By Babatunde Jose
1,439 years ago Holy Prophet Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina in what has become known as the Hegira and from thence the Muslim calendar commenced. The situation in Medina at the time was akin to what obtains in our clime today; a clash of cultures and religions, and all its attendant upheavals and acrimony.
The clash of civilizations, cultures, tribes, and religions seems to be prevalent throughout all of history. Many conflicts seem too complicated for an agreement to be established on just one point, whether or not the conflict revolves around territory, religion, or ethnic discrimination. So what approach is best to mediate issues in a contemporary world that seems to be driven by economics, natural resources, and ethnic or religious ideologies? The Medina Charter, promulgated by the Prophet, serves as an example of finding resolve in a dispute where peace and pluralism were achieved not through military successes or ulterior motives but rather through respect, acceptance, and denunciation of war. Pluralism was advanced and instated in Medina and reflecting on such a document could help avoid the hiatus and misunderstanding plaguing much thought, rhetoric, and media today between Muslims, Christians, and other faiths in our dear country and elsewhere.
Medina, was “a mixture” of different tribes (predominantly Arabs and Jews), who had been fighting for nearly a century, causing “civil strife,” and a lack of governance and on many occasions, deepened the divides and fueled conflicts. Karen Armstrong explains aptly the mentality and workings of the tribe: “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”(Armstrong, Karen. 2006. Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time pp24). Such a system was, in a political sense, representative of the little cooperation between the tribes in Medina and it reflects what we are experiencing here today; albeit in a more forceful and dangerous proportion.
Our country today is peopled by power hungry leaders (someone said, looters), with emphasis on ethnic leaning and religion. The political climate is pregnant with apocalyptic drums of war that portends an end to this polity as we know it; to be replaced by a Hobbesian state of nature, which promises to be ‘nasty, brutish and short’.
We have not been lucky with a messiah who will descend from the Olympian heights with the promise of peace and unity, spreading the gospel of a community or Ummah, made up of diverse groups as we found in Medina during the time of the Holy Prophet. Those who have been thrown up by the system are merely pretenders, impostors and charlatans; delusional and men of doubtful spiritual and messianic pedigree. Being part and the main cause of the problem they are ill-suited to offer reasonable and acceptable solutions to our problems. Rather, their postulations are capable of exacerbating our problems and sowing the seeds of more divisions. The Promised Messiah is someone acceptable to all factions and should not be perceived as part of the problem or a major beneficiary of the solution. If our emergency messiahs are asked the question put to John the Baptist, how would they answer: They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” John 1:21.Pretenders, they would have lied and answered in the affirmative. But you cannot mock God.
It is in this vein that we look at the Prophet’s panacea to the Medina conundrum and the promulgation of the Medina Charter, which is too long to be reproduced in this short piece. However, the kernel of its provisions is that it proclaimed all the peoples of that troubled city as one ‘community’ with rights and obligations meant to weld them together as one Ummah. And it worked.
Peace was achieved through contemplation and through seeking agreements in which tribes felt they had benefited from the charter and had not been robbed of status or unresolved antagonism from the past. Islam places great emphasis on reason – the reasoning of the universe, of life, and indeed, of religion too. Al-Ghazali said, “Doubt is to find truth. Those who do not have doubt cannot think. Those who cannot think, cannot find truth.”
The Prophet managed to take leadership and create a lasting peace. The first clause, “They are a single community (Ummah),” depicts the ultimate message and goal of the rest of the charter. It marked the creation of a community, and the Charter served as a unifying document in a city of diverse groups, cultures, religions, and languages.
We can achieve the same result here too, if only we can see our society as a single community, where ‘though tongues and tribe may differ’, we stand in brotherhood and in which we would all be proud to serve our fatherland.
“It is for this tolerance in the Islamic view that Muslims have looked at the religion of the people in the lands they conquered with respect; they did not intervene with their beliefs nor touch their churches”.
Clause 25 epitomizes the level of tolerance in the charter and also serves as an example of Islam in practice. “The Jews … are a community (Ummah) along with the believers. To the Jews their religion and to the Muslims their religion.” This statement ties in with the verse from the Quran which says:
“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: Whoever rejects Evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy handhold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things. (Quran 2:256)
For in the eyes of God, as it says in the Quran:
Those who believe (in the Koran), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians, –any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, shall have their reward with their Lord: On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. (Quran 2:62).
By differentiating between beliefs, we neglect that under one sun we all pray to a greater entity, a greater being. We were all created by God, so unity seems imperative and practical.
The Medina Charter is very relevant to current tensions existing between our peoples. Unfortunately, it seems that ignorance, fear, suspicion, disrespect, and primordial stereotypes plague the interaction and relationship that exist between us.
The Prophet did not create an Ummah through denouncing all ways of life except for Islam or by recognizing Islam as the singular religion; instead he united all inhabitants of the city under one banner of ethical living and moral principles – commonalities between all humans and all religions.
It is believed that we could emulate the Prophet and fashion out a more inclusive community here too. If only our leaders have the will to do so; instead of sowing the seeds of discord among our peoples.
May Allah direct them to do the right thing for us and save us from the impending Armageddon; Amen.
Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend