What Does Islam Say About
"Forcing People in Religion?"
by Sheikh Sami Al-Majid - Notes by Sheikh Yusuf Estes
Killing? Terrorism? Forced Conversions? Spread with the Sword?
"And KILL them where ever you find them..." [Noble Quran 2:191]
"Let There Be No Compulsion in Religion." [Noble Quran 2:256]
A basic and fundamental truth established by the sacred texts of Islam (Quran and Hadeeth) is that: - "No one can be forced to accept Islam!"
It is the duty and obligation of the Muslims to establish proof and validity of Islam to the people in order for the truth to be distinct from falsehood. Muslims must present the truth and proofs of Islam and then allow others the freedom of choice to accept or reject the proofs.
Once that is done, whoever wishes to accept Islam may do so and whoever desires to continue in some other way may do so.
No one is to be threatened or harmed in any way for choosing not to accept Islam.
Everyone is offered the following three options when Islamic Law is in force:
Accept that there is only One deity to worship and obey His commandments (i.e.; be a Muslim)
Reject Islam but agree to live together in peace without waging war or subverting or contriving against authority.
There are two principle sources of proof for the Muslim. They are:
The Quran - considered by Muslims to be the absolute Speech or Recitation of Allah, the Almighty. ('Quran' Ar. from the root; "Qara'a": to recite; Quran; lit. That which is recited). More about Quran . . . [click]
The Hadith - teachings of Muhammad, peace be upon him. (Hadith - Ar. meaning, stories or narrations. The Hadiths have been collected, authenticated [in collections by Bukhari and Muslim called 'Sahih', categorized, preserved and memorized for over 1,400 years; all in the original language [Arabic]). More about Hadith . . . [click]
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said Allah said, He forbids Himself to oppress and He forbids the believers from oppressing.
The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) also said - "Help your brother in oppression, whether he is being oppressed or if he is the oppressor".
When asked how could anyone help his brother if he is an oppressor, he replied, "Stop him."
He also said, "Whoever shows no mercy, will not be shown mercy on the Day of Judgment"
Note: It is forbidden (and impossible according to the meaning of the word "Islam") to ever compel anyone to accept Islam by force.
Please review the detailed meaning of the words Islam, Jihad and Qital before continuing to read:
Islam['Islam'; Ar. from the root "Salama" (silm), to be in peaceful submission; to surrender; to obey; peace; Islam lit. 'The active willful surrender, submission, obedience, in purity to the will of another (Allah) in complete peace.']
The understanding from the meaning of the word Islam itself makes it clear that there is no way that you could possibly force someone to do something that requires them to do it of their own free will and accord. If someone were forced to enter Islam then it would not be Islam anyway, as a condition of Islam is that it is by free choice in peace. Forcing people into Islam is totally illogical and certainly not acceptable in concept nor practice.
More about the word Islam [click]
Jihad & Qital: Please Note: The word most often used in the Quran regarding battles, military confrontations and wars is not "jihad" - it is "Qital"
JIHAD - There are two (2) important points that we would like to visit regarding this most discussed and often misrepresented topic called, jihad.
The meaning of the word; ['jihad'; Ar. from the root "Jahada", to struggle; assert oneself, as in making great effort to arrive at a conclusion as to the meaning and interpretation of Islamic Law (ijtihad); strive, as in, striving to complete a monumental task (jahid); jihad lit. 'The struggle to attain the objective.]
The principle purpose of the institution of jihad. It must be understood that jihad according to Shari'ah (Islamic Law) was instituted by Allah, The Law Giver Himself, only for the purpose of raising, protecting and defending the Deen (way of Islam; La ilaha illa Allah [none has the right to be worshipped, except Allah.]).
QITAL - The word "Qital" is from the root "Qatala" and implies the English word "combat" and also when in the form of "iqtul" (the imperative of the verb) it means "killing in mortal combat".
See Footnote About JIHAD (1)
The word "jihad" is often associated with something similar to the "Holy Wars" - wherein military expeditions were undertaken by the Crusaders under the orders from the Pope of the Catholic Church in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries against the people of Jerusalem, wherein they killed anyone and everyone without discretion, including Jews, Muslims and even non-Catholic Christians. Blood was spilled without regard to human life to the extent it was reported "We were in blood up to the legs of our horses". The crusaders carried away great wealth and some knights even built their own mini-kingdoms.
Islam had forbidden anything like this five hundred (500) years prior with the revelation in Quran clearly enjoining upon the believers never to engage against those who are not engaging against you in warfare.
Other limits were also imposed, such as not killing anyone who was not actually fighting, not killing the clergy, sparing the lives of women, children, livestock and not even destroying agriculture or infrastructure.
The Quran was the first document of its kind in history to offer limitations and restrictions in open combat. Muslims were forbidden to engage in any combat for personal gain, revenge, or tribal disputes common at the time of revelation. Muslims were ordered not to engage in combat of any kind except within the very strict limitations offered by Almighty Allah.
Enemies who were captured were not to be tortured or subjected to humiliation for the sake of entertainment, personal vindication or revenge. Captured prisoners were offered the same food and drink as the Muslims, given the opportunity to learn about Islam and witness the humble devotion of Muslims toward Almighty God.
In some cases prisoners were offered freedom in exchange for teaching and educating the Muslims. Others accepted Islam and were totally accepted as Muslims citizens within the community of the believers.
All of this was fourteen (14) centuries - before the Geneva Convention!
Among the many decisive pieces of evidence in Islam to prove that "There is no compulsion in Islam" are the following:
Allah says in His Quran:
"Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth has been made clear from error. Whoever rejects false worship and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. And Allah hears and knows all things." [Noble Quran 2:256]
Allah also says in Quran:
"If it had been your Lord's will, all of the people on Earth would have believed. Would you then compel the people so to have them believe?" [Noble Quran 10:99]
And Allah says:
"So if they dispute with you, say I have submitted my whole self to Allah, and so have those who follow me.' And say to the People of the Scripture and to the unlearned: Do you also submit yourselves?' If they do, then they are on right guidance. But if they turn away, your duty is only to convey the Message. And in Allah's sight are all of His servants." [Noble Quran 3:20]
Allah The Almighty has also said:
"The Messenger's duty is but to proclaim the Message." [Noble Quran 5:99]
It is important to note that these last two verses were revealed in Madinah. This is significant, since it shows that the ruling they gave was not just contingent on the Muslims being in Mecca in a state of weakness.
Some people might be wondering that if Islam indeed advocates such an approach, then what is all this we hear about jihad? How can we explain the warfare that the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Companions waged against the pagans?
The answer to this is that jihad in Islamic Law can be waged for a number of reasons, but compelling people to accept Islam is simply not one of them.
The reason why jihad was first permitted in Islam was so the Muslims could defend themselves against persecution and expulsion from their homes.
Allah, Most High says:
"To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged and verily Allah is Most Powerful for their aid (They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right (for no cause) except that they say, Our Lord is Allah'. Did Allah not check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid his cause, for truly Allah is full of strength and might." [Noble Quran 22:39-40]
Many of the earliest scholars mention that these were the first verses of the Quran that was revealed regarding jihad. Thereafter the following verses were revealed:
"Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loves not transgressors. And kill them wherever you catch them and drive them out from whence they drove you out, for terrorism is worse than killing. But do not engage in combat with them at the sacred mosque unless they engage you in combat there. But if they combat against you, kill them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith. But if they cease, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And combat them on until there is no more terrorism or oppression and there prevail justice and faith in Allah. But if they cease, don't let there be hostility except to those who practice oppression." [Noble Quran 2:190-193]
From this point on, the scope of jihad was broadened from being purely for defense against direct attack to being inclusive of resistance against those who suppress the faith and deny people the freedom to choose their religion for themselves. This came later, because it is legislated for the Muslims only when they are capable of doing so. In times of weakness, Muslims may only fight against direct attack.
