Constitution of Medina

The Constitution of Medina (دستور المدينة, Dustūr al-Madīnah), also known as the Charter of Medina (Arabic: صحيفة المدينة‎, Ṣaḥīfat al-Madīnah; or: ميثاق المدينة, Mīthāq al-Madīnah), was drawn up on behalf of the Islamic prophet Muhammad shortly after his arrival at Medina (then known as Yathrib) in 622 CE[1] (or 1 AH), following the Hijra from Mecca.

The preamble declares the document to be "a book [kitab] of the prophet Muhammad to operate between the believers [mu'minin] and Muslims from the Quraysh tribe and from Yathrib and those who may be under them and wage war in their company" declaring them to constitute "one nation [ummah wāḥidah] separate from all peoples". It established the collective responsibility of nine constituent tribes for their members' actions, specifically emphasising blood money and ransom payment. The first constituent group mentioned are the Qurayshi migrants, followed by eight other tribes. Eight Jewish groups are recognized as part of the Yathrib community, and their religious separation from Muslims is established. The Jewish Banu Ash shutbah tribe is inserted as one of the Jewish groups, rather than with the nine tribes mentioned earlier in the document. The constitution also established Muhammad as the mediating authority between groups and forbids the waging of war without his authorization.

The constitution formed the basis of a multi-religious Islamic state in Medina.[2][3][4][5][6]

The constitution was created to end the bitter intertribal fighting between the rival clans of Banu Aws and Banu Khazraj in Medina[6] and to maintain peace and co-operation among all Medinan groups. Establishing the role of Muhammad as the mediating authority between the two groups and the others in Medina was central to the ending of Medinan internal violence and was an essential feature of the constitution. The document ensured freedom of religious beliefs and practices for all citizens who "follow the believers". It assured that representatives of all parties, Muslim or non-Muslim, should be present when consultation occurs or in cases of negotiation with foreign states. It declared "a woman will only be given protection with the consent of her family" and imposed a tax system for supporting the community in times of conflict. It declared the role of Medina as a ḥaram (حرم, "sacred place"), where no blood of the peoples included in the pact can be spilled.

The division of the constitution into numbered articles is not in the original text and the numbering of clauses differs in different sources, but there is general agreement on the authenticity of the most widely-read version of the charter, which is found in Ibn Ishaq's Sirah Rasul Allah.[7][8]


In Muhammad's last years in Mecca, a delegation from Medina from its twelve important clans invited him as a neutral outsider to Medina to serve as the chief arbitrator for the entire community.[9][10] There had been fighting in Medina involving mainly its pagan and Jewish inhabitants for around 100 years before 620. The recurring slaughters and disagreements over the resulting claims, especially after the Battle of Bu'ath in which all the clans had been involved, made it obvious to them that the tribal conceptions of blood feud and an eye for an eye were no longer workable unless there was one man with the authority to adjudicate in disputed cases.[9] The delegation from Medina pledged themselves and their fellow citizens to accept Muhammad into their community and to protect him physically as if he was one of them.[11]

After emigration to Medina, Muhammad drafted the constitution, "establishing a kind of alliance or federation" of the eight Medinan tribes and Muslim emigrants from Mecca and specifying the rights and duties of all citizens and the relationship of the different communities in Medina, including that of the Muslim community to other communities: the Jews and the other "Peoples of the Book".[9]

Historical sources

Instead of the original document, several versions survive in early Muslim sources. The most-widely read version is found in the pages of Ibn Ishaq's Sirah Rasul Allah; alternative copies are in Sayyid al-Nas and Abu ‘Ubayd's Kitab al-Amwal. The historical authenticity of the document is acknowledged by both Muslim and Western scholars.[7][12][13][14]

Montgomery Watt states that it must have been written in the early Medinan period because if the document been drafted later, it would have both had a positive attitude towards the Quraysh and given Muhammad a prominent place. Hubert Grimme states that it was drafted after the Battle of Badr. However, Leone Caetani claims that the document was complete before the battle.[15]

