Timetable of Legal History logoMuhammad left Mecca with his Muslim followers in about 622 to act as a mediator.


Muhammad had another agenda: to give a home base to his new religion for which, he said to growing believers, he was a prophet and was in regular conversation with God (Allah).

The small Arabian city of Yathrib (now called Medina, also spelled Madinah) was an abode for bickering several bickering Arab tribes living together under a thin veil of civility. Medina also included Jewish tribes and pagans.

Muhammad was close to being thrown out of his home town of Mecca and found ready takers for him and his followers in Yathrib. Because he deferred only to Allah, was an excellent candidate to act as mediator of disputes in Yathrib.

Legend has it that the Charter of Medina was drafted by Muhammad himself and in the year of his migration to Medina (called the hegira or hijra). Certainly, the self-serving character of the document and the clear designation right in the text of himself as permanent adjudicator, as is shown by several sections of the Charter, such as this one which appears near the end, and highly suggestive of his penmanship:

"God is the protector of the good and God-fearing man and Muhammad is the apostle of God."

Further, the idea, and convening of, the disparate groups is usually credited to Muhammad who, in any event, had the most to gain by the proposed charter.

Legal historians sometimes refer to the document as one of the world's first political constitutions, given the splattering of political matters covered and the attempt made to accommodate the rights of a pluralist community. The amalgamation of different bloodlines into a single political entity concerned not only with military alliance, but also with city life together.

While the Medina Charter is chock full of political and opportunistic provisions all designed to essentially support a military alliance, the content, when taken as a whole, represents nonetheless a remarkable achievement in the law of very different tribes and nations trying to share one territory and central city peacefully.

Further, the treaty is in writing, a novel endeavor in an Arabic society then still very much nomadic.

Although dwarfed in scope by the earlier constitutions of Greek states (such as Athens), the Charter of Medina remains a significant document as at once was formally recognized the political unit of the Muslims and of Muslim/Islamic law, now a major force in the world.

Given the claim that the document was written by Muhammad, some Muslims take the Medina Charter as a divine revelation as to matters of statehood and international relations.

There are 47 articles to the Charter of Medina, none of which lends itself well to translation; thus, disputes as to a proper translation permeates the profession of history; some claiming that interpretative liberties are necessary to properly reflect the ideals of Islam and translate the document; others preferring to strictly translate from one language to another. For example, the Charter uses the term "umma" or "ummah" which some translate as "nation"; other as a brotherhood. n any event, the Charter sets the Medina umma as comprising:

"... the believers and Muslims of Quraysh and Yathrib, and those who followed them and joined them and labored with them."

Other notable provisions:

"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.

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

"The believers must avenge the blood of one another shed in the way of God.
"Whenever you differ about a matter it must be referred to God and to Muhammad. If any dispute or controversy likely to cause trouble should arise it must be referred to God and to Muhammad the apostle of God.
"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.
"Yathrib (now Medina) shall be a sanctuary for the people of this document. The contracting parties are bound to help one another against any attack on Yathrib."