What did the Covenant of Medina achieve in terms of religious coexistence?
To achieve justice among all people of Medina, the covenant was established on four main pillars:
1-Peaceful coexistence amongst all sectors of the society and the protection and security to all. The Covenant said: “This writing will not give protection to one who perpetrates an injustice or committed a crime,” and “Whoever goes out to fight as well as whoever stays at home shall be safe and secure in this city; but no security is there to the oppressor.”
2- Freedom of belief to all. The Prophet’s covenant stated: “The Jews shall profess their faith, the Muslims theirs.”
3- All share equally in the political, social and military life in Medina.
The covenant states: “The Jews shall contribute with the Muslims while at war with a common enemy.”
4-The principle of individual responsibility: "None shall go to war except with the permission of Muhammad, but this shall not hinder any from seeking lawful revenge. (As against this) one who commits murder, he invites catastrophe for himself and for his family, unless he has been wronged. And verily God watches honest fulfillment of this article.”
This Convention sought to organize a society of Muslims and non-Muslims. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), the first head of state in the constitutional and political history of humanity, endorsed the principle of citizenship and law, represented in this case by the Covenant of Medina. Jan Jack Russo described it as “the social contract”. Through it, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) succeeded in binding all the people of Medina, regardless of their tribe or faith, to their citizenship and the responsibility to defend their homeland.
Profound understanding of the Covenant of Medina
1-The covenant prescribed the notion of a state that houses a population whose members came from different regions, cultures and religions, yet were bound by one homeland.
2-The covenant addressed the complexity of human relations. Previously, the citizens of Medina were bound together either by blood, family connections, religion, neighborliness or mutual interests. The organization of these relations was imperative for a lasting social coexistence to bring peace and harmony.
3-It is worthy to note that the covenant recognized the Jewish minority not only as citizens and part of the Islamic state but an important element of it. It also considered the Jews of Banu Auf one nation with the Muslims. In fact Islam promoted the ties of citizenship and stimulated social cohesion, solidarity, respect for religion, dignity and freedom. Respecting the tie of citizenship is a duty that Islam prescribes upon every Muslim.
4-In an Islamic State, sovereignty belongs to only God the Almighty and His Messenger. The covenant stated: “Whenever there occurs transgression or dispute among the people of this covenant from which villainy may be feared, the matter shall be referred to God and Messenger.”
This clause entails the following:
First, the clarity of text of the covenant which stipulates whoever signs it, is committed to the fulfillment of all its clauses.
Secondly, with all members of the community coming under the shade of Islam, accepting its rule and respecting it, it was quite logical that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) emerge as the ruler, legislator, judge, protector, arbitrator, defender of the city and in charge of deciding the welfare of the society. All of those who signed the treaty referred to him all in matters and disputes that arose in the community.
Thirdly, God the Almighty revealed to His Messenger a firm, clear and perfect divine law, open to all people to learn about, study and fully grasp, and then decide whether or not it grants them the aspired justice and equality. It was apparent that the Jews would not resort to the Covenant of Medina or refer to the noble Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) except in cases of disputes between them and the Muslims. As for matters concerning their community and those relating to their religion, they had the freedom either to sort them out amongst their own selves by referring to the texts of the Torah, or to refer them to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Their Jewish spiritual leader would decide on which to resort to. God the Almighty says in the Quran: “[They are] avid listeners to falsehood, devourers of [what is] unlawful. So if they come to you, [O Muhammad], judge between them or turn away from them. And if you turn away from them - never will they harm you at all. And if you judge, judge between them with justice. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly” [5: 42].
The Prophet and Banu Quraydha: cases of pardoning
1-Thabit Ibn Qais came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and said: “O Messenger of God! I owe Az-Zubayr a favor and I wanted to compensate him for it, so spare his life.” So the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “You are granted your request.” Then he went to Az-Zubayr and told him, “The Prophet spared your life for me and here I give it to you.” Az-Zubayr replied, “An old man, without a family or a son, what is he to do with his life?” So Thabit went again to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and said, “O Prophet of God! you are dearer to me than my father and mother. Spare his wife and son.” So the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “So be it.” Thabit then went to Az-Zubayr and told him, “The Prophet has spared your wife and son, here I give them to you.” Az-Zubayr replied, “A family of a house in Hijaz without money, how terrible is their situation!” So Thabit went to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) again and told him, “O Messenger of God! Spare his money.” So the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) told him, “You have it.” Thabit went to Az-Zubayr and told him, “The Prophet has spared your money for me, so here I return it to you.”
2-In another instance, Salma Bint Qais, the mother of Al-Munthir from the tribe of Banu Al-Najjar and one of the aunts of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) who pledged allegiance to him along with the rest of the Muslim women, once asked him to give her Refa’a Ibn Samwal Al- Quraydhi, and he gave him to her. She freed him and spared his life and he later embraced Islam.
3-Amr Ibn Saadi Al-Qyraydhi descended from the camps of Banu Quraydha and passed by the guards of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Among them that night was Mohamed Ibn Salama. Ibn Salama saw Amr, and asked: “Who is that?” Amr answered and said, “I am Amr Ibn Saadi.” Amr had refused to join the Banu Quraydha in their plot against the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) saying. “I will never betray the Prophet.” Upon recognizing him, Mohamed Ibn Salama said. “O God! Do not deprive me of the opportunity to remove the obstacle from the way of the good people.” And he let Amr pass. Amr proceeded until he reached the gates of the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, not knowing where to go. He described his situation to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) who said, “This is a man whom God has protected with His shield.”
5- When the adult members of Banu Quraydha gathered before the Prophet, awaiting the execution of Sa’ad’s decision, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) ordered the people to bring dates and distribute it among them.
6-It was reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) ordered the Muslims to treat the hostages of Banu Quraydha well, to give them food and water, and not spare them any suffering.