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Islamic Society ( 27 Sept 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Misaaq-i-Madinah: First Written Constitution of the World

By Nilofar Ahmed

WHEN the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) migrated to Madinah there was no ruler, no written rules and consequently, no accountability for crimes committed. The mightiest had a free hand, while the weak had to hide behind the strong, usually the tribe or the leader of the tribe, in order to survive.

There were constant internecine, tribal wars with a general lawlessness prevailing in Arabia. The Prophet at once set about organising the city in order to give it the semblance of a state and to codify laws, which would form the basis of what can safely be called a basic constitution.

At the time of the Muslims’ arrival in Madinah, the population of the city was said to be about 10,000. Of these, only about 15 per cent were immigrant Muslims; the rest was almost equally divided between Jews and polytheists. There were no common laws and no central command.

Each tribe dealt with matters according to its customs. Dr M. Hamidullah in his biography, Muhammad Rasulullah, says that the Prophet, after consultation with all the parties, decided to form a city-state in Madinah on the basis of a confederation.

There was to be a certain amount of autonomy for the units, with common rules and laws creating unity among its citizens,

Muslims, Jews and polytheists, who would all be considered one ummah (nation).

A set of rules known as the Misaaq-i-Madinah (‘Pact of Madinah’), was drafted in the first year after Hijra (623 C.E.). It has come down to us in its complete form in the Prophet’s biography by Ibn Ishaq. The document is made up of about 52 clauses.

Because of the constant tribal wars being fought at that time, a large number of the clauses pertain to the orderly settlement of the issues of war and its aftermath.

Dr Hamidullah says it is the “first written constitution of the world”. He also says that the Prophet introduced moral values in politics, institutionalised the provision of justice and declared that real and final power belonged to God alone. He did away with the concept that the king could do no wrong. He declared himself to be God’s Prophet and His representative on earth and considered the instructions that he brought for his followers, binding on himself.

M. Akhtar Muslim says in his book, Quran Aur Insani Huquq, (‘Quran and Human Rights’) that this document attempts to meet all the challenges and needs of every class and individual with regard to justice, tolerance, peace and freedom, including freedom of religion and the principle of coexistence. He also says that even Jews, who were well-known for their knowledge, skills and intelligence for centuries and were quite sharp in their dealings with others, accepted this agreement willingly, peacefully and completely.

Also, all the citizens accepted the Prophet as a ruler, without any coercion, when he was only the leader of a minority. This was a great achievement. According to Dr Hamidullah, the concept of social insurance was also introduced by this pact: if an individual was caught in a difficult situation due to having to pay blood money or ransom, his tribe would have to come to his rescue by pooling their resources. The poorest of the members of the believers would be able to give protection to anyone he deemed fit and bind the whole community of believers to honour his word. Those outside the pact could also be protected.

Madinah was declared a sanctuary for those who signed the document. All those tribes of Jews who cooperated were to be treated equally and given aid. The Muhajirun who had migrated from Makkah to Madinah were considered one tribe. The peace agreement entailed that no believer would help an unbeliever against a believer. All believers were to be against the one who spread injustice, enmity, sin or corruption among believers, even if he be one of them. No one would have the right to go to war without the permission of the head of state.

The administering of justice would not be in the hands of the one wronged, but would become the duty of the whole ummah.

This meant unbridled revenge would be curtailed and the state would become responsible for dispensing justice. No ties of kinship or social relationships would come in the way of justice. No one would be allowed to protect a murderer or a criminal.

No one would have the right to protect the Quraish of Makkah or their helpers, who were constantly trying to harm the believers.

In case of a dispute, the case would be referred back to the Prophet’s teachings. It was stated clearly that Jews and Muslims would practise their religion freely. The whole tribe would not be responsible for a crime committed by a member. In case any of the signatories of the pact were attacked, all the members would be obliged to defend them. If Jews made a peace pact with any party and invited the believers to join them, the believers would be compelled to do so, except in the case of a holy war.

The pact resulted in weakening the hold of the repressive culture and authority of the many tribes and superimposed the modern concept of a unifying culture and authority above it. The basic concepts of coexistence with followers of other faiths, dealing justly with everyone, keeping one’s word and feeling a concern for the weak were all highlighted by this pact and laid the foundation of a government for future generations to emulate.

The writer is a scholar of the Quran and writes on its relevance to contemporary issues.

Source: The Dawn, Karachi