Was the UDHR inspired from Medina Charter?

As recently as 1948, the United Nations introduced the world that human beings have rights. The world came together to put an end to racial discrimination through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 1 of the UDHR proclaims that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. It may however be said that the UDHR reflects the spirit of a document written 1300 years before this, the Medina Charter. The Medina Charter has been claimed to be the first ever Constitution written by Mankind[1]. 600 years even before the glorious Magna Carta, the Medina Charter was codified in 622 A.D in the city of Medina by Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.S). Also known as the Constitution of Medina, it is the first to determine rights and duties of citizens and equality on the grounds of Non Discrimination.

The City of Medina in Saudi Arabia was not an All-Muslim town. The community was then, a mix of ten thousand Muslims, pagans and Jews. The Medina Charter was the treaty codified by Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.S) that was signed by these groups. The first few articles of the Charter validate previous customary laws of the existing tribes in the area. The rest of the articles in the Charter determine the rights, responsibilities of the locals and immigrants and general guidelines. Most of the Articles highlighted the principle of Non Discrimination. The Charter was divided into 47 Articles by Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah but later, categorized into 63 Articles by Dr. Muhammad Tahir-Ul-Qadri making it easier to understand. Below is a comparative analysis of few Articles of the Medina Charter and various UN Instruments.

·        According to Article 2 of the Charter, the parties to the agreement shall form one community. This clearly guarantees equality without any discrimination as similar to Article 7 of the UDHR. According to Article 7 of the UDHR, “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.”

·        Article 13 of the Medina Charter states ‘Indiscriminate Rule of Law and Justice for all communities’. According to this Article, ‘every group shall secure the release of its captives ensuring that an indiscriminate rule of law and justice is applied among the believers’. This is strikingly similar to that of Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966. Article 26 states “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law.

·        Articles 20 of the Charter states Non-Muslim minorities (Jews) have the same right of life protection (like Muslims). The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, 1994 also ensures protection of minorities in a community.

·        Article 30 of the Charter guarantees Freedom of Religion for both Muslims and non Muslim minorities. It states, ‘The Jews of Banu Awf (non-Muslim minorities) shall be considered a community along with the believers. They shall be guaranteed the right of religious freedom along with the Muslims. The right shall be conferred on their associates as well as themselves except those who are guilty of oppression or the violators of treaties. They will bring evil only on themselves and their family.’[2]

Article 1(1) of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion and Belief 1981 states the same. It guarantees a right which “shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever beliefs of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching”.

Article 31-40 of the Medina Charter talks about the equal rights of several tribes residing in Medina. Names of all the tribes are specifically mentioned to ensure protection and harmony among them. Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.S) promulgated such rights in light of The Holy Qur’an. The Holy Qur’an lays down certain Human Rights which are applicable to all of Human kind. For example, Racism is strictly prohibited in the Qur’an. It states, ‘O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female and have made you into nations and tribes for you to know one another. Truly, the noblest of you with God is the most pious. Truly, God is All-Knowing, All-Aware.’[3]

The Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.S) himself in his Last Sermon talked about Equality and Non Discrimination. In his speech, he stated ‘All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white; [none have superiority over another] except by piety and good action.’[4] He struggled to ensure justice for the oppressed and the most marginalized members of the society. For His contributions to ensure justice, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized Prophet Muhammad as one of the greatest lawgivers of the world in 1935.

The Medina Charter may be regarded to have been way ahead of its time. It not only ensured equal rights but granted protection to different groups residing in a community. It focuses more on freedom of religion since it is the key to maintain peace in a community. Its emphasis on Human Rights and Non Discrimination transcends the significance of the UN Covenants of the 20th Century. Although directed towards the then citizens of Medina, it laid down an ideal guideline for the world to follow.

The Medina Charter

[1] Hamidullah M (1941), ‘The First Written Constitution of the World’ [available on: http://ebooks.rahnuma.org/religion/Dr.Hamidullah/Dr.HamidUllah-The-First-Written-Constitution-of-the-World.pdf%5D

[2] Islam S, Qadri M (2012), ‘The Constitution of Medina [63 Constitutional Articles]’, [available at: http://www.minhajpublications.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/The_Constitution_of_Madina_Ebook.pdf%5D

[3] The Holy Quran, 49:13

[4] Wikipedia, ‘Farewell Sermon’ [available on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farewell_Sermon%5D

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