What can we learn from The Madina Charter? A Multifaith and Mutlicultural Constitution for Peace and Conflict Resolution

Peace and Conflict Resolution Concepts in the Madina Charter

by Yetkin Yildirim

It is much easier to make contact with people from vastly different cultures and beliefs in the context of today’s world. Unfortunately, increased globalization has also broadened the scope of conflict throughout the world. Modern conflicts take place between societies with widely different cultural, religious, and philosophical backgrounds. In today’s globalized world, the Madina Charter can be a source for answers to many of today’s questions, presenting approaches to solving and preventing conflicts between groups based on differences in culture and belief.

The Madina Charter is a constitution that essentially established the Madina city-state. The Charter was the first written constitution in Islam and arguably the first constitutional law in society. Before Prophet Muhammad’s arrival from Makka, Yathrib (later known as Madina) had a population of 10,000 that was organized into approximately 22 tribes. Approximately half the population was Jewish and half was Arab. Regardless of religion, tribes sought power through military dominance over other tribes, with the numerous alliances forged between warring tribes greatly contributing to the aggression. Constant warfare was taking a toll on the tribes. While some sought external military assistance for the conflicts, many were making preparations for the enthronement of a leader from one of the tribes. However, it was unclear whether each tribe would acquiesce to the leadership of a single leader from one of the tribes and if such a leader would be able to establish political organization, create military defense for the city, reconcile tribal hostilities, and define local rights and obligations as well as address the issues of the growing immigrant refugee population from Makka.

God’s Messenger was requested by the tribes in Yathrib to act as a third-party mediator to try and help resolve the on-going conflict between them. He had a reputation for being an able mediator as he had helped to resolve conflicts in Makka and was able to fill the leadership void that existed in the area. It was also common practice of Arabs at that time to refer their conflict to outsiders, and the Prophet had already been given the title, “The Trustworthy” by the residents of Makka. Finally, while drafting the Charter, he consulted the leaders of each tribe, thereby demonstrating his willingness to listen to the needs of all tribes.

The methods God’s Messsenger made use of in the creation of the Charter are similar to trends that have emerged in modern conflict resolution techniques. These methods provide an important source for understanding the concepts of mediation and conflict resolution in Islam, and subsequently, can also offer effective means with which to approach dialogue with and within Islamic societies and among non-Islamic societies.

The Charter, which was the first declaration of the area of Madina as a city-state, established rules of government and addressed specific social issues of the community in an attempt to put to an end the chaos and conflict that had been plaguing the region for generations. The Charter outlined the rights and duties of its citizens, provided collective protection for all citizens of Madina, including Muslims and non-Muslims, and provided the first means of seeking justice through the law and community instead of via tribal military actions.

The Madina Charter, which contains 47 sections in total, addresses the power structures that contributed to the conflict in Yathrib. The Charter expressly identified the parties involved in the conflict; the first 23 sections of the Charter address the Muslim immigrants from Makka and the Muslims of Yathrib, while the second half of the document is directed towards the Jews of the community. Prophet Muhammad also identified immediate physical issues in Yathrib. In the second section, the people of Yathrib are defined as one community to the exclusion of all others. Prior to this proclamation, the boundaries of Yathrib were indistinct, each tribe occupying a certain territory, with the whole of the tribal territories in the area not being considered as one, united city. Once Yathrib was established as an integrated community, The Prophet addressed issues of community justice and protection. The Charter established the course of law for Yathrib. The right to seek justice was shifted from individuals to the central community. The Prophet’s arrangements for community justice and protection encouraged collective responsibility. The Madina Charter was also the first acknowledgement of religious divisions within the Yathrib tribal system. Though he did little to change the organization of inter-religious tribes, the Prophet called upon the deeply instilled values of Islam and Judaism to fortify the agreement. These stipulations enabled the participants of the agreement to look once again beyond tribal alliances, thus making tribal lines indistinct.

Along these same lines, the Charter focused on relationships rather than group dynamics: the Madina Charter eliminated tribal hostilities by realigning residents, shifting the focus from militaristic rivals to allied religious followers. In the event of religious dispute, the document continued to decree that the participants of the agreement must act in good faith with one another Finally, interaction goals, including specific desires to maintain one’s sense of self-identity, were left intact by shifting the alliance from tribes (which were hostile) to religion, enabling participants to abandon tribal hostility without loss of face.

Before the Charter, Yathrib was a community of constant tension between independent, hostile tribes. The Prophet addressed these power struggles by establishing common goals that would serve the whole community. The Charter specifically advises mutual influence with the declaration that the Muslims and Jews “must seek mutual advice and consultation, and loyalty is a protection against treachery.” The Charter binds the parties of the agreement to helping one another against any attack on Yathrib. It dictates behavior for a specific instance of mutual influence. If the Jews “are called to make peace and maintain it they must do so; and if they make a similar demand on the Muslims it must be carried out.” Also, reference to a higher authority was repeated in both sections. The Charter also explicitly pronounces that future disputes “must be referred to God and to Prophet Muhammad.” The participants had placed a power that was external to their group that they would be able to draw upon in the event of their own power being or seeming insufficient. The power of the agreement was uniquely balanced due to its direction towards God. The Madina Charter addressed potential power complications by focusing the participants on their interdependence. The Madina Charter prohibited independent contention by participant groups that claim God’s protection, and states that the peace of believers is as one. Once again, the idea of being one community was emphasized and the participants of the agreement were made to recognize their power as a unit.

