Introducing the Muslim market in Madinah
Since production and trade are two key elements for the development of a city, transformations that the city-state of Madinah underwent show that the markets of Madinah both conceptually and spatially had been affected too following the Hijrah. At first, the Muslims used to avail themselves of the existing markets most of which have been controlled by the Jews. In these markets the blasphemous and perverse Jews perpetrated many errant practices, so the Muslims gradually developed a strong aversion to doing business there. And so a new market controlled by the Muslim community was shortly set up.
What kind of inconveniences the Muslims had to swallow in the existing Jewish markets could be discerned from two incidents. Firstly, in the aftermath of the battle of Badr, the Prophet (pbuh) went to the market of one of the Jewish tribes, Banu Qaynuqa’ – it was the most recognized and most widely used market in Madinah – hoping that reflecting on the miracle of Badr, in which a small Muslim army emphatically defeated the Makkans, might bring a change of heart in them. However, they snubbed the Prophet (pbuh) haughtily telling him: “O Muhammad, do not be deluded by that encounter, for it was against men who had no knowledge of war, and so thou didst get the better of them. But by God, if we make war on thee, thou shalt know that we are the men to be feared.”
The second incident is that in the same market-place a Muslim woman, who had come to sell or exchange some goods, was grossly insulted by one of the Jewish goldsmiths. A Jew and a Muslim man, a Helper who came to the woman’s rescue, have been killed as a result. This brought things to a climax and the Banu Qaynuqa’ tribe had to be banished from Madinah.
After selecting the site of the new market, the Prophet (pbuh) said to the Muslims: “This is your market, it is not to be narrowed (by acquiring and building, for instance) and no tax is to be collected from it.” The system of occupying the market space followed the pattern of occupying the mosque space: he who came first to a space occupied it, and it remained his until he wanted to leave. The Prophet (pbuh) has said about mosques that they belong to everybody and that reserving certain places for certain people – like a camel which fixes its place – is not acceptable. So unwavering was the Prophet (pbuh) about observing the instituted rules and regulations pertaining to the market that he once asked that an illegally erected tent in it be burned. A man from the Banu Harithah clan had earlier erected it and had been selling dates in it.
The existence of the new market powered with the new tawhidic vision quickly necessitated the establishment of a new institution called al-Hisbah, the center of attention of which was the maintenance of law, order and fair trading in the market. In other words, its focus was enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil (al-amr bi al-ma’ruf wa al-nahy ‘an al-munkar). The Prophet (pbuh) used to go occasionally to the market to look for himself into what was going on there and correct the actions of errant traders, thus setting a precedent that was followed for a long time by subsequent Muslim caliphs and governors.
The market was positioned roughly on the northwest side of the Prophet’s mosque, not too far from it. A number of houses stood between the market and the mosque complex. The market was approximately five hundred meters long and more than one hundred meters wide. When the first site for the market was selected a section thereof belonged to Ka’b b. al-Ashraf – one of the most perfidious and high-ranking Jews in Madinah. No sooner had the site been chosen and a tent put up, than Ka’b arrived and contemptibly cut the tent ropes. The Prophet (pbuh) calmly remarked: “Surely, we shall reposition it to a place which will frustrate him more.” Some of the land needed for the market also belonged to the Banu Sa’idah clan, but they wittingly renounced it giving it to the Prophet (pbuh) and the community.
The market was large enough to comfortably accommodate everything expected from a city market. It was in fact bigger than what was needed at that juncture. It was yet another manifestation of the Prophet’s visionary disposition, as Madinah was expanding at a fast pace in almost every regard, and the surrounding tribes and communities were increasingly spawning their interest to be on familiar terms with what was then considered as a rising wonder.
The significance of the market location
Thanks to the Madinah topography, the market was situated in close proximity to the “natural main entrance” to the city, also located on the northwest side. Irrespective of the direction from which individuals or caravans might have approached the city, they would customarily use that entrance. Its strategic location, rich and diverse commodity supply, and its reputation as a “clean”, conducive and fair place for doing business, made the market alluring to whosoever entered Madinah for whatever motive or whosoever was even remotely keen on trade. The Jewish markets were thus significantly reduced in importance and with them the Jews as a community and their overall standing in the region. Indeed, this was an important psychological victory for the Muslims, which proved of the essence in the impending broader conflict between the two sides and which at the end resulted in the expulsion of the Jews from the city.
If one were to examine the overall economic situation in Madinah on the eve of the advent of Islam, and in which the Jews had the upper hand over the Arabs, one could easily grasp the significance of the said Muslim triumph over the Jews. In his introduction to the commentary of the Qur’anic chapter al-Hashr, Abul A’la al-Maududi furnishes us with a comprehensive account concerning the subject in question: “Economically they (the Jews) were much stronger than the Arabs. Since they had emigrated from more civilized and culturally advanced countries of
The market was neither too close to nor too far from the Prophet’s mosque complex. Its location was ideal under the circumstances and was pregnant with a few crucial implications for the spatial organization of future Islamic cities. Since Madinah was yet to become purely Islamic in terms of its citizenry, it was inappropriate to position the market too distant from the mosque complex, because the latter in its capacity as a community center and a personification of the Islamic cause, had been established to radiate by means of its form and function the rays of the magnificent Islamic struggle, serving in that way as an inexhaustible and efficient means of da’wah islamiyyah (propagation of Islam). Since it was a busy place offering access to everybody, including the Jews, hypocrites and polytheists, the market was set to be affected someway by the general ambiance generated by the mosque and its wide-ranging activities. Of course, the nearer was one to the complex, the stronger the impact one could come into contact with; nonetheless, though it was separated from the mosque by some houses, yet the market in reality was by no means too far to be influenced by the extraordinary mosque complex dynamism.
Furthermore, being separated from the mosque by some houses proved no less strategic for the market, given that those houses – chiefly such as were built by the Migrants – in a way accounted for an extension of the mosque complex. In fact, they accounted for a sector of another larger complex, i.e., the genuine Islamic neighborhood, which was encompassing the mosque complex. In an Islamic settlement – it could be safely asserted – the houses which surround the principal mosque not only draw benefits from the latter’s facilities, but also complement it in fulfilling the divine purpose, in that the house institution, owing to its outstanding role in the society, also stands in its own way as an epitome of Islamic culture and civilization. As a result, those non-Muslims who would come to the Madinah market were enabled to enjoy – involuntarily though – a great deal of contact with the religion of Islam as embodied in the daily practices of its followers, and as the sole driving force behind their cultural and civilizational accomplishments, even though it as a set of beliefs and rituals failed initially to appeal to them. Indeed, this was an excellent opportunity to gradually lead some people towards softening their position on Islam and Muslims, and even towards an out-and-out change in their standpoint, for such people did not frequent the places of worship, nor did they feel every time disposed to listening to the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions who have been trying hard to sway them with their preaching.
Having the market near the mosque complex also meant facilitating the chore of commanding good and prohibiting evil in it. Some people may have been asked by the Prophet (pbuh) to do so on either a regular or a temporary basis, yet many a mosque-bound individual would be regularly passing through the market for no other purpose except discharging the duty of joining together in the mutual enjoining of Truth, and of patience and constancy, as well as the duty of helping one another in righteousness and piety and not in sin and rancor. What’s more, in determining the market location, both traders and buyers were given a chance to every so often visit the mosque a moment or two not only for their daily prayers, but also for any other looked-for-aims that could be fulfilled under the mosque roof. Such being the case, their attitudes and working culture could be influenced and enhanced by the pervading aura so effortlessly experienced in the mosque, as well as in the attitudes and manners of those patronizing it.
