By Imam Mohammad Jamal
When Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) migrated to Medina to enjoy religious freedom and to establish the first Muslim community, Medina was a very diverse city consisting of many Muslims, Jews, Christians, polytheists, pagans, tribes, clans, rich, poor, masters, slaves and others. There was a sense of tribal belonging, and their source of income varied between trades, agriculture, some industry and cattle grazing. It was made of villages and small towns.
The first constitution in Islam, which dates to around 626 A.D., was composed of 52 articles and is considered the oldest full constitution documented reserved in full. The older ones were bits and pieces of the original. Putting this constitution together was one of the greatest missions that the Prophet accomplished, and he did so by building it on two parallel lanes, the first concerning those who believed in God and the Prophet, and the other concerning coexistence and peaceful living among all the citizens involved.
I am analyzing a few principles from this document as I counter what has been misunderstood about the acceptance of Muslims to non-Muslims. The document itself can be Googled and read but most of the tribal names are irrelevant to today’s readers.
- The concept of one nation: This constitution made all those who lived in Medina belong and feel the belonging to one nation. That means immigrants from Mecca, residents of Medina, neighboring tribes, and those who fought with and for them. This further developed the meaning of a nation after it had only referred to the loyalty to the tribe.
- Recognizing and accepting the special religious, traditional and cultural aspect of each component in this society. Nowadays, globalization does not recognize the individual uniqueness of other cultures and tries to unify the different variances of democracy, freedom, education, etc. However, Islam has recognized and accepted other cultures from day one.
- The inclusive cooperation among all the citizens who agreed and signed this document, regarding financial difficulties, family members, sickness, poverty, homeless, ransoms, illiteracy, abused and else, very much compared to today’s social security concept.
- Prevention of abuse in loyalty and relationship: Everyone is equal before the law, poor or rich, master or slave, high social rank or layman, black, white, red or others. All citizens are to be treated equally before the law and among each other; this is very much compared to social, economic, political, religious justice and equal opportunity in modern terms.
- The full inclusive cooperation among all citizens to reject any abuse or misuse of the laws even if it comes from someone’s own family, adult or young; all are one hand, equal in duties and responsibilities. Citizens are considered under this constitution as a beautiful piece of mosaic. Each piece has its own characteristic, privacy and boundary.
- Joint Defense: Muslims and non-Muslims should defend each other according to this constitution, and the rules and regulations are made out of thorough consultation from the citizens and their representatives.
- Whoever breaches or breaks any article in this constitution will lose the privileges entitled by this constitution and will meet the consequences, and no one carries the burden of the other.
These laws made Medina a sacred city where all enjoyed peace and harmony. The document was not made for war situations but for prosperous times, too.
The main purpose for me to write about the first constitution in Islam is to emphasize that Islam recognized others, accepted them and treated them as citizen. The concepts of citizenship and equality were established from day one. This document is widely spread, available in many languages and easy to access. It denies all that extremists claim in justifying their atrocities against humans. It also confirms that Islam came with a message of peace and coexistence, forgiveness and tolerance; to live and help others live.
This is the first model of Islamic state placed by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself and not the one that is taken hostage by unknown extremists or militia.