The Constitution of Medina: the First written Constitution of the World

· ISLAM, Islam: A Religion of Peace

The constitution of Medina and not the Magna Carta was the first ever constitution describing a pluralistic society.

In this Google Knol I will collect the description of the constitution from various biographers and introduce my understanding based on all these different sources.

Mark Graham writes:

Muhammad’s brilliance lay in politics as well as spirituality. One of the most extraordinary events to take place during this time was the drafting of the Covenant of Medina (Sahifat al-Madinah), what some consider to be the world’s first constitution. It was a treaty and city charter between the Arabs and Jews of the city. All groups (Muslims, Jews, and non-Muslim Arabs) pledged to live in civic harmony, governed by mutual advice and consultation. The Covenant bound these varied groups into a common defense pact and stipulated that the Jews of the city were one community with the Muslims, that they were free to profess and practice their religion and that they were entitled to all the rights pertaining to the Muslims. This amazingly foresighted document was a revolutionary step forward in civil government. Despite the ultimately tragic end of Muslim and Jewish cooperation in Medina, this blueprint of interreligious tolerance would serve Islam and its subject peoples well in the future.

Mark Graham. How Islam Created the Modern World. Amana Publications, 2006. Pages 21.


Sir Zafrulla Khan
First allow me to introduce a biographer, of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, Sir Zafrulla Khan, from Encyclopedia Britannica to those who do not know him:

“Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan was a Pakistani politician, diplomat, and international jurist, known particularly for his representation of Pakistan at the United Nations (UN).

The son of the leading attorney of his native city, Zafrulla Khan studied at Government College in Lahore and received his LL.B. from King’s College, London University, in 1914. He practiced law in Sialkot and Lahore, became a member of the Punjab Legislative Council in 1926, and was a delegate in 1930, 1931, and 1932 to the Round Table Conferences on Indian reforms in London. In 1931–32 he was president of the All-India Muslim League (later the Muslim League), and he sat on the British viceroy’s executive council as its Muslim member from 1935 to 1941. He led the Indian delegation to the League of Nations in 1939, and from 1941 to 1947 he served as a judge of the Federal Court of India.

Prior to the partition of India in 1947, Zafrulla Khan presented the Muslim League’s view of the future boundaries of Pakistan to Sir Cyril Radcliffe, the man designated to decide the boundaries between India and Pakistan. Upon the independence of Pakistan, Zafrulla Khan became the new country’s minister of foreign affairs and served concurrently as leader of Pakistan’s delegation to the UN (1947–54). From 1954 to 1961 he served as a member of the International Court of Justice at The Hague. He again represented Pakistan at the UN in 1961–64 and served as president of the UN General Assembly in 1962–63. Returning to the International Court of Justice in 1964, he served as the court’s president from 1970 to 1973.

He was knighted in 1935. He is the author of Islam: Its Meaning for Modern Man (1962) and wrote a translation of the Qur’an (1970).”

Sir Zafrulla Khan writes:

Thus, after the arrival of the Holy Prophet in Medina, its people were divided into the following groups:

1. Muslims, Emigrants and Ansar.

2. Those of Aus and Khazraj who had become nominally Muslims but did not truly believe in Islam and entertained secret designs against the Holy Prophet and the Muslims. They were the disaffected who were known as hypocrites.

3. Those of Aus and Khazraj who were still pagans, but were rapidly becoming Muslims, and who would be soon absorbed among them.

4. The Jews who were divided into three principal tribes, Banu Qainuqa, Banu Nadhir and Banu Quraidha.

This was a situation which was replete with dangerous possibilities in the future, and called for a strong measure of co-ordination and adjustment, more particularly as the very existence of the Muslims was bitterly resented and was seriously threatened by Quraish, who were busy designing measures to wipe out Islam and the Muslims. Therefore, as soon as the Holy Prophet was settled in Medina, he called together the representatives of the Emigrants, Aus and Khazraj, and the Jewish tribes for consultation and invited them to consider the desirability of establishing some system of mutual cooperation whereby risk of dissension might be obviated and the security of Medina might be provided for. After a thorough exchange of views, agreement was reached and was reduced to writing, of which the principal provisions may be summarized as follows:

1. The Muslims and Jews would deal with each other on the basis of sympathy and sincerity and would not indulge in any aggression or wrong against each other.

2. All sections of the people of Medina would enjoy complete religious freedom.

3. Everyone’s life and property would be secure, and would be respected, subject to the maintenance of law and order.

4. All matters of difference would be submitted for decision to the Holy Prophet, and would be determined by him according to the laws and the customs of each section of the people of Medina.

5. No section would go forth to fight without the permission of the Holy Prophet.

6. In case of aggression against the Jews or the Muslims, both would combine in repelling the aggression.

7. In case of attack against Medina, all sections would combine in repelling it.

8. The Jews would not in any manner aid Quraish or provide refuge or comfort for them.

9. All sections would be responsible for their own upkeep and expenses.

10. Nothing in the agreement would afford immunity to a wrongdoer, or sinner or mischief-maker.

By virtue of this agreement, the relations between the Muslims and the Jews were duly regulated, and a basis for the governance of Medina was provided, where under each section would have complete freedom of religion, and complete autonomy with regard to its internal affairs, but would be knit into a central administrative system which would be presided over by the Holy Prophet.[1]

Sir William Muir:
Muir writes in the biography of the prophet Muhammad:
On an entirely different footing were the three JEWISH TRIBES established in their settlements without the city. Mahomet had acknowledged the divine authority of their religion, and had even rested his claim, in an important degree, upon the evidence of their Scriptures and the testimony of their learned men. One of the objects nearest his heart was a federal union with the Jews. His feasts, his fasts and ceremonies were, up to this time, framed in close correspondence with Jewish custom. His very Kibla, the Holy of holies to which he and his people turned five times a day while they prostrated themselves in prayer, was Jerusalem. No concession, in fact, short of the abandonment of his claim to the prophetic office, was too great to gain the Jews over to his cause.
It was natural that Mahomet, holding these sentiments, Treaty of should desire to enter into a close and binding union with with the the Jews, and this he did in a formal manner shortly after iewa reaching Medina. He associated them with himself by a treaty of mutual obligation drawn up in writing, which bound his followers on the one hand, and the Jews on the other, and confirmed the latter among other things in the practice of their religion and the secure possession of their property. The main provisions are the following:—
‘THE CHARTER of Mahomet the Prophet, in behoof of the Believers, and whosoever else joineth himself unto them and striveth with them for the faith. The Refugees shall defray the price of blood shed among themselves, and shall ransom honourably their prisoners. The Believers of the various tribes of Medina (named in detail) shall do the same. Whosoever is rebellious, or seeketh to spread enmity and sedition, the hand of every man shall be against him, even if he be a son. No Believer shall be put to death for the blood of an infidel ; neither shall any infidel be supported against a Believer. Whosoever of the Jews followeth us shall have aid and succour ; they shall not be injured, nor shall any enemy be aided against them. No unbeliever shall grant protection to the people of Mecca, either in person or property, nor interpose between the Believers and them.  Whosoever killeth a Believer wrongfully the Moslems shall join as one man against him.
‘The Jews shall contribute with the Moslems, while at war with a common enemy. The Jewish clans in alliance with the several tribes of Medina are one people with the Believers. The Jews will profess their religion, the Moslems theirs. As with the Jews, so with their adherents. No one shall go forth to war excepting with the permission of Mahomet; but this shall not hinder any from seeking lawful revenge. The Jews shall be responsible for their expenditure, the Moslems for theirs; but, if attacked, each shall come to the assistance of the other. Medina shall be sacred and inviolable for all that join this treaty. Strangers, under protection, shall be treated as their protectors are ; but no female shall be so received save with consent of her kindred. Controversies and disputes shall be referred for the decision of God and His prophet. None shall join the men of Mecca or their allies; for verily the engaging parties are bound together against every one that shall threaten Medina. War and Peace shall be made in common. He that goeth forth shall be secure; and he that sitteth at home shall be secure;—saving him that transgresseth and committeth wrong. And verily God is the protector of the righteous and the godly ; and Mahomet is His Prophet.’[2]
We are not told when this treaty was entered into, but it probably was not long after the arrival of Mahomet at Medina.
Hadhrat Mirza Bashir-ud-din Mahmud Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih II

