muslim Arabs from Yathrib (the Ansar or Helpers), other monotheists form Yathrib (i.e. the Jews) and others who must be at that time still pagans. These constitute a unified citizenry (Arabic term, ummah), having equal rights and responsibilities, as distinct from other peoples.
It should not escape anyone's notice that these two clauses established the first modern nation-state in the world. Although Medina was just a city, its Charter was to last until the beginning of the Umayyad Dynasty in 1661. Western historians cite the Treaties of Westphalia in 1648 as the beginning of the modern nation-state era. (FN6)
The Charter provided a federal structure with a centralized authority, with the various tribes in various districts constituting a unit and enjoying autonomy in certain matters of a social, cultural and religious character. Provision for this district autonomy is repeated for each district. (Clauses 3 through to 11 and 26 through to 35) In fact, many matters were left in the hands of the autonomous units, except state security and national defense. (Clauses 17, 36 (a) and 47) Provisions for these centralized subjects are made in Clauses 13, 15, 17 and 44. Only in cases of disputes the units could not resolve, recourse for their decisions had to be made to the Prophet, whose decision was final. (Clauses 23 and 41)
As Prof. Hamidullah rightly stated, " … this new constitution … brought with it very important, and -- to Arabia at least -- very revolutionary change and improvement, by providing the people with a central public institution for seeking justice, in place of everyone seeking it with the power of his own hand or, at best, that of his family. This epoch-making innovation … brought an end for all times to the chaos of tribalism and which laid the basis for a wider institution, viz a State." (FN7)
It should be noted that this loyalty to the State by its plural citizenry constituted a nationalism, or more exactly a patriotism, that is approved by Islam, contrary to what some modern Muslim ideologues assert. It is in line with the teaching in the Quranic verse, "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 the most righteous." (FN8)
There were twenty districts each with a chief (naqib) and deputy chiefs (`arif) and its meeting place (saqifah). The city at this time had a population of about ten thousand. Of these, the Muslims made up only a few hundred; half of it were monotheist Jews, the rest being polytheists. (FN9)
It is noteworthy that the Charter ordained equality to its members and protected them against oppression. (Clause 16). The State proclaimed the brotherhood of believers and gave each one a right and support to give protection to any individual, excepting an enemy. (Clause 15). It also extended help to its members in debt or in financial difficulties in regard to payment of ransom or blood-money. (Clause 12). It prohibited help or refuge to be given to a murderer. (Clause 22).
A very important human right is given in Clause 25 where freedom was guaranteed for each community to practice its own religion. The implication of this clause is that each individual was also free to choose his or her religion, in line with the clear teachings of the Quran. (FN10)
Another important principle of statecraft is consultation with the people in all matters. This is stated in Clause 37(a). Unlike in modern democratic polity, the voice of the people, vox populi, regardless of whether that voice represents right and truth or not, is given the highest value. This is a basic flaw in Western democracy. Another important principle of just governance is that no quarter is given to an injustice or wrong-doing. In the Charter, this is stated in Clause 47.
As I stated above, this constitution is Muhammad's ijtihad at formulating a constitution when he was confronted with the task of administrating the city-state of Medina. At this time, he had not yet received the full Quran. He had therefore to fall back on customs and precedents, and he did. In any case, all constitutions are provisional in the sense that it must be adapted to changing times.
A trace of Arab tribalism can be detected in two clauses where a member together with his family were to be punished because of a crime he committed. (Clauses 25 and 36(b)) This clearly contradicts another clause which states that no evil-doer is punished except for the crime he commits. (Clause 46)
Perhaps, in the light of present Muslim interest in an "Islamic state", we should point out that this important constitutional document of Islam does not anywhere use the term "Islamic state" of "Islamic society". The major principles governing an Islamic society are, of course, present -- principles like justice, brotherhood and unity of believers, unity and cooperation among zitizens of the state, freedom of religion, strict adherence to pacts entered into between parties, cooperation to do good and to prevent evil, encouragement for high moral conduct, consultation as a method of government. It is also interesting to note that what has been called "Hudud laws", being part of Islamic Law, is also nowhere mentioned in the document.
It should be noted that the Charter, this first Islamic political-constitutional document, was given to the people of Medina in the name of Muhammad the Prophet (Clause 1) and also in the name of God as well as Prophet Muhammad. (Clause 47) Why two different ways of phrasing the ultimate source of power? It is to be remembered that during the Western Middle Ages, the Church ruled supreme in the name of God, and God's name was, of course, much misused by hypocrites and opportunists. The modern Western practice of replacing God with the people has, of course, not helped matters very much. In the name of the people, oppression, wars, colonialism and aggressions have been launched.
Thus, even in this modern age of science and technology, mankind cannot ignore a power that is greater than itself. Mankind has an autonomous right to live, and to live happily, but he must do that in a lawfully created Universe. It is in this sense that the Charter was given in the name of Muhammad the Prophet, who represented the principle of the good and of right reason, which is higher than the individual man. Likewise, in Clause 47 God's name was put first, as God represents the highest Good and the highest principle of right reason. This is necessary to conduct Man to higher and ever higher achievements.

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APPENDIX
THE MEDINA CHARTER (FN11)
In the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful.