The Islamic Society of Orange County (Garden Grove, CA) recently sponsored and posted on YouTube a lecture by Salam al-Marayati on “The Medina Constitution”. Mr. al-Marayati is the President of the Muslim Public Affairs Council which is in the business of making Islam look good to non-Muslims. His choice of the Medina Charter as an example poses quite a challenge in this regard because it was basically a pact among thieves. Undeterred by facts, Mr. al-Marayati extolls it as a “wonderful document”, and tries to compare it favorably with the US Constitution. Here is a link to an English version of that Charter: http://www.constitution.org/cons/medina/macharter.htm
If anyone questions whether thievery (taking booty by force) was not central to the early success and expansion of Islam under Muhammad, let him or her re-visit Surah 48:20: “Allah has promised you rich booty, and has given you this with all promptness.” Only Islamic Sharia Law makes a moral distinction between petty theft (sarika), punishable by chopping off a hand, and taking by force (ghasb) which is not punished. (See: al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveler, Sections o:10 and p21.2(1))
Mr. al-Marayati starts out by saying that the Medina Charter was the first constitution that established principles of governance. He goes on to say that Islam is the only religion that produced a civilization. He is wrong on both points. The Greeks had “demokratia” in 507 B.C. which included three branches – legislative, administrative, and judicial. The Israelites had established a vassal covenant in which people pledged themselves in service to God in exchange for protection as early as 1,200 B.C.
The Medina Charter is not an agreement among people, but rather a declaration by Muhammad. Instead of saying, “We the people…,” the Charter says, “This document is from Muhammad the Prophet…” Article 54 states, “Allah approves this Document.” By contrast, the US Constitution did not become valid until it was approved by Conventions in two-thirds of the states.
Muhammad a peacemaker?
Mr. al-Marayati claims that Muhammad was invited to Medina (Yatrib) because he was seen as a peace-maker, and he was called to establish peace among the five tribes living there. Mr. al-Marayati didn’t mention that before arriving there, Muhammad made a secret pact with the non-Jewish tribes, called the Second Pledge at Al-Aqba – “I invite your allegiance on the basis that you protect me as you would your women and children.” (ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, pg. 203) This agreement was concealed from the “polytheists” (Christians) and the Jews. Why would a peace-maker need a secret protection agreement? It turns out that the Medina Charter mentions war or warfare sixteen times. By contrast, the U.S. Constitution which is three times longer than the Medina Charter mentions war only three times. Other terms in the Charter that you won’t find in the Constitution are “fighting” (six times) and “blood money” (five times). Under the US Constitution, only Congress can declare war, but this power is given exclusively to Muhammad in the Medina Charter (Article 35). In the last ten years of his life, Muhammad was engaged in booty raids or battles on an average of once every seven weeks. Only one – the Battle of the Trench – could be considered “defensive.”
One of the significant contributions of the Medina Charter, according to Mr. al-Marayati, is that it transformed the Arabian society from a tribal one to a community – an ummah. In theory, this community was open to anyone who followed, joined, or fought with the Muslims – including non-Muslims. In practice, however, the ummah was limited to Muslims. Article 15 states, “Believers are all friends to each other to the exclusion of all others.” The Medina Charter, therefore, doesn’t establish a republic, but rather an Islamic theocracy favoring only Muslims.
When Muhammad arrived in Medina, there were three Jewish tribes and two non-Jewish tribes. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Medina Charter refers to the Jews no fewer than fourteen times. According to Mr. al-Marayati, they were treated as equals, but that is clearly not the case. They were actually the first dhimmis: They had to remain loyal to the Muslims (Article 16) and they had to pay money for the support of warfare (Article 29). Here is the sinister condition for equality set for the in Article 52: “Loyalty [of the Jews] is a protection against treachery.” Within less than a decade, all three Jewish tribes were eliminated. Two were banished from the community, and the third was the victim of genocide – the men (600 to 900 of them) were beheaded in the Medina market square, and the women and children were sold into slavery.
The Rule of Law?
Mr. al-Marayati also cites the introduction of the “Rule of Law” into the Arab society as though this were a unique innovation in the Medina Charter. The Romans had an extensive system of written laws prior to 292 AD when the Codex Gregorianus compiled upwards of 2,500 separate Roman laws. By 533 AD the Romans had produced the Corpus Juris Civilis which included a summary of 2,000 volumes of Roman legal codes. The Roman code system inspired the legal systems of many Western countries, including France and Germany. The Charter’s 57 Articles filling about three pages pales by comparison. Most of the provisions have to do with fighting, booty, and the status of different tribes. There is no mention of how laws are made, of matters relating to commerce, or of the administration of civil order. Only two provisions are even remotely connected to the “Rule of Law”: Article 28: “When you differ on anything (regarding this Document) the matter shall be referred to Allah and Muhammad.” And Article 39: “They (parties to this Pact) must seek mutual advice and consultation (called shura in Arabic).”
