Dr. Ali Al-Sallabi

Dr. Ali Al-Sallabi

The Constitution of Medina represented a pioneering achievement compared to all other constitutions in the world and is considered the first Islamic political experiment led by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It played a prominent role in transitioning society from tribal conflict to the realms of brotherhood, love, and tolerance, emphasizing many lofty humanitarian principles.

The constitution also constituted the first social contract in the history of Muslims, and even in the history of humanity, serving as one of the key foundations of the Prophetic State. The Prophet (peace be upon him) established a constitution that organized public life in Medina and defined the relationships between it and its neighbours before the end of the first year of Hijrah. This constitution and political-social contract were unprecedented by any prophet, reformer, or king. The constitution's principles and fundamentals were in complete harmony with the general and fundamental principles brought by Islamic law. The most important of these social, legal, and contractual contents included:

Firstly: Citizenship:

Before the establishment of the Islamic state, Yathrib (Medina) was divided into five parts, each controlled by a different tribe, and the conflicts among these tribes were intense, leading to continuous bloody wars. However, with the formation of the Islamic state under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), based on a written constitution, the state included citizens of various religions: Muslims from the Muhajireen and Ansar, the People of the Book (Jews), and the remaining polytheists of the city; they were all considered citizens of the Islamic state.

The connection of individuals to the state was unique because the Islamic state was not just an individual entity, but a political leadership and a legal system together, which both the individual and the state were committed to. This connection reflected the rights individuals enjoyed under the state and the obligations they adhered to before it. This bond is akin to modern-day nationality; they were all secure under the protection of Islam, including Muslims and non-Muslims. The state was inclusive, accommodating other groups without melting or dissolving, capable of expansion and contraction based on the number of those who joined or left it by choice.

Secondly: Social Ethics in the Constitution:

When the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) arrived in Medina, he found warring factions. He formed them into a unified community that differed in all aspects of life from the old society and was distinguished from any other society in the world at that time. This was because its foundation was built on Islam, which fought against ignorant ideas, destroyed corrupt principles and harmful disputes, eliminated the enmity they created, and established the society on solid foundations and strong pillars. The old values that caused discord and division fell away, and Muslims were united by the strong bond of faith, as well as mutual support and solidarity among the clans, tribes, and sects.

Thirdly: Equality of All Before the Law:

All people are equal before divine law, whether rich or poor, noble or humble, Muslim or non-Muslim. Allah says: "O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do" (Quran 5:8). This shattered racial discrimination and the distinction between members of the Medinan society.

There is no discrimination in the law for any group regarding the benefits and burdens of public life in Medina. The just Islamic principle is that responsibility is shared equally among all. Although Allah has given Muslims the burden of sacrifice and dedication to establish the Islamic state, everyone is equal, with no differences or class distinctions among them, except according to the objective criteria set by the Islamic charter, which are faith and righteous deeds.

Fourthly: Observing Neighbour’s Rights:

In Islam, honouring one's neighbour is considered a sign of true faith and sincere piety. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "Anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should not harm his neighbour." This principle aims to create a civil society where relationships are healthy and primarily based on cooperation in goodness, the promotion of virtue, prevention of harm, and the establishment of justice among all people.

Fifthly: Ensuring Security for Community Groups and the Right to Life and Mutual Defence:

When Islam came, it fostered brotherhood among people, removed enmities, healed their hearts, and eradicated the pre-Islamic superstitions. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "(There is) no 'Adwa (no contagious disease is conveyed without Allah's permission). nor is there any bad omen (from birds), nor is there any Hamah, nor is there any bad omen in the month of Safar, and one should run away from the leper as one runs away from a lion." The new Islamic law prohibited the unjust killing of life, making murder one of the major sins. Allah says: "But whoever kills a believer intentionally – his recompense is Hell, wherein he will abide eternally, and Allah has become angry with him and has cursed him and has prepared for him a great punishment." (Quran 4:93). This abolished the pre-Islamic custom of vengeance and preserved life: "And there is for you in legal retribution [saving of] life" (Quran 2:179). The Constitution of Medina brought together people of different beliefs and races, making them citizens responsible for defending the homeland against any external attack.

The impact of the Constitution of Medina is evident in its establishment of a humane dialogue and an integrated society free from tribalism and personal interests. It clarified the rights and duties of every individual in the state, and its influence on global peace is demonstrated through:

  1. Religious Tolerance:

The West only came to know religious freedom and tolerance a little over a century ago, following dark centuries of religious intolerance, persecution, and horrific massacres. In response to the oppression and aggression rooted in religious bigotry and intellectual terrorism, Islam openly declared its opposition to extremism and fanaticism, whether in religion or ethical human conduct. Islam promoted its message in a civilized manner based on the principle of tolerance and condemned religious fanaticism and intellectual terrorism. The Quran explicitly states this in the verse: "There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong." (Quran 2:256).