According to RB Serjeant, 3:101-104 of the Qur'an refer to the constitution. He proposes it underwent recension, a hypothesis first proposed by Richard Bell. In its first recension, the text sanctioned the establishment of a confederation. In its second, it admonished the Aws and Khazraj to abide by their treaty. In its third, in conjunction with the proceeding verses, it is an encouragement of Muhammad's adherents to face the Meccan forces they eventually fought at Uhud. He states that even if the proposal of three recensions is unacceptable, the verses must make reference to the two different treaties.[16]


Muhammad's Quraysh (or Quraish) tribe appear in the document as both a principal constituent of the community and the enemy. The Quraysh referred to are sometimes the followers of Muhammad as "migrants" or "believers", but other times, the word refers to those members of the tribe who expelled Muhammad and his followers from Mecca, the Qurayshi capital.


Bernard Lewis claims that the charter was not a treaty in the modern sense but a unilateral proclamation by Muhammad.[17] One of the constitution's more interesting aspects was the inclusion of the Jewish tribes in the ummah because although the Jewish tribes were "one community with the believers", they also "have their religion and the Muslims have theirs".[18]

L. Ali Khan says that it was a social contract derived from a treaty and not from any fictional state of nature or from behind the Rawlsian veil of ignorance. It was built upon the concept of one community of diverse tribes living under the sovereignty of one God.[19]

It also instituted peaceful methods of dispute resolution among diverse groups living as one people but without assimilating into one religion, language or culture.[20] Welch in Encyclopedia of Islam states: "The constitution reveals Muhammad's great diplomatic skills, for it allows the ideal that he cherished of an ummah (community) based clearly on a religious outlook to sink temporarily into the background and is shaped essentially by practical considerations."[21]

Tom Holland writes, "The Constitution of Medina is accepted by even the most suspicious of scholars as deriving from the time of Muhammad. Here in these precious documents, it is possible to glimpse the authentic beginnings of a movement that would succeed, in barely two decades, in prostrating both the Roman and the Persian Empires".[22]

Significance of Ummah

Another important feature of the Constitution of Medina is the redefinition of ties between Muslims. It sets faith relationships above blood-ties and emphasizes individual responsibility.[23] Tribal identities are still important to refer to different groups, but the "main binding tie" for the newly-created ummah is religion.[24] That contrasts with the norms of pre-Islamic Arabia, which was a thoroughly tribal society, but Serjeant postulates the existence of earlier theocratic communities.[6] According to Denny, "Watt has likened the Ummah as it is described in the document to a tribe, but with the important difference that it was to be based on religion and not on kinship".[24] That is an important event in the development of the small group of Muslims in Medina to the larger Muslim community and empire.[6]

Rights of non-Muslims

The non-Muslims had the following rights on the condition they "follow" the Muslims:[25]

  1. The security of God is equal for all groups,[26]
  2. Non-Muslim members have the same political and cultural rights as Muslims. They have autonomy and freedom of religion.[27]
  3. Non-Muslims take up arms against the enemy of the nation and share the cost of war. There is to be no treachery between the two.[28]
  4. Non-Muslims are not obliged to take part in the Muslims' religious wars.[29]

