Was Islam spread by Force?
This is a myth that even Muslims believe in. But it’s not their fault. That is what they’ve been hearing for long. The truth however is that any person who accepts Islam under any sort of compulsion or for any social reason doesn’t become a Muslim at all. His conversion is completely invalid. Islam is about believing that there is only one God (proper name: Allaah) and He is the almighty and supreme; and that Muhammad(pbuh) is Allaah’s last and final messenger sent to mankind. Any person who doesn’t believe this from the core of his heart is not a Muslim.
What’s amazing is that Islam doesn’t allow me to force someone to become a Muslim at all. Forget me, even Mohammed (pbuh), the messenger of God, was not sent to force someone to convert. His only job was to explain what Islam actually is. A Muslim can only spread the message of Islam; i.e. Oneness of God and invite people. It is up to the individuals whether they accept the message or not. No individual can be forced to accept Islam. This is very clear from the following verses.
“There is no compulsion in religion. Verily, the right path has become distinct from the wrong path. Whoever disbelieves in false deities and believes in God, then he has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that will never break. And God is All-Hearer, All-Knower.”
The verse makes it very clear. There just can’t be any compulsion in matter of religion. The truth stands distinct from the false. It is up to each individual to judge and decide between the right and the wrong with an open heart and a non-prejudiced mind. And that is what God wants you to do; to search out the truth. God doesn’t give you a chance to say that, “I was born a non-Muslim. It is not my fault.” You have learnt how to read and you have enough brains to judge between right and wrong. Here is a religion that stands out differently from others.
Allah says in Qur’an,
“If it had been thy Lord’s will, they would all have believed, -all who are on earth! Wilt thou then compel mankind against their will to believe!”
So it is very clear that there is no compulsion in Islam. You just can’t force anyone to accept Islam; forget about forcing someone. You can only explain the message of Islam, and it is to the individual to choose what is right and leave what is wrong.
In fact, if you go back in history, the very first problem the new Muslims faced was that they didn’t have ‘Freedom of Religion’. People of Mecca were idol worshippers. When Islam came up and the idea of ‘Tawheed’ – i.e. ‘Oneness of God in His Lordship, Names & Attributes’ – they rejected it outright. This is because their prosperity was directly linked to those 300 idols. People from all over Arabia would come to Mecca for pilgrimage. This concept of ‘One God’ in that city would have badly affected their pockets. Hence they would just not allow any such concept to prevail. This was the reason the early Muslims were tortured cruelly. The lower class of the society faced it the most. Mohammed (PBUH) finally asked some early converts to leave Mecca and migrate to Abyssinia, which was under Christian rule; otherwise the people of Mecca would have tortured them to death. So how you even conceive the idea that a religion that itself faced a lot and itself asked for ‘Freedom of religion’, could have forced so many people to accept it?
Even after Islam expanded and came up as a power, this ‘freedom of religion’ was granted to every citizen of the Islamic state. Even when Jewish cities were captured, we know that their scriptures if found in any building were handled with care and returned to the Jewish priests.
I don’t deny that some Muslim rulers declared Islam as the religion of the state; as was the custom in medieval times. The religion of the ruler used to be the religion of the masses. But this is no way means that the masses were “forced” to accept the religion, or that they would be killed for not accepting Islam.
Muslims ruled Spain for over 800 years. Nobody there was forced to accept Islam. The Muslims were so powerful in those days that it would have been easy to put a sword on each and every citizen’s head and ask him to convert, else die. It was after 800 years that the Christian emperors captured Spain again.
Let me quote what a Christian Missionary T.W.Arnold had to say about this,
“.. of any organized 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 Protestanism …”
As for our country, India, we know Muslims here ruled for over 1000 years before the British captured India completely. Only few princely states existed and even those states operated under the kingship or were treated as minor rebellions. Overall, Muslims ruled almost the whole of India for 1000 years. If they had really willed, they had the power to convert each and every Indian. I don’t think some power that ruled for 1000 years was so weak that it could only convert 17% of its total population. What we forget and most non-Muslims don’t know is that a major credit of spreading of Islam in India goes to the traders who came to South India from countries like Arabia, Philippines and Indonesia; and not the Muslim rulers who came from the North. Unfortunately, in spite of knowing the facts, no historian, whether Muslim or non-Muslim has ever done a comprehensive study on this topic.
Now these were about ‘captured’ territories. Let us speak about Arabian peninsula. It’s the birth place of Islam. Muslims have been the lords of Arabia for over 1400 years now. Out of the 340million population in Arabia, there are still roughly 17 million Arabs who have been Christians since generations. Had the Muslims used sword, there would not have been a single non-Muslim Arab. Add to these the enormous population that has shifted to Arabia in last so many years. It includes so many Indians, Americans and people of various faiths and cultures.
The problem is people don’t look at the global picture. There are many places where a Muslim army never even entered. Indonesia and Malaysia have the largest Muslim population in the world. Who forced them to accept Islam? Islam has also spread rapidly on Eastern coast of Africa. We know for sure that no Muslim army ever entered these regions. Even today, an average of 40 people in USA and 27 in UK accept Islam every day. Which army is forcing them to convert? They convert in spite of all the myths and misconceptions in their societies against Islam.
The fact is that the very simplicity of the religion and the truth & correctness of the message has been enough to influence people all over the world. All that one needs is to look thoroughly at Islam with an open heart and a non-prejudiced mind. To end this, let me quote to you a famous historian, De Lacy O’Leary, from his book ‘Islam at the cross road.
“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 myth that historians have ever repeated.”