The Constitution of Madinah and the Mayflower Compact
(Primary Source readings)

Overview: This lesson introduces students to the Constitution of Madinah, written in 622 CE and draws parallels with the Mayflower Compact of 1620 CE. Although these two documents are separated by a thousand years of history, they both represent religious communities establishing a charter for self-governance following an experience of persecution and migration to a new land.

Objectives: Students should be able to:

  • describe the historical setting of the Constitution of Madinah and the Mayflower Compact.
  • compare the purposes of the Constitution of Madinah and the Mayflower Compact.


  1. Have students read about the Constitution of Madinah and the Mayflower Compact (Handouts 3:1a & 3:1b respectively) in groups. Then, on Handout 3:1c, have students use a two-column chart to answer the following questions concerning each document in the handout.
    • Who were the participants in the agreement? Describe them.
    • What was the situation that brought about the need to create a pact?
    • What solutions do each of the documents propose for living in peace together?
  2. Have students compare their answers to the questions on both sides of the two-column sheet. Then, on a separate piece of paper, have students list similarities between the two documents and the situations that engendered them.
  3. Then have each student present their observations and create a master list of similarities between the two documents and the historical situations that brought them into being.


The Constitution of Madinah is a voluntary pact among three groups, namely the Muslims from Makkah, the Muslims from Yathrib, and the non-Muslims of Yathrib. It followed a period of disagreement over leadership in Yathrib, which was one reason that the people of the city invited Muhammad to come to the city. The Constitution was unique in Arabian history, because it went beyond the system of tribal loyalty that people depended upon. Not breaking completely with tradition, the Constitution incorporates the tribes into an agreement in which loyalty, rights and responsibilities are based on voluntary association and religious belief. The groups named "Bani" refers to the clans, a subgroup of a tribe, often living in a certain neighborhood in the city. The following excerpt is from a biography of Muhammad’s life, and explains the Constitution further. "[Upon arriving at Madinah,] The Prophet gave orders that his newly acquired courtyard should be made into a mosque. They began work on it immediately. Most of the building was done with bricks, but in the middle of the northern wall, that is, the Jerusalem wall, they put stones on either side of the prayer niche. The palms in the courtyard were cut down and their trunks were used as pillars to support the roof of palm branches, but the greater part of the courtyard was left open.

The Muslims of Madinah had been given the title of Ansar, or Helpers, by the Prophet. The Muslims of Makkah, who had left their homes and emigrated to Madinah, were called Muhajirun, or Emigrants.

It was to be hoped that these two parties would be strengthened by a third, and the Prophet now made a covenant of mutual obligation between his followers and the Jews of the oasis, forming them into a single community of believers but allowing for the differences between the two religions. Muslims and Jews were to have equal status. If either a Jew or Muslim was wronged, then he must be helped to his rights by both Muslims and Jews. In case of war against polytheists, the two parties must fight as one force, and neither Jews nor Muslims were to make a separate peace, but peace was to be indivisible. If there were differences of opinion or dispute or controversy, the matter was to be referred to God through His Messenger. There was, however, no express stipulation that the Jews should formally recognize Muhammad as the Messenger and Prophet of God, though he was referred to as such throughout the document." [From of Martin Lings, Muhammad, His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, pp. 125-126]

The "Constitution of Madinah" (622)

The Prophet’s Document Between the Muhajirun (The Emigrants), the Ansar (The Helpers from Madinah) and the Jews (of Madinah):

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim (In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate)

(1) This is a document from Muhammad, the Prophet (governing the relations) between the believers and the Muslims of Quraysh and Yathrib, and those who followed them and joined them and struggled with them.

(2) They are one community (ummah) to the exclusion of all men.

(3) The Quraysh Muhajirun, according to their present custom, shall pay the blood money within their number and shall redeem their prisoners with the kindness and justice common among believers.

(4) The Banu ‘Awf, … with kindness and justice.

(5) Banu al Harith (Ibn al Khazraj)...

(6) Banu Sa’idah...

(7) Banu Jusham …

(8) Banu al Najjar ….

(9) Banu ‘Amr ibn ‘Awf …

(10) Banu al Nabit…

(11) Banu al Aws… with kindness and justice.

(12a) Believers shall not leave anyone destitute among them by not paying his redemption money or blood money in kindness.

(12b) A believer shall not take as an ally against him the freedman of another Muslim.

(13) The God-Fearing believers shall be against the rebellious or anyone who seeks to spread injustice, or sin, or enmity, or corruption between the believers; the hand of every man shall be against him even if he be a son of one of them.

(14) A believer shall not slay a believer for the sake of an unbeliever, nor shall he aid an unbeliever against a believer.

(15) God’s protection is all-embracing, the least of them may give protection to a stranger on their behalf. Believers are friends and protectors one to the other, to the exclusion of outsiders.

(16) To the Jews who follow us belong help and equality. He shall not be wronged nor shall his enemies be aided.

(17) The peace of the believers is indivisible. No peace shall be made when believers are fighting in the way of God. Conditions must be fair and equitable to all.

(18) In every foray a rider must take another behind him.

(19) The believers must avenge the blood of one another shed in the way of God.

(20a) The God-fearing believers enjoy the best and most upright guidance.

(20b) No polytheist shall take the property or person of Quraysh under his protection nor shall he intervene against a believer.

(21) Whosoever is convicted of killing a believer without good reason shall be subject to retaliation unless the next of kin is satisfied (with blood money), and the believers shall be against him as one man, and they are bound to take action against him.

(22) It shall not be lawful to a believer who holds by what is in this document and believes in God and the Last Day, to help an evil-doer or to shelter him. The curse of God and His anger on the Day of Resurrection will be upon him if he does, neither repentance nor ransom will be received from him.

(23) Whenever you differ about a matter, it must be referred to God and to Muhammad.

(24) The Jews shall contribute to the cost of war so long as they are fighting alongside the believers.

(25) The Jews of Banu ‘Awf are one community with the believers (the Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs), their freedmen and their persons except those who behave unjustly and sinfully, for they hurt but themselves and their families.

(26) The Jews of Banu al Najjar are like the Jews of Banu ‘Awf.

(27) The Jews of Banu al Harith …

(28) The Jews of Banu Sa’idah ….

(29) The Jews of Banu Jusham …

(30) The Jews of Banu al Aws ...

(31) The Jews of Banu al Tha’labah …

(32) Jafnah, a clan of the Tha’labah, are as themselves.

(33) The Jews of Banu al Shutaybah …

(34) The freedmen of Tha’labah are as themselves.

(35) The close friends of the Jews are as themselves.

(36a) None of them shall go out to war save with the permission of Muhammad.

(36b) But he shall not be prevented from taking revenge from a wound. He who slays a man without warning slays himself and his household, unless it be one who has wronged him, for God will accept that.

(37a) The Jews must bear their expenses and the Muslims their expenses. Each must help the other against anyone who attacks the people of this document. They must seek mutual advice and consultation, and righteousness is a protection against sinfulness.

(37b) A man is not liable for his ally’s misdeeds. The wronged must be helped.

(38) The Jews must pay with the believers so long as war lasts.

(39) Yathrib (Madinah) shall be a sanctuary for the people of this document.

(40) A stranger under protection shall be as his host doing no harm and committing no crime.


Paul Johnson writes in his book A History of the American People:

An important event occurred on the voyage, when the Mayflower was two months out from England, and the discomforts of a crowded voyage were leading to dissension. On November 21, the colony’s leaders assembled in the main cabin and drew up a social compact, designed to secure unity and provide for future government. In effect it created a civil body politic to provide ‘just and equal laws,’ which were founded upon church teaching, the religious and secular governance of the colony to be in effect indistinguishable. This contract was based upon the original Biblical covenant between God and the Israelites. But it also reflected early17th-century social-contract theory, which was later to receive such notable expression in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan (1655) and Locke’s Treatise of Civil Government (1690).

What was remarkable about this particular contract was that it was not between a servant and a master, or a people and a king, but between a group of like-minded individuals and each other, with God as a witness and a symbolic co-signatory. It was as though this small community, in going to America together, pledged themselves to create a different kind of collective personality, living a new life across the Atlantic. One of their leaders, William Bradford, later wrote a history, "Of Plymouth Plantation," in which he first referred to them as Pilgrims. But they were not ordinary pilgrims, traveling to a sacred shrine, and then returning home to resume everyday life. They were, rather, perpetual pilgrims, setting up a new, sanctified country that was to be a permanent pilgrimage, traveling ceaselessly towards a millenarian goal. They saw themselves as exceptions to the European betrayal of Christian principles, and they were conducting an exercise in exceptionalism. [From Paul Johnson, A History of the American People, pp 28-29 ]

The Mayflower Compact (1620)

"In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, e&.

Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini, 1620."


Constitution of Madinah

Mayflower Compact