[Excerpts, with occasional modest edits, from The Real Muḥammad: In the Eyes of Ibn Isḥāq, copyright 2013, TEI Publishing House. All quotations from the Sīrat Rasūl Allāh (“Life of the Messenger of Allāh”) are from the translation by Alfred Guillaume (Oxford University Press), copyright 1955. These stories are faithfully passed along from the most ancient, extant and authoritative biography of Muḥammad. All Muslims are called to imitate Muḥammad in their daily lives, and Muslim scholars know that Ibn Isḥāq is the best source for the historical Muḥammad, despite concern for various hon-historical material. The question is this: Can Muḥammad satisfy the Muslim thirst for freedom? How many people, of their own volition, would follow Muḥammad if they were free to choose otherwise? The same question is freely received by Muslims who would question Christians who follow Jesus as the Son of God]

Muḥammad’s One-Way Treaty with the Jews in Medīna

John C. Rankin

As Muḥammad arrives in Yathrīb, a city defined by villages principally of Jewish tribes – the Banū Qaynuqā‘, al-Naḍīr, Qurayẓa and B. ‘Auf – he immediately makes it his home base, owning it in his own mind. He renames it Medīna, a word that simply means “city,” alternatively called Madīnat Al-Nabī (“city of the prophet”). He now prepares for the military campaigns against his declared enemies, the polytheists. Muḥammad establishes a covenant or treaty with the Jews of Medīna; in it, he is in total control of all the terms, a one-way document:

“The apostle wrote a document concerning the emigrants and the helpers in which we made a friendly agreement with the Jews and established them in their religion and their property, and stated the reciprocal obligations as follows: In the name of God [Allāh] the Compassionate, the Merciful. This is a document from Muhammad the prophet (governing the relations) between the believers and Muslims of Quraysh and Yathrīb, and those who followed them and joined them and laboured with them. They are one community (umma) to the exclusion of all men. The Quraysh emigrants according to their present custom shall pay the bloodwit within their number and shall redeem their prisoners with the kindness and justice common among believers …

“A believer shall not take as an ally the freedman of another Muslim against him. The God [Allāh]-fearing believers shall be against the rebellious or him who seeks to spreads injustice, or sin or enmity, or corruption between believers; the hand of every man shall be against him even if he be a son of one of them. A believer shall not slay a believer for the sake of an unbeliever, nor shall he aid an unbeliever against a believer. God’s [Allāh’s] protection is one, the least of them may give protection to a stranger on their behalf. Believers are friends one to the other to the exclusion of outsiders. To the Jew who follows us belong help and equality. He shall not be wronged nor shall his enemies be aided. The peace of the believers is indivisible. No separate peace shall be made when believers are fighting in the way of God [Allāh]. Conditions must be fair and equitable to all. In every foray a rider must take another behind him. The believers must avenge the blood of one another shed in the way of God [Allāh]. The God [Allāh]-fearing believers enjoy the best and most upright guidance. No polytheist shall take the property or person of the Quraysh under his protection nor shall he intervene against a believer. Whosoever is convicted of killing a believer without good reason shall be subject to retaliation unless the next of kin is satisfied (with blood-money), and the believers shall be against him as one man, and they are bound to take action against him.

“It shall not be lawful to a believer who holds by what is in this document and believes in God [Allāh][,] and the last day to help an evil-doer or to shelter him. The curse of God [Allāh] and His anger on the day of resurrection will be upon him if he does, and neither repentance nor ransom will be received from him. Whenever you differ about a matter it must be referred to God [Allāh] and to Muhammad.

“The Jews shall contribute to the cost of war so long as they are fighting alongside the believers. The Jews of the B. ‘Auf are one community with the believers (the Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs) … The close friends of the Jews are as themselves. None of them shall go out to war save with the permission of Muhammad, but he shall not be prevented from taking revenge for a wound … If any dispute or controversy likely to cause trouble should arise it must be referred to God [Allāh] and to Muhammad the apostle of God [Allāh]. God [Allāh] accepts what is nearest to piety and goodness in this document. Quraysh [enemies in Mecca] and their helpers shall not be given protection. The contracting parties are bound to help one another against any attack on Yathrīb. If they are called to make peace and maintain it they must do so; and if they make a similar demand on Muslims, it must be carried out except in the case of holy war …

“Loyalty is a protection against treachery: He who acquires aught acquires it for himself. God [Allāh] approves this document. This deed will not protect the unjust and the sinner. The man who goes forth to fight and the man who stays at home in the city is safe unless he has been unjust and sinned. God [Allāh] is the protector of the good and God [Allāh]-fearing man and Muhammad is the apostle of God [Allāh].”

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This treaty is interpretively central to Muḥammad’s person and the nature of Islām. It is a one-way document. This is in contrast to the biblical nature of covenant, rooted in freedom where Yahweh Elohīm, even as the Creator, treats Adam, Noah Abraham and et al. on the same terms he treats himself (see Chapter Nine in my book, Genesis and the Power of True Assumptions). There are eleven factors that sum up this treaty:

  1. Muḥammad is the one who writes the treaty – no input from others;
  2. In establishing the Jews “in their religion and property,” this is true only insofar as the Jews submit to Muḥammad’s unilateral terms;
  3. This means that the Jews are required to “submit” (the meaning of the word Islām), which is to say, from the outset, Islām is declared superior to Judaism, and thus, this is not truly a compact between equals;
  4. Reciprocal obligations are not defined reciprocally;
  5. The definition of the umma excludes unbelievers and polytheists (even those polytheists living in Yathrīb alongside the Jews before Muḥammad arrives);
  6. Muḥammad defines who is included and who is excluded from this umma, with Jews listed both as “believers” in obligation, but separately as Jews, able to obey the treaty, but not be fully included as equals;
  7. This exclusiveness means war against all outsiders, a “fighting in the way of Allāh” (jihād), and where Jews too must avenge their own sons who might break treaty;
  8. The treaty is in sole service to the military advance of Islām;
  9. It thus requires of the Jews, and any of their allies, obedience to Muḥammad as the sole interpreter of religion and arbiter in any and all disputes;
  10. The Jews may make no treaties or associations with those outside this umma; and
  11. It requires a tacit profession that Muḥammad is the true prophet, “the apostle of Allāh.

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