The Announcement of the Constitution of Madinah

Akram Diya al Umari

Excerpted from Madinan Society At the Time of the Prophet, International Islamic Publishing House & IIIT, 1991

The treaty with the Jews

The Prophet (P) organized the relationships between the various inhabitants of Madinah, and recorded this in a document which is reported in the historical sources. The aim of this document was to explain the commitments of each group within Madinah, and to define their rights and duties. In the old sources this document is called at-Kitab (the book) and al-Sahjfah (sheet of paper). Modern research calls it at-Dustur (the Constitution) or al-Wathiqah (the Document).

The sources through which the Document was reported

Contemporary researchers have relied upon the document as the basis for their study of the Messenger?s reforms in Madinah.[1]

But it is most essential to ascertain to what extent the document is authentic, before basing any studies on it, especially since one of the researchers considers the document to be fabricated.[2]

In view of the legal (shar’i) importance of the documents, besides its historical importance, it must be judged according to the standards of the scholars of hadith, in order to determine its strength or weakness. It should not be dealt with as lightly as other historical reports. The earliest scholar who reported the text of the Constitution was Muhammad ibn Ishaq (d. 151 AH), but he reported it without an isnad.[3] Both Ibn Sayyid al Nas[4] and Ibn Kathir[5] claimed to have transmitted it from him, and they both transmitted it without isnad also. Al Bayhaqi[6] referred to Ibn Ishaq?s isnad of the document which defines the relationships between the Muhajirun and the Ansar, without including the clauses which dealt with the Jews. For this reason, we cannot be sure that he took it from the same source. Ibn Sayyid al Nas relates that Ibn Abu Khaythamah[7] also reported it through ‘Abd Allah ibn Salih in an isnad similar to that reported by Abu ?Ubayd.[8]

These are the ways in which the full text of the document were reported. All the reports are very similar, apart from some differences in the arrangements of phrases, or slight differences in vocabulary, or a slight increase in the number of phrases. But these differences do not affect its general content.

The extent of the document’s authenticity

A number of modern scholars have based their studies on the document, but on the whole, Professor Yusuf al ?Ish has suggested that the document is a fabrication. He says: “It was not reported in the books of jurisprudence and authentic hadith, in spite of its legislative importance. Rather, Ibn Ishaq reported it without isnad, and Ibn Sayyid al Nas transmitted it from him.”

He added that Kathir ibn Abd Allah ibn Amr al Muzani reported it from his father, and from his grandfather. Ibn Hibban al Busti mentioned that Kathir al Muzani reported a fabricated version from his father and grandfather. It is not permitted (halal) to include it in a book or to narrate from it, except for the purpose of expressing amazement.[9] Al ?Ish thinks that Ibn Ishaq relied on the report of Kathir, but deliberately omitted the isnad.[10]

Professor al ‘Ish made that suggestion because he thought that the Document had not been reported by anybody other than Ibn Ishaq. He could not find any other isnad for it apart from that which Ibn Sayyid al Nas refers to from Ibn Abu Khaythamah?s report of it through Kathir al Muzani. But Abu ‘Ubayd al Qasim ibn Salam cited the Document through al Zuhri. This is an independent chain which has no connection with Kathir al Muzani. In view of the fact that Ibn Ishaq was one of the most distinguished students of al Zuhri, there is a possibility that he cited the Document through al Zuhri except for the fact that al Bayhaqi identified Ibn Ishaq?s isnad for the Document which defined the relationships between the Muhajirun and the Ansar, without including the clauses which dealt with the Jews. We cannot be sure whether Ibn Ishaq took the clauses which dealt with the Jews from this source or from another. Al Bayhaqi said: ?Uthman ibn Muhammad ibn al Mughirah ibn al Akhnas ibn Shurayq said: “I took this Document, along with the document of al sadaqah, from the family of ?Umar ibn al Khattab.” The hadith is daif in this isnad, because the isnad includes men who are daif in one way or another, such as ‘Uthman, who is trustworthy, but sometimes is confused and makes mistakes; and Yunus ibn Bukayr, who is known to make mistakes; and al Attar, who is weak. This report should be considered seriously, in spite of its weakness, and it has been acknowledged. The text destroys the base upon which Professor al ?Ish built his opinion. It is not possible to judge the Document as being fabricated just because the books of hadith did not report its complete text. The books of hadith reported many of its clauses, as will be pointed out in this study.

