Islam has been accused by certain elements, particularly in recent years, of forcing non-Muslims to convert to Islam, and being intolerant of other religions. To test these accusations, let us view the teachings of the Quran – the ultimate source of authority in Islam – in this regard. The Quran says:
“There is no compulsion in religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in false deities and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.” (Quran 2:256)
The above verse, like many others in the Quran, makes it absolutely clear that no one should be forced or unduly influenced to embrace Islam, for doing so defeats the entire purpose of granting free-will to humanity. A muslim is the one who submits to the will of God – and such submission should entirely be voluntary, as the Quran further states:
“And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed – all of them entirely. Would you then compel the people until they become believers?” (Quran 10:99)
Allah’s purpose of revealing the Quran, and earlier Scriptures such as the Torah and the Gospel, is to reiterate the right path, exhort people unto it, but ultimately, to leave it upon them to make the final choice regarding their beliefs, practices, and deeds.
“Indeed, this [Quran] is a reminder, so whosoever wills, let him take a path to his Lord.” (Quran 76:29)
“There has come to you enlightenment from your Lord. So whoever sees, does so for [the benefit of] his soul, and whoever is blind [does harm] against it. And [say, O Muhammad], ‘I am not a guardian over you.’” (Quran 6:104)
The life of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ reflected these very teachings of the Quran regarding freedom of choice in religion. He signed treaties and pacts with non-Muslim tribes and communities with the aim to establish peace and security in the land. Moreover, he sought to change the perceptions of those who viewed Islam as a threat to their established ways through his exemplary character and deeds; there are several examples of individuals inherently opposed to Islam due to its strict monotheistic code, yet, they ended up embracing Islam after observing the Prophet ﷺ, and personally meeting him.
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Despite the rapid growth of Islam towards the end of the Prophet’s ﷺ life – when the religion had followers in nearly the entire Arabian Peninsula – there were non-Muslims living in the Prophet’s ﷺ very hometown of Medina. Furthermore, he had trading relations with them, as evidenced by the following narration of Ayesha, his wife: “When the Messenger of Allah ﷺ died, his armor had been pawned with a Jewish man for thirty Sa (measures) of barley.” (Reported by Bukhari and Muslim)
To conclude, there is a strong emphasis in Islam on following the Quran, and acquainting all people with its message which is addressed to the entire humanity, regardless of race, color, language or any other distinguishing feature. However, ultimately, each person has a choice to embrace it or not, and forcing or coercing anyone in this regard blatantly contradicts the very own teachings of the Quran and God’s Final Messenger, Muhammad ﷺ.
“And say, ‘The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills – let him believe; and whoever wills – let him disbelieve.’” (Quran 18:29)
Thanks a lot, Abdullah!
Very well written blog! Information is detailed and explained well using references.
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You are absolutely right, Jerry. The Muslims brought knowledge and resources to Europe at a time when the entire continent was in decline. Spain, in particular, thrived under Muslim rule, becoming a center of learning in Europe.
As I recall from history, after the conquering of a large part of Europe by the Muslim armies, there was an increase in the quality of life by the locals unlike the devastation perpetrated on the Muslim people by the Knights of the “Holy” Crusades. Am I wrong?
Hi, thanks for your comment.
There are many verses in the Quran that prohibit forcible conversion. 2:256 is just one of them, hence, it is not an anomaly. In case you haven’t come across them, here are two such verses:
1) “And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed – all of them entirely. Would you then compel the people until they become believers?” (Quran 10:99)
2) “There has come to you enlightenment from your Lord. So whoever sees, does so for [the benefit of] his soul, and whoever is blind [does harm] against it. And [say, O Muhammad], ‘I am not a guardian over you.’” (Quran 6:104)
These verses are unconditional and applicable for all time to come, as verified by Muslim scholars and thinkers throughout history.
Regarding your comment: “…the very next verse promises hellfire for disbelievers. Isn’t that compulsion?” No, it isn’t compulsion, because it is merely informing the reader of the consequences of disobeying God. Like, if I say to you “If you jump off this bridge, you’ll drown in the river.” That doesn’t mean I’m forcing or coercing you not to jump – I am merely admonishing you against self-harm. The choice is yours.
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2:256 looks pretty benign but the very next verse promises hellfire for disbelievers. Isn’t that compulsion?
How to explain the anomaly of 2:256? The context is provided in Ibn Ishaq’s biography of Mohammed:
On page 256 (appropriately) we see Mohammed writing to the Jews of Khaybar calling them to Islam.
‘God says to you O scripture folk, and you will find it in your scripture “Muhammad is the apostle of God”…’
‘Do you find in what He has sent down to you that you should believe in Muhammed? If you do not find that in your scripture then there is no compulsion on you, “The right path has become plainly distinguished from error” so I call you to God and his prophet’.
Therefore the famous “no compulsion in religion” statement in Koran 2:256 is only conditional here, and since that condition has not been met compulsion is not proscribed.
Do you accept this?