The Charter of Medina was drafted as a “constitution”. A searching mind asks, “why is it called a constitution, why not a treaty or an agreement or a legal code? The Holy Quran was still being revealed so why was there a need for a “constitution”? Why was’nt there a “Charter of Makkah?”
Our interpretation about the Charter of Medina arises from our desire to establish our thoughts and opinions upon society. Objectivity meets unpleasantly with biased views hidden under the banners of our ambitions and aspirations.
The writing of Charter of Medina was not an isolated event. The document demands to be seen from the spirit which worked behind its writing. When we look at the Bangladesh constitution we immediately see it with a particular spirit and vision. The document tells us to tune the frequency of our minds to 1971. The causes and effects of the liberation war instantly open up to make us think about the feelings, emotions, thoughts and concepts that went into writing the constitution. Other nations go through similar experiences in trying to understand theirs as well. The Declaration of Independence in the US is a document which makes one recall America’s war of independence from colonial Britain.
Let us first take the issue of Emigration (Hijrat) which happens to be the turning point in Islamic history. It was so important to Islam that history marks the Islamic calendar from the date of the migration, the Hijri calendar. Medina was the second not the first migration, Abyssinia was the first. The difference between the two migrations (Abyssinia and Medina) holds one of the keys to perceiving the importance of the Charter.
To Abyssinia companions migrated as a strategic step for the propagation of their movement. The prophet’s (pbuh) companions who migrated consisted of a mix of men and women coming from different “classes” of the Arab society. There was Jafar bin Abi Talib from the royal Hashemite clan as well as Ammar Ibn Yasser from the slave class.
Being mixed up together in a group without any class differentiation gave a revolutionary message to the Abyssinians and Romans (the colonizer of Abyssinia). The established order of their society was built upon tribal loyalty on one hand and a clear demarcation between rulers and subjects on the other. It must have been astonishing to see a royal and a slave both running together away from the chiefs of their very own tribal society. Any normal person would come to understand two important lessons from this exceptional story.
One, tribal chiefs were unjust, ruthless and undeserving of their position. They were the reasons why their own tribesmen were running away from their homes. Two, a completely new concept was on the rise. Usually its the strong persecuting the weak, rich exploiting the poor, rulers enslaving the subjects. In Abyssinia they saw a new form of unity forming against the oppressor. The basis for unity was equality, justice and freedom.
The team that went to Abyssinia represented the “face” of the Prophet (pbuh) and his (swm) mission. Abyssinia was not an “escape from persecution” story. It was a stroke of genius in the universal movement of the prophet (pbuh). Hijrat to Abyssinia was a strategic step that globalized the movement, provided it with a political character and placed its peaceful nature at an international level.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not migrate to Abyssinia. This was not his (swm) mission. The mission was to accomplish something bigger and more ground breaking than migration to a safe place. He (swm) did however migrate, but to Medina. Why? What was the difference?
In Medina migration was not as a refugee under the protection of a sympathetic king. Rather, this migration was to take over the city. The prophet (pbuh) would be its supreme Commander, Head of the State, the Chief Legislator, the Chief Judge and the Chief Executive. Medina, known as Yathrib changed into the Prophet’s (swm) city, Al-Medina al-Nabawi. The acquisition of Medina was complete and final and the Prophet (pbuh) the supreme ruler.
Without changing the power architecture there was no chance of building a model Islamic society. Reforming the ancient global political system demanded legitimate power and authority. That could not take place unless the old world powers were replaced by a new order. Medina would belong to the Prophet (pbuh) after the Hijrat ready to “hear and obey” his every command. In all, Medina meant the rise of a new world power. The mission of the prophet (pbuh) got what it needed to challenge the world order under domination of Persians and Romans.
He (swm) took a divided and war torn city of Yathrib and re-fashioned, remodeled, refined and reformed it into the Islamic State of Medina. It assumed the status of an independent sovereign country dealing with other sovereign states maintaining government to government protocol.
Being at par with its counterparts in Persian city-states (Busra, Khurasan, Tabrez, etc), Roman colonies (Syria, Jordan, North Africa, Europe, etc) and Hindustani provinces (Bengal, Sind, Mumbai, etc) gave the State of Medina legitimacy to enter into international diplomacy and treaties in war and peace.
In Makkah there existed not an Islamic State so no need for any constitution there. Abyssinia was an international stage for propagation so again constitution was not required. The Charter of Medina was written as a “constitution” because, Medina became a proper state which should have had a written constitution as the model for a new world order.
The Charter itself contains 57 articles. It gives the basis for a civil society structured on the principles of equality, freedom, consensus, justice and the rule of law, without sacrificing individuality and personal freedom. The pillars holding the principles together are the twin concepts of “peace” and “security”.
This is the concept which we so badly need in our times. From a divided society we need a social glue to unite us and put us back on the vehicle geared for achieving a final destination.