The solutions presented in the Madina Charter can be applied to questions concerning dialogue and conflict of today’s world: the Charter was created to address problems present in and created by a pluralistic society, the main characteristic of today’s globalized system. The constitution of the Charter created a federal-type structure with an authority that was centralized in matters of state security, yet provided the tribes a certain level of autonomy in social and religious issues. Prophet Muhammad only made final decisions in cases where tribes could not resolve disputes between themselves, and these decisions were based on the laws laid out by the Charter. The Madina city-state, while granting every citizen equal rights, protection against oppression, and a voice in the government, declared itself a brotherhood of believers, extending financial help to its citizens. Laws were also enacted to punish criminals, such as prohibiting help being given to a murderer. Finally, as prescribed in the teaching of the Qur’an, freedom of religion was guaranteed for each member of the community.

For a peaceful world, individuals must live within the boundaries of the lawfully created universe. In this modern age of science and technology, the Madina Charter could be a source for answers to questions about how to live together and how to solve and prevent conflicts between groups based on differences in culture and belief. The Madina Charter represents the principles of law and good and right reason, which is higher than any individual man. On the charter, God’s name comes first, as God represents the highest good and the highest principle of right reason. Thus, the Madina Charter can be a good model of ways to create and sustain dialogue in a pluralistic society, and of ways to build and conduct political and social relationships among different groups.




622 C.E.

In the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful.

(1) This is a document from Muhammad the prophet (governing the relations) between the believers and Muslims of Quraysh and Yathrib, and those who followed them and joined them and labored with them.

(2) They are one community (umma) to the exclusion of all men.

(3) The Quraysh emigrants according to their present custom shall pay the bloodwit within their number and shall redeem their prisoners with the kindness and justice common among believers.

(4-8) The B. ‘Auf according to their present custom shall pay the bloodwit they paid in heatheism; every section shall redeem its prisoners with the kindness and justice common among believers. The B. Sa ida, the B. ‘l-Harith, and the B. Jusham, and the B. al-Najjar likewise.

(9-11) The B. ‘Amr b. ‘Auf, the B. al-Nabit and the B. al-‘Aus likewise.

(12)(a) Believers shall not leave anyone destitute among them by not paying his redemption money or bloodwit in kindness.

(12)(b) A believer shall not take as an ally the freedman of another Muslim against him.

(13) The God-fearing believers shall be against the rebellious or him who seeks to spread injustice, or sin or animosity, or corruption between believers; the hand of every man shall be against him even if he be a son of one of them.

(14) A believer shall not slay a believer for the sake of an unbeliever, nor shall he aid an unbeliever against a believer.

(15) God’s protection is one, the least of them may give protection to a stranger on their behalf. Believers are friends one to the other to the exclusion of outsiders.

(16) To the Jew who follows us belong help and equality. He shall not be wronged nor shall his enemies be aided.

(17) The peace of the believers is indivisible. No separate peace shall be made when believers are fighting in the way of God. Conditions must be fair and equitable to all.

(18) In every foray a rider must take another behind him.

(19) The believers must avenge the blood of one another shed in the way of God.

(20)(a) The God-fearing believers enjoy the best and most upright guidance.

(20)(b) No polytheist shall take the property of person of Quraysh under his protection nor shall he intervene against a believer.

(21) Whoever is convicted of killing a believer without good reason shall be subject to retaliation unless the next of kin is satisfied (with blood-money), and the believers shall be against him as one man, and they are bound to take action against him.

(22) It shall not be lawful to a believer who holds by what is in this document and believes in God and the last day to help an evil-doer or to shelter him. The curse of God and His anger on the day of resurrection will be upon him if he does, and neither repentance nor ransom will be received from him.

(23) Whenever you differ about a matter it must be referred to God and to Muhammad.

(24) The Jews shall contribute to the cost of war so long as they are fighting alongside the believers.

(25) The Jews of the B. ‘Auf are one community with the believers (the Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs), their freedmen and their persons except those who behave unjustly and sinfully, for they hurt but themselves and their families.

(26-35) The same applies to the Jews of the B. al-Najjar, B. al-Harith, B. Sai ida, B. Jusham, B. al-Aus, B. Tha’laba, and the Jafna, a clan of the Tha‘laba and the B. al-Shutayba. Loyalty is a protection against treachery. The freedmen of Tha ‘laba are as themselves. The close friends of the Jews are as themselves.

(36) None of them shall go out to war save the permission of Muhammad, but he shall not be prevented from taking revenge for a wound. He who slays a man without warning slays himself and his household, unless it be one who has wronged him, for God will accept that.

(37) The Jews must bear their expenses and the Muslims their expenses. Each must help the other against anyone who attacks the people of this document. They must seek mutual advice and consultation, and loyalty is a protection against treachery. A man is not liable for his ally’s misdeeds. The wronged must be helped.

(38) The Jews must pay with the believers so long as war lasts.

(39) Yathrib shall be a sanctuary for the people of this document.

(40) A stranger under protection shall be as his host doing no harm and committing no crime.

(41) A woman shall only be given protection with the consent of her family.

(42) If any dispute or controversy likely to cause trouble should arise it must be referred to God and to Muhammad the apostle of God. God accepts what is nearest to piety and goodness in this document.

(43) Quraysh and their helpers shall not be given protection.

(44) The contracting parties are bound to help one another against any attack on Yathrib.

(45)(a) If they are called to make peace and maintain it they must do so; and if they make a similar demand on the Muslims it must be carried out except in the case of a holy war.

(45)(b) Every one shall have his portion from the side to which he belongs.

(46) The Jews of al-Aus, their freedmen and themselves have the same standing with the people of this document in purely loyalty from the people of this document. Loyalty is a protection against treachery. He who acquires ought acquires it for himself. God approves of this document.

(47) This deed will not protect the unjust and the sinner. The man who goes forth to fight and the man who stays at home in the city is safe unless he has been unjust and sinned. God is the protector of the good and God-fearing man and Muhammad is the apostle of God.

This text is taken from A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad — A Translation of Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 1955; pp. 231-233. Numbering added.