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Dynamics of Islamic Jihad

By Dr. Muhammad Sharif Chaudhry

CHAPTER 14

DID ISLAM SPREAD THROUGH SWORD?

  1. The Charge

  2. Rebuttal by the Qur’an

  3. Rebuttal by History

I- The Charge

Muhammad (PBUH), the Prophet of Islam, was born on April 23, 571 A.D. in Makkah, Arabia. At the age of 40 i.e. in the year 610 A.D. he was commissioned as apostle of Allah when he received the first revelation of God through Archangel Gabreil. About three years thereafter he started preaching Islam. During the period he stayed at Makkah the progress of conversion of Islam was very slow due to the fierce opposition of his own tribe. The Quraish not only opposed the new religion tooth and nail but also persecuted and oppressed the newly converted followers of Muhammad (PBUH). The Prophet migrated to Madinah in the year 622 A.D. During his stay at Madinah in a period of  decade or so, the new faith received hundreds of thousands of adherents despite very bitter resistance put up by the forces of paganism. By the time of the death of the Prophet in the year 632 A.D., the whole of Arabian Peninsula had embraced Islam. Within 30 years of the demise of the Prophet, Islam had conquered the hearts of millions of people and had established its hold over many countries of the world. And within hundred years after the death of its teacher, Islam had established the most powerful state which ruled substantial parts of the then known world and had become the creed of hundreds of millions of people. The extraordinary rapidity with which the religion of Muhammad (PBUH) spread over the surface of the globe has given rise to the charge that Islam is a religion of sword which was spread through sword. In this chapter we shall try to examine whether there is any truth in this charge.

We shall first of all examine the evidence of the Qur’an, the revealed book of Islam, and the conduct of the Prophet on the issue before us and then we shall proceed to cite the opinions of the scholars  in the light of historical facts connected with the rapid rise of Islam.

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II-Rebuttal by the Qur’an

No compulsion in Religion: The revealed book of Islam declares in unequivocal and unambiguous terms that there is no compulsion or coercion in religion. Truth has been made distinct form error. Everybody is free to choose between the right and wrong. None can be forced to follow right path. There is full freedom of faith and Islam cannot be thrust upon anybody. According to the Qur’an, Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, was sent by Allah as His messenger to mankind to show them right path. He was sent to convey the message of Allah and not to convert the people forcibly to Islam. He was a messenger and a warner and not a warder over men. The Qur’an makes this fact plain in the following verses:

1.   There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejecteth false dieties and believeth in Allah hath grasped a firm hand-hold which will never break. Allah is Hearer, knower.

––(2 : 256)

2.   And if thy Lord willed, all who are in the earth would have believed together. Wouldst thou (Muhammad) compel men until they are believers?

––(10 : 99)

3.   Then, if they turn away, thy duty (O Muhammad) is but plain conveyance (of the message).

––(16 : 82)

4.   Say: (it is) the truth from the Lord of you (all). Then who-so-ever will, let him believe, and who-so-ever will, let him disbelieve…

––(18 : 29)

5.   But if they are averse, We have not sent thee as a warder over them. Thine is only to convey (the message).

––(12 : 48)

6.   We are best aware of what they say, and thou (O Muhammad) are in no wise a compeller over them. But warn by the Qur’an him who fearth my threat.

––(50 : 45)

7.   Remind them for thou art but a remembrancer. Thou art not at all a warder over them.

––(88 : 21-22)

8.   Say: O disbelievers!

I worship not that which ye worship;

Nor worship ye that which I worship.

And I shall not worship that which ye worship,

Nor will ye worship that which I worship.

Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion.

––(109 : 1-6)

The above mentioned verses of the Qur’an explain the whole philosophy of religion of Islam. The duty of the Messenger of Allah is merely to convey the message of Allah plainly and clearly. When the message is conveyed to the people, the duty of the messenger is done and he is not responsible for the deeds of the people. The Prophet is not appointed as a warder or guard or compeller over men. It is not his duty to bring people to Islam by force. When the message is delivered to the people and Islam is offered to them, then it is for the people to accept it or to reject it. They have freedom of choice as none has the authority to force them to embrace the faith. Whether any body believes or not is not the responsibility of the Prophet.

Conversion through Preaching: Rather Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was enjoined upon to convince the people through fair preaching and peaceful means so that they may believe in Allah and adopt the right path of truth. Persuation, education and preaching are the right ways through which Islam is propagated. The Qur’an, in its following verses, impresses upon the Prophet of Islam and his followers to invite the non-believers to Islam through wisdom and fair exhortation:

1.   Ye are the best community that hath been raised up for mankind. Ye enjoin right conduct and forbid evil, and ye believe in Allah.

––(3 : 110)

2.   Had Allah willed, they had not been idolatrous. We have not set thee as a keeper over them, nor art thou responsible for them.

––(6 : 108)

3.   Revile not those unto whom they pray beside Allah lest they wrongly revile Allah through ignorance……..

––(6 : 109)

4.   And whomsoever it is Allah’s will to guide, He expandeth his bosom unto the surrender, and whomsoever it is His will to send astray, He maketh his bosom close and narrow…….

–-(6 :126)

5.   Say: O mankind! Now hath the truth from your Lord come unto you. So whosoever is guided, is guided only for (the good of) his soul, and whosoever erreth, erreth only against it. And I am not a warder over you.

––(10 : 108)

6.   Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and reason with them in the better way……

––(16 : 125)

7.   And argue not with the people of the scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better…….

––(29 : 46)

8.   Lo! We have revealed unto thee (Muhammad) the scripture for mankind with truth. Then whosoever goeth right it is for his soul, and whosoever strayeth, strayeth only to its hurt. And thou art not a warder over them.

––(39 : 41)

9.   Obey Allah and obey His messenger: but if ye turn away, then the duty of our messenger is only to convey (the message) plainly.

––(64 : 12)

The above mentioned verses are merely a few examples. There are many more verses on the subject. The gist of all the Quranic verses on the subject of our discussion is that the duty of the Prophet is to convey the message of Allah to mankind in plain and clear language. It is not his duty to compel the people to believe in Allah and accept Islam. If anybody believes he believes for his own benefit, and if anybody disbelieves he disbelieves to his own hurt. The Prophet is not responsible or accountable for the actions of others. Therefore, there is no compulsion in religion of Islam. Islam is not forced upon anybody. The people are free to accept it or reject it. Everybody enjoys full freedom in the matters of faith.

Explaining the background of the revelation of the famous verse of the Qur’an (2 : 256) which says: “there is no compulsion in religion”, Ibn Ishaque and other scholars report that one of the Ansar had two sons who were Christians. They were not ready to embrace Islam whereas their father who was an ardent Muslim and a companion of the Prophet wanted to forcibly convert them to Islam. It was on this occasion that the said verse was revealed. The author of Encyclopaedia of Seerah writes a beautiful note to explain the wisdom of this verse:

“Ibn Athir, commenting on this verse, sums up the teaching of the Qur’an in these words: “Do not force anyone to accept Islam for it is so manifest and clear, and arguments and reasoning in its favour are so forceful and convincing, that there is no need to force anyone into it. Whoever receives guidance from God and opens his breast to the truth and has the wisdom to understand argument will accept it voluntarily. And if a person is so blind as not to see any reason in it, his entrance into Islam without understanding is useless. Zamakhshari, commenting on this verse, supports the above view, “God has not prescribed coercion and compulsion in matters of Islam (Faith) but has left it to ability and acceptance.” This verse “Had your Lord willed all the inhabitants of the earth would have believed in Him” (10 : 99), fully confirm this view. If it had been the Wisdom of God that people should be forced into Iman (Faith), He would have created them all in the same faith, but He did not do it and left the whole thing to the voluntary acceptance of the people themselves. The wisdom of this is pointed out in these words: “Your Lord could have made all of you a single community, if he had so willed. But (He willed otherwise) in order to test you in what He has bestowed upon each of you, therefore try to excel one another in good deeds. Ultimately you shall all return to Him: then He will show you the truth about that in which you differ.”

––(5 : 48)

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was sent by God not only to teach and explain the Qur’an (which is the message of Allah) but also to act upon Qur’an and implement its teachings in letter and spirit. He lived an ideal life in accordance with Qur’anic model and the Qur’an calls his conduct and character the most excellent (Khulq-e-Azim). How he could be expected to violate the teachings of the Qur’an and force the people to embrace Islam? How his companions and followers (to whom the Prophet is closer than their own selves and his conduct is model) can be expected to disregard the precedent of the Prophet and force the non-believers to accept Islam at the point of sword?

[Back to the start of this chapter]

 III-Rebuttal by History

History bears witness that Islam has spread through preaching and not by force or sword. None can produce even single example of any forced conversion to Islam during the reign of the Prophet (PBUH) and the right guided caliphs. Later Muslims also followed the practice of the Prophet and his immediate successors and did not force anyone to accept Islam. Other religions owed their expansion to some mighty emperors and powerful rulers, but Islam which spread with miraculous success, far and wide, had no such patronage.

In support of the above mentioned claim that Islam was not spread by the use of sword, we reproduce the views of some Muslim and non-Muslim scholars and historians who have given their judgement in the light of historical data:

1.   “The other great religions,” writes Lothrope in his book ‘New World of Islam,’ “won their way slowly, by painful struggle, and finally triumphed with the aid of powerful monarchs converted to the new Faith. Christianity had its Constantine, Buddhism its Asoka and Zoroastrianism its Cyrus, each lending to his chosen cult the mighty force of secular authority. Not so Islam. Arising in a desert land sparsely inhabited by a nomad race, previously undistinguished in human annals, Islam sallied forth on its great adventure with the slenderest human backing and against the heaviest material odds. Yet, Islam triumphed with seemingly miraculous ease.”

2.   “No other religion in history spread so readily as Islam––The West has widely believed that this surge of religion was made possible by the sword. But no modern scholar accepts that idea, and the Qur’an is explicit in support of freedom of conscience. The evidence is strong that Islam welcomed the people of many diverse religions, so long as they behaved themselves and paid extra taxes. Muhammad constantly taught that Muslims should cooperate with the “people of the Book” (Jews and Christians)…. Testimony is overwhelming that “followers of the Book” were usually given decent treatment, sanctuary and freedom to worship as they wished.”

––(Michener)

3.   “History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.”

––(O’Leary)

4.   “Under the Moorish Governments of Spain, when Islam enjoyed political ascendancy, the large masses of native Christians were protected by a wide toleration, not as a political expedient, but according to the laws of Islam. The Christians were permitted to have their bishops, churches and monasteries, and to be judged by their own laws and tribunals, whenever the question at issue was one that related only to themselves.”

––(Blyden)

5.   “They succeeded because they deserved to succeed; Islam triumphed because it brought a message that was needed by the Oriental world. Before the Heigira, the Mussslmans had endured persecution without defence; later, they put a legitimate resistance and when they became victors they practiced tolerance to a considerable degree. The idolater was not allowed to remain on Muslim soil; but the People of the Book, both Jew and Christian, by paying tribute, had a right to protection, could practice their faith freely, and were considered a part of the community. “He who wrongs a Jew or a Christian”, said Muhammad, “will have me as his accuser”. The Qur’an and the Hadiths are replete with counsels of tolerance the first Mussalman conquerors followed this advice on the whole faithfully ….. When ‘Omar entered Jerusalem, he ordered the Christians not to be molested, neither them nor their churches, and showered favours on the patriarch. When the patriarch invited him to pray in the cathedral he refused only because he feared that this might be used later as a pretext for seizing the church. What a contrast, we cannot help saying, with the entry of the crusaders, advancing in a river of blood up to the knees of the knights and the bridles of the horses, deciding to cut the throats of all Muslim men who had escaped the first slaughter.”

––(Dermenghem)

6.   “The God of nature has written His existence on all His works, and His law in the heart of man. To restore the knowledge of the one, and the practice of the other, has been the real or pretended aim of the prophets of every age: the liberality of Muhammad allowed to his predecessors the same credit which he claimed for himself; and the chain of inspiration was prolonged from the fall of Adam to the promulgation of the Qur’an.”

––(Gibbon)

7.   A European Christian scholar Sir T.W. Arnold in his book ‘The Preaching of Islam’ writes:

“That force was not the determining factor in these conversions may be judged from the amicable relations that existed between the Christian and the Muslim Arabs. Muhammad himself had entered into treaty with several Christian tribes, promising them his protection and guaranteeing them the free exercise of their religion and to their clergy undisturbed enjoyment of their old rights and authority.”

He goes on to say: “From the examples given above of the toleration extended towards the Christian Arabs by the victorious Muslims of the first century of the Hijrah and continued by succeeding generations, we may surely infer that those Christian tribes that did embrace Islam, did so of their own choice and free will.”

“When the Muslim army reached the valley of Jordan and Abu Ubaydah pitched his comp at Fihl, the Christian inhabitants of the country wrote to the Arabs, saying: “O Muslims, we prefer you to the Byzantines, though they are of our own faith because you keep better faith with us and are more merciful to us and refrain from doing us injustice and your rule over us is better than theirs, for they have robbed us of our goods and our homes.”

“Such was the state of feeling in Syria during the campaign of 633 – 639 in which the Arabs gradually drove the Roman army out of the province. And when Damascus, in 637, set the example of making terms with the Arabs, and, thus, secured immunity from plunder and other favourable conditions, the rest of the cities of Syria were not slow to follow. Emessa, Arethusa, Hieropolis and other towns entered into treaties whereby they became tributary to the Arabs. Even the patriarch of Jerusalem surrendered the city on similar terms. The fear of religious compulsion on the part of the heretical emperor made the promise of Muslim toleration appear more attractive than the connection with the Roman Empire and a Christian government, and after the first terrors caused by the passage of an invading army, there succeeded a profound revulsion of feeling in favour of the Arab conquerors”.

Note:    Quotations at serial No. 2 to 6 taken from ‘West’s Tribute to Islam’ by Syed Yaqub Shah.

8.   Now we shall quote an eminent Muslim scholar Syed Ameer Ali, the historian and judge, who has forcefully defended the case of Islam against this charge in his renowned book ‘The Spirit of Islam’. Explaining the reasons why Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions had to take swords in their hands, he writes:

“From the moment of his entry into Medina, Muhammad’s destiny had become intertwined with that of his people, and of those who had invited and welcomed him into their midst. His destruction meant the destruction of the entire body of people who had gathered round the minister of God. Surrounded by enemies and traitors, the ancient servitors of the national gods marching to their slaughter, his followers would have inevitably perished but for the swords in their hands. And it was not until their enemies were upon them that it was declared, “the infidels regard not in a believer either ties of blood or covenant; when they break their oaths of alliance, and attack you, defend yourself”; and again, “Defend yourself against your enemies; but attack them not first: God hateth the aggressor.” To the Moslems self-defence had become a question of self-preservation. They must either submit to be massacred or fight when they were attacked. They chose the later alternative, and succeeded, after a long struggle, in subduing their enemies.”

On the Islamic attitude of freedom of religion and conscience he writes:

“If thy Lord had pleased, verily all who are in the world would have believed together.” “Wilt thou then force men to believe when belief can come only from God?”––“Adhere to those who forsake you; speak truth to your own heart; do good to everyone that does ill to you”: these are the precepts of a Teacher who has been accused of fanaticism and intolerance. Let it be remembered that these are the utterances, not of a powerless enthusiast or philosophical dreamer paralysed by the weight of opposing forces. These are the utterances of a man in the plenitude of his power, of the head of a sufficiently strong and well-organised state, able to enforce his doctrines with the edge of his reputed sword.”

Comparing Islam and Christianity in their attitude towards use of force in conversion, Syed Ameer Ali writes:

Note:    Quotation at serial No. 7 taken from “Islam the Misunderstood Religion” by Syed Muhammad Qutab.

“In religion, as in politics, individuals and sects have preached toleration, and insisted upon its practice only so long as they have been powerless and feeble. The moment they have acquired strength enough to battle with the forces which they wish to supersede, tolerance gives way to persecution. With the accession of Constantine to the throne of the Caesars, Christianity was safe from molestation. But from that period commenced a system of religious persecution in its atrocity paralleled only by that of the Jews. “From the very moment,” says Lecky, “the Church obtained civil power under Constantine, the general principle of coercion was admitted and acted on, both against the Jews, the heretics, and pagans.” They were tortured with every refinement of cruelty; they were burnt at a slow-consuming fire to enable them to think of the charity and humanity of the church of Christ. Father after father wrote about the holiness of persecution. One of the greatest saints of the Church, “a saint of the most tender and exquisite piety”–supplied arguments for the most atrocious persecution. Except during the titanic struggles in Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Christian church, purporting to derive its authority from the Apostles, has never hesitated to encourage war, or to give its sanction, in the name of religion and “the glory of Christ,” to exterminating enterprises against heretics and heathens. These had no claims on Christian humanity or the law of nations; nor have the poor black races now! In the fifteenth century, the Pope granted a special charter by which the non-Christian world was allotted to the Portuguese and Spaniards in equal shares with absolute power to convert the inhabitants in any way they chose! History records how liberally they construed the permission. And all the atrocious doctrines relating to persecution and the treatment of non-Christians are unjustly based upon the words of Jesus himself! Did not the Master say, “Compel them to come in.”?