The following is an account from the biography written by him.  He has used the original source ‘Hisham’ to give us an account.
Besides uniting Meccan and Medinite Muslims in a brotherhood, the Holy Prophet instituted a covenant between all the inhabitants of Medina. By this covenant, Arabs and the Jews were united into a common citizenship with Muslims. The Prophetsa explained to both Arabs and Jews that before the Muslims emerged as a group in Medina, there were only two groups in their town, but with Muslims now, there were three
groups. It was but proper that they should enter into an agreement which should be binding upon them all, and which should assure to all of them a measure of peace.  Eventually an agreement was arrived at. The
agreement said:
Between the Prophet of God and the Faithful on the one hand, and all those on the other, who voluntarily
agree to enter. If any of the Meccan Muslims is killed, the Meccan Muslims will themselves be responsible.
The responsibility for securing the release of their prisoners will also be theirs. The Muslim tribes of Medina similarly will be responsible for their own lives and their prisoners. Whoever rebels or promotes enmity and disorder will be considered a common enemy. It will be the duty of all the others to fight against him, even though he happens to be a son or a close relation. If a disbeliever is killed in battle by a believer, his Muslim relations will seek no revenge.  Nor will they assist disbelievers against believers. The Jews who join this covenant will be helped by Muslims. The Jews will not be put to any hardship.  Their enemies will not be helped against them. No disbeliever will give quarter to anybody from Mecca.  He will not act as a trustee for any Meccan property.  In a war between Muslims and disbelievers he will take no part. If a believer is maltreated without cause,  Muslims will have the right to fight against those who maltreat. If a common enemy attack Medina, the Jews will side with the Muslims and share the expenses of the battle. The Jewish tribes in covenant with the other tribes of Medina will have rights similar to those of Muslims. The Jews will keep to
their own faith, and Muslims to their own. The rights enjoyed by the Jews will also be enjoyed by their
followers. The citizens of Medina will not have the right to declare war without the sanction of the Prophet. But this will not prejudice the right of any individual to avenge an individual wrong. The Jews will bear the expenses of their own organization, and Muslims their own. But in case of war, they will act with unity. The city of Medina will be regarded as sacred and inviolate by those who sign the covenant.  Strangers who come under the protection of its citizens will be treated as citizens. But the people of Medina will not be allowed to admit a woman to its citizenship without the permission of her relations.  All disputes will be referred for decision to God and the Prophet. Parties to this covenant will not have the right to enter into any agreement with the
Meccans or their allies. This, because parties to this covenant agree in resisting their common enemies.
The parties will remain united in peace as in war. No party will enter into a separate peace. But no party
will be obliged to take part in war. A party, however, which commits any excess will be liable to a penalty.
Certainly God is the protector of the righteous and the Faithful and Muhammadsa is His Prophet (Hisham).
This is the covenant in brief. It has been prepared from scraps to be found in historical records. It emphasizes beyond any doubt that in settling disputes and disagreements between the parties at Medina, the guiding
principles were to be honesty, truth and justice. Those committing excesses were to be held responsible for those excesses. The covenant makes it clear that the Prophetsa of Islam was determined to treat with civility and kindness the other citizens of Medina, and to regard them and deal with them as brethren. If disputes and conflicts arose later, the responsibility rested with the Jews.[3]
William Montgomery Watt
The following account is from the book of William Montgomery Watt’s book, Muhammad at Medina.  He quotes 47 articles and footnotes from the original biographer of Muhammad, Ibn Ishaq.  But, before a detailed account, Watt, unlike Sir William Muir, tries to shed some doubt about the constitution, especially its timings.  He writes:



IBN ISHAQ has preserved an ancient document commonly known as the ‘Constitution of Medina’. Apart from the introductory words, however, he tells us nothing about it, neither how he came by it nor when and how it was brought into force. On the latter points he must be presumed ignorant; its place near the beginning of his account of the Medinan period is simply that called for by logic.

(a)   The text of the document[1]

Ibn Ishaq said: The Messenger of God (God bless and preserve him) wrote a writing (kitab) between the Emigrants and the Ansar, in which he made a treaty and covenant with the Jews, confirmed them in their religion and possessions, and gave them certain duties and rights :

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate!

This is a writing of Muhammad the prophet between the believers and Muslims of Quraysh and Yathrib and those who follow them and are attached to them and who crusade (jahadu) along with them.

1.      They are a single community (ummah) distinct from (other) people.[2]

2.      The Emigrants of Quraysh, according to their former condition, [3] pay jointly the blood-money between them, and they (as a group) ransom their captive(s), (doing so) with uprightness and justice between the believers.

3.      Banu ‘Awf, according to their former condition, pay jointly the previous blood-wits, and each sub-clan (ta’ifah) ransoms its captive(s), (doing so) with uprightness and justice between the believers.[4]

4.      Banu ‘l-Harith, according to their former condition, pay jointly … (as 3).

5.      Banu Sa’idah … (as 3).

6.      Banu Jusham … (as 3).

7.      Banu ‘n-Najjar … (as 3).

8.      Banu ‘Amr b. ‘Awf … (as 3).

9.      Banu ‘n-Nabit … (as 3).

10.  Banu ‘l-Aws … (as 3).

11.  The believers do not forsake a debtor among them, but give him (help), according to what is fair, for ransom or blood-wit.

12.  A believer does not take as confederate (halif) the client (mawla) of a believer without his (the latter’s) consent.

13.  The God-fearing believers are against whoever of them acts wrongfully or seeks (? plans) an act that is unjust or treacherous or hostile or corrupt among the believers; their hands are all against him, even if he is the son of one of them.

14.  A believer does not kill a believer because of an unbeliever, and does not help an unbeliever against a believer.

15.  The security (dhimmah) of God is one; the granting of ‘neighbourly protection’ (yujir) by the least of them (the believers) is binding on them; the believers are patrons (or clients-mawali) of one another to the exclusion of (other) people.

16.  Whoever of the Jews follows us has the (same) help and support (nasr, iswah) (as the believers), so long as they are not wronged (by him) and he does not help (others) against them.

17.  The peace (silm) of the believers is one; no believer makes peace apart from another believer, where there is fighting in the way of God, except in so far as equality and justice between them (is maintained).

18.  In every expedition made with us the parties take turns with one another.[5]

19.  The believers exact vengeance for one another where a man gives his blood in the way of God. The God-fearing believers are under the best and most correct guidance.

20.  No idolater (mushrik) gives ‘neighbourly protection’ (yujir) for goods or person to Quraysh, nor intervenes in his (a Qurashi’s) favour against a believer.

21.  When anyone wrongfully kills a believer, the evidence being clear, then he is liable to be killed in retaliation for him, unless the representative of the murdered man is satisfied (with a payment). The believers are against him (the murderer) entirely; nothing is permissible to them except to oppose him.

22.  It is not permissible for a believer who has agreed to what is in this document (sahifah) and believed in God and the last day to help a wrong-doer[6] or give him lodging. If anyone helps him or gives him lodging, then upon this man is the curse of God and His wrath on the day of resurrection, and from him nothing will be accepted to make up for it or take its place.

23.  Wherever there is anything about which you differ, it is to be referred to God and to Muhammad (peace be upon him).

24.  The Jews bear expenses along with the believers so long as they continue at war.

25.  The Jews of Banu ‘Awf are a community (ummah) along with the believers. To the Jews their religion (din) and to the Muslims their religion. (This applies) both to their clients and to themselves, with the exception of anyone who has done wrong or acted treacherously; he brings evil only on himself and on his household.

26.  For the Jews of Banu ‘n-Najjar the like of what is for the Jews of Banu ‘Awf.

27.  For the Jews of Banu ‘l-Harith the like . . .

28.  For the Jews of Banu Sa’idah the like . . .

29.  For the Jews of Banu Jusham the like . . .

30.  For the Jews of Banu ‘l-Aws the like . . .

31.  For the Jews of Banu Tha’labah the like of what is for the Jews of Banu ‘Awf, with the exception of anyone who has done wrong or acted treacherously; he brings evil only on himself and his household.

