By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
14 December 2016
(Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009.
This article is in response to some Muslim quarters’ opposition to the above recently passed bill claiming that it is not consistent with the Islamic principles. The claim, as judged against the Qur’an – the ultimate source of Law in Islam, is blatantly false.
The Qur’an was revealed in bits and pieces in about 23 years (610-632 AD). It deals with any given theme at various occasions during this period. Therefore, to get a conclusive and irrefutable take of the Qur’an on permissibility of forced conversion, one has to probe the Qur’an for all its pronouncements prohibiting coercion in religion from across the entire period of revelation.
This exercise is the outcome of such a probe. It presents a collation of Qur’anic verses from across the 23 years span of the revelation (610-632), is based on the generally agreed chronology of the revelation and its division between Meccan Period (610-622) and Medinite period (622-632). It supplements the conclusion of the exercise with a commentary on how forced conversion of a non-Muslims woman into Islam followed by her forced marriage violates the Qur’anic rights of a Muslim woman to chose her own mate and the Qur’anic spirit of showing love and mercy in conjugal relationship. Thus, forcing a non-Muslim woman into marriage after forcefully converting her is antithetical to the Qur’anic message – a mockery of the Qur’an, a grave sin and a an abhorrent and violent offence that goes against the spirit of tolerance, peace and respect for all religions and persons, irrespective of their religion as espoused by the Qur’an.
The Meccan Period (610-622)
Scores of Qur’anic verses show that the Prophet’s claim was dismissed by his people (the Meccans), who remained hostile to him until the integration of Mecca into Islam (630). They hoped for a misfortune to befall him any time (52:30), while they captured and persecuted those converts who were weak and helpless (8:26, 85:10). Finally, they conspired to confine the Prophet (to his home) or to kill him or exile him (8:30). He then secretly left Mecca for Medina taking shelter in an obscure cave along with his companion (Abu Bakr, not named in the Qur’an) (9:40).
These Qur’anic allusions completely rule out the possibility of the Prophet or any of his companions compelling any of their enemies to convert to Islam. The following verses are also attributed to this period, forbidding the Prophet from coercing anyone into his faith:
“If your Lord so willed, everyone on earth would have believed, all together. Will you then compel people until they become believers” (10:99)?
“We know best what they say; but you are not to force them. So remind with the Qur'an those who fear My warning” (50:45).
“So remind – f or you are one who reminds (88:21); but you have no power over them” (88:22)
The Medinite Period (622-632)
The detractors of the Qur’an and proponents of abrogation theory may argue that the Meccan verses were later abrogated. But this is not tenable. The Qur’an upholds its principle of freedom of religion in the following key Medinite verse that is often quoted:
“(There is) no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clearly from falsehood; so whoever rejects false deities and believes in God, has grasped a firm handhold, which never breaks. (Remember,) God is All-Knowing and Aware” (2:256)
The Qur’an offers further illustrations to support that the Prophet did not force his followers to convert during the entire Medinite period (622-632):
i. The Prophet had arrived Medina (610 AD) with only one companion (9:40) as a helpless refugee, so any question of forcing anyone in Medina did not arise.
“If you did not help him (the Messenger), God indeed helped him when those who disbelieved (him) drove him out (of Mecca), with only one companion (literally, ‘the second of the two’); when they were in the cave (hiding from the pursuers), he said to his companion: "Do not grieve. God is surely with us." Then God sent down His gift of inner peace and reassurance on him supported him with hosts you cannot see ...” (9:40).
ii. The Prophet did not force the captives from the Badr encounter to embrace his faith (624 AD):
“O Prophet! Say to the captives in your hands: ‘If God knows any good in your hearts, He will grant you something better than what has been taken from you, and He will forgive you.’ God is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate” (8:70).
iii. The Qur’an honours the natives of Medina who embraced Islam (mentioned in the Qur’an as Ansars) as Radi Allâhu ‘Anhu (God is well-pleased with them) along with the Prophet’s Meccan followers (Muhajirin) who emigrated to Medina:
“The first and foremost (to embrace Islam) among the Emigrants and the Helpers (Ansars), and those who follow them in devotion to doing good, aware that God is seeing them – God is well-pleased with them, and they are well-pleased with Him....” (9:100)
The point to note is, if the Medinite Muslims were coerced to embrace Islam, the Qur’an simply could not honour them in the like manner as the Muhajirin (Emigrants) who had voluntarily embraced Islam at the risk of their lives and the cost of all their possessions and exile from their homes. Besides, technically, it was impossible for the Prophet and his fellow Emigrants to exert any form of pressure on their hosts as they were grossly outnumbered and were as helpless as any refugee who take shelter in a foreign land.
iv. In the 6th year of the Medinite period (628), the Prophet along his followers travelled from Medina to Mecca (nine day caravan journey) to perform pilgrimage. The desert Arabs who were weak in faith declined to join him (48:11) because he was going practically un-armed and risked total annihilation at the hands of his Meccan foes (48:12). If he had forced his followers to convert, they would have deserted him en-masse at Hudaybiyah near Medina, where his caravan was intercepted by Meccan cavalry. But not a single one among them deserted him and all of them swore allegiance to him (48:18):
“Those who remained behind of the desert Arabs will say to you (O Muhammad), "Our properties and our families occupied us, so ask forgiveness for us." They say with their tongues what is not within their hearts. …” (48:11). But they* thought that the Messenger and the believers would never return to their families, ever, and that was made pleasing in their* hearts... "(48:12). [*grammatical form changed from 2nd to 3rd person for easy understanding]
“God was well-pleased with the believers when they swore allegiance to you (Muhammad) under the tree. He knew what was in their hearts, and therefore He sent down an inner peace and reassurance on them, and rewarded them with an immediate way out (traditionally, victory)” (48:18).
v. The Qur’an’s forbiddance of any forced conversion of women is amply demonstrated in the passage 60:10-11, asking the Muslims to pay due compensation to an unbelieving man whose wife converts to Islam and leaves him (60:10) and allowing an unbelieving woman to desert their husbands who converted to Islam if they did not opt to convert:
“You who believe, when believing women come to you as emigrants, question (lit., test) them (regarding their claim to faith). God is well aware of their faith. Then, if you know them to be believers, do not return them to the unbelievers. They are not lawful to the unbelievers, nor are the unbelievers lawful to them. Give the unbelievers what they have spent; and there is no fault in you to marry them when you have given them their wages…” (60:10). And if any of your wives should go over to the pagans, and then you have your turn, then pay to those whose wives had left the equivalent of what they had spent (on their dower). And heed God in Whom you believe” (60:11).
- The verse needs some explaining. Muslims and the pagans lived in a mixed social milieu and conversion trickled in by way of social interaction, rather than any form of coercion. Accordingly, if a pagan wife converted to Islam without her husband – who did not opt to convert, the Muslim community was required to compensate him for the separation of his wife (60:10). Likewise, if a pagan husband embraced Islam, his pagan wife was free to follow his example or leave him and join her pagan community, while the Muslim community was required to compensate the converted husband for the dowry he may have given to marry her (60:11).
vi. The year 630 saw a peaceful integration of Mecca. As the Qur’an records:
“God withheld the hands of the Meccans from the Muslims and the hands of the Muslims from the Meccans after He caused you to overcome them …” (48:24)
(As the Muslims began to enter the city), the most fanatic among the Quraysh tried to resist when God sent divine peace upon His Messenger and on the believers, and imposed on them the Word of restraint, as they were entitled to it and worthy of it… (48:26).
The Prophet would have been within his rights to bring the tormentors and killers of the unprotected converts during the Meccan period to justice, execute the leaders of the tribes who had plotted to kill him, who planned and mounted attacks on Medina and broke treaty alliances, But he forgave them all, and the Qur’an furnishes no evidence of any coercion in religion. It’s following cryptic comment, however, suggest voluntary conversion in a massive scale:
“When God’s help comes and an opening (traditionally, victory); you see people entering God’s Religion in multitudes, then glorify your Lord with His praise, and ask Him for forgiveness, for He surely is One Who accepts repentance (110-1-3).
vii. In the closing years of the revelation the Qur’an gave an ultimatum to the hostile Arab tribes (9:5) who were repeatedly breaking the Peace treaty (9:1-3) to give up hostilities and accept Islam, but even so it forbids the Prophet to force into conversion, any of the unbelievers (Mushrikin) who did not fight against him but only sought refuge (9:6):
“If anyone of the pagans seeks your protection (O Muhammad), grant him protection, so that he may hear the words of God; and then deliver him to a place, safe for him. That is because they are a people without knowledge” (9:6)
Conclusion: The above list of verses from across the 23 years span of revelation conclusively demonstrate the Qur’an’s forbiddance of any coercion in religion or forced conversion. The list is not selective - not a single verse in the Qur’an contradicts its forbiddance of any forced conversion. The non-Muslim and Qur’an-critical scholars generally quote the verse 9:29 from the concluding phase of the revelation as an indirect way of forced conversion. But this is untenable. The verse declares:
“Fight those from among the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) who do not have faith in God, nor in the Last Day, and do not consider forbidden what God and His messenger have forbidden, and do not acknowledge the religion of truth - until they pay tribute (Jizyah) willingly as subjects” (9:29).
This is no place to discuss the enormous significance of the verse as expounded in another article . However, suffice it to say that the verse does not, in any way, call for forceful conversion of the vanquished. The Prophet had to alter just two words of this verses u’tul Jizyah (they pay tribute) to read yudkhulu fissilme (they enter Islam) to force the vanquished people to convert.”
In fact the quintessence of Islamic message: zikr or remembrance of God is lost if anyone enters the faith under coercion.
Qur’anic right of a Muslim woman to chose her own mate and the Qur’anic spirit of showing love and mercy in conjugal relationship
The Qur'an uses identical expression in phrasing its permission to men and women regarding choosing a spouse and admiring a suitor, hence a woman is as much privileged to chose her mate as a man (:221).
“Do not marry women who associate (others with God), until they believe (in God). A believing maidservant is better than a woman, who associates (others with God,) even if she allures you. Do not marry men who associate (others with God) until they believe (in God). A believing male-servant is better than a man who associates (others with God,) even if he allures you...” (2:221).
Even a widow is permitted to entertain marriage proposals from admiring suitors (2:235) after the expiry of a waiting period of four months and ten days (2:234):
“Those of you who die and leave behind wives - they (the widows) shall wait by themselves (without remarrying) for four months and ten days. When they have reached their (prescribed) term, there is no blame on you for what they do with themselves honourably. (Remember,) God is Informed of what you do (2:234). And there is no blame on you in giving the proposal (of marriage) to such women, or keep it to yourself, for God Knows that you will mention (it) to them; but do not make any secret promises to them, except in honest and sincere terms, nor resolve on the tie of marriage, until the prescribed term matures. And know that God Knows well what is in your mind. So beware of Him; and know that God is Most Forgiving and Gracious” (2:235).
Love and Mercy between the spouses are the divine blessings of marriage:
“And among His signs is that He has created for you, of yourselves, spouses (azwaj), that you may console yourselves with them, and (He) has set love and mercy between you. There are signs in this for a people who reflect” (30:21).
It follows from these Qur’anic pronouncements that a forced marriage bars a Muslim woman from her Qur’anic right to chose her mate and also robs her, sometimes for life, of the love and mercy that a willing marriage promises.
Final Conclusion: Forcing any person to convert to Islam is diametrically opposed to its message and thus a grave sin that could be criminal depending upon the nature of force applied. But forcing non-Muslim women – Hindu or any other faith community, to convert and then forcibly marry them with Muslim spouses - as the recently passed Sindh Criminal Law aims to prevent - is not merely opposed to the Qur’anic principle of freedom of religion but also divorces such women of the Qur’anic rights to chose their own mates and to avail the divinely ordained love and mercy in conjugal relationship. It is a multiple violation of women’s rights as accorded by the Qur’an. Since the Qur’anic rights represent fundamental human rights, their flagrant and multiple violations is a criminal offence as the said law legislates. Hence any Muslim quarter that opposes this law commits a grave sin from religious perspective and may be charged for defending gross human rights violation under the trumped-up cloak of religion.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.
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