When Medina Is not an Ideal State

An effort building Islamic state usually refers to what scholars called as a Medina state. Some scholars, at least Robert N Bellah (1976) believe Medina is ideal and perfect state in which religious and tribal diversities became harmony. This claim often becomes reason and judgment to build Islamic state. However, Khalil Abdul Karim in his book Daulah Yatsrib; Basa’ir fi ‘Am al-Wufud (The state of Yatsrib [Medina]; Research the age of delegation) shows a black story of Medina. This book specifically researches on the age of Delegation, the period in which the Arab’s tribes largely become Muhammad’s followers. This period occurs from five to ten years when Muhammad lives in Medina. What Karim researches this period is to show the black point of Medina history. It is important, I think, because the Moslems’ reason always promotes Medina as the highest civilization state. Medina, therefore, I think, is not a reference of Islamic state.

Karim has several reasons in research Medina. First, ‘am al-wufud (the age of Delegation) is more than half of Muhammad’s life in Medina. Second, this period have inside numerous information, knowledge and primary data about geography, economics, and ideology of Arab at that time. Third, interposition of Muhammad faces various delegations from other countries/tribes and delegations’ interaction with Muhammad that can show many black sides of Medina’s history. Fourth, the delegations is more political than pure religious. Fifth, Muhammad has different responses within serving the delegation. Muhammad, sometimes, shows his capacity as announcer a new ideology (Islam), another time he is a leader of Quraish’s state (community), even he also shows as the highest military leader.

Researching the age of delegation, Karim wants to show on both how Muhammad’s success building Medina society and black side of Muhammad’s history at that time. In this book, Karim also explains how Muhammad conquers other tribes and countries, which are against Muhammad. Therefore, Muhammad sent a letter to the king of Roman, Sasanid, and Bahrain, to name only a few, and gave choices; become Muslim, or non-Muslim but paying tax (Jizyah) to Islam, or will be attacked.

Besides that, the consequence of this period is collection alms (shadaqah) and property from tribes that were under Muhammad’s power. Therefore, according to Karim, the expansion is not religious motive, but it is to dominate properties and the girls of defeated tribes. Muhammad, as a result, is war commander who stands in front of his soldiers. However, before declaring war to certain tribe/country, Muhammad negotiates and deals with that country/tribe. Hence, Muhammad is also god politician and diplomat. He has capability to communicate for everyone, whatever his social class is.

Furthermore, according to Karim, the notion and effort to build “Medina State” was the dream of ancestors’ Muhammad. The Muhammad’s choice to marry the rich merchant, Siti Khadijah, is for both Islamic mission and Muhammad’s power in Arab. Karim gives deeper explanation about the dream of ancestors’ Muhammad (Quraisy) in his previous book, Quraisy min al-Qabilah ila ad-Daulah al-Markaziyyah (Translate into Indonesia, Hegemoni Quraisy; Agama, Budaya dan Kekuasaan, 2002).

What Karim writes in his book, I think, is very useful, at least covering the political and social condition in Medina, because most of scholars just cover one aspect of Muhammad’s life, especially his success. Explaining specific period of Muhammad’s life, this book is very complete in describing history of Islam, both the success of Islam and its failure. The purpose of this book, I think, wants to show the position of Muhammad as prophet, politician, and diplomat and war commandant. As a prophet, Muhammad wants to liberate Arab societies, while as politician; he also wants to continue the dream of ancestors’ Muhammad, namely building “Quraish state”. As a war commander, Muhammad warred against some tribes/countries.

As a result, Medina, I think, cannot become reference to build Islamic state. Moreover, the notion of Islamic state building is contrary with pluralism and multicultural values. We cannot ignore the black story of Medina state.


One thought on “When Medina Is not an Ideal State”

  1. Salaam Hatim,

    I like your posting.

    The idea of Medina as an ideal state rather than an ideal state in the making is a romantic idea, but obviously not totally true.

    I am presently researching the period of al-jahiliyya and wufud with the intention of demonstrating that the exegesis of the Qur’an needs to focus on historical contexts of each meeting with each community.

    My general thesis here is that Muhammad was a man of his time, he had to make arrangements for the context he lived in and with the specific leaders he had to deal with. There are universal principles to be drawn by his meetings with delegations but it is dangerous to over simplify. For instance, if all Christians were like the Christians of Abyssinia there would not be many problems between Christians and Muslims, and if Christians were all like the Christians following Maslama there would never be any peace.

    I’ll have to read Karim’s book and related articles…

    Thank you.

    all the best

    Richard Kimball


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