  1. Coexistence and Cooperation Among People Within a Single State:

Coexistence with different religions is a crucial necessity imposed by the need to maintain the integrity of human society and the mutual commitment to live freely and with dignity in our world. Hence, Islam preceded nations and international organizations in proclaiming the call for global peace, as stated in the Quran: "O you who have believed, enter into Islam completely" (Quran 2:208). Islam seeks to instil a deep-seated truth in people's conscience: all humans originate from a single source, which is Adam (peace be upon him).

  1. Recognition of the Other:

This aligns with the Quranic guidance given to the Prophet when his Lord commanded him to say to those who do not respond to his call: "For you is your religion, and for me is my religion." (Quran 109:6). And in another verse: "And say, 'The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills—let him believe; and whoever wills—let him disbelieve'" (Quran 18:29). This represents the highest form of recognizing others, stemming from confidence, respect, and a desire to cooperate for the good of humanity in areas of mutual interest.

  1. The Value of Human Rights in the Document:

Before Islam, Arab life was tumultuous with desires, sins, and a love for dominance and supremacy. Individuals in society lived with loyalty to their tribe, guided by inherited traditions. One of the priorities of the new Islamic state established by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in Medina was to outline a righteous path for people, ensuring their human dignity. This represented a new dawn in human history, as its constitution enshrined the highest values of freedom and dignity for individuals, enabling them to exercise their rights and personal freedoms in this life, as these are essential individual and collective human necessities.

Among these rights are the right to freedom, the right to life, the right to freedom of belief, the right to justice and equality, the right to free expression, the right to security, housing, and mobility, and the right to financial aid (mutual support and social security), among other rights guaranteed by the "Constitution" of the Prophet's state. In Islam's view, these are not just human rights but essential needs; Islam has elevated the recognition of human rights to the point where it considers them necessities.

From the moment Islam emerged in the world, it was not just a religion but a way of life aimed at building a society characterized by cooperation and solidarity. Islam is considered a significant source for encouraging and promoting a culture of mutual support in communities. Some aspects that highlight the role of Islam in fostering a culture of solidarity include:

  • Zakat and Charity: Islam encourages supporting the poor and needy through the concept of zakat (obligatory almsgiving) and charity. Giving zakat and charity is an Islamic duty, which strengthens connections among community members and reinforces social bonds.
  • Caring for the Poor and Orphans: Muslims are urged to care for the poor and orphans, and taking care of them is considered part of worship. This practice enhances the culture of solidarity and care for those in need within the community.
  • Social Justice: Islam promotes social justice and achieving balance in society. This includes fair distribution of wealth and fighting against injustice and exploitation, which strengthens the culture of solidarity and unity.
  • Participation in Community Affairs: Islam encourages active participation in community affairs. Encouraging people to share knowledge and experiences contributes to building a culture of solidarity based on social interaction.
  • The Virtue of Giving and Helping: Islam considers the virtue of giving and helping others as central to Islamic conduct. These values help shape a culture of solidarity based on mutual support and assistance.
  • Islamic Brotherhood: Islam encourages cooperation and solidarity among members of society, promoting the concept of Islamic brotherhood. This contributes to building strong and stable bonds between individuals and communities. 

The constitution clearly reveals that the human and civilizational dimension in the events of the Prophet's life, and the concern for social issues and human relationships, are not incidental matters imposed by urgent circumstances. Instead, they are authentic features and central concerns in the prophetic and rightly-guided Islamic project. A comprehensive system was established for the new Medina community that was radically different from the prevailing systems of that era. Careful attention was given to the individual, ensuring them rights that enable them to live their humanity in freedom, dignity, and honour. They were also entrusted with duties that make them responsible individuals in society, fulfilling tasks commensurate with their status and importance.

The Medina Constitution demonstrates the astuteness and genius of the Prophet Muhammad in formulating its provisions and defining the relationships between its parties. The constitution serves as evidence of the vast space for Islamic values and humanity, a space not confined by time or place. This is in line with the openness of Muslims to the world today, through dialogue and partnerships at political, economic, media, and intellectual levels.


