From Medina to Runnymede: Comparing the Foundational Legacies of the Constitution of Medina and the Magna Carta

Jeremy Kleidosty

Abstract: Identifying an Islamic constitutional tradition can be controversial due to orthodox Muslim understandings of God’s sovereignty and agency. Further complicating such discussions are arguments surrounding the compatibility of Muslim traditions with international norms alternately referred to as ‘Western’ or ‘universal’, depending upon one’s political preferences. This comparative examination of Muhammad’s ‘Constitution of Medina’ and the Magna Carta argues that where there is assent and accountability, there is also agency. Just as the relatively spare discussion of rights in the Magna Carta laid the foundations of what would become a far more expansive constitutional tradition in the West, the very existence of Muhammad’s covenant along with the fact that this covenant details specific tribal duties with corresponding rights to societal goods and a vision of the rule of law, indicates that Islamic states can indeed codify and negotiate the challenges of governing, even within the framework of a transcendent law (sharīʿa). Assessing the unique constitutional characteristics of the ‘Constitution of Medina’ and the Magna Carta will reveal that each of these documents, while not properly constitutions, are concerned with fundamental constitutional issues that have surprising resonance in the aftermath of the Arab Revolutions of 2011 and in other redistributions of international power.

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