The social contract – scholars’ views on covenants and imposing interpretations of Shariah

Conditions must be fair and equitable to all… The Jews of the Banu Auf are one ummah (community) with the believers (Muslims)…

The document of Medina (Meethaq ul-Madinah)

The document of Medina (Meethaq ul-Madinah) was a social contract in Medina during the time it was governed by the Prophet (pbuh). The Meethaq contains many examples which undermine the assertions made by Tahrir and other Islamists about the nature and conditions of ruling. The Islamists are keen to deny[1] the permissibility of a ruling which does not impose interpretations of Shariah. Moreover, they state that this is a definitive matter. This is in spite of the Meethaq and the commentary of scholars, such as Ibn Taymia, being contrary to their opinion.

The position arrived at in classical fiqh is that it is’ possible to make political agreements where the authority doesn’t enforce even the most basic aspects of the Islamic rules and laws (such as prayer) upon people. This results in the acceptance of individuals practising Islam while only manifesting some of its religious observances. This is clear in the Prophet’s (pbuh) example of making agreements for the Meethaq.

The following is a translation from Imam Shawkani’s[2] Nayl ul-Awtar and commentary upon Muntaqa al-Akhbar, of Majid ul-Din Ibn Taymia the senior[3] (also of the Hanbali school), explaining the above two points and citing Imam al-Khattabi’s[4] agreements and disagreements with his view:[5]

It is reported on the authority of Asim al-Laythi that a man amongst them said that he went to the Prophet (pbuh) (may Allah bless and grant him peace) and agreed that he would embrace Islam on the condition that he would pray two prayers, and he (pbuh) accepted this from him. (Narrated by Ahmed)

It was mentioned in another narration that he would not pray but a single prayer, and that the Prophet (pbuh) accepted that from him.

Wahb is reported to have said: I asked Jabir regarding what transpired at Thaqeef when they gave the bayah (pledge) and he said: they placed the condition (shart) on the Prophet (pbuh) that there would be no sadaqa (mandatory alms) upon them, and no jihad. I heard the Messenger (pbuh) himself say: They will give the sadaqa and they will fight jihad! (Narrated by Abu Dawud, Hadith number 3210)

Anas reported: Verily the Messenger (pbuh) said to a man, “Embrace Islam” and he responded, “I find myself somewhat averse/forcing myself (ajidunee kaarihaan)”. He (pbuh) said, “Embrace Islam, even so (in kunta kaarihaan)” (Narrated by Ahmed, Hadith number 3211).

In these hadiths – thanks to the Prophet’s clear accession to the conditions (pbuh) – there is evidence of the permissibility of taking the bayah (pledge of allegiance) and the acceptance of Islam from a non-Muslim even if he stipulates invalid (batil) conditions, or an element of aversion. Abu Dawud was silent (i.e. he viewed it as authentic because he stated that anything he remained silent about in his Sunan is at least acceptable [Hasan]) and al-Mundhiri said, regarding the hadith that we have mentioned, that Wahb is Wahb ibn Munbih and its isnad (chain of narration) is authentic (Arabic. la bas bih – lit. no problem with it).

Abu Dawud has also narrated the hadith of al-Hasan al-Basri from Uthman bin Abi’ al-Aas that, “When (the tribe of) Thaqeef presented themselves to the Messenger, Allah bless him and grant him peace, he met them in the Mosque, so as to soften their hearts. They placed conditions on him that they should not be summoned, nor should their wealth be subject to the tenth, and that they would not lower their heads by bowing. So the Messenger, peace be upon him and his family, said: “It is granted, that you will not be summoned, and your tenth will not be taken, but there is no good in a religion without bowing (ruku’)”. Al-Mundhiri said: It was said (“qeela” – used in this way because such a view is not accepted by al-Mundhiri) that al-Hasan al-Basri did not ‘hear’ from Uthman bin Abi’ al-Aas; what is meant by not being summoned is being requested to come for jihad and going out for it (an expedition).

And his saying ‘tenth’, is referring to the ‘tenth’ of the property that is taken as sadaqa (mandatory alms).

And his saying ‘not bowing’… the basic meaning of ‘bowing’ is a man standing in the position of ruku’, and what was intended by that was that they would not pray (make the mandatory ‘salat’).

Al-Khattabi said: ‘it is possible to opine (there is shubha) that he was magnanimous to them regarding jihad and sadaqa because these two obligations (wajibatayn) were not immediately obligatory, as alms are due only after the passing of a year, and jihad is only obligatory if you are surrounded (by an enemy force); as for the salat, this is set-determined (ratibah) and therefore it is not permitted to place a condition to abandon it.’

