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THE WORLD’S FIRST WRITTEN CONSTITUTION The Covenant of Medina

After his migration to Medina, Prophet Muhammad established a nation of equals based on the brotherhood between the Muslims in Medina and those from Makkah regardless of wealth or social status. The Muslims of Medina, known as ansars (helpers), shared their wealth and homes with the immigrants from Makkah, who left their homes and possessions behind to escape from religious persecution.

Jews living in Medina too were invited by the Prophet to join the new society as an independent nation, governed by rabbinical court, within the Muslim Nation. The Jews accepted and an agreement known as The Covenant of Medina was signed in CE622. The covenant guaranteed all the parties equality and freedom of religion; emphasised the sanctity of Medina, life, and individual possessions; and prohibited crime.

The first written Constitution of a State promulgated by a sovereign in human history emanated from the Prophet of Islam in CE622. The treaty stipulated a city state in Medina, allowing wide autonomy to communities. Private justice was to be banished. The head of the State had the prerogative to decide who should participate in an expedition, the war and peace being indivisible. Social insurance was to be instituted.

The Treaty between Muslims, non-Muslim Arabs and Jews of Medina was put in writing and ratified by all parties. It has been preserved by the historians. The document referred Muhammad as the Prophet and Messenger of God but it was understood that the Jews did not have to recognize him as such for their own religious reasons. The major parts of the document were:

The Covenant of Medina was a giant leap for mankind and established norms for co-existence. The Jews and other non-Muslim tribes were treated as independent nations––free to practice their religion, wear their traditional clothing, maintain their own language and customs, and follow their religious law. The treatment of minorities within the Muslim Nation was superior to that within any country in the world today. This treatment was also one of the reasons Islam spread very rapidly throughout the civilized world in the 7th century.

Among the people in Medina, there was a small community (three tribes) of Jews with Arab communities constituting the majority of the population. Because of wars going on for several generations, the resources of the Arabs were depleted and their influence in Medina was dwindling. The Jews were traders and many of them used to lend money at exorbitant interest. The continuing wars boosted their economy and personal wealth.

Immediately after his arriving at Medina, the Prophet saw

to it that peace and unity are maintained between the communities of Aws and Khazraj. The Prophet, motivated by the general welfare of citizens of Medina, decided to offer his services to the remaining communities including the Jews. He had already laid down the basis for relationship between the emigrants from Makkah and the people of Medina.

“In the name of Allah (The One True God) the Compassionate, the Merciful. This is a document from Muhammad, the Prophet, governing the relation between the Believers from among the Qurayshites (i.e., Emigrants from Mecca) and Yathribites (i.e., the residents of Medina) and those who followed them and joined them and strived with them. They form one and the same community as against the rest of men.

“No Believer shall oppose the client of another Believer. Whosoever is rebellious, or seeks to spread injustice, enmity or sedition among the Believers, the hand of every man shall be against him, even if he be a son of one of them. A Believer shall not kill a Believer in retaliation of an unbeliever, nor shall he help an unbeliever against a Believer.

“Whosoever among the Jews follows us shall have help and equality; they shall not be injured nor shall any enemy be aided against them…. No separate peace will be made when the Believers are fighting in the way of Allah…. The Believers shall avenge the blood of one another shed in the way of Allah ….Whosoever kills a Believer wrongfully shall be liable to retaliation; all the Believers shall be against him as one man and they are bound to take action against him.

“The Jews shall contribute (to the cost of war) with the Believers so long as they are at war with a common enemy. The Jews of Banu Najjar, Banu al-Harith, Banu Sa’idah, Banu Jusham, Banu al-Aws, Banu Tha’labah, Jafnah, and Banu al-Shutaybah enjoy the same rights and privileges as the Jews of Banu Aws.

“The Jews shall maintain their own religion and the Muslims theirs. Loyalty is a protection against treachery. The close friends of Jews are as themselves. None of them shall go out on a military expedition except with the permission of Muhammad, but he shall not be prevented from taking revenge for a wound.

“The Jews shall be responsible for their expenses and the Believers for theirs. Each, if attacked, shall come to the assistance of the other.

“The valley of Yathrib (Medina) shall be sacred and inviolable for all that join this Treaty. Strangers, under protection, shall be treated on the same ground as their protectors; but no stranger shall be taken under protection except with consent of his tribe….No woman shall be taken under protection without the consent of her family.

“Whatever difference or dispute between the parties to this covenant remains unsolved shall be referred to Allah and to Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah. Allah is the Guarantor of the piety and goodness that is embodied in this covenant. Neither the Quraysh nor their allies shall be given any protection.

“The contracting parties are bound to help one another against any attack on Yathrib. If they are called to cease hostilities and to enter into peace, they shall be bound to do so in the interest of peace; and if they make a similar demand on Muslims it must be carried out except when the war is against their religion.

“Allah approves the truth and goodwill of this covenant. This treaty shall not protect the unjust or the criminal. Whoever goes out to fight as well as whoever stays at home shall be safe and secure in this city unless he has perpetrated an injustice or committed a crime…. Allah is the protector of the good and God-fearing people.”

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