See also


  1. ^ Watt (1956), pp. 227–228 argues that the initial agreement was shortly after the Hijra and the document was amended later, after the Battle of Badr (AH [anno hijra] 2, = AD 624). Serjeant argues that the charter is in fact 8 different treaties, which can be dated according to events as they transpired in Medina, with the first treaty being written shortly after Muhammad's arrival (R. B. Serjeant. "The Sunnah Jâmi'ah, Pacts with the Yathrib Jews, and the Tahrîm of Yathrib: Analysis and Translation of the Documents Comprised in the so called 'Constitution of Medina'." in The Life of Muhammad: The Formation of the Classical Islamic World: Volume iv. Ed. Uri Rubin. Brookfield: Ashgate, 1998, p. 151 and see same article in BSOAS 41, 1978: 18 ff). See also Caetani (1905), p. 393 and Wellhausen (1889), p. 82f who argue that the document is a single treaty agreed upon shortly after the hijra. Wellhausen argues that it belongs to the first year of Muhammad’s residence in Medina, before the battle of Badr in 2/624. Wellhausen bases this judgement on three considerations; Muhammad is very diffident about his own position, he accepts the pagan tribes within the Umma, and he maintains the Jewish clans as clients of the Ansars: see Wellhausen, Excursus, p. 158. Even Moshe Gil, a skeptic of Islamic history, argues that it was written within 5 months of Muhammad's arrival in Medina. Moshe Gil. "The Constitution of Medina: A Reconsideration." Israel Oriental Studies 4 (1974): p. 45.
  2. ^ Serjeant 1978.
  3. ^ Firestone 1999, p. 118.
  4. ^ "Muhammad", Encyclopedia of Islam Online
  5. ^ Watt 1956.
  6. ^ a b c d Serjeant 1964, p. 4.
  7. ^ a b Al-Dawoody, Ahmed (2011). The Islamic Law of War: Justifications and Regulations. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 19. ISBN 9780230111608.
  8. ^ Watt 1956, p. 225: "This document has generally been regarded as authentic...."
  9. ^ a b c Watt, The Cambridge History of Islam, p. 39
  10. ^ Esposito (1998), p. 17.
  11. ^ Alford Welch, Muhammad, Encyclopedia of Islam
  12. ^ Cook Michael, Muhammad, Oxford University Press, pp. 65
  13. ^ John Burton, Those are the High-flying Cranes, Journal of Semitic Studies, Vol 15 No. 2, pp. 265
  14. ^ Tarif Khalidi, Arab Historical Thought in The Classical Period, Cambridge University Press, pp. 48
  15. ^ Watt 1956, pp. 225–226.
  16. ^ Serjeant (1964), p. 8
  17. ^ Lewis, Bernard, The Arabs in History, p. 42.
  18. ^ Berkey, Jonathan, The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600–1800, Cambridge University Press, p. 64
  19. ^ "The Medina Constitution". 2006-11-17. SSRN 945458. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  20. ^ Ramadan, Hisham M (2006). Understanding Islamic Law: From Classical to Contemporary. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7591-0990-2.
  21. ^ Welch, "Muhammad", Encyclopedia of Islam.
  22. ^ Holland (2012), p. 383
  23. ^ Williams, John Alden, Themes of Islamic Civilization, p. 12.
  24. ^ a b Denny, Frederick (Jan 1977), "Umma in the Constitution of Medina", Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 36 (1), The University of Chicago Press, p. 44.
  25. ^ Ahmad (1979), pp. 46–47
  26. ^ Article 15, as quoted in Ahmad (1979), pp. 46–47
  27. ^ Article 25, as quoted in Ahmad (1979), pp. 46–47
  28. ^ Article 37, as quoted in Ahmad (1979), pp. 46–47
  29. ^ Article 45, as quoted in Ahmad (1979), pp. 46–47

Further reading


External links

Banu Alfageer

The Banu Alfageer was one of the Jewish tribes of Arabia during Muhammad's era.

They were included in point 31 of the Constitution of Medina as allies to the Muslims, being as "one nation", but retaining their Jewish religion.

Banu Awf

The Banu Awf (Arabic: بنو عوف‎, Banu ‘Awf) was one of the Jewish tribes of Arabia during Muhammad's era.The Banu Awf was an Arab tribe who wished to settle in the Jewish-ruled Tayma. The local people in Tayma insisted as a condition of settling in Tayma, Banu Awf must adopt Judaism. After having done so, they moved on to Yathrib.They were included in Point 25 of the Constitution of Medina as allies to the Muslims, being as "one nation", but retaining their Jewish religion.

Banu Harith

The Banu Harith (Arabic: بَنُو الْحَارِث‎ Banū al-Ḥārith or Arabic: بَنُو الْحُرَيْث‎ Banū al-Ḥurayth, Hebrew: בני חורית‎ Bnei Chorath) is one of the Jewish tribes of Arabia which once governed the cities of Najran, Taif, and Bisha, now located in southern Saudi Arabia.

Banu Khazraj

The Banu al-Khazraj (Arabic: بنو الخزرج‎ Arabic pronunciation: [ˈbɛ.nʊl.ˈxɑz.ɾɑd͡ʒ]) was one of the tribes of Arabia during Prophet Muhammad's era. The Banu al-Khazraj are renowned for their generosity and hospitality.Aws and Khazraj are descendants of Azd tribe and were known as Banū Qayla (بنو قيلة [ˈbɛ.nuː ˈqɑj.lɛh]) in pre-Islamic era.

Banu Nadir

The Banu Nadir (Arabic: بنو النضير‎, Hebrew: בני נצ'יר‎) were a Jewish tribe who lived in northern Arabia until the 7th century at the oasis of Medina. The tribe challenged Muhammad as the leader of Medina, planned along with allied nomads to attack Muhammad and were expelled from Medina as a result. The Banu Nadir then planned the battle of the Trench together with the Quraysh. They later participated in the battle of Khaybar.

Banu Qaynuqa

The Banu Qaynuqa (Arabic: بنو قينقاع‎; Hebrew: בני קינקאע‬; also spelled Banu Kainuka, Banu Kaynuka, Banu Qainuqa, Banu Qaynuqa) was one of the three main Jewish tribes living in the 7th century of Medina, now in Saudi Arabia. In 624,

the great-grandfather of Banu Qaynuqa tribe is Qaynuqa ibn Amchel ibn Munshi ibn Yohanan ibn Benjamin ibn Saron ibn Naphtali ibn Hayy ibn Moses and they are descendant of Manasseh ibn Joseph ibn Jacob ibn Isaac son of Abraham. They were expelled during the Invasion of Banu Qaynuqa, after breaking the treaty known as the Constitution of Medina.

Banu Qurayza

The Banu Qurayza (Arabic: بنو قريظة‎, Hebrew: בני קוריט'ה‬; alternate spellings include Quraiza, Qurayzah, Quraytha, and the archaic Koreiza) were a Jewish tribe which lived in northern Arabia, at the oasis of Yathrib (now known as Medina), until the 7th century, when their conflict with Muhammad led to their massacre.

Jewish tribes reportedly arrived in Hijaz in the wake of the Jewish-Roman wars and introduced agriculture, putting them in a culturally, economically and politically dominant position. However, in the 5th century, the Banu Aws and the Banu Khazraj, two Arab tribes that had arrived from Yemen, gained dominance. When these two tribes became embroiled in conflict with each other, the Jewish tribes, now clients or allies of the Arabs, fought on different sides, the Qurayza siding with the Aws.In 622, the Islamic prophet Muhammad arrived at Yathrib from Mecca and reportedly established a pact between the conflicting parties. While the city found itself at war with Muhammad's native Meccan tribe of the Quraysh, tensions between the growing numbers of Muslims and the Jewish communities mounted.In 627, when the Quraysh and their allies besieged the city in the Battle of the Trench, the Qurayza initially tried to remain neutral but eventually entered into negotiations with the besieging army, violating the pact they had agreed to years earlier. Subsequently, the tribe was charged with treason and besieged by the Muslims commanded by Muhammad. The Banu Qurayza eventually surrendered and their men were beheaded. The spoils of battle, including the enslaved women and children of the tribe, were divided up among the Islamic warriors that had participated in the siege and among the emigrees from Mecca (who had hitherto depended on the help of the Muslims native to Medina.The historicity of this incident has been questioned by some Islamic scholars and the Revisionist School of Islamic Studies.

Banu Sa'ida

The Banu Sa'ida (Arabic: بنو ساعدة‎, translit. Banu Sā'idah) was a clan of the Banu Khazraj tribe of Medina in the era of Muhammad. The tribe's full name was the Banu Sa'ida ibn Ka'b ibn al-Khazraj.Prior to their conversion, most members of the clan worshiped idols, which were destroyed after the advent of Islam. Their Jewish allies or clients are mentioned in the Constitution of Medina.Sa'd ibn Ubadah of the Banu Sa'ida gained prominence and influence among the Ansar, who gathered to pledge alliegance to him following the death of Muhammad. This gathering, hosted at the clan's saqifah, resulted in Abu Bakr being named the first caliph of the Rashidun caliphate.

Banu Shutayba

The Banu Shutayba was one of the Jewish tribes of Arabia during Muhammad's era.

They were included in point 31 of the Constitution of Medina as allies to the Muslims, being as "one nation", but retaining their Jewish religion.