Hence, it becomes clear that it is reckless to judge the Document as being fabricated. The Document as a whole, however, cannot be put on a par with the authentic sahih. Ibn Ishaq reported it in his Sirah without isnad, which makes his report daif. Al Bayhaqi also reported it from Ibn Ishaq, with an isnad which includes Sa?d ibn al Mundhir, who is maqbul (acceptable) only. Ibn Abu Khaythamah reported it through Kathir ibn Abd Allah ibn Amr al Muzani, who has narrated fabricated material. Abu ?Ubayd al Qasim ibn Salam reported it with a munqati? isnad (an isnad having a missing link) which only goes back to al Zuhri, who is one of the lesser Tabiun, so his mursal hadith (transmission of a tradition of a successor from the Prophet directly, dropping the companion from the isnad) cannot be taken as evidence.

But there are some texts of the Document which have been reported in the books of hadith, some of which were reported by al Bukhari and Muslim. These texts are among authentic hadith. The jurists used them as evidence and based their rulings on them. Some of these texts were reported in the Musnad of Imam Ahmad, and in the Sunan of Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah and al Tirmidhi. These texts came through a different source, independent of the chain of transmitters through which the complete document came. Even if the document, as a whole, is not valid as evidence for the rulings of the Shariah ? apart from the parts which were reported in the authentic books of hadith ? it is still valid as a basis for historical study, which does not require such a high level of authenticity as is required for legal judgments, especially since the Document was reported through numerous chains of transmitters which combine to give it strength. Al Zuhri is one of the greatest scholars among the early pioneers in writing the Sirah of the Prophet. The most important books of Sirah and historical sources included the Prophet’s peace treaty, which was written down[11] and also referred to his drawing up a written agreement between the Muhajirun and the Ansar.

The style of the Document supports its authenticity. “Its paragraphs are formed of short and simple ? not complicated ? sentences. There is much repetition, and it uses words and expressions which were common at the time of the Messenger, and which became less frequently used, eventually proving too difficult for those who had not studied that period in depth. There is nothing in the Document to commend or condemn any individual or group. Hence we can say that the Document is authentic, and not a forgery”[12]. The many similarities between the style of the Document and the style of other writings dictated by the Prophet also commend it as being authentic.

The date of the writing of the document

It is more likely that there were originally two parts to the document, which historians joined together. One of them dealt with the Messenger?s peace treaty with the Jews, and the other explained the commitments, rights and duties of the Muslims, both Muhajrun and Ansar.

It is most likely that the document of the peace treaty with the Jews was written before the Battle of Badr[13] and the document between the Muhajirun and Ansar was written after Badr. The sources mention that the peace treaty with the Jews was concluded when the Messenger first came to Madinah. Abu Ubayd al Qasim ibn Salam said that the document “recorded two events: the coming of the Messenger of God to Madinah before Islam became strong and before he was ordered to take Jizyah from the People of the Book”[14]. Islam became strong after the Battle of Badr. Al Baladhuri says:

“It was said that when the Messenger of God came to Madinah he made a peace treaty with the Jews there and wrote a document between them and himself. He stipulated that they should not assist his enemies and should support him in fighting invaders, and that he should not fight for Ahl al Dhimmah. So the Messenger of Allah did not fight anyone and no one provoked him. He did not send out an expeditionary force (sariyyah) until Allah revealed to him:

“To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged ? and verily, Allah has indeed the power to succor them”. (Al Hajj, 22:39)

The first party he sent out was led by Hamzah ibn Abd al Muttalib.”[15]

Thus, al Baladhuri explains that the document of the peace treaty with the Jews was written before the first expeditions were sent out. It is known that the expedition of Hamzah took place in Ramadan of the first year AH, just over a year before Badr[16] Ibn lshaq considers that the sariyyah of ?Ubaydah ibn al Harith took place before that of Hamzah. He explained that they happened very close together, and that they happened in Rabi al Awwal in the year 2 AH. Both al Tabari and Ibn Ishaq agreed that the first sariyyah were sent out before Badr. This is the point of this research.[17]

In another place, where he discusses the military action against Banu Qaynuqa, al Baladhuri says: “The reason for this ghazwah was that when the Messenger of God came to Madinah, he made a peace treaty with all the Jews, which was written in a document; and when he won the Battle of Badr and returned uninjured and in triumph to Madinah, they became hostile and broke the treaty.”[18] Thus al Baladhuri is certain that the treaty with the Jews took place before Badr.

Al Tabari says: “After returning from Badr, the Messenger of God stayed in Madinah. He had made a treaty with the Jews when he came to Madinah, which stipulated that they should not support anyone against him, and that if Madinah were invaded by an enemy, they should support him. When the Messenger of Allah killed some of the idolaters of Quraysh, the Jews showed jealousy and hostility towards him, and broke the treaty.”[19] Thus the text of al Tabari supports the claim that the peace treaty with the Jews was concluded when the Prophet came to Madinah, before the Battle of Badr.

In his Sunan, Abu Dawud[20] reports – after confirming the killing of Ka’b ibn al Ashraf and the complaint of the Jews and the Mushrikun about this to the Messenger – that “the Prophet invited them to draw up a document between them and himself, to which they could refer to in the future. So the Prophet had a document written between them, himself, and the Muslims in general”. It is known that the killing of Ka?b ibn al Ashraf happened after Badr, so we must reconcile this event with the historical reports. According to the conditions of the hadith scholars, this report is stronger than the reports of the historians which I mentioned earlier. But as long as it is possible to reconcile them, there is no need to dismiss all other historical reports, because it is possible that after the killing of Ka’b, the Document was rewritten in order to affirm and renew it, to restore the feeling of security after this event which had frightened the Jews and Mushrikun.

Al Bayhaqi mentioned the following report with a different chain of narrators from that of Abu Dawud, and with more detail: “The Messenger of Allah had the document written beneath the palm tree at the residence of Bint al Harith. After the death of the Messenger of Allah, the document was in the keeping of Ali ibn Abu Talib.”[21]

The document between the Muhajirun and the Ansar was written after the document of the treaty with the Jews, in the second year of the hijrah. Among the events of the second year, al Tabari mentions, “it is said that in this year the Messenger of Allah had the texts of a document written, and it was attached to his sword.”[22] The name of this sword was Dhu al Fiqar, which he had taken as booty at the Battle of Badr.[23]

These ma?aqil which were attached to the sword were the texts of the document between the Muhajirun and the Ansar, as the report of Ibn Sa’d indicates: “‘Ubayd Allah ibn Musa told us that Isra’il told him from Jabir from ?Amir, who said: “I read on the scabbard of the sword of the Messenger of Allah, Dhu al Fiqar: All believers should pay blood money, nobody should be destitute in Islam, and no Muslim should be killed in return for a Kafir.”[24] Afterwards, Ali kept the sword with the document. On one occasion, Abu Juhayfah[25] asked ‘Ali about the document, and on a second occasion, al Ashtar[26] asked him. He told them about it either by giving the meaning or by quoting it, and he also mentioned its contents briefly in one of his sermons.[27]

For example, Ali said: “We did not write down anything from the Prophet except the Qur’an and what is in this document. The Prophet said: Madinah is a sanctuary from the ‘Air mountain to such-and-such a place, and whoever perpetrates there an heresy or commits a sin, or gives shelter to such a perpetrator will incur the curse of Allah, the Angels and all the people; none of his compulsory or optional good deeds of worship will be accepted.”[28] Ali also pointed out that the different types (ages) of camel required in compensation for injuries were stipulated in the document. He once added: “A Believer should not be killed in return for a Kafir, and the one who is party to an agreement cannot be killed so long as the agreement remains in force.”[29]

Ahmad reported it from the chain of references of ‘Amr ibn Shu’ayb from his father and from his grandfather that the Prophet judged that a Muslim should not be killed in return for a Kafir.[30]

He also mentioned that it contained the words: “Blood money and ransom of the captives also.”[31] The companions of Ali read in the said document:

“Ibrahim sanctified Makkah, and I sanctify the whole of Madinah between its two Harrahs (areas of volcanic rock). No one is to pick the wild plants or to hunt the wild animals. It is not permitted to keep anything which you find without announcing it. We should not cut down any trees, except for a man to feed his camel, and no weapon for fighting should be carried here.”[32]

It is clear that most of these extracts correspond exactly with what was reported in the document. They cover most of the clauses of the document which deal with the duties of the Muslims ?both Muhajirun and Ansar? toward each other, but they do not give any indication of the clauses which deal with the peace treaty with the Jews. This makes it more likely that the document is composed of two treaties, and that the document which was attached to the sword of the Prophet, and which later came into the possession of Ali, was in fact the document between the Muhajirun and the Ansar

It is worth adding that there are some texts which correspond with the document between the Muhajirun and the Ansar, but they are attributed to other documents which the Prophet had written. For example, ?Amr ibn Hazm reported that the Messenger had a letter written to the people of al Yaman which included the following: ?Whosoever is convicted of killing a believer without good reason will be subject to retaliation unless the next of kin is satisfied (with blood money).[33] This letter was sent after the document was written.

Some of the reports make it clear that on the day of the liberation of Makkah, the Prophet said: “No believer can be killed in return for a Kafir.”[34] These texts are considered to have been written at a later date when the document was written. But this does not prove that the document is a collection of letters which were written at different times and then added to the document.[35] There is nothing to suggest that the Prophet did not mention some of the clauses of the document in his letters. We should be aware of the fact that there are no clauses concerning the Jews in the document which deals with the forts (ma’aqil). This makes it more likely that the document of the peace treaty with the Jews was independent of the document with the forts. This view is supported by the hadith of Anas ibn Malik: “The Messenger of Allah made an alliance between the Muhajirun and the Ansar in the house of Anas ibn Malik”.[36] Anas did not mention the presence of the Jews in this alliance.

It is also supported by the hadith of Amr ibn Shu’ayb, from his father, from his grandfather, that: “The Prophet had a document written between the Muhajirun and the Ansar, which stated that they should pay the blood money, redeem their prisoners with kindness and make peace among the Muslims.”[37] The Jews are not mentioned in this document. This is probably supported by the fact that al Bayhaqi identifies the clauses dealing with the Muhajirun and the Ansar with an isnad mentioned by Ibn Ishaq. There is no reference to the Jews, and the clauses correspond with what Ibn Hisham reported from Ibn Ishaq.

The reports which I have identified make it more likely that there were two separate treaties. The first one dealt with the relationship with the Jews and was written before Badr, when the Prophet first came to Madinah. The second dealt with the alliance between the Muhajirun and the Ansar, and was written after Badr. The historians joined the two treaties together under one document.


[1] The following have been written about the Constitution:

Dr. Salih Ahmad al Ali, in his article, “Tanzimat al Rasul al Idariyyah fi al Madinah” (The Administrative Set-Up of the Messenger in Madinah); Dr. ?Abd al Aziz al Duri, in his book al Nuzum al Islamiyyah and Sergeant, “The Constitution of Medina”, in Islamic Quarterly VIII (1964): 3-16.

Others have also written about this subject, and are cited by Professor Muhammad Hamid Allah in his book Majmuat al Watha?iq al Siyasiyyah (The Collection of Political Documents), pp. 39-41

[2] This is the opinion of Professor Yusuf al ‘Ish, in his footnote to al Dawlah al ?Arabiyyah wa Suqutuha (The Arab State and its Decline), by Wellhausen, trans. by al ‘Ish, p. 20, footnote no. 4.

[3] Ibn Hisham, al Sirah, 1/501-4

[4] Ibn Sayyid al Nas, ?Uyun al Athar, 1/197-8

[5] Ibn Kathir, al Bidayah, 3/224-6

[6] Al Sunan al Kubra, Kitab al Diyat, 8/106

[7] That is, al Hafiz al Hujjah al Imam Ahmad ibn Abu Khaythamah Zuhayr ibn Harb al Nasa’i (d. 279 AH). The third volume of this history has reached us. (See: Akram al Umari, Buhuth fi Tarikh al Sunan al Musharrafah, pp. 87-90) reported the document with the following isnad:

“Ahmad ibn Khabbab Abu al Walid narrated that ‘Isa ibn Yusuf narrated from his father, and from his grandfather, that the Messenger of Allah established a treaty in writing between the Muhajirun and the Ansar, and he asserted that it was similar to the document which was reported by Ibn Ishaq.” (Ibn Sayyid al Nas, ‘Uyun al Athar, 1/198).

However, it appears that the constitution was reported in that part of the Tarikh of Ibn Abu Khaythamah which is now lost, because it is not extant in those parts of the book which have reached us. The document was also reported in Kitab al Amwal, by Abu ‘Ubayd al Qasim ibn Salam with another isnad, which reads:

“Yahya ibn Abd Allah ibn Bakir and Abd Allah ibn Salih narrated to me that al Layth ibn Sad narrated that ?Uqayl ibn Khalid narrated from Ibn Shihab who said: ?I heard that the Messenger of God established this treaty in writing ?” and mentioned it.”

The document was also reported through al Zuhri in Kitab al Amwal by Ibn Zanjawayh (Hamid ibn Zanjawayh – d. 247)

[8] See Kitab al Amwal by Ibn Zanjawayh, revised by Dr. Shakir Dhib Fayad, n. 750

[9] See what Ibn Hibban said in Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib, 8/422

[10] Yusuf Al ‘Ish, footnote no.9, p. 20 of al Dawlah al Arabiyyah wa Suqutuha

[11] Al Baladhuri, Ansab, 1/286, 308; al Tabari, Tarikh al Rusul, 2/479; al Maqdisi, Kitab al Bad? wa al Tarikh, 4/179; Ibn Hazm, Jawami? al Sirah, 95; al Maqrizi, Imta? al Asma 1/49; Ibn Kathir, al Bidayah, 4/103-104, transmitting from Musa ibn ?Uqbah. He reports that Banu Qurayzah destroyed the paper on which the treaty was written. This report is given without isnad, but when all the reports are put together they strengthen one another and reach the level of hasan li ghayrihi.

[12] Dr. Salih al Ali, Tanzimat al Rasul al Idariyyah fi al Madinah, pp. 4-5. For the contrast in styles, refer to Majmu?at al Watha’iq al Siyasiyyah

[13] Dr. Salih al Ali suggests that it was also written after Badr, Tanzimat al Rasul al Idariyyah fi al Madinah, 6

[14] Al Amwal, no. 518

[15] Al Baldhuri, Ansab, 1/286

[16] See at Tabari, Tarikh al Rusul, 2/402, transmitting from al Waqidi.

[17] See Ibn Hisham, al Sirah, 1/595

[18] Al Baladhuri, Ansab, 1/308

[19] Al Hakim, al Mustadrak, 2/483, Kitab al Tafsir

[20] Abd al Razzaq, al Musannaf, 5/357

[21] Al Bayhaqi, Dalail al Nubuwwah, 3/446-450; Abu Nu’aym, Dalail al Nubuwwah 3/176-7

[22] Ibn Hisham, al Sirah, 3/683; Al Bukhari, al Sahih, 3/11, Mu’allaq from Ibn Ishaq

[23] Al Waqidi, al Maghazi, 1/363; Ibn Sa’d, al Tabaqat, 3/57

[24] Al Sirah, 3/683.

[25] Al Bukhari, al Sahih, 9/14; al Tirmidhi, Sahih, 6/182; Ibn Majah, al Sunan, 2/887; Ahmad, al Musnad, 1/79

[26] Ahmad, Al Musnad, 1/119, 122

[27] Al Bukhari, al Sahih, 2/296

[28] Al Bukhari, al Sahih, 2/296; Ibn Majah, al Sunan, 2/887

[29] Ahmad, al Musnad, 1/19

[30] al Musnad 2/178. See other reference chains for this hadith in Ibn Majah, al Sunan 2/887, and al Bukhari, al Sahih 9/14, 16, and Sahih al Tirmidhi, explained by Ibn al Arabi, 6/182

[31] al Bukhari, Sahih, 9/14; Ahmad, Musnad, 1/79; see also al Shawkani, Nayl al Awthar, 7/10.

[32] Ahmad, al Musnad, 1/119, see also 4/27. Also in Sahih Muslim with commentary (9/136) of al Nawawi from Jabir, the Prophet said: “I sanctify what is between the two Harrahs of Madinah: no one is to cut down the bushes or hunt the wild animals. At the beginning of the Umayyad period, the people were in possession of a document written on skin, in which the Prophet defined the sanctity of Madinah.” (Ahmad, al Musnad, 4/27; and al Khatib al Baghdadi, Taqyid al Ilm, 72).

[33] Al Shawkani, Nayl al Awtar, 7/61; see also, Hamid Allah’s, Majmu’at al Watha’iq, 186, which explains that this is from the Prophet’s letter which he had written to ‘Amr ibn Hazm who was his governor in al Yaman.

[34] al Shawkani, Nayl al Awtar, 7/10

[35] Sergeant suggests this in his article, “The Constitution of Medina”, Islamic Quarterly 8 (1964): 3-16.

[36] Ibn Kathir, al Bidayah, 3/224. He said that Imam Ahmad, al Bukhari, Muslim, and Abu Dawud reported it.

[37] Ahmad, al Musnad, 1/371, 2/204. Ibn Kathir (reporting from Ahmad), al Bidayah, 3/224

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