“In the hour of his greatest triumph, when the Arabian Prophet entered the old shrine of Mecca and broke down the idols, it was not in wrath or religious rage, but in pity, that he said–“Truth is come, darkness departeth,”–announcing amnesty almost universal, commanding protection to the weak and poor, and freeing fugitive slaves.

“Muhammad did not merely preach toleration; he embodied it into a law. To all conquered nations he offered liberty of worship. A nominal tribute was the only compensation they were required to pay for the observance and enjoyment of their faith. Once the tax or tribute was agreed upon, every interference with their religion or the liberty of conscience was regarded as a direct contravention of the laws of Islam. Could so much be said of other creeds? Proselytism by the sword was wholly contrary to the instincts of Muhammad, and wrangling over creeds his abhorrence. Repeatedly he exclaims, “Why wrangle over that which you know not; try to excel in good works; when you shall return to God, He will tell you about that in which you have differed.”

“The spirit of aggression never breathed itself into that code which formally incorporated the Law of Nations with the religion; and the followers of Muhammad, in the plenitude of their power, were always ready to say to their enemies, “Cease all hostility to us, and be our allies, and we shall be faithful to you; or pay tribute, and we will secure and protect you in all your rights; or adopt our religion, and you shall enjoy every privilege we ourselves possess.”

The great Muslim writer further says:

“Islam seized the sword in self-defence, and held it in self-defence, as it will ever do. But Islam never interfered with the dogmas of any moral faith, never persecuted, never established an Inquisition. It never invented the rack or the stake for stifling difference of opinion, or strangling the human conscience, or exterminating heresy. No one who has a competent knowledge of history can deny that the Church of Christ, when it pretended to be most infallible, “shed more innocent blood than any other institution that has ever existed among mankind”; whilst the fate of the man or woman who forsook the Church, or even expressed a preference for any other creed, was no less cruel. In 1521, death and confiscation of property was decreed by Charles V against all heretics. Burnings and hangings, and tearing out and twisting of tongues were the usual penalties for refusal to adopt the orthodox communion. In England, after it became Protestant, the Presbyterians, through a long succession of reigns, were imprisoned, branded, mutilated, scourged, and exposed in the pillory. In Scotland, they were hunted like criminals over the mountains; their ears were torn from the roots; they were branded with hot irons; their fingers were wrenched asunder by thumbkins; the bones of their legs were shattered in the boots. Women were scourged publicly through the streets. The Catholics were tortured and hanged. Anabaptists and Arians were burnt alive. But as regards non-Christians, Catholics and Protestants, orthodox and un-orthodox, were in perfect accord. Musulmans and Jews were beyond the pale of Christendom. In England, the Jews were tortured and hanged. In Spain, the Muslims were burnt. Marriages between Christians and Jews, and Christians and “infidels,” were null and void, in fact prohibited under terrible and revolting penalties. Even now, Christian America burns alive a Christian Negro marrying a Christian white woman! Such has been the effect produced by Christianity.

“Let us turn from this picture to the world of Islam. Whilst orthodox Christianity persecuted with equal ferocity the Jews and Nestorians,–the descendants of the men who were supposed to have crucified its Incarnate God, and the men who refused to adore his mother,–Islam afforded them both shelter and protection. Whilst Christian Europe was burning witches and heretics, and massacring Jews and “infidels,” the Moslem sovereigns were treating their non-Moslem subjects with consideration and tolerance. They were the trusted subjects of the State, councillors of the empire. Every secular office was open to them along with the Moslems. The Teacher himself had declared it lawful for a Moslem to intermarry with a Christian, Hebraw, or Zoroastrian. The converse was not allowed, for obvious political reasons. Moslem Turkey and Persia entrust their foreign interests to the charge of their Christian subjects. In Christendom, difference of faith has been a crime; in Islam it is an accident.”

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