Date: 6/22/2005


Is Islam spread by the sword? In fact, there is such a thing as forced conversion. Recently, in the Maluka Islands of Indonesia, in the Nuba areas of Sudan, among some students in Egypt there is evidence of forced conversion to Islam through threats, savage violence and kidnapping. Islamic scholars don't have to try very hard to find Qur'anic condemnation of these actions: “There shall be no coercion in matters of faith”. All Islamic jurists believe that forced conversion is a sin, so how can anyone justify forced conversion and wasn't this how Islam spread in the first place? HISTORY From the beginning of Islam, under Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) various Jewish tribes joined his community signing the Constitution of Medinah in 622 AD. Not only were they to protect one another, but they would be treated according to their own laws. Under him, Muslims did fight wars but did not demand conversion of the vanquished, the Qur'an only permitted war in defence of people oppressed or attacked for believing in God (2:190-193). When the Prophet was offered leadership in Mecca on condition that he make an accommodation with the local religion, Sura 109 was revealed: “Say: Oh you who deny the truth [al-kafirun], I do not worship that which you worship, and neither do you worship that which I worship. And I shall not worship that which you have worshipped, and neither will you ever worship that which I worship. Unto you, your moral law, and unto me, mine!” When it came to monotheists, such as Jews and Christians, the Qur'an calls them “People of the Book” who are followers of authentic religions, so while there are some verses which warn against trusting them, they are still worshippers of the same God - and they are not the only ones, since the Qur'an says prophets have been sent to all nations. Under Abu Bakr and later caliphs, there were wars of expansion of a political rather than religious kind. Muslims weren't allowed to take the lands or settlements which were conquered, but set up their own garrison towns, while local people remained free to practice their own religions. When Muhammad ibn al-Qasim invaded Sind in 712 AD and first encountered Hindus, the Islamic scholars gave a fatwa that Hindus are to generally be treated as “People of the Book”, and this was extended to all the other religions of the subcontinent (Buddhism, Jainism etc). This is not to support the invasions, which I believe were politically motivated and have no religious justification. Other countries (such as Malaysia and Indonesia) became Muslim without a preceding invasion. ARGUMENTS The justifications for forced conversion rely heavily on Sura 9, especially verse 5: “And so, when the sacred months are over, slay those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God wherever you may come upon them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in every conceivable place. Yet if they repent and take to prayer, and render the purifying dues, let them go their way: for, behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.” This does seem quite clear support for forced conversion except when seen in the context of other rules only to fight in self defence, not to force anyone into faith, that if opponents stop being hostile you must also, and the very next line which requires any non-believer who seeks protection must be given it and taken to safety. Sura 9:123: “O you who have attained to faith! Fight against those deniers of the truth who are near you, and let them find you adamant; and know that God is with those who are conscious of Him.” The context of Sura 9 was preparation for defence of the early Muslims from a plan by the Emperor Heraclius of Byzantium to invade Medinah and destroy the whole Muslim community. In the event the Byzantines seem to have changed their minds and the prophet led his army back in line with the rule of only fighting in self-defence. It was specific to particular aggressors, not general to non-believers. Another argument is that non-Muslims under a Muslim State have to pay jizya ­ a tax which exempts them from military service. Scholars disagree whether non-Muslims can avoid the tax by agreeing to fight alongside Muslims in defence of the State, but that's not important here. What matters is that it gives people a motive to convert. There are instances when it was used in that way, but jizya is also supposed to be far less than zakaat paid by all Muslims. In the early periods, it seems it worked as an incentive for Muslim lieutenants to refuse to let people convert as it would mean a loss of revenue. Some people say the Islamic Empire was undermined by too many people converting to Islam, reducing resources to maintain the administration. Still, educating others of Islam is important, but it should be in a kindly manner, as it is Satan who wants to create discord between us (17:53). The only duty is to pass on the message and the Prophet was told we shouldn't try to do any more, even if people turn away ­ there are so many references to this that it seems unmistakable: 4:80, 6:107, 16:82, 21:109, 24:54, 39:41, 42:48, 60:8, 64:12, 88:21. Still, people do make "mistakes", sometimes brutally as in the Maluka Islands ­ and when this happens Muslims should be as opposed to forced conversions as non-Muslims. I believe it is our religious duty. .......................000000000