A constitution is an aggregate of fundamental principles or established precedents that constitute the legal basis of a polity, organisation or other type of entity, and commonly determine how that entity is to be governed.When these principles are written down into a single document or set of legal documents, those documents may be said to embody a written constitution; if they are written down in a single comprehensive document, it is said to embody a codified constitution. Some constitutions (such as the constitution of the United Kingdom) are uncodified, but written in numerous fundamental Acts of a legislature, court cases or treaties.Constitutions concern different levels of organizations, from sovereign countries to companies and unincorporated associations. A treaty which establishes an international organization is also its constitution, in that it would define how that organization is constituted. Within states, a constitution defines the principles upon which the state is based, the procedure in which laws are made and by whom. Some constitutions, especially codified constitutions, also act as limiters of state power, by establishing lines which a state's rulers cannot cross, such as fundamental rights.

The Constitution of India is the longest written constitution of any country in the world, containing 444 articles in 22 parts, 12 schedules and 118 amendments, with 146,385 words in its English-language version. The Constitution of Monaco is the shortest written constitution, containing 10 chapters with 97 articles, and a total of 3,814 words.


A dhimmī (Arabic: ذمي‎ ḏimmī, IPA: [ˈðɪmmiː], collectively أهل الذمة ahl ul-ḏimmah/dhimmah "the people of the dhimma") is a historical term referring to non-Muslims living in an Islamic state with legal protection. The word literally means "protected person", referring to the state's obligation under sharia to protect the individual's life, property, and freedom of religion, in exchange for loyalty to the state and payment of the jizya tax, which complemented the zakat, or obligatory alms, paid by the Muslim subjects. Dhimmis were exempt from certain duties assigned specifically to Muslims, and did not enjoy certain privileges and freedoms reserved for Muslims, but were otherwise equal under the laws of property, contract, and obligation.Under sharia, the dhimmi communities were usually governed by their own laws in place of some of the laws applicable to the Muslim community. For example, the Jewish community in Medina was allowed to have its own Halakhic courts, and the Ottoman millet system allowed its various dhimmi communities to rule themselves under separate legal courts. These courts did not cover cases that involved religious groups outside of their own community, or capital offences. Dhimmi communities were also allowed to engage in certain practices that were usually forbidden for the Muslim community, such as the consumption of alcohol and pork.Historically, dhimmi status was originally applied to Jews, Christians, and Sabians. This status later also came to be applied to Zoroastrians, Hindus, Jains and Buddhists.Moderate Muslims generally reject the dhimma system as inappropriate for the age of nation-states and democracies. There is a range of opinions among 20th century and contemporary theologians about whether the notion of dhimma is appropriate for modern times, and, if so, what form it should take in an Islamic state.

Diplomatic career of Muhammad

Muhammad (c. 22 April, 571–11 June, 632) is documented as having engaged as a diplomat during his propagation of Islam and leadership over the growing Muslim Ummah (community). He established a method of communication with other tribal or national leaders through letters, assigned envoys, or by visiting them personally, such as at Ta’if. Instances of written correspondence include letters to Heraclius, the Negus and Khosrau. Although it is likely that Muhammad had initiated contact with other leaders within the Arabian Peninsula, some have questioned whether letters had been sent beyond these boundaries.When Muhammad arrived in Medina in 622, local tribes, mainly the Banu Aus and Banu Khazraj, had been feuding for several decades. Muhammad addressed this by establishing the Constitution of Medina: a document which regulated interactions between the different factions, to which the respective parties agreed. This was a different role for him, as he had remained only a religious figure during his time in Mecca. The result was the eventual formation of a united community in Medina, as well as the political supremacy of Muhammad.Muhammad also participated in agreements and pledges such as "Pledges of al-`Aqaba", the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, and the "Pledge of the Tree". He reportedly used a silver seal on letters sent to other notable leaders who were requested to convert to Islam.

Early social changes under Islam

Many social changes took place under Islam between 610 and 661, including the period of Muhammad's mission and the rule of his four immediate successors who established the Rashidun Caliphate.

