The Misconcepition That Islam Was Spread By Force
One misconception, promoted by the enemies of justice who do not read historical sources impartially, but instead rehash old propaganda over and over again, is the false accusation that Islam was spread by force. Islam was spread by the sword, they say. Yet, various selections from the Qur’an can rebut this slanderous accusation.
Allah, Most Exalted, says in His Majestic Book:
“There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become
clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in false gods and believes in Allah
has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing
And He, the Most Exalted, says:
“If it had been your Lord's Will, they all would have believed, all the people on earth! Will
you then compel mankind, against their will, to believe?”
And He, the Most Exalted, says:
“And say, 'The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills - let him believe; and whoever wills
- let him disbelieve.' Indeed, We have prepared for the wrongdoers a fire whose walls will
surround them. And if they call for relief, they will be relieved with water like murky oil,
which scalds [their] faces. Wretched is the drink, and evil is the resting place.”
And He, the Most Exalted, says:
“But if they turn away, your duty is only to preach the Clear Message.”
And He, the Most Exalted, says:
“Therefore give admonition, for you are indeed one to admonish. But you are not one to control
And He, the Most Exalted, says:
“Say, ‘Obey Allah and obey the Messenger. But if you turn away - then upon him is only that [duty]
with which he has been charged, and upon you is that with which you have been charged. And
if you obey him, you will be [rightly] guided. And there is not upon the Messenger except
the [responsibility for] clear notification.’”
And He, the Most Exalted, says:
“If any one of the polytheists seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may
hear the words of Allah. Then deliver him to his place of safety. That is because they are
a people who do not know.”
These and many other verses of the Qur’an and Prophetic traditions make it clear that no
coercion or compulsion in religion is allowed; no one is ever to be forced against his
will to convert to Islam. Faith must be by knowledge and free will and based upon firm
conviction in the heart, followed by the testimony of correct words and good deeds. A
mere pronouncement of the creed of Islam, “la ilaha illallah” (There is nothing worthy
of being worshipped except Allah), is not enough to confirm one as a believer, even though,
if said with the kernel of initial faith, one immediately becomes a Muslim. As Allah
said about the Bedouins who professed verbally without firm conviction:
“The desert Arabs say, ‘We believe.’ Say, ‘You do not yet have real Faith, but rather say only, ‘We have submitted to Allah’,
since Faith has not yet entered your hearts. But if you obey Allah and His Messenger,
He will not slight you [the reward] of your deeds, for Allah is Most Forgiving, Most
It is known that someone cannot be forced to change what is in the depths of his heart, and that
one may profess with his tongue what he does not really believe with certainty. This is not Islam,
nor is it the Islamic faith. For this reason, Allah said the following about the one compelled
under duress to renounce his faith in Islam:
“Whoever disbelieves in Allah after his belief, except for one who is forced [to renounce his
religion] while his heart is secure in faith. But those who [willingly] open their breasts
to disbelief, upon them is wrath from Allah, and for them is a great punishment.”
Disbelief occurs by opening the heart to disbelieve willingly, and upon this basis, one speaks evil and commits his criminal acts rebelling against Allah and the revealed guidance of the Messengers and becomes an apostate after having believed.
Another accusation related to the above is that Islam was spread by force of arms and warfare. It
is an established fact that any system or government, regardless of its source, requires a protective
force to defend it adherents, preserve its values, spread its principles, ensure a fair application
of its law, and enforce the just execution of legal penalties against criminals. As reported
in the tradition of the Prophet (
“Truly, Allah admonishes with the authority of the ruler, more than what He admonishes with the
Divine Revelation of the Qur’an.” (i.e. more by enforcing the punishments justly than the
God-consciousness from reading scripture)
Let us take a glimpse of the early days of Islam and its amazing spread over the known world to analyze the truth of this accusation in the light of documented historical fact.
The Messenger of Allah, Muhammad ( s), after his commission from Allah to arise and publicize his divine message, remained in the sacred city of Makkah for thirteen years inviting his people, and the visitors to Makkah, to Islam. He engaged every possible way to inform and convey the message of the revelations of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, encountering false accusations, slander, persecutions, harassment, boycotts, threats, attacks, and brutal physical aggression from his people. Those who believed shared in his sufferings, and since he was not yet commanded by Allah to meet violence and aggression with armed defense, his followers persevered and suffered the harshest forms of persecutions withholding their hands and adhering to the precepts of peaceful missionary activity.
Many were tortured and some were martyred for their faith in Islam, and the accounts
of these brave souls bear testimony to the long suffering his followers endured
in this period of severe testing. The Prophet (
s) soothed the wounds of his companion Ammar ibn Yasir and his parents who
eventually became the first martyrs of Islam with the words,
“Be patient, O family of Yasir! Paradise will be your permanent abode.”
The Prophet (
s) allowed some of his followers to immigrate to Ethiopia to escape from this oppression
and torture. They sought refuge under the tutelage of its just ruler of the era, the Negus, who
himself later accepted Islam. Even in these dire circumstances, Allah, the Most Wise and Merciful,
commanded His Messenger Muhammad (
s) to be patient, forbearing and tolerant with his people while propagating the message.
There are repeated examples of his exceeding mercy, graciousness, magnanimity, and compassion
in the face of this continued violence and aggression. The Prophet (
s) and his companions stood firm in their belief and conveyance of the message, obeying the
following command of Allah:
“Therefore patiently persevere, as did those of determination among the messengers and do not
be impatient for them. It will be - on the Day they see that which they are promised - as
though they had not remained [in the world] except an hour of a day. [This is] notification.
And will [any] be destroyed except the defiantly disobedient people?”
And still he would pray for their guidance saying,
“O Allah! Please guide my people as they do not know.”
(Bukhari and Muslim)
The Prophet ( s) continued to propagate the message in Makkah, and to seek out any tribe that would be able to protect and aid him. He would present himself and his mission to the visiting individuals and tribes in Makkah, and at the times of the great Arab markets and meeting places. Then it so happened that a group of people from the city of Yathrib (now known as “Madinah”, or the City of the Prophet) believed in the Message of Islam and gave him their pledge of allegiance to support and defend him in the same way as they would defend their own wealth, honor, integrity and household. They encouraged him and the early believers to seek refuge by immigrating to their hometown. This coincided with the persecution in Makkah reaching a grave critical stage, and the leaders of the Quraish tribe even conspired to murder the Prophet, may Allah’s peace and blessing be upon him.
The immigration was to be the watershed event in Islamic history, for in Madinah the Prophet’s first
mosque was built, the brotherhood of Muslims expanded, and the nascent Islamic state was established
and developed under his direct guidance.
Note that the Prophet Muhammad ( s) and his followers never shed a drop of blood in retribution throughout these long years of persecution and oppression in the city of Makkah since he was not commanded to fight, but rather to be patient and persevere. Confrontation and armed hostilities from the Muslim side did not begin until two years after his immigration from Makkah to Madinah, when the Quraish tribe feared for its dominance and continued on the path of persecution and obstruction of the message of Islam, and after all avenues of peaceful propagation were exhausted.
Since the town of Madinah was en route of the Quraish tribe’s merchant caravans to Greater Syria, the first act of confrontation occurred when Allah’s Messenger ( s) engaged a commercial caravan lead by the Quraishi nobleman Abu Sufyan. The Prophet ( s) intended to impose a kind of economic sanction on the tribe of Quriash to allow him to peacefully propagate his faith to others in the open, and to compensate the believers for the properties, possessions and wealth which were unjustly confiscated by the Quraish in Makkah before the immigration. The caravan escaped the ambush but after learning about the incident, the leaders of Quraish prepared a relatively large and well-equipped army to attack the Muslims. Consequently the first decisive battle took place at Badr, and the smaller and ill equipped Muslim force of 313 fighters crushed the arrogant Quraish army with a humiliating and decisive defeat.
Allah, Most Exalted and Supreme, describes the just rationale for this battle and those to follow
“[They are] those who have been expelled from their homes unjustly, only because they say ‘Our
Lord is Allah.’ If Allah did not check one set of people by means of another, many monasteries,
churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant
measure, would surely have been pulled down. Allah will certainly aid those who aid His cause.
Indeed Allah is Full of Strength, Exalted in Might. [They are] those who, if We establish
them in the land, establish regular prayer, give regular charity, enjoin the right and forbid
the wrong. And with Allah rests the end and decision of all affairs.”
And Allah, the Wise and Sublime, says: “And why shouldn’t you fight in the cause of Allah, and for those who, being weak, are persecuted and oppressed? Men, women, and children, whose cry is, ‘Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors, and raise for us, from Yourself, a protector, and raise for us, from Yourself, a helper.’” (4:75)
And Allah, the Exalted, says:
“Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits, for Allah loves
In all the battles fought, and all the victories that Allah’s Messenger ( s) and his companions achieved within the period of 23 years of the Prophet’s mission, only 375 people were killed in this fighting. In the ninth year of the Hijra (Immigration) known as the Year of Delegations, the Prophet ( s) met with about a hundred various delegations from tribes over the entire Arabian Peninsula. He met them with generosity and magnanimity and replied to all their questions and concerns about the Islamic Creed (Aqeedah) and Law (Shari’ah). The majority of them were suitably impressed by the call of the Prophet ( s) and they accepted Islam. The Messenger of Allah ( s) also sent letters to the leaders of the surrounding regions calling them to accept the Message of Allah as will be mentioned below.
In the Prophet’s lifetime and soon afterwards, the entire Arabian Peninsula was for the first time in its history unified in one just and egalitarian rule of law, under one divine religion. The majority of Arabs accepted Islam willfully in droves after hearing the Qur’an, seeing the example of the Prophet in his Sunnah (Way) and his companions, and witnessing the Islamic system, with only a few holdouts among some Jewish and Christian pockets, allowed to remain within the Muslim State on their old faith by contracts stipulating specific rights and obligations. Indeed this revolutionary change was a miraculous achievement considering the meager material means by which it took place and its lasting worldwide effect, and Allah Most Great gives success to whom He will.
The rightly-guided Caliphs, companions and righteous predecessors followed the example of the Prophet ( s) after his passing away, defending the Muslim State from its enemies. They also worked together in conquering the surrounding tyrannical empires which threatened their existence, and in spreading Islam by the zeal of their faith and missionary activity and through their excellent upright morals and just relations. These individuals were, by no standards, equal in number or war equipment, preparations, and professional military skills, to the people they vanquished, but the vitality of their divine faith and the moral superiority of their characters conquered the common people’s hearts and minds before there was a need to vanquish the corrupt tyrannical armies whose oppression of the masses was unbearable.
One of the new converts to Islam in our time, named Basheer Ahmad, said in reflection on this issue,
“One of the most puzzling questions to me, and one of my most serious concerns prior to accepting
Islam and embracing it as a way of life, was that we Christians claim that Islam was spread
by the sword. Therefore, I posed the following question to myself, ‘If that claim is true,
why, then, do we notice that many people, in every corner of the world, still adhere to Islam
and embrace it, join it, and accept it as a way of life? Why do we notice people come to
join Islam daily, without any compulsion or force by anyone?’”
[Paraphrased from Dr. Imad-du-Deen Khalil: What Do They Say about Islam? p.295]
Norman A. Daniel says on the origins of the fabrication of this myth,
“… The West formed a more or less invariable canon of beliefs about Islam; it decided for itself
what Islam was... The important thing was that it suited the West... it gave Christendom
self-respect in dealing with a civilization in many ways its superior.”
[Islam and the West: The Making of an Image, p. 270]
De Lacy O’Leary comments on this fallacy, “History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical
Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of a sword upon conquered races
is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.”
[Islam at the Crossroads, London, 1923, p. 8]
Dr. Gustav LeBon states in his book, Civilization of the Arabs [p.127-128],: “...force was never
a factor in the spread of the Koranic teachings, and that the Arabs left those they had subdued
free to exercise their religious beliefs. If it happened that some Christian peoples embraced
Islam and adopted Arabic as their language, it was mainly due to the various kinds of justice
on the part of the Arab victors, with the like of which the non-Moslems were not acquainted.
It was also due to the tolerance and leniency of Islam, which was unknown to the other religions.”
[Paraphrased from Dr.Imad-du-Deen Khalil: What Do They Say about Islam? p.314]
He also says,
“…the early Caliphs… were remarkably kind in the way they treated the peoples of Syria, Egypt,
Spain and every other country they subdued, leaving them to practice their laws and regulations
and beliefs and imposing only a small Jizya in return for their protection and keeping peace
among them. In truth, nations have never known merciful and tolerant conquerors like the
In direct contrast to the many examples of massacres, rapes, pillaging, and overall injustices in history, we do not find comparable accounts in the history of these early Islamic conquests.
Thomas Carlyle, in his famous series of lectures, commented on the spread of Islam with the following words,
“Much has been said of Mahomet’s propagating his Religion by the sword. It is no doubt
far nobler what we have to boast of the Christian Religion, that it propagated itself
peaceably in the way of preaching and conviction. Yet with all, if we take this for
an argument of the truth or falsehood of a religion, there is a radical mistake in
it. The sword indeed, but where will you get your sword? Every new opinion, at its
starting, is precisely in a minority of one. In one man’s head alone, there it dwells
as yet. One man alone of the whole world believes it; there is one man against all
men. That he take a sword, and try to propagate with that, will do little for him.
You must first get your sword! On the whole, a thing will propagate itself as it
can. We do not find, of the Christian Religion either, that it always disdained the
sword, when once it had got one. Charlemagne’s conversion of the Saxons was not by
preaching. I care little about the sword, I will allow a thing to struggle for itself
in this world, with any sword or tongue or implement it has, or can lay hold of.
We will let it preach, and pamphleteer, and fight, and to the uttermost bestir itself,
and do, beak and claws, whatsoever is in it; very sure that it will, in the long-run,
conquer nothing which does not deserve to be conquered. What is better than itself,
it cannot put away, but only what is worse. In this great Duel, Nature herself is
umpire, and can do no wrong. The thing which is deepest-rooted in Nature, what we
call truest, that thing and not the other will be found growing at last.”
[Heroes, Hero Worship, and the Heroic in History, Lecture 2, Friday, 8th May 1840]
In comparison to the above, let us take some passages from the Holy Bible and read what the Jews and Christians hold as sacred and divine guidance about the conduct of war, and that which has guided them in the times of their expansions and conquests.
We read in the Book of Deuteronomy:
“When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it agrees
to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become
your forced labor and shall serve you. However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes
war against you, then you shall besiege it. When the Lord your God gives it into your hand,
you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. Only the women and the children
and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself;
and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the Lord your God has given you. Thus you
shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these
nations nearby. Only in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you
as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly
destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and
the Jebusite, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that they may not teach you to do
according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you
would sin against the Lord your God….”
[Deuteronomy 20: 10-18].
On the conquest of the city of Jericho, and the fate of the indigenous inhabitants therein we read, “So the people shouted, and priests blew the trumpets, and when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted with a great shout and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight ahead, and they took the city. They utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.” [Joshua 6:20-21]
In the towns of Makkedah and Libnah, they did the same as in Jericho. [Joshua 10: 28].
A perplexing passage of the Gospel of Mathew on a statement of Jesus reads, “Think not that I am
come to send peace on earth, I came not to send peace, but a sword.”
[Matt. 10:35-37; and compare Luke 22:36]
What is this sword? Who has the authority to raise it? This is not clear and is open to interpretation. Perhaps it will be raised upon his second coming. Until the reign of Constantine, the early Christians were a persecuted minority apparently committed to non-violence and waiting for his imminent return. But thereafter, when Trinitarian Christianity became the official state religion in the era after Constantine, the sword was wielded openly by the State, and Christian rulers down through history conducted numerous wars and conquests in the name of religion.
The Christian principle of obedience to any authority in power is based upon the purported statement
of Jesus to
“render unto Caesar.” This was increasingly extended by the Christian theologians to rationalize
and legitimize the right of divine rule and then, even national and secular rule, on the
basis of Pauline doctrine as enshrined in his decree, “Everyone must submit himself to the
governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The
authorities that exist have been established by God.”
[(NIV) Romans 13:1]
The statements and facts above will be compared with some of the guidance from the Qur’an, and the Way of the Prophet (the Sunnah), to provide more proofs that indeed Islam is the religion of peace. This will be illustrated despite the fact that some disobedient Muslims have distorted, by word and deed, the image of Islam, and despite the venomous propaganda, slander and misinformation fabricated and distributed by the haters of Islam in their crusades against Islam and the Muslims.
We do not deny that aberrations and injustices took place occasionally by some of the Muslims, but the general sweep of historical trends is our evidence, as noted above. And along these lines it may be pertinent to mention two more examples, since they show a general pattern.
The Christian conquerors of Jerusalem during the Crusades slaughtered all of its Jewish and Muslim inhabitants, whereas the reconquest of Jerusalem by Salahudeen al-Ayubi stands as a noteworthy example of magnanimity and generosity.
We also have the contrast of Spain and Anatolia (Asia minor). The Christians expelled the Muslims and Jews from Spain, or put them to the sword, or forced them to convert to Christianity during the infamous “Inquisition,” the paradigm of the treatment of Muslims under Christian rule. In the same era, when the Muslims conquered what is now Turkey, they were comparatively much more tolerant, and to this day the seat of the Eastern Orthodox Church remains in Istanbul (the conquered Constantinople).
The noted orientalist, Sir Thomas Arnold, rejects this malicious propaganda about Islam saying,
“…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 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 the very survival of these Churches to the present day is a strong proof of the generally tolerant attitude of [the Muslim] governments towards them.”
[Sir Thomas W. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith, Westminster, Westminster A. Constable & Co., London, 1896, p. 80]
The unfortunate reality of history is that European, rather than Islamic, historical trends.