Muhammad Hamidullah, The First Written Constitution in the World
, 3rd ed. (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf Publishers, 1975).
Early Islamic dates are given in Hijra years, AH, without the corresponding years in the common era except occasionally for reference.
Muḥammad b. Isḥāq b. Yasār (d. AH 150) was the author of the most detailed early biographical work on the Prophet ﷺ. Among the most learned scholars on the subject, he is generally considered trustworthy and his reports are accepted by hadith scholars when he names his sources, but he often does not, and in those cases, his accounts need corroboration. Only the first third of his account of the sīrah
has survived in its original form, discovered as a manuscript in Europe and published by none other than Muhammad Hamidullah. His book was abridged by his disciple Ibn Hishām (d. 218), and in this form it has remained the single most widely used source on sīrah
in Islamic history. The other version comes from Abū ʿUbayd al-Qāsim b. Sallām of Herat (d. 224), a leading Sunni scholar and trusted hadith expert, author of the monumental Kitāb al-Amwāl
, which is perhaps the greatest single early compendium of legal and administrative reports.
Akram Ḍiyāʾ al-ʿUmarī, al-Sīrah al-Nabawīyah al-ṣaḥīḥah
(Riyadh: Maktabat al-ʿUbaykān, 1996), 273. It seems al-ʿIshsh did not know about Abū ʿUbayd’s version.
Signposts: manār al-arḍ
, used to mark property boundaries, and could be moved or removed to usurp someone’s property.
Al-Bayhaqī, Sunan al-kubrá
(Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 1424/2003), 8:184, through Ibn Isḥāq; Michael Lecker, The “Constitution of Medina”: Muḥammad’s First Legal Document
(Princeton, NJ: The Darwin Press, 2004), 194.
It goes without saying that Ibn Isḥāq’s Sīrah
refers to the abridged version preserved by his disciple Ibn Hishām; only a part of Ibn Isḥāq’s original was recently rediscovered, but that part stops before the Hijra.
Muhammad Hamidullah, The First Written Constitution
(Lahore: Ashraf Printing House, 1994).
Lecker’s study is the latest and most comprehensive of all, as it compares and juxtaposes various versions of the texts by Ibn Isḥāq and Abū ʿUbayd, and is therefore the basis of my translation and study. See Lecker, Constitution of Medina
, Ibn Isḥāq: 10–18 and Abū ʿUbayd: 19–26. For the translation choices and explanatory notes, I rely on numerous studies that are among the more recent and comprehensive works on the document in the Arabic and English languages. These include Akram Ḍiyāʾ al-ʿUmarī, al-Sīrah
; Muḥammad b. Fāris al-Jamīl, al-Nabī wa-Yahūd al-Madīnah
(Riyadh: Markaz al-Malik Fayṣal lil-Buḥūth, 1422/2002); Hamidullah, First Written Constitution
. The most comprehensive Orientalist study that presents and evaluates many earliest translations is by Lecker. Lecker’s study, nevertheless, is deficient in consulting the hadith works and invested in proving a narrow thesis. In addition, I have consulted the earliest comprehensive sīrah
works, including Ibn Hishām, Mukhtaṣar Sīrat Ibn Hishām
(Cairo: Wizārat al-Awqāf, 1997) and Ibn Sayyid al-Nās’s (d. AH 734) excellent compilation of the early sources in ʿUyūn al-Athar
(Beirut: Dār Ibn Kathīr, 1992). The translation given is mostly that of Hamidullah or Lecker; on occasion, I have preferred Watt, Wensinck, or Serjeant’s translations, or my own where I found the others unclear.
See sources quoted in Muḥammad Fāris al-Jamīl, al-Nabī wa-Yahūd al-Madīna
(Riyadh: Markaz al-Malik Fayṣal, 1422/2002), 57, esp. Jawwād ʿAlī, al-Mufaṣṣal fī tārīkh al-ʿArab qabl al-Islām
(Beirut: Dār al-ʿIlm lil-Malāyīn, 1970–1976).
Ibn Sayyid al-Nās,ʿUyūn
Classical jurists agreed on this point. Ibn Rushd the elder (d. 520) writes, “That liability for unintentional homicide rests on the killer’s ʿāqilah
is based upon the sunnah
of the Messenger of God, God’s blessing and peace be upon him, and there is no dispute among the ʿulamāʾ
about this. It is a practice (amr
) that prevailed in the Jāhiliyya, and the Prophet confirmed (aqarra
) it under Islam, although it contradicts the general rule according to which no man could be burdened with another’s offence.” Nurit Tsafrir, Collective Liability in Islam: The ʿAqila and Blood Money Payments
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), 2–3.
For a detailed study of these tribes, see Ṣāliḥ al-ʿAlī, Dawlat al-Rasūl fī al-Madīnah
(Beirut: Sharikat al-Maṭbūʿāt, 2004), 50–51.
Al-ʿAlī, Dawlat al-Rasūl
Lecker, Constitution of Medina
For a discussion of contemporary debates on the rights of non-Muslim citizens, see Ovamir Anjum, “Dhimmi Citizens: Non-Muslims in the New Islamist Discourse,” ReOrient
2, no. 1 (2016).
See Ibn ʿAbbās’s explanation in al-Ṭabarī’s exegesis of 4:33; Lecker, Constitution of Medina
Lecker, Constitution of Medina
For the variations, see Lecker, Constitution of Medina
Hamidullah, 47. According to Abū ʿUbayd, muḥdith
is anyone who violates one of the prohibitions of God. Since the prohibitions concerning theft, slander, etc., had not yet been revealed, this could only mean murder.
I thank Bassam Zawadi for pointing this out.
Ibn Isḥāq as recorded in Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Ṣārim al-maslūl.
Hamidullah explained this as “one political community along with the believers.” Western scholars disagree on this; Rubin gives the same reading as Hamidullah, whereas others, including Serjeant, support the more likely reading, namely that “the Jews are a separate ummah
alongside the Believers.” After a thorough study, Lecker endorses an even stronger version of this second interpretation, going beyond the others to endorse what may be called a third reading (“the Jews are secure from the Believers”) which further underscores the distinction between the Jews and the Believers. According to his view, the word amanah
has been misread as ummah
. Among Muslim scholars, Ibn Taymiyyah seems to have possessed a version of Ibn Isḥāq which reads “wa-lil-yahūd dhimmah min al-muʾminīn
”—that the Jews are given protection by the Believers (Lecker, Constitution of Medina
, 137–8). This is also the reading of Imam al-Shāfiʿī, who called this document a dhimmah
, which is the most accurate description of its contents.
The term baṭn
(lit. abdomen) is part of an anthropomorphic scheme of tribal genealogy that the Arabs employed. Typically, qabīla
(usually translated as tribe) refers to a large unit made up of subunits, each of which is known as baṭn
, which in turn is made of smaller units known as fakhidh
(thigh, upper leg). Some scholars hold that shaʿb
) denotes a higher level than tribes, a confederation of tribes. There is no single scheme and different people would have used these terms differently to try to schematize an extremely complex system of genealogy. See Lisān al-ʿArab
under b-ṭ-n and sh-ʿ-b.
The translation of the quaint phrase, inn al-birr dūn al-ithm
(righteousness is easier than sin), repeated a few times, is supported by al-Zamakhsharī’s explanation. Abū al-Qāsim al-Zamakhsharī (d. AH 538), al-Fā’iq fī gharīb al-ḥadīth
, al-Bajāwī-Ibrāhīm, 4 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Maʿrifah, n.d.), 2:26. I am thankful to Nabeel N. Sheikh for this reference.
 Al-birr dūn al-ithm
: This pithy idiom appears a few times in the document. Al-Zamakhsharī suggests the meaning given here; it could also mean “the righteous shall uphold the treaty and prevent its violation.” Muslims, as explained earlier, are a larger group inclusive of the Believers and are contrasted with the Jews.
Sources mention nearly a dozen other Jewish tribes. See al-ʿUmarī, 1:228, who names them and cites al-Samhūdī and Ibn Hishām as his sources.
The hadith (lā tahdimū al-āṭām
) is graded as weak, reported in al-Bazzār.
See exegesis of verse 4:60 by al-Suddī reported in al-Ṭabarī and elsewhere.
, 290; see also al-Ṭabarī’s exegesis of 2:256, the verse “there is no compulsion in religion,” which was revealed about the Arabs from Medina who had become Jews and established ties with one of the Jewish tribes, and when their tribe was exiled, they too had to leave, but their Arab families wished for them to convert to Islam and stay.
 Sunan Abī Dāwūd
no. 3645; al-Tirmidhī
, no. 2715, according to which Zayd b. Thābit learned Syriac in two weeks at the Prophet’s behest. Other traditions, such as one in al-Bukhārī
(no. 7542) mention Hebrew (al-ʿIbrānīyah
) as the language of the Jews. It is likely that by Hebrew here, Aramaic is meant, a closely related Semitic language. The latter had displaced Hebrew as the language of the Jews in the Levant. See Ángel Sáenz-Badillos, A History of the Hebrew Language
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 170–71. I thank Samuel Ross for this reference.
This report, recorded in Ibn al-Muqriʾ, al-Muʿjam
(Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmīyah, 2003) is regarded by the hadith critics as weak. Imām Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal regards this as a statement of Imām Mālik b. Anas.
, 198, quoting Ibn Hishām.
