On the American Constitution from the Perspective of the Qur’an and the Madinah Covenant

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad

This paper is by no means an exhaustive comparison of the American Constitution with the Qur’an and the Madinah Covenant. Rather, it explores the kinds of insights that a comparison between these two documents may suggest. Accordingly, the constitutional topics selected are those in which the author or the commentators on earlier drafts perceived an assessment within the Islamic sources.4 This paper should be taken as an invitation for future studies with more systematic comparisons. In addition to rational inference from the text of the Qur’an and of the Madinah Covenant, I shall draw on the views of the Prophet’s Companions as recorded in the leading Hadith books. Analogously, the views of the Founding Fathers of the American Republic on constitutional
matters are articulated in The Federalist Papers.We shall begin by reviewing the Madinah Covenant, and then evaluate the Constitution’s goals as expressed in the preamble. After that, we shall explore a variety of topics in the main body of the text that lend themselves to the examination proposed here. In particular, these are the roles of the branches of government according to the separation of powers, the role of elections in determining the next head of state, the penalty for treason, the existence of the slave trade and racism, the republican form of government, the provisions for amending the Constitution, religious tests, and the Bill of Rights. Finally, we consider the Madisonian arguments on how the Constitution may be considered a model for avoiding fitnah.
The Madinah Covenant That Muslims attach great significance to their organization as a political community can be seen in the fact that their calendar is dated neither from the birth nor the death of the Prophet, but from the establishment of the first Muslim polity in the city-state of Madinah in 622. Before Madinah was founded, the Arabs had no state to “establish justice, insure domestic
tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty” The custom at that time was that those who were too weak to protect themselves became clients of a protector (wali). Muhammad, himself an orphan, was brought up under the protection of his uncle Abu Talib.
After his uncle’s death in 619, Muhammad received an invitation from Yathrib’s feuding Arab tribes to govern there. Once in Yathrib, he entered into a covenant with all of its residents, whether they had accepted Islam or not. Even the Jews living on the city’s outskirts subscribed to it.

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