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One of Allah's laws in His creation is that He made days revolve among people, as they do not remain in one state for an individual, a people, or a state. Allah says, “And these days [of varying conditions] We alternate among the people so that Allah may make evident those who believe and [may] take to Himself from among you martyrs - and Allah does not like the wrongdoers.” (Al-Imran: 140). The rise and fall of nations and states are also subjected to divine laws. Those who adhere to these laws and follow them rise, while those who neglect or deviate from them weaken and fall.

The Ottoman Empire was not an exception among states; it was a state through which Allah honored Islam and Muslims. Muslims witnessed under its banner great victories and conquests, living under its rule in security, strength, and dignity. Even its non-Muslim subjects lived in safety, justice, and religious freedom guaranteed by Ottoman governance throughout different eras.

However, like other states, its star shone brightly, expanded, and triumphed over enemies. It restrained rebels and sinners when it adhered to Allah's laws of victory and empowerment, utilizing the means of strength and honor. But as it deviated from its original course, its star gradually began to fade. It weakened against external and internal enemies, retreated, lost most of its territories, and was forced into numerous concessions. Eventually, Christian nations became partners with the Sultan in administering his state and provinces.

The final Ottoman Sultans’ deviation from Islamic law and its effects on the Islamic Ummah:

One finds that individuals buried in a materialistic and ignorant life are filled with anxiety, fear, and cowardice; they tremble at every challenge, terrified of Christians and unable to fight proudly before them. Even when encouraged to fight in battles, their hearts falter against enemies due to their sins. Life becomes a burden for them, as Allah says, “And whoever turns away from My remembrance, indeed, he will have a depressed life” (Taha: 124). The Islamic nations during the later stages of the Ottoman Empire experienced a decline, losing a sense of identity and spiritual conscience. They stopped enjoining good and forbidding evil, facing a situation similar to that of the Children of Israel when they abandoned enjoining good and forbidding evil. Allah says, “Cursed were those who disbelieved among the Children of Israel by the tongue of David and of Jesus, the son of Mary. That was because they disobeyed and [habitually] transgressed. They used not to prevent one another from wrongdoing that they did. How wretched was that which they were doing.” (Al-Ma'idah: 78-79).

Indeed, any nation that does not glorify Allah’s Sharia by commanding good and forbidding evil will fall just like the Children of Israel. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “Nay, by Allah, you either enjoin good and forbid evil and catch hold of the hand of the oppressor and persuade him to act justly and stick to the truth, or Allah will involve the hearts of some of you with the hearts of others and will curse you as He had cursed them.”

The Ummah’s deviation from the true concepts of Islam:

This deviation is specifically manifested in the concept of “allegiance and disavowal.” The Ottoman Empire, in its earlier stages, adhered to the guidance of Allah, aligning itself with those who obeyed Him and opposing those who opposed Him. However, in its later stages, especially in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries AH, the concept of allegiance and disavowal deviated due to widespread ignorance that overshadowed most regions of the Ottoman Empire and Islamic countries, not to mention the absence of righteous scholars who could illuminate the path of the Ummah. Rulers and sultans favored enemies of disbelievers, who had held significant material power, over the believers.

The spread of deviant sects and movements attributed to Islam:

This was the greatest deviation that occurred in the Ottoman. Some of these sects operated under the umbrella of Islamic mysticism (Sufism), but in reality, they represented deviant intellectual currents. These deviant currents emerged as organized forces within Islamic society, carrying beliefs, ideas, and practices that deviated from the Quran and the Sunnah. They introduced concepts such as respect for unemployment and sluggishness, permitting begging, faking poverty, and seeking humiliation.

The spread of Bid'ah (innovation):

During the early reigns of the Ottoman Empire, the rulers actively discouraged and fought against Bid'ah and its proponents. Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, in his will, advised his successors to “avoid Bid'ah and its proponents.” However, in the later stages of the Ottoman Empire, it spread widely and became deeply intertwined with the lives of the people. It became rare to find any aspect of worship, work, or daily life untouched by any Bid'ah. It penetrated every corner of society. Ignorants practiced it, while scholars supported it. Sunnah became Bid'ah, and Bid'ah became Sunnah. The concept of religion and knowledge shifted from a comprehensive and holistic approach to strange rituals that people clung to.

The absence of righteous leadership:

Indeed, righteous leadership is one of the factors contributing to the rise and empowerment of the Ummah. The leaders of a nation are the lifeblood and the head of its body. If the leaders are righteous, the nation becomes righteous, and if they are corrupt, this corruption extends to the entire nation.

Mehmed the Conqueror led the Ummah righteously during his time. Faith permeated his heart and actions and was reflected in the virtues within his deeds. The righteous scholars played a pivotal role in the leadership of the state; they were its heart and intellectual mind. Hence, the Ummah and the Ottoman state flourished with insight, guidance, and knowledge.