Mr. al-Marayati calls shura a form of democracy, but the extent of “consultation” was limited only to the inner circle of Muhammad’s lieutenants, not the general public. Muhammad is told by Allah in Surah 5:49, “Pronounce judgment among them according to Allah’s revelations and don’t be led by their desires… If they reject your judgment, know that it is Allah’s wish to scourge them for their sins… Who is a better judge than Allah for men whose faith is firm?”
By contrast, the US Constitution devotes over half of its text (over 2,400 words) with the process of making and approving laws. The laws made under the Constitution are “man-made” laws, and so they can be changed as circumstances change. Islam rejects such “man-made” laws. Their laws, based on what Allah and Muhammad decreed, cannot be changed, so Muslims today still have to mark their religious holidays by visual sighting of the moon, even though astronomers can predict those events hundreds of years into the future. But we digress…
Medina, a sanctuary for thieves
Probably the most troubling aspect of the Medina Charter from a point of view of a civil society is the law regarding sanctuary. Article 44 states, “Yatrib (Medina) will be Sanctuary for the people of this pact.” The concept of a sanctuary is that people fleeing persecution or prosecution need a place where they are safe. Once Muhammad took control of Medina and the surrounding area, Muslims were no longer persecuted, so the only need for “sanctuary” would be for people fleeing from prosecution. Medina, in effect, became a refuge or “safe house” for thieves and murders. Mr. al-Marayati later opined that any so-called Muslim state that does not provide sanctuary for Muslims is not really a Muslim state. He must have been thinking about how Afghanistan and Pakistan provided sanctuary for Muslim terrorist Osama bin Laden and how Yemen provided sanctuary for American Muslim terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki.
Of course any constitution devoted to justice and the rule of law would not protect thieves and murders. The US Constitution is quite clear about this: Article 4, Section 2 states, “A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.”
The US government has also entered into mutual extradition agreements with 109 nations to prevent fugitives from finding “sanctuary” in other countries, either. Of those, only five nations are Muslim majority. Just about all of the 56 member nations of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation remain safe havens for terrorists and criminals.
Another clue that the Medina Charter is a pact among thieves is Article 25, which states, “No un-Believer will be permitted to take the property of the Quraysh (the enemy) under his protection. Enemy property must be surrendered to the State.” Said another way, although the Quraysh are our enemies, only Muslims may rob and plunder them.
The Bill of Rights under the US Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishments and punishment without due process, but the Medina Charter calls for lex talionis (retribution punishments) – including blood money (Article 8), killing for killing (Article 27), and communal responsibility for wrongs (Article 51).
Mr. al-Marayati repeated over and over how the Medina Charter extended equality to people of different races and religions. But there has never been equality in Islamic societies. A woman’s testimony and inheritance are one-half that of a man. Indemnity for a Jew or a Christian is one-third that of a Muslim, and that of a Zoroastrian is one-fifteenth. (al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveler, Section o4.9). According to the Quran, a slave is worth 10 meals (Surah 3:89). While the US Constitution initially did not give equal rights to women or slaves, those flaws were later amended and redressed. Nothing has been done to change the status of women or non-Muslims in Islamic Sharia law for the past 1,300 years.
The most telling statement about the status of women is Article 46: “A woman will be given protection only with the consent of her family (or guardian).” By contrast, the US Constitution provides in the 19th Amendment, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” While not perfect, US laws provide women more rights and protection than women have in most Muslim majority countries today.
The Problem of Succession
The ultimate and most fatal flaw of the Medina Charter is that it provides no process for succession of leaders. When Muhammad died in 632, he was buried in secret in the middle of the night right under his death-bed because no successor had been named. His close lieutenants feared a revolt, and they were right. Four of the first five successors to Muhammad were murdered. Soon after his death, the Ridda Wars broke out. Thousands of Muslims apostatized, claiming that they had given their oath of allegiance to Muhammad, and that oath was no longer valid due to Muhammad’s death. In one battle alone, the Battle of Yamama (December, 632), there were over 22,000 casualties. Of course, the US Constitution has provided for a smooth transfer of the Presidency as well as the other elective offices through wartime, illness, and assassinations, as well as due to normal completion of statuary terms. The US Constitution has served the nation without interruption for 223 years, while the Medina Charter was obsolete within ten years.
Mr. al-Marayati wraps up his presentation by listing the Principles of Good Governance:
- Open society, pluralism, citizenship, transparency
- Religious freedom
- Democratization, the will of the People
- Equality under the law, justice
- Protection by the state, sanctuary
- Common defense
Clearly, based on the discussions above, the Medina Charter failed to meet all of the first four principles within a decade of the Charter’s debut. Without those elements, the concepts of protection and common defense are meaningless. Sanctuary is only “good” for people fleeing prosecution. Mr. al-Marayati would like Muslims, particularly young Muslims, to be connected with and proud of their historical legacy, namely the Medina Charter. Sadly, the more they understand that it was merely a pact among thieves, the more they will realize how little Muhammad contributed to world civilization or good governance.