We hear, from time to time, some people claiming that Islam forces people to convert. that Muslims use the sword to spread Islam. It is easy to make accusations. but is this really true? what does history have to say? and what do learned non-Muslims have to say?
In the Qur'an, the final testament of the Lord, we read:
... وَقُلِ الْحَقُّ مِن رَّبِّكُمْ ۖ فَمَن شَاءَ فَلْيُؤْمِن وَمَن شَاءَ فَلْيَكْفُرْ ۚ
“And say (O Mohammed), ‘The truth has come from your Lord. Then whosoever wills, let him believe; and whosoever wills, let him disbelieve.’” [18: 29]
If we look at history, we would find that no where did Muslims ever force anyone to convert to Islam under any kind of pressure, physical or psychological.
As a matter of fact, Islam has guaranteed religious freedom to everybody, and had it been otherwise, you wouldn’t have found millions of non-Muslims who still live in Muslim lands today, and have lived there for the past hundreds of years.
For instance, Muslims have ruled lands like India, Egypt, Middle East and Spain for hundreds of years, yet we find that the non-Muslim population in those lands are numbered in millions and that they still practice their religions with freedom and, in some cases, they are the majority in the land.
If Muslims really forced the natives of Spain to convert to Islam, there would not be a single person to raise the sword and kick the Muslims out of Spain.
If Muslims really forced the natives of India to convert to Islam, we wouldn't see more Hindus in India than Muslims today.
If Muslims really forced the Coptic Christians of Egypt to convert to Islam, we wouldn't see any Christian in Egypt today. why are they there? Simply because they were allowed to practice their religion freely.
◕ A British missionary employed in the service of the Indian government, Thomas Arnold, has said:
“But of any organised attempt to force the acceptance of Islam on the non-Muslim population, or of any systematic persecution intended to stamp out the Christian religion, we hear nothing.
Had the caliphs chosen to adopt either course of action, they might have swept away Christianity as easily as Ferdinand and Isabella drove Islam out of Spain, or Louis XIV made Protestantism penal in France, or the Jews were kept out of England for 350 years.
The Eastern Churches in Asia were entirely cut off from communion with the rest of Christendom, throughout which no one would have been found to lift a finger on their behalf, as heretical communions. So that the very survival of these Churches to the present day is a strong proof of the generally tolerant attitude of the Muhammadan governments towards them.”
Prof. Thomas Arnold, The Spread of Islam in the World, A History of Peaceful Preaching, Goodword Books, 2001, p. 79-80
◕ Georgetown University’s Professor of Religion and International Relations John L. Esposito describes how Jews and Christians who came under the administration of Muslim states met with enormous understanding:
“For many non-Muslim populations in Byzantine and Persian territories already subjugated to foreign rulers, Islamic rule meant an exchange of rulers, the new ones often more flexible and tolerant, rather than a loss of independence.
Many of these populations now enjoyed greater local autonomy and often paid lower taxes…
Religiously, Islam proved a more tolerant religion, providing greater religious freedom for Jews and indigenous Christians.”
John L. Esposito, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality, Oxford University Press, New York, 1992, p. 39
As Thomas Arnold and John L. Esposito noted, Muslim rulers have always forbidden religious compulsion and oppression against non-Muslims throughout history, and developed cultures where people can freely live their religions.
That is because Allah the God has instructed Muslims, saying:
لَا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ ۖ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ الرُّشْدُ مِنَ الْغَيِّ ۚ فَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِالطَّاغُوتِ وَيُؤْمِن بِاللَّهِ فَقَدِ اسْتَمْسَكَ بِالْعُرْوَةِ الْوُثْقَىٰ لَا انفِصَامَ لَهَا ۗ وَاللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ
“Let there be no compulsion in religion. Right guidance has become clearly distinct from error. Anyone who rejects false gods and believes in Allah has grasped the Firmest Handhold, which will never give way. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.” [2:256]
Allah has also said:
فَذَكِّرْ إِنَّمَا أَنتَ مُذَكِّرٌ
So remind, [O Muhammad]; you are only a reminder
لَّسْتَ عَلَيْهِم بِمُصَيْطِرٍ
You are not over them a controller.”
translation of verse 88:21-22
In short, forcing anyone to believe in Islam or to practice it, is against the teachings of Islam, for it is necessary that faith be accepted with free will.