Many verses in the Quran signify that Muhammad was sent not to use force or compel men to join his religion but the issuing of the command to fight seems to over-ride them. It is a mystery how the theologians of Islam can accept the eternal law of “no force in the faith,” and at the same moment can see in the warlike passages both obligation and expediency. Holding thus both mandates to be from Allah, they are bewildered in a maze between the one and the other, with no prospect of finding an escape.
The mild and tolerant precepts were acted on by Muhammad, so long as he lived at Mecca, in a kindly, gentle, and forbearing spirit; and so, likewise, for a time after his flight to Medina. But as soon as he had gained power there, and found himself supported by a host of warriors ready at his call, he saw it expedient to turn aside from the paths of peace and moderation into those of war, marauding and plunder. From the messenger of good tidings and the simple warner, he changed in to the champion and the autocrat; from the man of peace, into the man of war. Once begun, forays, raids, battles, and campaigns followed fast on one another; and we might even have doubted that words of peace had ever proceeded from his lips, if we had not found them still there in the Quran.
Were these commands sent down to be observed by the Prophet only so long as he was in a weak and helpless condition, and then to be cast aside the moment he became great amongst men, possessed of resources, and surrounded by followers, while all the time there was before his eyes, as in great letters of gold: > “Let there be no compulsion in the faith, We have not sent thee but as a messenger of good tidings and a warner. To thee belonged the message; to Us the account.”
How shall there be no constraint in the faith, and yet constraint; compulsion neutralising virtue, and the virtue yet remain. Could any contradiction transcend these? They are absolutely irreconcilable. Below we give fourteen verses from the Quran which inculcate that Islam should be advanced by peaceful means so why did Muhammad and his followers resort to force?
No Compulsion in religion
1. > “Let there be no compulsion in religion: truth stands out clear from error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. (Al Baqarrah 2:256)
Many Muslim commentators state that acceptance of faith in Islam is not be a matter of compromise or force on the contrary, it is a matter of free will. Compulsion and constraint in religion are not lawful because they would supersede personal endeavour. The text condemns force, whether practised at the moment, or intended to be resorted to when a fitting opportunity might occur in the future. “No force in the faith”; the prohibition is absolute.
The most celebrated Muslim exegete Baidhawi believes this verse applies exclusively to ‘the people of the Book’ (Jews and Christians). He quotes the following hadith which gives the context of this ‘revealed‘ verse: “An Ansar (citizen of Medina) had two sons who became Christians before the mission of the Prophet; so their father laid hands on them, and would not let them go unless they embraced Islam, which, they declining, the father appealed to Muhammad, crying out, “O Prophet of God, shall a part of my very self enter hell-fire, and I look quietly on? Thereupon this verse was revealed, and he let them go.” Jalalayn refers to the same tradition.
Have they forgotten that Jihad and fighting against heathen and the People of the Book are according to the command that the faith shall be everywhere Islam alone; for what else does this text mean, > “And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrong-doers.” (Al-Baqarrah 2:193 – Pickthal & Shakir)
Muslims are to invite unbelievers in a mild and friendly way
2. > “Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His path, and who receive guidance.” (Al Nahl 16:123) .
The Tafsir al-Jalalayn states that Muhammad was to call men unto the way of Allah by wisdom (that is by the Quran), and kindly discourse with friendly words; and dispute in the way that is most attractive. This text then explains that Muhammad in the office of the Prophet was to summon those around him to the faith, by proofs and evidence, in a mild and friendly way; and within these limits to restrain his action. Would that Muhammad had held to the procedure here enjoined, and taken his stand on the boundary here laid down; and not followed in the footsteps of his enemies (Ka’b Ibn Ashraf, Abu Afaq, Abu Rafi‘, etc), into the domain of war and treachery; a line of action unworthy of any brave man, how much more of one that professed to be a prophet sent to teach and guide mankind!
Muhammad’s duty is as a preacher and warner not a warrior
3. > “So if they dispute with thee, say: “I have submitted my whole self to Allah and so have those who follow me.” And say to the People of the Book and to those who are unlearned: “Do ye (also) submit yourselves?” If they do, they are in right guidance, but if they turn back, Thy duty is to convey the message.” (Al Imran 3:20) Medina
Jews, Christians, and Heathen Arabs are here addressed: Muhammad’s duty is here distinctly confined to publish his message, with the evidence and arguments bearing on it. A clear injunction is given to Muhammad to preach, it is to Allah that rejecters have to account. Having delivered his message no other obligation remained. Then why did Muhammad, who was “commissioned none otherwise than as a preacher and a Warner,” not confine himself within the limits imposed upon him?
4. > “But thy people reject this (the Quran), though it is the truth. Say: “Not mine is the responsibility for arranging your affairs; For every message is a limit of time, and soon shall ye know it.” (Al Anaam 6:66).
Once again Muhammad is here told that he is not a keeper of his people, it was no concern of his to take them to task for rejecting his teaching. He was but a Warner; it was for God to take account of their actions. According to Ibn Abbas and the Companions, this text is cancelled by the passages that command fighting for the faith.
Allah is the Keeper, not the Prophet. The Commentators say this chapter was given prior to Jihad, but when that was commanded, Muhammad did become the Keeper over them.
Here we find that Muhammad was in no way responsible for the conduct of unbelievers, or for any punitive action towards them. Allah holds men absolutely free in matters of faith and worship – punishing them if they disobey, and rewarding them if they submit. Yet, these principles are superseded by the command to fight; the divine law was enunciated, compulsion neutralised personal effort, destroyed the grand object of religion, and cancelled the merit and recompense resulting from free choice. Now there is a reversal! The war-cry has drowned the word of peace. Compulsion supersedes the command against it, and the maxim, “I am not a Keeper over you,” has vanished to the winds.
By introducing force and compulsion, Muhammad abrogated the first principle of conversion, namely personal responsibility, with its spiritual recompense. How, then, can it be said that Muhammad “came as a mercy to mankind,” seeing that he hath deprived mankind, by the forcible imposition of Islam, of the grand virtue of personal effort and free choice, and the resulting recompense? In what way, my friend, will you escape from so manifest a contradiction, or reconcile two principles so diametrically opposed?
6. > “If it had been Allah’s plan, they would not have taken false gods: but We made thee not one to watch over their doings, nor art thou set over them to dispose of their affairs.” (Al-Anaam 6:107)
The Muslim commentator Al-Razi writes that when Allah had made it clear that there was no other power but Hs own to put an end to unbelief, he completes the passage by showing to the Prophet what his duty was, namely, that He had not made him the guardian of the people nor their keeper in the way of inference. His simple duty was to deliver the divine commands and prohibitions in respect of doctrine and practice, explain the grounds of the message, and pronounce its sanctions. Those who accepted the same, the benefits was their own; and those who refused, the evil thereof rested on themselves.
This is to be Muhammad’s answer to those who defied his mission; he is not to trouble them in any way, or interfere with the view of making them accept his faith; not by force of arms or other form of compulsion; not by withholding help or kindness from them; nor by reviling them. The only way remaining was to warn them with kindness and benignity, whether they would hear or whether they would forbear.
7. > “Say: “O ye men! Now truth hath reached you from your Lord! those who receive guidance, do so for the good of their own souls; those who stray, do so to their own loss: and I am not (set) over you to arrange your affairs.” (Yunus 10:108)
Observe two things. First, that the purpose of the Almighty in the mission of Muhammad was simply to reveal the divine law, so that he might place it before mankind; second, that no other commission was given him but to preach and warn. It follows that, when he proclaimed war and measures of violence, he was resorting to that which, being not the purpose of Allah in his mission, was wide of his duty.
Now, seeing that his mission was so strictly confined within these limits, how could it have been lawful for him to smite and slay, to fight and raid and plunder, to take prisoners and make slaves? If such things were lawful, what are we to make of the command, “There shall be no compulsion in religion”? What! Are you forcing men to believe? Compulsion, and yet no compulsion! One of the most extraordinary contradictions the world has ever heard; a conjunction of two principles absolutely irreconcilable. Ibn Abbas says that the text is cancelled by the command to fight and this view has become that of Muslims at large ever since the law of war appeared.
8. > “And those who take as protectors others besides Him, Allah doth watch over them; and thou art not the disposer of their affairs.” (Ash-Shura 42:6)
Razi says of this verse that Allah “taketh account of them” and that Muhammad has no interest to meddle with their concerns, or compel them to enter the faith for he is but a Warner.
9. > “It is Allah Who made out of the things He created, some things to give you shade; of the hills He made some for your shelter; He made you garments to protect you from heat, and coats of mail to protect you from your (mutual) violence. Thus does He complete His favours on you, that ye may bow to His will. But if they turn away, thy duty is only to preach the clear message.” (An-Nahl 16: 81-82).
The Muslim commentators say that if unbelievers refuse Muhammad’s call and prefer the pleasures of this present life, following their fathers in unbelief, they but incriminate their own souls thereby. There is nothing further for Muhammad to do but only continue delivering the message.
10 > “We sent down the (Quran) in truth, and in truth has it descended: and We sent thee but to give glad tidings and to warn (sinners).” (Al-Isra 17:105).
The text states that Muhammad has not been sent otherwise than as a preacher and a warner. This is the answer which the prophet gave as coming from heaven to those who demanded miracles like those of Moses and Jesus. Muhammad, the verse says, was not sent to perform miracles; his office embraced two things only, namely, to bring good tidings and to warn; to do otherwise was to overstep the boundaries here marked out for him. Now how was it possible for men and women to recognise in Muhammad the simple preacher and warner, when they saw him soon after become the fierce warrior and imperious autocrat, summoning those around him at the point of the sword to accept his religion, or “pay tribute with the hand, and be in subjection”? Where is the connection between two such opposing commands, said to emanate both from the same Almighty hand, – one absolutely limiting the Prophet’s duty to preaching and warning, the other launching him forth at the head of armies to force the acceptance of Islam? Can any Muslim read the one set of positive and peremptory limitations, and then without being utterly embarrassed and confounded, contemplate his Prophet as a man of war and conquest, havoc and spoil? No, by my life, No!
11> “Verily We have revealed the Book to thee in truth, for (instructing) mankind. He, then, that receives guidance benefits his own soul: but he that strays injures his own soul. Nor art thou set over them to dispose of their affairs.” (Az-Zumar 39:41)
Razi says that Muhammad being distressed at the persistence of his people in unbelief, is told by Allah that the perfect and glorious Book had been sent down as a blessing and guide unto mankind, whether men followed its guidance or went astray was their own matter; he was not guardian over them. He was not sent to drive them to the faith in the way of force and violence; its acceptance or rejection is their own affair. All this was expressed to console the Prophet in his distress at their persistence in unbelief.
Not compulsion but the will of Allah
12. > “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! No soul can believe, except by the will of Allah, and He will place doubt (or obscurity) on those who will not understand.” (Yunus 10: 99, 100).
Baidhawi writes “It is against the divine pleasure to use compulsion, which in itself cannot possibly attain the object. No one can believe but by the will of God; wherefore do not make the attempt, for that rests with God alone.”
Doubtless the prohibition here made against the resort to force must have been due to Muhammad having either begun to use means of compulsion at the time, or having had it in his mind to do so when opportunity should offer. Here he is reminded of the powerlessness of force to reach the goal of faith. If compulsion is forbidden by God, why was it introduced?
Muhammad was to preach the message it was left for Allah to bring men to account
13. > “Whether We shall show thee (within thy life-time) part of what we promised them or take to ourselves thy soul (before it is all accomplished), thy duty is to make (the message) reach them: it is our part to call them to account.” (Al Rad 13:40 )
Muslim commentators affirm that whatever may happen in the future, Muhammad’s duty is simply to deliver the command of Allah and leave the rest for Allah to take account. Many of the above texts bring out the same point: 1. Whether the idolaters listened to the Book or went astray, Muhammad was not their keeper. It was no business of his to force them to the faith. 2. There was no keeper over them but Allah alone, in whose hands, not in the Prophet’s, lay their destiny. 3. If the people rejected the summons, Muhammad had no further duty but to deliver the message. Strange that the learned doctors of Islam should have lost sight of the truth so explicitly set forth here, and have accepted in the place the passages which they hold to have been revealed sanctioning war. If there is no keeper over the idolaters but Allah alone, why does Muhammad assume that office over them; and, when forbidden to use force for their conversion, why did he go to war against them, shedding their blood, and carrying off their wives and children captive? For the text plainly says “With Muhammad lies the message; with Allah is the reckoning.”
14. > “And obey not (the behests) of the unbelievers and the hypocrites, and heed not their annoyances, but put thy trust in Allah. For enough is Allah as a disposer of affairs.” (Al Ahzab 33:48).
Jalalayn says that Muhammad is to “leave off troubling them; countenance not their infidelity and hypocrisy; but put thy trust in Allah: He will suffice for thee.” Once again there is not the slightest hint that Muhammad should take up the sword.
The question of annulment of the gentler verses
As to the annulment of these verses, some hold that the order for Jihad took their place, and has since remained the only rule of action; in other words they cancel all the texts enjoining freedom of judgement and condemnatory of compulsion. Others disown the annulment, but at the same time recognise the command to use the sword yet they fail to explain why these texts have been so expressed; why they so explicitly forbid force, and represent in absolute terms the Prophet’s duty to be that of a simple Warner and bringer of good tidings. Verse after verse not only denies the use of arms, but condemns everything approaching to inference with free choice in religion; suddenly the revelation changes, and the Prophet is desired to adopt the very measures as proper and expedient, which had been so strenuously forbidden!