Understanding the Islamic New Order

Long before the West even thought of putting order in their societies, the Prophet Muhammad  was building a community grounded on freedom, justice, and a deep sense of nationhood. In his maiden column, One People Mindanao, noted Islamic scholar Moner Bajunaid takes us to more than a thousand years back in time in a brief but humbling journey of enlightenment. 

The maiden issue of  Resurgent, the online magazine of contemporary issues, marks the beginning of a new Islamic year in the Hijrah calendar. This year’s Islamic new year falls on October 3, corresponding to the first day of Muharram, the first month of the Hijrah calendar. The Islamic new year is celebrated in some Muslim countries but with less fanfare than the way the Christians celebrate the Gregorian new year. In the Philippines, an official holiday is observed on this day in ARMM and Region 12 pursuant to Presidential Decree 1083.

This auspicious beginning of the Islamic new year gives new meaning and relevance of the migration of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to Madinah from Makkah (Mecca) to current issues at home and around the world. An understanding of the events surrounding the migration, known as hijrah, 1,438 years ago would provide us with a backdrop to an important phase in the history of early Islam as a turning point in the building of a new civilization of man under a governance system and a unified leadership.

Prophet Muhammad, born in 570 New Era (A.D.), preached the message of Islam in Makkah for 13 years amidst staunch and fierce opposition from the leading tribe of Quraish. In 622 he migrated to Yathrib (later named Madinah) after receiving an invitation from the Arab tribes of Yathrib. His followers moved to Yathrib, about 210 miles north of Makkah, earlier upon his directive to begin the propagation of Islam.

As soon as the Prophet reached Madinah, he began the transformation of the city, and introduced certain social and political reforms. Foremost was the establishment of a mosque, a place of worship and administration of the city now known as Madinah, the city of the Prophet. The mosque also served as a madrasah, Arabic for school, where the Prophet himself led in conducting da’wah (invitation to Islam) to the new Muslims.

The Prophet also introduced the concept of brotherhood among believers from Makkah known as muhajirun and believers in Madinah known as ansar. It was important to note that this brotherhood is based on faith rather than color or tribal considerations. 

Madinah, at the time of the Prophet’s migration, was known for conflicts and civil strife among different tribes from the Jews and some other Arab tribes who have not accepted Islam. Tribal fighting and absence of order deepened the divides and fueled hatred against each tribe.

Karen Armstrong describes the situation in Madinah aptly in her book, “Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time.” She writes, “The tribe, not a deity, was of supreme value, and each member had to subordinate his or her personal needs and desires to the well-being of the group and to fight to the death, if necessary, to ensure its survival.” This social order may be akin to the concept of maratabat in Muslim Mindanao.

It was under these circumstances that the Prophet, known in Makkah as Al-Amin (the trustworthy), prepared a covenant (mithaaq) for all tribes in Madinah to come together and agree on certain principles of law and order. This covenant has become known to be the Covenant of Madinah or the Madinah Charter. 

The Prophet recognized the pressing need to determine the rights and duties of the local population of Madinah, as well as the immigrants from Makkah. He initiated an agreement with the non-Muslim population of Madinah, especially the Jews, to ensure peace and harmony. Upon consultations with the residents of Madinah, the Prophet prepared a strategy and a plan to defend the city against invasion. Finally, he ensured that  resources are available for all citizens of Madinah regardles of color, tribe or faith. 

The Madinah Charter contains 47 clauses which laid the foundation of a sovereign and governing entity comprising of Muslims, Jews and other tribes, having equal rights and responsibilities under a common citizenship.

Among the salient features of the covenant are: 1. All parties  – Muslims, Jews and other tribes - had freedom to practice their religion; 2. All citizens had equal rights and responsibilities and were protected against discrimination and persecution; 3. Communal funds were set up which were used in times of financial need by members of the tribes;  4. All tribes were required to come to the aid of the defending tribe against any hostile attack from outsiders; 5. The Prophet Muhammad was the final arbiter for settling disputes and conflicts.

It is important to note that the Madinah Covenant brought an end to the chaos of tribalism, and brought to fore the loyalty of the tribes to a governing entity which constituted patriotism, call it nationalism if you will. The Charter transformed all aspects of life in Madinah, be it political, social and economic. While preventing tribal anarchy, the Charter protected the life, freedom and property of members of all tribes regardless of belief or color. It replaced tribal kinship with a new social order based on a new socal fabric. 

This is the Madinah Charter of the Prophet in 623 N.E. which preceded the American constitution of 1787 and the English Magna Carta of 1215.

(Prof. Bajunaid is currently Secretary-General of the National Ulama Conference of the Philippines. He headed the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos from 2010-2012, and once served as chancellor of the Mindanao State University in Gen. Santos City.)