That the market was not so far-flung from the Prophet’s mosque and that it was located in close proximity to the axis leading to the most strategic spot, the ‘main entrance’ to Madinah, may be corroborated by an incident in which the Muslims are said to have been performing the Friday prayer (Jumu’ah) with the Prophet (pbuh) in the mosque. When the Prophet (pbuh) was delivering his sermon (khutbah), a commercial caravan from Syria came to the city. Although the Muslims were in the mosque attending the prayer, yet the news of the caravan’s arrival easily reached them; they may have even caught a glimpse of it, as the area between the mosque and market was not densely populated, especially during the early years. Thereupon, they, except twelve persons, went to the caravan leaving the Prophet (pbuh) standing. And so the following verse was revealed: “But when they see some bargain or some pastime, they disperse headlong to it, and leave thee standing. Say: ‘That which Allah has is better than any pastime or bargain! And Allah is the Best to provide (for all needs).’” (al-Jum’ah 11) The Prophet (pbuh) revealed afterward: “By Him in whose hand is my soul, had you all followed each other from the mosque with nobody remaining in it, a torrent of fire flaring through the valley would have befallen you.”
Judging the incident by the astonishing reaction of a majority of the Muslims – those most intimate with the Prophet (pbuh) like Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, ignored the caravan and stayed in the mosque – it appears as though it took place not long after the Hijrah when many people submitted their wills to Allah – be He exalted – but Faith was yet to fully penetrate and conquer their hearts. Also, it was a time when a code of ethics as to the conduct during the Jumu’ah prayer and towards the mosque on the whole was yet to be completed. It should be also noted here that for sometime the Prophet (pbuh) used to pray the Jumu’ah prayer in such a way that he always performed the prayer first and then delivered the sermon – something like what he always did with the two ‘Id prayers. However, after a period, the sequence was reversed. Ibn Kathir opined that the said incident likely occurred during the first period, that is to say, when the sermon used to be delivered after the prayer.
By the same token, it was timely then for the market to be at a distance from the mosque rather than adjacent to it, since the market was receptive to trading all lawful goods, irrespective of their character, quantity, origin and odor. Even camels and livestock were traded there. Besides, there still existed numerous Arab ancient traditions in the market some of which were objectionable but the Prophet (pbuh) was yet to disallow them. Postponing temporarily the admonishment of certain abhorred practices in the market was favored because the revelation of Islam was a gradual and meticulous process, which lasted about 23 years (13 in Makkah and 10 in Madinah), providing instructions, responses and answers to various dilemmas and developments that the community was going through, so that the heart of the Prophet (pbuh) and the hearts of his followers could be calmed, strengthened and galvanized. The subject of gradually imposing a comprehensive code of ethics for the market users and operators thus resembled and was consistent with the imposition of a majority of the precepts of Islam. The misdemeanors committed in the market for the most part were related to noise, communication, cleanliness and neatness. Hence, the market with its multifarious bustling life was rather unfit to abut the mosque complex. Had it been so, it would have appeared something of an oddity whenever juxtaposed with the character of the on-going pursuits within the complex domain. The efficiency, serenity and required reverence of the mosque would likewise have been at times seriously affected.
Activities in the market
Due to its size, position and role, the market of Madinah was a lively and fascinating place. Diverse crafts and industries operated in it. There were butchers, blacksmiths, skin tanners, carpenters, perfumers, tailors, weavers, moneychangers, as well as the sellers of a variety of articles, such as food, grain, water, milk, fruits, vegetable, baskets, vessels, utensils, swords, bows, arrows, firewood, articles for home, articles made of gold and silver, a range of clothes and textiles including silk, etc. Camels, horses and sheep, plus all the items associated with domestic animals, were also traded in the market. There were many porters who worked either for some charitable purposes or to secure sustenance for themselves. Not only the citizens of Madinah – including the Jews and those Arabs who were yet to embrace Islam – could be found trading in the market but also some foreign traders. In a hadith, a companion Ka’b b. Malik narrates how he met in the market of Madinah a Christian farmer from
So familiar have the Muslims been with various crafts and industries that the Prophet (pbuh) occasionally made use of some of them when teaching his companions in parables. It is understood that if parables were to attain their projected results, they have to be expounded in a language easily comprehended by listeners. The Prophet (pbuh) thus once said: “The example of a good companion (who sits with you) in comparison with a bad one, is like that of the musk seller and the blacksmith’s bellows; from the first you would either buy musk or enjoy its good smell while the bellows would either burn your clothes or your house, or you get a bad nasty smell thereof.” Umar b. al-Khattab once said that if he were to be a trader someday, he would choose nothing over the perfumes business, because even if he failed to make profit from it he would at least enjoy the odor of his merchandise longer. It should be observed, however, that as a form of spiritual lessons the parables employed by the Qur’an and the Prophet (pbuh) in agricultural terms are far more abundant and repetitive than those in relation to commerce; hence, agriculture by and large played a more prominent role in the economic life of Madinah.
