Ishfaq Nissar Padder
Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) was bestowed with the Prophethood at the age of forty (40) in 610C.E.in Makkah. And, after spending 13 years prophecy and delivering his Message at Makkah, he migrated (Hejirah) to Madina(in 622 CE)because he faced many atrocities and oppression there. Thereafter, as per Divine guidelines, he moved towards the Yathrib/Medina in order to pass on and consolidate the message of Islam. One of the first and foremost steps, the Prophet (SAAS) initiated at Madina was the establishment of an “Islamic Welfare Sate” based upon the principles of Islamic Shariah. After this achievement, a written constitution came into existence which is known as Mithaq-i-Medina(Charter/Constitution of Medina) and is held to be one of the important features of this State. The Charter framed by the Prophet (SAAS) was intended to end inter-tribal conflicts and maintained peace and cooperation among the people of Madinah. The Charter enhanced peaceful inter-religious relations among the people of Madinah. This Charter is considered as “the first constitution” written in synthesizing religion and politics.
It constituted a formal agreement between the Prophet (SAAS) and of the tribes of Madinah including Muslims, Jews, Christians and Polytheists. This Charter is an example for resolving disputes where peace and pluralism were achieved not through violence but rather respect, tolerance, and peaceful means. More significantly, the Constitution reflects Islam’s protection of human life and religious minorities and reiterates that these notions have been always fundamental in the Islamic tradition. It gave equality to all its citizens and accepted the co-existence of different religions in the community. Under the constitution, all religious, ethnic and tribal groups had equal protection, rights and dignity. They would live by their own beliefs and judge themselves by their own laws.
When the Prophet(SAAS)migrated to Madinah, there existed diverse population consisting of many different tribes who had also been fighting each other for nearly a century. The most significant feature of the Constitution of Madinah was that it recognized all the different communities as one nation (Ummah) regardless of their religions and tribes. The first clause in the constitution states “They are a single community.” This is seen as a very important first step taken by Prophet Mohammad ﷺ to unite the Madinian communities, and the diverse nature of human beings of different races and religion. It is mentioned in Quran at (49:13).
The other important value that could be drawn from the constitution of Madinah is tolerance. The Prophet(SAAS) inculcated the value of tolerance among the Madinian people. Clause 30 of the constitution of Madinah highlights the value of religious tolerance, particularly among Jews and Muslims.
In contemporary times, an analysis of the Madinah Charter can give us insight into Islam and religious pluralism. Madinah marked the first real occurrence of coexistence between religions and groups in Islam “in its entirety provides ample material for extrapolating a pluralistic and inclusive theology of religions.” The Quran is the unquestionable and the absolute; therefore, it is the key to understanding religious pluralism in Islam. Clause 39 of the Madinah Charter says, “The valley of Yathrib is sacred for the people of this document.” And so too is the universe, which is sacred to all of humanity.
The Charter is very relevant to current tensions existing between the Muslims and the people of other religions. Peace was achieved in Madinah, not through the might of arms or the scale of wealth but through the Islamic principles of tolerance, love, reason, and a belief in God. It shows that Islam rejects the use of compulsion of religion and violence as it is mentioned in Quran at (2:256).
The Charter is also an example or even an inspiration that should be discussed and referred to in current conflicts. The creation of the community (Ummah), offers pluralism to everyone.
It is apt to conclude with the below passage from Dr Muhammad Hamidullah’s “The First Written Constitution in the World”:”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.”
—The author holds a Master’s in Islamic Studies, from the Islamic University of Science & Technology, Awantipora. He can be reached at:[email protected]