The First Multilateral and Most Democratic Constitution Ever: The Constitution of Medina
With the Constitution of Medina, the first constitution of the state of Medina, our Prophet (pbuh) brought a democratic and peaceful order never before seen on the Arabian Peninsula to an urban community made up of various races, religions and tribes.
Under this constitution, all the communities in Medina were to live together in peace, arrange their lives according to their own faith and beliefs, and have the power to operate and regulate their own institutions and laws. In doing this, they would live together in peace and unity with all the communities in Medina.
The Constitution of Medina was written in 622 AD, under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) some 1,400 years ago, to respond to the demands of peoples of differing beliefs, and has come down to us as a written legal treaty. As a result, communities that were hostile to one another for 120 years and consisted of different religions and races were included under this constitution. By means of this agreement, the Prophet (pbuh) showed that conflict could come to an end between communities that used to attack one another at every opportunity, were hostile to one another and never compromised with one another, and that they could agree to live together.
Under the Constitution of Medina, everyone was free to make his own religious, political or philosophical choices, free from any pressure from anyone else. They could establish a community with people holding the same views. Everyone was free to exercise his own justice system. However, nobody committing an offense was to be protected by anyone else. The parties to the agreement were to help and support one another, and would be under the protection of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Disagreements between parties would be brought to the Messenger of God (pbuh). Indeed, even polytheists preferred the arbitration of our Prophet (pbuh), as he was the most just person of all.
This treaty drawn up by our Prophet (pbuh) was implemented gradually between 622 and 632 AD. Through that constitution, people moved beyond the tribal structure based on ties of blood and family, and people with very different geographic, cultural and ethnic roots came together to constitute one whole. The Constitution of Medina also established very wide-ranging freedom of belief and religion. One of the items expressing that freedom reads:
“The Jews of Banu ‘Awf are a community along with the believers. To the Jews their religion and to the Muslims their religion.”[vi] (The Constitution of Medina, http://www.islamic-study.org/jews-prophet-page-2.htm)
The Constitution of Medina consists of 47 items. Items 1–23 concern Muslims, while items 24–47 concern Jewish tribes settled in Medina. Reference being made to Christians, who were much fewer in number, is also important in terms of participation by members of different faiths.
An analysis of the Constitution of Medina in a report titled “A Reassessment of Medina Charter according to Professor Leonard Swidler’s Pluralism Perspective” states that the Constitution is a significant document in displaying the Prophet’s efforts in uniting the city and bringing the groups together around the law, which was explicitly announced to the people.
According to this report, in terms of law, each individual had equal rights, enjoyed the freedom to choose their own religion and participating in war together with Muslims while under all circumstances, they were prohibited from engaging in any separate agreements with the enemy, showing an effort to establish a strict solidarity of the Medina groups. The author of the report says that this political and religious text aimed at establishing a new society around the values of equality and freedom. As it was emphasized in the Constitution, the superiority of the law over the individual was the basic step in attaining the goal of securing an atmosphere of dialogue and co-existence. The items of the Constitution also signified the equal responsibility of each individual in defending the city. According to this report, given that the names of all the groups in the city are cited one by one, the Constitution and thereby the Prophet, recognized all these groups in the city as legal entities and took them into account.[vii] (Kenan Çetinkaya, Amerika'da Diyalog anlayışı ve Medine Vesikası [Understanding of Dialogue in America and Medina Charter])
Although there are a large number of items concerning the Jews in the constitution, it will also be appropriate to remind ourselves that it also included pagan communities living there. Although the polytheists in Mecca openly demonstrated their enmity toward the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Muslims and forced them from their lands, the Prophet (pbuh) always treated the pagans of Medina in a very affectionate, peaceable and reconciliatory way. The text of the Constitution of Medina shows that Muslims adopted a protective attitude toward the rights and laws of the polytheists, and that these polytheists wished to act alongside Muslims in the defense of Medina. Such an attitude toward the polytheists is not at all surprising because in the Qur’an, Muslims have a responsibility to protect polytheists with whom they have signed agreements, even at the cost of their own lives. (This will be set out in greater detail in due course.)
The Constitution of Medina was the first pluralist and the most democratic constitution in history, showing the protective attitude of Muslims toward the rights and laws of members of all other faiths and even idolaters.
In conclusion, the constitution in question is regarded as a highly important document containing the nucleus of unity and union, love and affection, friendship and peace, and represents an example of dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims in general and between Muslims and Jews in particular. It is hard at present to identify a Muslim society capable of living by the Qur’an-based conception of love and peace of our Prophet (pbuh) at that time. This is definitive and highly important evidence that the most democratic constitution in history was written and implemented by our Prophet (pbuh) and that present-day societies have turned away from the practices of our Prophet (pbuh) as revealed in the Qur’an.
The subsequent sections of this book therefore need to be assessed in the light of this information. The practices of today’s peddlers of superstition are radically different from the advice of the Holy Qur’an, which commands that even polytheists be protected and says that the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) enjoy a special status for Muslims, and from the practices of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), who always aimed for peace and democracy. The peddlers of superstition are always looking for evidence for unceasing conflict in the Qur’an, yet the Qur’an itself always counsels peace. This important fact therefore needs to be borne in mind while interpreting the verses about war.