32.  Jafnah, a subdivision (batn) of Tha’labah, are like them.

33.  For Banu ‘sh-Shutaybah[7] the like of what is for the Jews of Banu ‘Awf; honourable dealing (comes) before treachery.[8]

34.  The clients of Tha’labah are like them.

35.  The bitanah[9] of (particular) Jews are as themselves.

36.  No one of them (? those belonging to the ummah) may go out (to war) without the permission of Muhammad (peace be upon him), but he is not restrained from taking vengeance for wounds. Whoever acts rashly (fataka), it (involves) only himself and his household, except where a man has been wronged. God is the truest (fulfiller) of this (document).[10]

37.  It is for the Jews to bear their expenses and for the Muslims to bear their expenses. Between them (that is, to one another) there is help (nasr) against whoever wars against the people of this document. Between them is sincere friendship (nas’h wa-nasihah), and honourable dealing, not treachery. A man is not guilty of treachery through (the act of) his confederate. There is help for (or, help is to be given to) the person wronged.

38.  The Jews bear expenses along with the believers so long as they continue at war.

39.  The valley of Yathrib is sacred for the people of this document.

40.  The ‘protected neighbour’ (jar) is as the man himself so long as he does no harm and does not act treacherously.(

41.  No woman is given ‘neighbourly protection’(tujar) without the consent of her people.

42.  Whenever among the people of this document there occurs any incident (disturbance) or quarrel from which disaster for it (the people) is to be feared, it is to be referred to God and to Muhammad, the Messenger of God (God bless and preserve him). God is the most scrupulous and truest (fulfiller) of what is in this document.

43.  No ‘neighbourly protection’ is given (Ia tujar) to Quraysh and those who help them.

44.  Between them (? the people of this document) is help against whoever suddenly attacks Yathrib.

45.  Whenever they are summoned to conclude and accept a treaty, they conclude and accept it; when they in turn summon to the like of that, it is for them upon the believers, [11] except whoever wars about religion; for (? = incumbent on) each man is his share from their side which is towards them.

46.  The Jews of al-Aws, both their clients and themselves, are in the same position as belongs to the people of this document while they are thoroughly honourable in their dealings with the people of this document. Honourable dealing (comes) before treachery.

47.  A person acquiring (? guilt)[12] acquires it only against himself. God is the most upright and truest (fulfiller) of what is in this document. This writing does not intervene to protect a wrong-doer or traitor. He who goes out is safe, and he who sits still is safe in Medina, except whoever does wrong and acts treacherously. God is ‘protecting neighbour’ (jar) of him who acts honourably and fears God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God (God bless and preserve him).

(b)   The authenticity, date, and unity of the document

This document has generally been regarded as authentic, though it has not always been given the prominence appropriate to an authentic document of this sort. The reasons for its authenticity have been succinctly stated by Wellhausen.[13] No later falsifier, writing under the Umayyads or ‘Abbasids, would have included non-Muslims in the ummah, would have retained the articles against Quraysh, and would have given Muhammad so insignificant a place. Moreover the style is archaic, and certain points, such as the use of ‘believers’ instead of ‘Muslims’ in most articles, belong to the earlier Medinan period.

There has been some discussion, however, whether the document is to be dated before or after the battle of Badr. Wellhausen placed it before Badr. Hubert Grimme,[14] however, argued for a date after Badr on the following grounds: the functions attributed to Muhammad in 23 and 36 show that his authority was generally recognized; the references to fighting for the faith (fi sabil Allah, 17, 19; fi ‘d-din, 45) imply that some fighting had taken place; the hostile attitude towards Quraysh could have been demanded of Medinan believers only after Badr. Caetani[15] shows that these arguments are not so strong as Grimme thought, and prefers a date prior to Badr.

This discussion of the date has assumed that the document is a unity; but that is the point that ought to be examined first. There are reasons for thinking that articles which originated at different dates have been collected.[16] Thus there are certain linguistic variations: the believers are mostly spoken of in the third person, but sometimes they are ‘you’ and sometimes ‘we’ (as in 23, 16, 18); mostly they are ‘believers’, but twice they are ‘Muslims’ ( 25, 37). Again, certain articles come near to being repetitions of other articles; they deal with the same problem but may have slight alterations. Both 23 and 42 say that disputes are to be referred to Muhammad, though 42 is more precise. Both 20 and 43 are directed against Quraysh. The points about Jews in 16 and 24 are similar to those in 37 and 38; and indeed 24 and 38 are identical. Finally both 30 and 46 deal with the Jews of the Aws. It is to be noted that the articles which are similar do not occur together, as one would expect where articles dealt with different aspects of the same point. On the contrary one set is spread between 16 and 30 and another set between 37 and 46. This is sufficient to justify an examination of the possibility that the document as we have it contains articles from two or more different dates.

With this possibility in mind let us turn to what is said about the Jews. The inclusion of the Jews in the ummah is an important argument for dating the document before Badr.[17] The omission of the names of the three great Jewish tribes or clans is surprising. One way of explaining it, however, is to suppose that Muhammad grouped the Jews according to the Arab clans in whose districts they lived; an-Nadir and Qurayzah would then be included among the Jews of al-Aws and Tha’labah, since they lived between

Awsallah and Tha’labah b. Amr b. ‘Awf.[18] There are strong reasons, however, for thinking that the three main Jewish groups are not included in the document. For one thing it is most likely that a phrase like ‘the Jews of the Banu ‘Awf’ means the Jews who were confederates of that clan. Small groups of Jews, like those at Ratij, [19] doubtless became confederates of the Arab clan surrounding them; but an-Nadir and Qurayzah had their own territories, and were latterly confederates of ‘Abd al-Ash’hal, who lived some distance away, and who were part of the clan of an-Nabit which is not mentioned in 25-35 among the clans with Jews attached. Secondly, Ibn Ishaq[20] has a list of sixty-seven Jewish opponents of Muhammad and arranges them under the following heads : B. an-Nadir (12), B. Tha’labah b. Fityawn (3), B. Qaynuqa’ (31), B. Qurayzah (17), Jews of B. Zurayq (1), Jews of B. Harithah (1), Jews of B. ‘Amr b. ‘Awf (1), Jews of B. an-Najjar (1). This makes it probable that ‘the Jews of B. Tha’labah’ of 31 are those whom Ibn Ishaq and as-Samhudi[21] reckon as a Jewish clan, and shows that at some period small groups of Jews, distinct from the three main clans, were known as ‘the Jews of such-and-such an Arab clan’.

It seems probable, then, that the three main Jewish groups are not mentioned in the document. If that is so, the document in its present form might belong to the period after the elimination of Qurayzah. The difficulty that much attention is given to Jewish affairs at a time when there were few Jews in Medina could be explained by the hypothesis that the document in its final form was intended as a charter for the Jews remaining in Medina and included all relevant articles from earlier forms of the Constitution of the city.

The history of the document might be reconstructed conjecturally somewhat as follows. The earlier articles (up to 15 or 1 6 or 19 or 23) may have been the original terms of agreement between Muhammad and the Medinan clans at al-‘Aqabah, or they may have been drawn up by the ‘representatives’ (nuqaba) shortly after the Hijrah. They mostly deal with problems involved in keeping peace between the Arab clans. To these from time to time as need arose other articles were added, while articles which became inoperative would be dropped, e.g., articles about Qurayzah and an-Nadir. The word sahifah (translated ‘document’), which occurs from 22 to 47 implies a written document formally accepted by different parties. The phrase ‘the people of this document’ is doubtless used so as to cover both Jews and Muslims. To the ‘document’ in this special sense belongs the solid body of articles dealing with Jews, 24 to 35 (or, if 36 is interpreted as referring to the Jews, to 38). 16 is perhaps part of the ‘Aqabah agreement with the Aws and the Khazraj, and prior to the formal agreement with the Jews in the sahifah or ‘document’.

While scholars may come to approve some such view of the existing text of the Constitution of Medina, there is much that is bound to remain conjectural and obscure. Thus, is 44 an earlier version of the middle clause of 37? Are the Jews of Banu ‘Awf given a special place because ‘Abdallah b. Ubayy first obtained good terms for them? Why are the Jews of Banu ‘l-Aws mentioned twice? Is Banu l-Aws here and in 30 identical with Banu ‘l-Aws in 10 (which is commonly taken to be the group usually known as Awsallah), or is it the whole tribe of the Aws? This is not the place to pursue such queries further. This study of the text of the Constitution, however, is sufficient to justify the use of it as a source for the ideas underlying the Islamic state in the early formative years, while at the same time it warns us not to base an argument solely on the supposed date of any article of the Constitution.