However, trading was not the only preoccupation of those who would frequent the market. Some people used to come to the market for discharging the duty of enjoining good and forbidding evil (al-amr bi al-ma’ruf wa al-nahy ‘an al-munkar) because markets in general – more than many other places indeed – represent a fertile ground for committing many unsolicited deeds. If left unchecked, a number of vices could gain a foothold in markets, proliferating then in ways that could painfully affect other societal establishments. Against the background of this markets’ trademark only will it be appropriate to view a hadith wherein the Prophet (pbuh) has stated that while mosques (regardless of their sizes and locations) are the dearest sites to Allah – be He exalted – the markets are most loathed (if their position and role are misused or altered).
Allah says in the Qur’an: “As for those who sell the faith they owe to Allah and their own solemn plighted word for a small price, they shall have no portion in the Hearafter: nor will Allah (deign) to speak to them or look at them on the Day of Judgment, nor will He cleanse them (of sin): they shall have a grievous Chastisement.” (Alu ‘Imran 77) This verse was revealed after a man had displayed some goods in the market swearing by Allah that he had been offered so much for that – that which was not offered – and he said so only to cheat a Muslim.
In the market, the Prophet (pbuh) also executed the men of the Jewish tribe Banu Qurayzah because they had been conspiring with the Makkans who together with their confederates laid a protracted siege around Madinah during the critical battle of the Khandaq in the fifth year following the Hijrah. Trenches were dug beforehand in the market and in them, the execution took place.
With regard to the obligation of commanding good and prohibiting evil in the market, the Prophet (pbuh) himself was an example that the companions enthusiastically strove to emulate. One day, on coming across a man who was attempting to cheat his customers by selling some food that seemed outwardly nice-looking, but on the inside quite bad, the Prophet (pbuh) told the man that deficiencies in goods ought to be made public. He then made that famed statement of his that whosoever cheats Muslims, he does not belong to him, i.e., to the Prophet (pbuh), or to them, i.e., to Muslims. Even when going elsewhere, the Prophet (pbuh) would at times deliberately pass through the market for the same propose, like in the case of going to a people to mark out and help build a mosque for them.
Abdullah b. Umar narrated that a man was often cheated in buying. The Prophet (pbuh) said to him: “When you buy something, say (to the seller): ‘No cheating.” The man used to say it thenceforward.
The Prophet (pbuh) also said: “The trustworthy and honest Muslim trader will be with martyrs on the Day of Judgment.”
A man called al-Tufayl b. Ubayy b. Ka’b one morning visited Abdullah b. Umar and went out with him to the market. When they were out, Abdullah b. Umar did not pass by anyone selling poor merchandise or selling commodities or a needy person or anyone but that he greeted them. When asked why he would go in the morning to the market if he did not want to do what people normally do in it, Abdullah b. Umar replied that he was doing so only for the sake of greeting. “We greet whoever we meet”, said Abdullah b. Umar. Although this occurrence happened – in all likelihood – after the death of the Prophet (pbuh), yet it attests to a significant legacy bequeathed by the Prophet (pbuh), which his companions tried hard to safeguard and uphold. This being the case, it should be furthermore remarked that among the Prophet’s companions Abdullah b. ‘Umar looked at the actions of the Prophet (pbuh) more than anybody else humbly imitating his deeds in every matter to the finest details. Since he lived a long blessed life loyally adhering to the Prophet’s way of life (Sunnah), many people besought God: “O Allah, save Ibn Umar as long as I live so that I can follow him. I don’t know anyone still adhering to the early traditions except him.”
As a result of this amazing attitude of the first generation of the Muslims towards the concepts of marketplace, business and work in general, Allah depicts them in the Qur’an as: “…men whom neither trade nor sale can divert from the remembrance of Allah, nor from regular Prayer, nor from paying Zakah; their (only) fear is for the Day when hearts and eyes will be turned about.” (al-Nur 37)
Business activities outside the market
Some crafts and businesses were performed in some private houses as well, albeit on a smaller scale. Perhaps one of the most attention-grabbing instances is the house of the Prophet’s son, Ibrahim’s, foster-family: Umm Sayf, the foster-mother, and Abu Sayf, the foster-father, who was a blacksmith. The house of Abu Sayf was in one of the Madinah suburbs. One day the Prophet (pbuh) went to see Ibrahim. He was accompanied by his servant Anas b. Malik. When they reached the house, they found Aby Sayf blowing fire with the help of blacksmith’s bellows and the house was filled with smoke.
Some women were very active and productive at home. They performed various household duties. Some jobs that they did could even bring additional income to the family. According to a hadith, a woman brought to the Prophet (pbuh) a woven cloak with an edging. She told the Prophet (pbuh): “I have woven it with my own hands and I have brought it so that you may wear it.” The Prophet (pbuh) accepted it, and at that time he was in need of it.
Many women were busy spinning (gazl), i.e., making thread by drawing out and twisting wool or cotton, in their houses. Spinning was deemed as a woman’s favorite pastime which could give pleasure to the soul and at the same time show Satan the door. Every now and then, some women would perform spinning even in the Prophet’s mosque. They continued to do so until the caliphate of Umar b. al-Khattab when he put an end to this custom.
How productive and hard-working the women of Madinah were can be surmised from the following two accounts. Firstly, the Prophet’s daughter Fatimah, the wife of Ali b. Abi Talib, went one day to her father’s house complaining about the bad effect of the stone hand-mill on her hand. She wanted to ask the Prophet (pbuh) to provide her, if he could, a servant. At the time of Fatimah’s visit, the Prophet (pbuh) was not around, so she spoke to A’ishah, the Prophet’s wife. No sooner had the Prophet (pbuh) returned home and had been told of his daughter’s request, he paid a visit to her. He told Fatimah and her husband Ali: “Shall I direct you to something better than what you have requested? When you go to bed say ‘Subhan Allah’ thirty three times, ‘Alhamdulillah’ thirty three times, and ‘Allahu Akbar’ thirty four times, for that is better for you than a servant.” Ali b. Abi Talib had said that he never failed to recite this ever since.
Secondly, Abu Bakr’s daughter, Asma, said that when she got married with al-Zubayr, they had neither land nor wealth nor slave. She grazed his horse, provided fodder to it and looked after it, and ground dates for his camel. Besides this, she grazed the camel, made arrangements for providing it with water and patched up the leather bucket and kneaded the flour. She was not good in baking the bread, so her female neighbors used to do it for her. Asma continued: “I was carrying on my head the stones of the dates from the land of al-Zubayr which the Prophet (pbuh) had endowed him and it was at a distance of two miles from Madinah.” Sometime later, Asma’s father, Abu Bakr, sent a female servant to her who took upon herself the responsibility of looking after the horse, thus partly relieving Asma of her burden.
Moreover, there existed some small vendors operating at different spots in the city where no harm could be inflicted on anybody. In this case, both the operators and their customers had to respect the rights of thoroughfare users. Such businesses on average were small in nature and catered to certain immediate daily needs of the people. It is reported in a hadith that a destitute man came one day to Asma, Abu Bakr’s daughter, and al-Zubayr’s wife, asking for permission to set up a business under the shadow of her house. Wondering why of so many places in Madinah he chose to start the business right next to her house, Asma asked the man to come back when al-Zubayr, who was absent then, returned so that the decision could be made. When al-Zubayr returned, the man came and he was granted the request. Asma said that the man eventually earned so much that they even sold their slave-girl to him.
The Prophet (pbuh) explicitly prohibited conducting trade inside his mosque, but did not outside it. Several instances of trading activities on a very limited scale outside the mosque during the Prophet’s era have been reported. On account of this, certain markets and even industries abutting the mosque, specifically such as were with tolerable visual, auditory, aromatic and kinetic consequences for every day city life, have been before long introduced to the morphology of the Islamic city, i.e., they constituted part of the city’s midpoint. Other markets and industries, some of which were bound to cause a kind of serious disruption or nuisance to either individuals or institutions, remained customarily situated on the city’s periphery. The extent of their remoteness from the city principal mosque and the residential area surrounding it varied depending on a number of issues, such as the geography of an area, the compactness of residential areas and the availability of space, the vitality and function of the mosque complex, the dynamism and richness of markets activities, the overall socio-political and economic condition of an area, etc.
 Lings Martin (Abu Bakr Siraj al-Din), Muhammad, (Kuala Lumpur: A.S. Noordeen, 1983), p. 161.
 Ibid., p. 161. Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1985), vol. 4 p. 4..
 Ibn Majah,Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Tijarat, Hadith No. 2224.
 Uthman Muhammad ‘Abd al-Sattar, al-Madinah al-Islamiyyah, (Kuwait: ‘Alam al-Ma’rifah, 1988), p. 253.
 Abu Dawud, Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Salah, Hadith No. 861.
 Al-Samahudi, Wafa’ al-Wafa, (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1997), vol. 2 p. 749.
 Badr ‘Abd al-Basit, al-Tarikh al-Shamil li al-Madinah al-Munawwarah, (Madinah, n.pp, 1993), vol. 1 p. 236.
 Ibid., vol. 1 p. 236.
 Ibid., vol. 1 p. 236.
 Abd al-‘Aziz Abdullah b. Idris, Mujtama’ al-Madinah fi ‘Ahd al-Rasul, (Riyadh: Jami’ah al-Malik Su’ud, 1992), p. 209.
Abul A’la al-Maududi, The Meaning of the Qur’an, vol. 14 p. 101.
Mukhtasar Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol. 3 p. 501.
 Ibid., vol. 3 p. 502.
 Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Zakah, Hadith No. 497.
 Ibid., Kitab al-Magazi, Hadith No. 702.
 Ibid., Kitab al-Buyu’, Hadith No. 314.
 Al-Kattani, al-Taratib al-Idariyyah, vol. 2. 32.
 Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Salah, Hadith No. 1416.
 Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Buyu’, Hadith No. 1946.
 Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, vol. 4 p. 126.
The punishment given to Banu Qurayzah was proportionate to their crime. They conspired with the invading enemy against the Muslims during the terrifying battle of the Ditch (Khandaq) when the very existence of Islam and the Muslims was put in jeopardy, in spite of all the peace and collaboration treaties that existed between the Muslims and the Jews.
 Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Iman, Hadith No. 147.
 Al-Kattani, al-Taratib al-Idariyyah, vol. 2 p. 76.
 Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Istiqrad wa
 Ibn Majah, Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Tijarat, Hadith No. 2130.
 Malik b. Anas, al-Muwatta’, Book 53, No. 53.3.6.
 Khalid Khalid Muhammad, Men Around the Messenger, p. 79.
 Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Fada’il, Hadith No. 5733.
 Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Jana’iz, Hadith No. 367.
 Al-Kattani, al-Taratib al-Idariyyah, vol. 2. p. 120.
 Ibid., vol. 2 p. 120.
 Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Nafaqat, Hadith No. 274, 275.
 Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Salam, Hadith No. 5417, 5418.
 Ibid., Kitab al-Salam, Hadith No. 5418.
 Abu Dawud, Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Salah, Hadith No. 1074.
Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 3, Book 47, Hadith No. 782.