However, in later periods, there was a dangerous deviation in Ottoman leadership, both militarily and intellectually. The scholars in the later stages of the Ottoman Empire succumbed to their desires, neglecting their duties. This set a bad example for the masses who watched them closely. Many of these scholars immersed themselves in worldly pleasures, silenced not by swords or whips but by the lavish gifts bestowed upon them by the governors and rulers, placing them in high-ranking positions with substantial benefits, effectively suppressing their voices and quelling any potential uprising.

The spread of injustice in the state:

Injustice in a state is akin to a disease in a person, accelerating its demise through the destructive consequences it brings and leading to its decay within a specified period only known to Allah.

With the arrival of the Union and Progress Committee to power, Turkish oppression intensified against the Arabs, Kurds, and Albanians. This oppressive regime subjected people to injustice within and outside Turkey. Sultan Abdulhamid II himself even faced their injustice and tyranny; thus, Allah’s decree that does not change unfolded upon them. Divine retribution befell the oppressors, and discord emerged among them, ultimately leading to the disappearance of the Ottoman Caliphate.

Differences and Division:

Indeed, Allah’s decree remains constant among nations and people. Allah, may He be exalted, has made dispute among the causes of the destruction of nations. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “Your predecessors disagreed and perished.” The destructive disagreement is the one leading to fragmentation and division.

The Ottoman Empire, especially in its later years, faced the challenge of disagreement and division among its leaders and sultans. Some local rulers even sought autonomy from the central government by prolonging their rule and attempting to establish local dynasties (such as the Mamluks in Iraq, the Al-Azm family in Syria, the Maans and the Shihabs in Lebanon, Muhammad Ali in Egypt, Zahir al-Umar in Palestine, Jazzar Pasha in Acre, Ali Bey al-Kabir in Egypt, and the Karamanlis in Libya). This conflict between local rulers and the Ottoman state contributed to its weakening, eventual demise, and collapse.

Closing the gate of Ijtihad (Islamic reasoning):

The Muslim Ummah suffered from the closure of the gate of Ijtihad. In the later years of the Ottoman Empire, this gate was not given its due, as the pace of life accelerated and became more vigorous than the rigid traditionalists who rejected anything new. Thus, intellectual activity among Muslims stagnated in the face of anything new. Sectarian bias persisted, weakening the educational level, declining the sciences, and shackling minds and perceptions.

Religious sectarianism was a deviation from the path of Allah, and it deepened the stagnation in minds, knowledge, and intellectual growth, fragmenting the Islamic ranks, which greatly impacted the weakness of the Ottoman Empire. Meanwhile, the empire became preoccupied with internal issues just as conspiracies surrounded it, and the Crusaders began finishing the ailing state.


Lessons Learned from the Fall of the Ottoman Caliphate:

  • Consequences of Deviating from the Islamic Law: This led to severe political, military, economic, scientific, ethical, and social weaknesses. The Ummah lost its ability to resist and overcome enemies, leaving it vulnerable to colonization and intellectual invasion. This was due to neglecting empowerment conditions, straying from both material and moral approaches, and ignoring Allah’s laws for elevating nations. Allah says, “And if only the people of the cities had believed and feared Allah, We would have opened upon them blessings from the heaven and the earth; but they denied [the messengers], so We seized them for what they were earning.” (Al-A’raf: 96)
  • Allah's Laws are Stable and Inclusive: Allah's laws don’t favor one individual over another, or a society over another. The outcome that faithful and pious believers anticipate might be seized by the worst, unjust disbelievers as a consequence of following the correct preconditions. Thus, the effects are based on adherence to proper principles.
  • Empires Thrive or Decline Based on Their Actions: Like any other state, the Ottoman Empire flourished during times of adherence to the reasons for progress and success. However, it declines if adhered to the reasons for defeat. Blaming or excessively praising the rulers for what we face today will not yield any significant benefits.

The Ottoman Empire experienced periods of strength, prosperity, and expansion as the longest-ruling Muslim state. However, it succumbed to moral, social, intellectual, economic, and political decay in its later years. Luxuries, deviation from faith values, the spread of superstitions, the deviated sects affiliated with Islam, and the absence of righteous leadership are all factors that contributed to its downfall. The excessive indulgence in luxury corrupted morals, turning unity into indifference and enmity, ultimately destroying the empire, as mentioned in the Quran: “And when We intend to destroy a city, We command its affluent but they defiantly disobey therein; so the word comes into effect upon it, and We destroy it with [complete] destruction.” (Al-Isra: 16)



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