Muhammad Husain Haykal (or Heikal) (born 1923) was a powerful journalist and editor of Al Ahram (1957-1974), widely read in the Arab world and internationally. He also served as an adviser to Egyptian Presidents Nasser and Sadat.  The wording of the covenant has been reported by him in his book, the Life of Muhammad:

In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful. This is a covenant given by Muhammad to the believers and Muslims of Quraysh, Yathrib, and those who followed them, joined them, and fought with them. They constitute one Ummah to the exclusion of all other men. As was their custom, the Muhajirun from Quraysh are bound together and shall ransom their prisoners in kindness and justice as believers do. Following their own custom, Banu ‘Awf are bound together as they have been before. Every clan of them shall ransom its prisoners with the kindness and justice common among believers. [The text here repeats the same prescription concerning every clan of the Ansar and every house including Banu al Harith, Banu Sa’idah, Banu Jusham, Banu al Najjar, Banu ‘Amr ibn ‘Awf and Banu al Nablt.] The believers shall leave none of their members in destitution without giving him in kindness what he needs by way of ransom or bloodwit. No believer shall take as an ally a freedman of another Muslim without the permission of his previous master. All pious believers shall rise as one man against whosoever rebels or seeks to commit injustice, aggression, sin, or spread mutual enmity between the believers, even though he may be one of their sons. No believer shall slay a believer in retaliation for an un­believer; neither shall he assist an unbeliever against a believer. Just as God’s bond is one and indivisible, all believers shall stand behind the commitment of the least of them. All believers are bonded one to another to the exclusion of other men. Any Jew who follows us is entitled to our assistance and the same rights as any one of us, without injustice or partisanship. This Pax Islamica is one and indivisible. No believer shall enter into a separate peace without all other believers whenever there is fighting in the cause of God, but will do so only on the basis of equality and justice to all others. In every military expedition we undertake our members shall be accompanied by others committed to the same objective. All believers shall avenge the blood of one another whenever any one of them falls fighting in the cause of God. The pious believers follow the best and most upright guidance. No unbeliever shall be allowed to place under his protection against the interest of a believer, any wealth or person belonging to Quraysh. Whoever is convicted of killing a believer deliberately but without righteous cause, shall be liable to the relatives of the killed. Until the latter are satisfied, the killer shall be subject to retaliation by each and every believer. The killer shall have no rights whatever until this right of the believers is satisfied. Whoever has entered into this covenant and believed in God and in the last day shall never protect or give shelter to a convict or a criminal; whoever does so shall be cursed by God and upon him shall the divine wrath fall on the day of judgment. Neither repentence nor ransom shall be acceptable from him. No object of contention among you may not be referred to God and to Muhammad — may God’s peace and blessing be upon him — for judgment. As the Jews fight on the side of the believers, they shall spend of their wealth on equal par with the believers. The Jews of Banu Aws are an ummah alongside the believers. The Jews have their religion and the Muslims theirs. Both enjoy the security of their own populace and clients except the unjust and the criminal among them. The unjust or the criminal destroys only himself and his family. The Jews of Banu al Najjar, Banu al Harith, Banu Sa’idah, Banu Jusham, Banu al Aws, Banu Tha’labah, Jafnah, and Banu al Shutaybah — to all the same rights and privileges apply as to the Jews of Banu Aws. The clients of the tribe of Tha’labah enjoy the same rights and duties as the members of the tribe themselves. Likewise, the clients of the Jews, as the Jews themselves. None of the foregoing shall go out to war except with the permission of Muhammad — may God’s peace and blessing be upon him — though none may be prevented from taking revenge for a wound inflicted upon him. Whoever murders anyone will have murdered himself and the members of his family, unless it be the case of a man suffering a wrong, for God will accept his action. The Jews shall bear their public expenses and so will the Muslims. Each shall assist the other against any violator of this covenant. Their relationship shall be one of mutual advice and consultation, and mutual assistance and charity rather than harm and aggression. However, no man is liable to a crime committed by his ally. Assistance is due to the party suffering an injustice, not to one per­petrating it. Since the Jews fight on the side of the believers they shall spend their wealth on a par with them. The town of Yathrib shall constitute a sanctuary for the parties of this covenant. Their neighbors shall be treated as them­selves as long as they perpetrate no crime and commit no harm. No woman may 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 God and to Muhammad, the Prophet of God — may God’s peace and blessing be upon him. God 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 people of this covenant shall come to the assistance of one another against whoever attacks Yathrib. If they are called to cease hostilities and to enter into a peace, they shall be bound to do so in the interest of peace. If, on the other hand, they call upon the Muslims to cease hostilities and to enter into a peace, the Muslims shall be bound to do so and maintain the peace except when the war is against their religion. To every smaller group belongs the share which is their due as members of the larger group which is party to this covenant. The Jews of al Aws, as well as their clients, are entitled to the same rights as this covenant has granted to its parties together with the goodness and charity of the latter. Charity and goodness are clearly distinguishable from crime and injury, and there is no responsibility except for one’s own deeds. God is the guarantor of the truth and good will of this covenant. This covenant shall constitute no protection for 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. God grants His protection to whosoever acts in piety, charity and goodness.[4]

[1] IH, 341-4. The numbering of the paragraphs follows Wensinck, Mohammed en de Joden, 74-81, except that the closing sentence of 19 has been moved there from the beginning of 20. Cf. also Wellhausen, Skizzen, iv. 65-83, and Caetani,i. 391-408.

[2]The literal translation of the last phrase is ‘from the people’, which might refer to the Jews ; but on the whole this is unlikely.

[3] Lane, s.v., makes it clear that the phrase ‘ala rib’ ati-him means ‘according to their former or good condition’. There is no reason to suppose any reference to ‘quarter’. The interpretation is either that each group remains distinct or that it follows its previous practice. The last clause prescribes a fair apportionment between the various groups within the clan.

[4] ‘The previous blood-wits’ (al-ma’aqil al-ula) are those according to the principles previously in force. The words ‘between the believers’ may be intended to exclude unbelievers belonging to B. ‘Awf.

[5] This may apply to taking turns at riding a camel (Wellhausen; cf. IH, 433, &c.), or to all military duties (Caetani).

[6] Muhdith, literally ‘innovator’, means one who disturbs the existing state of affairs in any way.

[7] Wensinck, Joden, 79, corrects to Banu ‘sh-Shutbah; cf. as-Samhudi, 151.

[8] Or ‘honourable dealing without treachery (is demanded)’.

[9] The meaning of bitanah is obscure. It probably means those who were closely connected with some Medinan Jews by ties of friendship, not of blood ; cf. Q. 3. 118/114; IH, 519. 4; Aghani, xvii. 56. 22. Wensinck, 78, with some likelihood thinks they may be those Arabs who had been associated with the Jews before the coming of the Aws and the Khazraj.

[10] The second half of this article, and especially the last sentence are uncertain in meaning. The last sentence might mean ‘God is very far from this.’

[11] This may mean ‘it is a debt owed to them by the believers’ (cf. W. Wright, Arabic Grammar 3 , Cambridge, 1896-8, ii. 169 a), or ‘it is for them to conclude without taking notice of the believers’ (cf. ibid. 172 a). The interpretation of this article is obscure.

[12] Cf. Q. 4. III, cited by Wensinck.

[13] Skizzen, iv. 80; cf. Caetani, i. 403.

[14] Muhammed, Munster, 1892, i. 76.

[15] Op. cit. 404.

[16] I am here indebted to the late Richard Bell, who, by his insistence on this point in conversation, led me to examine it carefully.

[17] Cf. Wellhausen, ibid. 80.

[18] Cf. ibid. 75.

[19] Cf. above, pp. 160, 194.

[20] IH, 351 f.

[21] i. II5


  2. Sir William Muir. The Life of Mahomet. Smith Elder and Company, 1894. Pages 176-178.
  4. Muhammad Husayn Haykal. The Life of Muhammad. North American Trust Publications, 1976. Pages 180-183.
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