Islamic political thought/Muhammad's Life and his political contributions to the first Islamic State
Muhammad's Life and his Political Contributions to the Islamic State
This lecture offers a general over view of Muhammad’s life. It also examines his contributions to the first Islamic state. This includes the creation of a Constitution and the treaty created with the Jewish community of Medina.
Learning Goals: Week one, day two and three of the quarter
· Understand the key details of Muhammad's life
· Understand the content of Muhammad's Constitution from a modern prospective
· Understand Muhammad's relationship with the Jews of Medina, and the treaty between the two religions.
Lecture One: Muhammad’s Background
In 570 C.E., when Muhammad's mother Amina was pregnant with him she heard a voice. This voice claimed her son was the…”Lord of this people, call him Muhammad” (Aslan, 19). Muhammad did not immediately fulfill this prophecy. In his early years Muhammad lived in Mecca and was a member of the Quraysh tribe. He also participated in ancient Arabic religious practices. Muhammad never practised the act of worshipping many Gods. A part of Muhammad thought these practices were wrong. To deal with these internal battles he went on many retreats. Angel Gabrail first visited Muhammad during one of these retreats in 610 C.E. At the time Muhammad wanted nothing to do with God’s calling. However, Muhammad’s outlook changed, when the Angel Gabriel came again, in 613 C.E., and offered him the Profession of Faith, or Shahadah. This revelation stated, “There is no God but God and Muhammad is God’s Messenger” (Aslan, 43). Members of the Quraysh tribe did not take kindly to Muhammad’s message. In fact, the tribe’s Shaykh, or a tribe member responsible for maintaining ethics and protection, allowed other tribe members to abuse Muhammad and his Companions. As a result, Muhammad and his Companions traveled to Yathrib for protection. This migration from Mecca to Yathrib became known as Hija. Soon after arriving in Yathrib, Muhammad formed the first Islamic state, which included the creation of a constitution and a Jewish treaty. With this state formation Yathrib became known as Medina, or the “ City of the Prophet” (Aslan, 53). Tomorrow’s assignment is to read the readings on the Islamic Constitution and the Jewish treaty and relations.
Assignment for Lecture One: Muhammad’s Background:
· Chapters 1 and 2 of Reza Aslan’s No God but God
Recommended Readings for Lecture One:·
Muhammad by Michael Cook, Chapters one and two
· A Reader On Classical Islam by F.E. Peters, focus on sections 11,12,13,14 of chapter one` and sections 1-16 of chapter two.
The Constitution of Medina and the Treaty with the Jews
When Muhammad founded Medina he incorporated some tribal practices, but left room for reform in areas such as the Islamic view of women. Aside from these contributions Muhammad also created the first written constitution, known as the Constitution of Medina, in 622 C.E. Most importantly, this document declared Muhammad the “ Messenger of God”. He was also the city’s Shaykh. Therefore, religious and political authority rested in the hands of Muhammad. The main goal of this constitution, aside from establishing power, was to “…explain the rights, commitments, duties, and responsibilities of each group within the boundaries of the new Islamic state”(Berween, 104). For example, the constitution addressed minority rights and diversity. It recognized and respected the different religious customs and traditions of each, even encouraging groups to share and implement customs. War was also addressed in Muhammad’s Constitution. It was only to be pursued as a way of self-defense. Furthermore, war was a joint effect among the Muslims and other the religions of Medina, the community fought as one. The main objective of war, as displayed in the constitution, was to treat prisoners of war with kindness and seek justice for the community. Citizens of the Islamic state were also expected to fight poverty, with ultimate elimination. Everyone within society deserved justice, it was the duty of all to make this possible. Jews were included in the confines of this constitution, but Muhammad also created a separate treaty to further define relations. The Treaty between Muhammad and the Jews of Medina covered several topics. For instance, to preserve their own religious practices, Jews were not required to accept Muhammad as the Prophet or messenger of God. Jews were also expected to contribute to war if it involved a “ common enemy” (www.cyberistan.org). Additionally, if Muhammad entered into a peace agreement with another nation, the Jewish community of Medina must honor that agreement. The Muslim community was expected to honor Jewish peace agreements as well. Peace within the Medina community was key. Any issues that arose between Jews and Muslims should be given to Muhammad and God for a non-violent solution. This treaty enhanced and clarified the rights given to the Jewish community within the constitution of Meina.
Assignment for Lecture Two:The Constitution of Medina:
Chapter 3 of Reza Aslan’s No God but God
· Al- Wathiqa: The First Islamic State Constitution, Mohamed Berween (from the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol. 23, No. 1, April 2003).
Assignment for Lecture Two: The Treaty with the Jews·
Prophet Muhammad’s Treaty With Jews (Books and E-books on Muslim History and Civilization)- www.cyberistan.org/islamic/ treaty22.html
Recommended Readings for Lecture Two: The Constitution Of Medina:
Muhammad’s First Legal Document by Michael Lecker, Chapter 5 (135-137) This section focuses on the Jewish treaty.
What did you know about Muhammad’s life and his political contributions prior to these lectures and readings? What type of impact did this new information have on your perception of Islam?
· Did understanding Muslim- Jewish relations during Muhammad’s time effect your perception of their relations today?
· Applying the knowledge gained, is it possible to create a secular Islamic state today?
Aslan, Reza. No god but God. New York:Random House, 2005.
Berween, Mohamed. "Al-Wathiqa: The First Islamic State Constitution." Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 23,no 1 (2003):103-113.
Cook, Michael. Muhammad. New York:Oxford University Press, 1983.
Lecker, Michael. The Constitution of Medina: Muhammad's First Legal Document. New Jersey:Darwin, 2004.
Lecker, Michael. Jews and Arabs in Pre- and Early Islamic Arabia. Vermont:Ashgate, 1998.
Peters, F.E. A Reader On Classical Islam. New Jersey:Princeton University Press, 1994.