As for the spread of Islam, this is supposed to take place peacefully by disseminating the Message with the written and spoken word. There is no place for the use of weapons to compel people to accept Islam. Weapons can only be drawn against those who persecute and oppress others and prevent them from following their own consciences in matters of belief. The Muslims cannot just stand by while people are being denied the right to believe in Islam and their voices are being crushed.
This is the meaning of Allah's words:
"And fight them on until there is no more terrorism or oppression and there prevails a way for justice and faith in Allah." [Noble Quran 2:193]
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said in his letter to the Roman governor Heracles:
"I invite you to accept Islam. If you accept Islam, you will find safety. If you accept Islam, Allah will give you a double reward. However, if you turn away, upon you will be the sin of your subjects." [Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim]
Once people have heard the Message without obstruction or hindrance and the proof has been established upon them, then the duty of the Muslims is done. Those who wish to believe are free to do so and those who prefer to disbelieve are likewise free to do so.
Even when the Muslims are compelled to fight and then subdue the land, their duty thereafter is to establish Allah's law in the land and uphold justice for all people, Muslim and non-Muslim. It is not their right to coerce their subjects to accept Islam against their will. Non-Muslims under Muslim rule must be allowed to remain on their own faith and must be allowed to practice the rights of their faith, though they will be expected to respect the laws of the land.
Had the purpose of jihad been to force the unbelievers to accept Islam, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would never have commanded the Muslims to refrain from hostilities if the enemy relented. He would not have prohibited the killing of women and children. However, this is exactly what he did.
During a battle, the Prophet (peace be upon him) saw people gathered together. He dispatched a man to find out why they were gathered. The man returned and said: "They are gathered around a slain woman." So Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said:
"She should not have been attacked!" Khalid b. al-Walid was leading the forces, so he dispatched a man to him saying: "Tell Khalid not to kill women or laborers". [Sunan Abu Dawud]
Note: This should not be misconstrued to indicate that the prophet (peace be upon him) made the killing of women (and children, elders, clerics and other innocents) to be Haram (forbidden) at this particular point and time. In fact, it was always Haram (forbidden) and the prophet (peace be upon him) was only reconfirming what was already in place by the Shari'ah (Islamic Law). [Y. Estes]
Therefore, even in the heat of battle against a hostile enemy, the only people who may be attacked are those who are actually participating in the fighting.
Had the purpose of jihad been to force the unbelievers to accept Islam, the rightly guided Caliphs would not have prohibited the killing of priests and monks who refrained from fighting. However, this is exactly what they did. When the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, sent an army to Syria to fight the aggressive Roman legions, he went out to give them words of encouragement. He said: "You are going to find a group of people who have devoted themselves to the worship of Allah (i.e. monks), so leave them to what they are doing."
We have demonstrated that it is a principle in Islam that there is no compulsion in religion and we have discussed the objectives of jihad. Now, we shall turn our attentions to some texts that are often misunderstood.
One of these is the verse:
"But when the forbidden months are past, then fight the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them and beleaguer them and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war). But if they repent and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them, for Allah is oft-forgiving, most merciful." [Noble Quran 9:5]
Some people especially some contemporary non-Muslim critics of Islam have tried to claim that this verse abrogates the verse "Let there be no compulsion in religion." They argue that the generality of this statement implies that every unbeliever who refuses to accept Islam must be fought. They support their allegation by pointing out that this verse is one of the last verses to be revealed about fighting.
However, this verse in no way abrogates the principle in Islamic Law that there is no compulsion in religion. It may be general in wording, but its meaning is quite specific on account of other verses of the Quran that are connected with it as well as on account of a number of pertinent Hadith. We will be discussing these texts shortly.