For a detailed discussion of the two pledges, see al-ʿUmarī, al-Sīrah
, 194–201; Ibn Sayyid al-Nās, ʿUyūn
, 1:262–285. For the names of the deputies, al-ʿAlī, Dawlat al-Rasūl
For a discussion of the reports about this new fraternity, see al-ʿUmarī, al-Sīrah
, 240–52; for a list of the members of this new fraternity, see al-ʿAlī, Dawlat al-Rasūl
, no. 3950.
Ibn Sayyid al-Nās, ʿUyūn
, 1:339–40, collects numerous references in the Qur’an and reports found in Ibn Isḥāq, al-Wāqidī, and others about the Jews’ and hypocrites’ dealings with the Prophet ﷺ. These reports refer to how the Jews would prophesy the coming of a prophet who would bring victory to them and taunt the Arab polytheists. Such reports appear in the exegetical materials in the context of verse 2:89.
Muḥammad b. Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī, al-Umm
, 8 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Maʿrifah, 1990), 4:222.
Ibn Sayyid al-Nās, ʿUyūn
Muḥammad b. ʿUmar al-Wāqidī, K. al-Maghāzī
(Beirut: Dār al-Aʿlamī, 1989), 1:121; for other versions, see Ibn Sayyid al-Nās, ʿUyūn
, 1:448–51, quoting Ibn Isḥāq.
The report from al-Zuhrī is graded ṣaḥīḥ
, and recorded in al-Bayhaqī, al-Sunan al-kubrá
, also given by Abū Dāwūd in his Sunan
(no. 3000) and al-Ṭabarānī in al-Muʿjam
. Ibn Isḥāq relates the same incident with more details, as does al-Wāqidī in his Maghāzī
on the authority of Maʿmar b. al-Rāshid. Both Maʿmar and Ibn Isḥāq were al-Zuhrī’s students. Al-Bukhārī and Muslim in their Ṣaḥīḥs
give details of the execution of Kaʿb b. al-Ashraf but omit the part about the document.
 Abū Dāwūd
, no. 3001.
 Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān
, no. 6572 and Musnad Aḥmad
. Most classical exegetes give this incident as explanation for 4:50–1.
 Abū Dāwūd
, no. 3004, graded ṣaḥīḥ
by al-Albānī, Ibn Ḥajar, and others.
See Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr
, verse 59:4.
See Muḥammad al-Masʿarī, Ṣaḥīfa al-Madīna al-dustūriyya
(unpublished, available online).
Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Ṣārim al-maslūl
, 62; Lecker, Constitution of Medina
, 146. Cf., Wellhausen had suggested that Banū Qurayẓah are referred to as Yahūd Banī Thaʿlabah and Banū al-Nadīr as Yahūd Banī al-Aws (Lecker, Constitution of Medina
, 50, 57).
In contrast to most classical Muslim and modern Western scholars, Lecker has contended, based on a thorough analysis of the early sources such as Ibn Isḥāq, that the three main Jewish tribes were not part of the Kitāb
. Rather, separate and more limited treaties were concluded with them, ones that have not survived. If Lecker’s thesis is accepted, we will have to admit that the Kitāb
was a treaty between the Believers and the smaller Jewish groups that were allies of the Medinan Arab clans. This is the thrust of his entire monograph, but especially Ch. 3; for Ibn Isḥāq’s telling quote where he lists the three tribes separate from the Jews of the various Medinan Arab clans, see Lecker, 55–6. His evidence, however, is largely circumstantial, such as that the Jewish tribes were too strong to be referred to merely as allies of the Arab tribes. Similarly, there is no reason why the “Jews of Banī al-Aws” cannot be inclusive of Banū Qurayẓah and smaller groups of Jews among the Aws.
Andrew March, The Caliphate of Man
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019), 212.
March, Caliphate of Man
An example abrogation is the verse of jizyah
(9:29) revealed in 9 AH, and the Prophet ﷺ accordingly took jizyah
from the communities of the People of the Book conquered after it, but before which, he had not done so, hence is was not taken from the Jews in Medina (as per the Kitāb
) nor from the Jews of Khaybar. Ibn al-Qayyim, Aḥkām Ahl al-Dhimmah
(Dammam: Ramādī lil-Nashr), 1:90-1.
 Abū Dawūd
, no. 3052, declared authentic by al-ʿIrāqī, Shuʿayb al-Arbaʾūṭ, al-Albānī, and others.
, no. 3166.
, no. 1312, 1313.
This report in found in al-Ḥakim, al-Mustadrak
but there is disagreement about its authenticity.
 Abū Dawūd
, no. 5151, 5152.
, no. 4467.
See the tafsīr
of Ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī under 4:105, in particular no. 10412, 10414. For a general overview of the prophetic conduct toward non-Muslims, see Nāṣir M. Jād, al-Taʿāmul maʿa ghayr al-Muslimīn fī al-ʿahd al-nabawī
(Doha: Dār al-Maymān, 2008/1429).