In contradiction to this view is the hadith of Nasr bin Asim mentioned in this Chapter. For it expressly mentions that the Prophet (pbuh), may Allah bless him and grant him peace, accepted from a man that he would pray only two prayers or one prayer, depending on the different narrations. The problem remains though in the saying (of the Messenger) in the hadith: “there is no good in a religion without bowing”. The apparent meaning (zahir) indicates there is no goodness in someone embracing Islam on the condition that he doesn’t pray. [However] it is possible to say: the Prophet’s (Allah bless him and grant him peace) negation of goodness does not indicate the impermissibility (adam ul-jawaz) of someone accepting Islam on condition that they don’t pray. The fact he, Allah bless him and grant him peace, did not accept this condition from Thaqeef, does not necessarily mean an absolute prohibition.

For this reason scholars have seen that it is acceptable within Islam to form social contracts, build society upon this premise, and unify people; as it states in the document (which was negotiated by the Prophet himself (pbuh)!) Muslim and non-Muslim tribes formed one people with shared interests and conducted their affairs through mutual consultation.

A recent example of this was when the conservative religious scholars and leaders of the Deobandi ulema argued that the Muslims and Hindus of India formed a single nation, unified together, and did not require a separate ‘Islamic State‘ in Pakistan. Mawlana Hussain Ahmed Madani, in his address at the 5th Conference of Jamiat Ulema at Kokanada in January 1924 said:

Hindu-Muslim unity is a pre-requisite for freedom in India. It is the religious and political duty of the Muslims that they should work for the freedom of India and continue this struggle until the government (at the time British Colonial Government) accedes to their demand.[6]

He also explained the following about his vision of how Muslims could see such a development of society and politics in India, asserting in a response to a question from Mohammed Siddiq Sahab that:

The system of India will be democratic. A president will be elected for a specific period. He may be a Muslim or a non-Muslim. But he will not have kingly power.[7]

The Mawlana’s view was that as long as the rights of the Muslims were secure – political, economic, social, or religious – the Muslims could reside in harmony with the Hindus as a single nation sharing a single patriotic tie, of nationhood. He authored the famous piece Islam aur Qaumiyat Mutahaddidah (translated as ‘Composite Nationalism and Islam’). In this text he explained that the Muslims in a manner similar to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) could form a single nation and community as people in harmony, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

This was the precedent set in Medina where the Muslims, polytheists, and Jews were mentioned as a single ummah (community/people). They were all signatories to the document of Medina, giving them all autonomy to solve their own problems, live by their own rules and laws, resolve disputes together, live together, and have a common peace.

The document of Medina (the Meethaq again) states:

Conditions must be fair and equitable to all… The Jews of the Banu Auf are one Ummah (community) with the believers (Muslims)… the Jews must bear their (military) expenses and the Muslims theirs. Each must help the other against anyone who attacks the people of this document. They must seek mutual advice and consultation… The wronged must be helped… The contracting partners are bound to help one another against any attack on Yathrib (Madinah). If they are called to make peace and maintain it they must do so… the Jews of al-Aus, their freedmen and themselves have the same standing with the people of this document in pure loyalty from the people of this document.[8]


[1] A denial by Tahrir, and its current leader Ata Abu Rishta, can be found on websites of a member of Tahrir at the following URL:

It is in the form of an answer to a question from a member. The answer attempts to quote verses of general meaning and avoid the very specific evidences. But it then goes on to specify that the particular narrations are specific to the Prophet. Ironically Tahrir recognizes the principle which would utilize the narrations specifically and not the general texts, based upon the hermeneutic principle, “Hamal al-khass ala’a al-am”/”We apply the specific over the general” – see Shakhsiya Islamiya volumes 2 and 3 where this is applied and discussed extensively by an-Nabhani the founder of Hizb ut-Tahrir.

[2] Imam Muhammad al-Shawkani (1759–1834) was a prolific author and scholar, regarded as a great Hadith master and specialist in usul and fiqh.

[3] Abu al-Barkat Majid ad-deen ibn Taymiyyah al-Hanbali (d. 1255) was a reputable teacher of the hanbali school of Fiqh and the grandfather of the more well known, but controversial Taqi al-Din cited earlier sharing the same view that is being advocated here.

[4] Imam Abu Sulaiman al-Busti al-Khattabi al-Shafii who died 388 hijri (988 CE) was considered a major Imam of the Shafii school and respected across different schools.

[5] ‘The Validity of Islam with a Fasid (irregular) Condition’, vol. 4, p. 210, Dar al-Kutub al-’ilmiyah Beirut; Nayl ul-Awtar min Ahadith Sayid al-Akhbar Sharh Muntaqa al-Akhbar by Imam Muhammad bin Ali al-Shawkani on the collection of hadith collated by Majid al-Din Ibn Taymia (the grandfather and judge, Hadith number: 3209).

[6] Dr Abu Salman Shahjahanpur (1987) Shaikh al-Islam-Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madani-ek Siyasi Mutallah p. 103 Majlis Yadgal-Shaikh-ul-Islam, Pakistan.

[7] Farhat Tabassum, ‘Deoband Ulema’s Movement for the Freedom of India’, p. 143, Manak publications.

[8] A. Guillaume The Life of Muhammad – A translation of Sirat Rasul Allah, pp. 231–233, Oxford Press.

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