The people being referred to by this verse are the pagan Arabs who had been waging war against the Prophet (peace be upon him) and who had broken their covenant and treaties with him. This verse is not speaking about the other pagan Arabs who did not break their treaties and take up arms against the Muslims. It is also most definitely not speaking about the Jews or Christians, or, for that matter, the pagans who were living outside of Arabia.
If we look at the verses in Surah al-Tawbah immediately before and after the one under discussion, the context of the verse becomes clear.
A few verses before the one we are discussing, Allah says:
"There is a declaration of immunity from Allah and His Messenger to those of the pagans with whom you have contracted mutual alliances. Go then, for four months, to and fro throughout the land. But know that you cannot frustrate Allah that Allah will cover with shame those who reject Him." [Noble Quran 9:1-2]
In these verses we see that the pagans were granted a four month amnesty with an indication that when the four months were over, fighting would resume. However, a following verse exempts some of them from the resumption of hostilities. It reads:
"Except for those pagans with whom you have entered into a covenant and who then do not break their covenant at all nor aided anyone against you. So fulfill your engagements with them until the end of their term, for Allah loves the righteous." [Noble Quran 9:4]
So when Allah says: "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them and beleaguer them and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)", we must know that it is not general, since the verse above has qualified it to refer to the pagan Arabs who were actually at war with the Prophet (peace be upon him) and those who broke their covenants of peace.
This is further emphasized by a few verses later where Allah says:
"Will you not fight people who broke their covenants and plotted to expel the Messenger and attacked you first?" [Noble Quran 9:13]
Ibn al-Arabi, in his commentary on the Quran, writes: "It is clear from this that the meaning of this verse is to kill the pagans who are waging war against you." Ahkam al-Quran:2/456
Allah also says right after the verse under discussion
"How can there be a covenant before Allah and His Messenger with the pagans except those with whom you have made a treaty near the Sacred Mosque? As long as they stand true to you, stand true to them, for Allah does love the righteous." [Noble Quran 9:7]
Another misunderstood text is the Hadith where the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "I have been commanded to fight the people until they bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that I am Allah's Messenger. If they do so, then there blood and their wealth are inviolable except in the dispensation of justice, and their affair is with Allah. [Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslims]
There can be no qualms about this Hadith's authenticity, since it is recorded in both Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. However, this Hadith is also not to be taken generally, out of context, and in complete disregard to all the other textual evidence.
The term "people" here is not referring to all humanity. Ibn Taymiyah says: "It refers to fighting those who are waging war, whom Allah has permitted us to fight. It does not refer to those who have a covenant with us with whom Allah commands us to fulfill our covenant." Majmu al-Fatawa (19/20)
Islam commands the Muslims to be just with people of other faiths, whether they be Jews, Christians, or pagans. Islam calls us to treat them kindly and try to win their hearts as long as they do not take up arms against us. Allah says:
"Allah forbids you not with regard to those who neither fight against you for your faith nor drive you out of your homes from dealing kindly and justly with them, for Allah loves those who are just." [Noble Quran 60:8]
Allah commands Muslims to respect their non-Muslim parents and to accompany them in this world in a good manner.
The Quran commands us to argue with them in the best manner. Allah says:
"Argue with the People of the Scripture in the best manner except those among them who act oppressively. Say: We believe in the revelation that has come down to us and in that which came down to you. Our God and your God is one, and it is to Him we submit ourselves as Muslims." [Noble Quran 29:46]
We are ordered to uphold our covenants with the non-Muslims and not betray them or transgress against them. The Prophet (peace be upon him) gave a stern warning to us against killing a non-Muslim with whom we are at peace. He said: "Whoever kills one with whom we have a covenant will not smell the scent of Paradise." [Sahih Muslim]
The faith of a Muslim is not acceptable unless he believes in all of the Prophets who were sent before (peace be upon them all). Allah says: