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Can Muslims Force Non-Muslims To Convert To Islam? Why No Outrage Among Ulema On Reports Of Forced Conversions From Different Countries, Particularly Pakistan?

By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi, New Age Islam

02 August 2019

The topic of forcible conversion to Islam has become the concern of mainstream media. Several cases of conversion to Islam are reported to have occurred around the world, particularly in Pakistan of young Hindu girls who are abducted, converted forcibly and married off to their abductors. This is extremely shocking because this violates the total Islamic prohibition of forced conversion.

Islam neither allows forced conversion nor accepts the faith of those who are forcibly converted to Islam. Forced conversion can’t create love and faith in one’s heart, as Islamic faith is not related to outward following of rituals, but rather it is a matter of acceptance by heart. Then how can one justify forced conversion? Why is there no outrage in the community of Muslim ulema at this mockery of our religion by Muslims themselves?

The Quran clearly prohibits forced conversion when it says, “There is no compulsion in religion. Surely, the guidance has become evidently distinguished from error. So he who rejects false gods and believes in Allah has grasped such a firm handhold that will never loosen. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.” (2:256)

In this verse, the Quranic phrase “La Ikraha Fiddinلا إكراه في الدين…” means “There is no compulsion in Religion”. The first word of the verse ‘La’ is ‘La Nafiya Li al-Jins’, a negative particle which specifically denotes ‘categorical negation’, i.e. no chance of any exception. Thus, the meaning of this Ayat is: every sort of compulsion, without any exception, is totally prohibited in the Islamic faith.

This is the basic principle of Islam upon which the idea of non-compulsion is built, guaranteeing religious freedom for all non-Muslims. Islam, as the Quranic verse says, has made its “guidance evidently distinguished from error” and therefore it does not force the people to convert to Islam. In other words, Islam invites people to accept Islam willingly, but it does not force them to do so. A number of Quranic verses support this view. Some of them are as follows;

“There is no duty upon the Noble Messenger except to convey the command; and Allah knows all what you disclose and all what you hide.” (5:99)

“And proclaim, “The Truth is from your Lord”; so whoever wills may accept faith, and whoever wills may disbelieve – We have indeed prepared for the wrongdoers [Zalimin] a fire the walls of which will surround them; if they plead for water, their plea will be answered with water like molten metal which shall scald their faces; what an evil drink it is; and what an evil destination is hell!” (The Quran - 18:29)

“And if your Lord willed, all those who are in the earth – every one of them – would have accepted faith; so, will you force the people until they become Muslims?” (The Quran -10:99)

This verse clearly implies that if God had willed, He would have caused only the believers to be born in the earth. Nothing was impossible for God. He revealed His signs to check the mankind, granting them the free-will to choose faith or unbelief.

The second half of the verse, “So will you force the people until they become Muslims?” is a rhetorical question which serves to emphasize that accepting the faith is a matter of choice. The Quran has used this rhetorical technique to guide the believers, while apparently addressing the beloved Prophet (peace be upon him). This part of the verse does not mean that the Prophet sought to compel the people to become believers, because God Almighty had prevented him from doing so.

This verse is meant to comfort the Prophet (peace be upon him) because he had worry and concern over whether his people will embrace his message and refrain from committing unbelief and sins, as the Quran refers to his concern, “Indeed there has come to you a Noble Messenger from among you – your falling into hardship aggrieves him, most concerned for your well being, for the believers most compassionate, most merciful” (9:128). God Almighty knows that His Prophet is concerned about the sins of the people and their fate in the Hereafter.

So, to comfort His Prophet, God says, “Possibly you may risk your life (O Prophet) by grieving, because they did not believe”. (26:3). This implies that instead of risking his life, the Prophet should remember that the state of the faith of the people whom he is commanded to address is a matter for God Almighty to determine and is not his concern. Therefore the only duty for him is to proclaim the divine message and not to force them to save them from the divine punishment in the Hereafter, as the Quran refers to this, “Your duty is only to convey, and it is up to Us to reckon” (13:40), “Therefore advise; you are only the one who reminds. You are not at all a guardian over them.” (88:21-22)

Allah commands His Prophet to invite the people to Islam with wisdom and fair admonition and in the best manner, with kindness, gentleness and good speech, as He says,

“Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair admonition, and argue with them in the kindest way. Your Lord knows best who is misguided from His way. And He knows best who are guided.” (Qur'an, 16:125)

 “Then if they turn away, (O Prophet), upon you is nothing but to clearly convey (the message).” (16:82)

What do the modern and traditional jurists and exegetes say about the forced conversion? Let us read some of them.

Imam Razi says in his commentary of the verse 2:256, “forced conversion is not permissible in the world because it is the house of trial. And because forced conversion to Islam invalidates the objective of trial and test. The example of this non-compulsive behaviour is also mentioned in the divine speech of God, “And say, “The Truth is from your Lord”; so whoever wills may accept faith, and whoever wills may disbelieve...” (18:29) (Mafatih al-Ghaib, Tafsir Razi, 2:256)  

Notably a famous classical jurist belonging to Hanbali school of thought, Ibn Qudamah al-Marquise writes, (translation from Arabic) “It is not permitted to force a non-Muslim to accept Islam. Such a person would not even be considered a Muslim until it is confirmed that he accepted the Islamic faith by his own free choice.” He also says, “The reason for the prohibition of any compulsion or coercion is the Qur’anic verse, “There is no compulsion in Religion” (see al-Mughni-)

Allama Ibn Kathir writes in his commentary on the verse 2:256,

يقول تعالى : ( لا إكراه في الدين ) أي : لا تكرهوا أحدا على الدخول في دين الإسلام فإنه بين واضح جلي دلائله وبراهينه لا يحتاج إلى أن يكره أحد على الدخول فيه ، بل من هداه الله للإسلام وشرح صدره ونور بصيرته دخل فيه على بينة ، ومن أعمى الله قلبه وختم على سمعه وبصره فإنه لا يفيده الدخول في الدين مكرها مقسورا . وقد ذكروا أن سبب نزول هذه الآية في قوم من الأنصار ، وإن كان حكمها عاما .

English Translation:

“Do not force anyone to become Muslim, for Islam is plain and clear, and its proofs and evidence are plain and clear. Therefore, there is no need to force anyone to embrace Islam. Rather, whoever Allah directs to Islam, opens his heart for it and enlightens his mind, will embrace Islam with certainty. Whoever Allah blinds his heart and seals his hearing and sight, then he will not benefit from being forced to embrace Islam.” (Ismail Ibn Kathir “Tafsir Al-Quran Al-Azim” English and Arabic versions, 2:256).

Abu Bakr al-Jazairi says, (لا يكره المرء على الدخول في الدين، وإنما يعتنقه بإرادته واختياره) “The people will not be forced to enter into Islam. They can embrace it on their will and pleasure.” (Aysar al-Tafasir, 2:256)

Imam Nasafi Hanafi says in the commentary of the verses (10:99-100), “if Allah the Most High wanted to compel all people to believe, then He would have done so and all the people would have believed in Him. But He has willed instead that they come to believe in Him by their own free choice”. (Abd Allah ibn Ahmad al-Nasafi, “Madarik al-Tanzil wa Haqaiq Al-Tawil (the Arabic book of Tafsir)

It is reported that although the Ansar were the reason behind revealing this verse 2:256, the application of its message is general in meaning (Tafsir Ibn Kathir). Given the famous maxim "العبرة بعموم اللفظ لا بخصوص السبب", meaning, “Consideration is granted to the Generality of the Language, not to the Specificity of the Reason for Revelation”, it is proclaimed that this verse (2:256) is general in meaning and applies to all non-Muslims. Hence it means that none of the non-Muslims should be coerced to accept Islam. The rationale behind this generality is explained in this way: since the revelation has distinguished the path of guidance from the path of misguidance, it is now up to the will of people to choose the one or the other path and therefore accepting Islam because of compulsion would not benefit the convert in any way.

More significantly it is also reported that when Hazrat Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) invited an old Christian woman to accept Islam, she said in reply: “I am an old woman nearing death.” Hearing this, Hazrat Umar did not force her to come into the fold of Islam. In fact, he recited this very verse 2:256 “There is no compulsion in Religion)” (Al-Nahhas “al-Nasikh wal Mansukh”)

When Hazrat Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) granted security and protection to the citizens of Jerusalem, his covenant established the constitution of religious freedom (based on ‘There is no compulsion in Religion’) for all non-Muslims living in Islamic society.

This is reported by Imam Tabari that Hazrat Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) made peace with the people of Jerusalem and wrote a single covenant for every village besides Jerusalem: “In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful. This is the covenant of security from the servant of God, ‘Umar, the Commander of the faithful, to the people of Jerusalem. He grants them safety for their lives, their property, their churches and their crucifixes, for their ill, their healthy, and their entire community. Their churches will not be occupied, demolished, or decreased in number. Their churches and crucifixes will not be desecrated and neither anything else of their property. They will not be coerced to abandon their religion and none of them will be harmed.” (Imam Tabari, ‘Tarikh al-umam wa al-muluk, 2/449

Shaykh Muhammad Mitwalli ash-Sha'rawi says in the commentary of 2:256,

فأصل التدين والإيمان بالله ألا يكرهك أحد عليه بل ادخل إلى الإيمان بالله باختيارك لكن إذا دخلت إلى الإيمان بالله فالتزم بالسماع من الله في "افعل" ولا تفعل. (تفسير الشعراوي ج 4)

The original religiousness and faith in God comes when no one compels you for that. You should enter into faith on your free will. However if you embrace the faith, you should obey “Do’s” and “Don’ts” mentioned in the Quran.” (Tafsir Sha’rawi, vol.4)

The afore-mentioned Quranic verses (Ayaat) and reports make it quite clear that forced conversion is not permissible. Hence the idea of forced conversion is baseless and can’t be justified. The reason is that forced belief is not sincere belief and that Islamic faith is not related to ritualistic practices or false statements, but rather it relates to the heart, and in matters of the heart, there is no scope for compulsion. Therefore, non-Muslims can’t be compelled to become a Muslim. In any case the idea of forcing someone to believe in something is absurd.

A regular Columnist with, Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi Dehlvi is an Alim and Fazil (Classical Islamic scholar), with a Sufi-Sunni background and English-Arabic-Urdu Translator. He has also done B.A (Hons.) in Arabic, M.A. in Arabic and M.A in English from JMI, New Delhi. He is Interested in Islamic Sciences; Theology, Jurisprudence, Tafsir, Hadith and Islamic mysticism (Tasawwuf).


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