A number of historians stated that changes in areas such as social security, family structure, slavery and the rights of women improved on what was present in existing Arab society. For example, according to Bernard Lewis, Islam "from the first denounced aristocratic privilege, rejected hierarchy, and adopted a formula of the career open to the talents". Other scholars disagree, with Leila Ahmed stating that historical evidence shows that pre-Islamic Arabia already contained many of the same supposedly progressive customs that scholars like Lewis attribute to Islam.

Invasion of Banu Qaynuqa

According to Islamic tradition, the invasion of Banu Qaynuqa, also known as the expedition against Banu Qaynuqa, occurred in 624 AD. The Banu Qaynuqa were a Jewish tribe expelled by the Islamic prophet Muhammad for breaking the treaty known as the Constitution of Medina by pinning the clothes of a Muslim woman such that when she tried to move, her clothes tore and she was stripped naked. A Muslim killed a Jew in retaliation, and the Jews in turn killed the Muslim man. This escalated to a chain of revenge killings, and enmity grew between Muslims and the Banu Qaynuqa, leading to the siege of their fortress. The tribe eventually surrendered to Muhammad, who initially wanted to capture the men of Banu Qaynuqa but ultimately yielded to Abdullah ibn Ubayy's insistence and agreed to expel the Qaynuqa.

Muhammad's views on Jews

The Islamic prophet Muhammad's views on Jews were informed through the contact he had with Jewish tribes living in and around Medina. His views on Jews include his theological teaching of them as People of the Book (Ahl al-Kitab), his description of them as earlier receivers of Abrahamic revelation; and the failed political alliances between the Muslim and Jewish communities.

After his migration (hijra) to Medina from his home-town of Mecca, he established an agreement known as the Constitution of Medina between the major Medinan factions, including the Jewish tribes of Banu Qaynuqa, Banu Nadir, and Banu Qurayza that secured equal rights for both Jews and Muslims as long as Jews remained politically supportive. Muhammad later fought battles with these tribes on the basis of supposed violations of the constitution.

Muhammad in Medina

The Islamic prophet Muhammad came to Medina following the migration of his followers in what is known as the Hijra (migration to Medina) in 622. He had been invited to Medina by city leaders to adjudicate disputes between clans from which the city suffered. He left Medina to return to and conquer Mecca in December 629.

Political aspects of Islam

Political aspects of Islam are derived from the Qur'an, the Sunnah (the sayings and living habits of Muhammad), Muslim history, and elements of political movements outside Islam.

Traditional political concepts in Islam include leadership by elected or selected successors to the Prophet known as Caliphs, (Imamate for Shia); the importance of following Islamic law or Sharia; the duty of rulers to seek Shura or consultation from their subjects; and the importance of rebuking unjust rulers.A significant change in the Islamic world was the abolition of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924. In the 19th and 20th century, common Islamic political theme has been resistance to Western imperialism and enforcement of Sharia through democratic or militant struggle. The defeat of Arab armies in the Six-Day War, the end of Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union with the end of communism as a viable alternative has increased the appeal of Islamic movements such as Islamism, Islamic fundamentalism and Islamic democracy, especially in the context of popular dissatisfaction with secularist ruling regimes in the Muslim world.

Prophetic biography

In Islam, Al-sīra al-Nabawiyya (Prophetic biography), Sīrat Rasūl Allāh (Life of the Messenger of God), or just Al-sīra are the traditional Muslim biographies of Muhammad from which, in addition to the Quran and trustable Hadiths, most historical information about his life and the early period of Islam is derived.


Ummah (Arabic: أمة‎ [ˈʊm.mæ]) is an Arabic word meaning "community". It is distinguished from Shaʻb (شعب [ʃæʕb]) which means a nation with common ancestry or geography. Thus, it can be said to be a supra-national community with a common history.

It is a synonym for ummat al-Islām (أمة الإسلام, 'the Islamic community'), and it is commonly used to mean the collective community of Islamic people. In the Quran the ummah typically refers to a single group that shares common religious beliefs, specifically those that are the objects of a divine plan of salvation. In the context of pan-Islamism and politics, the word ummah can be used to mean the concept of a Commonwealth of the Believers (أمة المؤمنين ummat al-muʼminīn).

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