Islam Spread by the Sword ?
- Islam Spread by the Sword ? The Myth and the Reality
By Dr. Sharif Mohammed
Among the most widely believed myths about Islam in the West today is
the myth of forcible conversion to Islam.
Many Westerners do believe that Islam is so widespread in the world
today simply because of a "holy campaign of terror" carried out by
the early Muslims to convert non-Muslims to Islam. Non-Muslims were
offered the freedom to choose either Islam or death.
In a discussion with a Baptist Minister he said to me that "Muslims
tend to kill non-Muslims and anyone who disagrees with them". In a
syndicated column appearing in over 30 papers (on July 23rd, 1994)
entitled, "Muslim persecution of Christians increasing" the author
blames many Muslims countries for persecuting Christians then he
quotes the Qur'an, "There is no compulsion in Religion" and ends the
quote by rudely writing "Really?".
How to confront such misconceptions? First, there is no need for us
to be apologetic. We Muslims should search for the truth and present
it as it is. This is how we have been instructed by Allah (SWT)
"Say: the truth from your Lord and let him who will believe and let
him who will reject" (18:29)
Islam is the religion of the Truth. The Qur'an is the book of the
"We sent down the Qur'an in Truth and in Truth has it descended"
"Put your trust in Allah for you are on the path of the manifest
Therefore, we should ask ourselves first, before we are asked by
anyone else, what is the truth? Did Muslims really force others to
convert to Islam? Is there any evidence for consistent forcible
conversion throughout Islamic history? As a matter of fact, there is
no such evidence anywhere in the history of Islam. Many distinguised
Western historians have attested this fact-- foremost among whom is
Sir Thomas W. Arnold in his book, "The Preaching of Islam". Also
there is Marshall G. Hodgson in his book, "The Venture of Islam",
Albert Hourani in his book, "A History of the Arab People", Ira
Lapidus in his book, "History of Islamic Societies", L.S. Starorianos
in his book, "A Global Hisotry, the Human Heritage" and many others.
In fact, there is substantial evidence to the contrary. We have
already seen in a previous khutbah [friday sermon] that Muslims were
often seen as liberators of the oppressed people everywhere.
The question that remains to be answered is why then so many people
have chosen Islam throughout the more than 1400 years of its history.
Islam has penetrated the Middle East, North Africa, Spain, West
Africa, East Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Caucasus,
Central Asia, Afghanistan, India, Western China, and the Malay
archipelago. Islam in all these regions replaced so many other well-
established religions: Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism,
Hinduism, Paganism and animism. What are the reasons behind the
triumph of Islam over all these religions in so many different places
at so many different times?
First and foremost, Islam is an amazing blend of simplicity and
rationality: a very simple religion yet very rational at the same
time. Professor Hodgson has explained the reasons for the popularity
of Islam as follows:
"Muslims made a personal appeal to people's religious consciousness.
On the level of straight argument, they often put forward the
populistic intelligibility of Islam. Muslims commonly ridiculed, in
the name of intellectual good sense, the more mythically convoluted
teachings of older traditions. This could seem attractively
straightforward to people dissatisfied with taking things on faith
from a learned priest whose mysteries they could not comprehend. A
single Creator, to be worshipped by each person for himself, on the
basis of revelation that had been given to a famous prophet whom
millions already acknolwedged. This was at once intelligible and
The unambiguous and uncompromising belief in the Unity, the
Greatness, the Wisdom of God, the Creator of the universe, is
unparalleled among other religions. The French professor Edouard
"The dogma of the unity of God...has always been proclaimed in the
Qur'an with a grandeur, a majesty, an invariable purity and with a
note of pure conviction which is hard to find surpassed outside the
pale of Islam. A creed so precise, so stripped of all theological
complexities and so accessible to the ordinary understanding might be
expected to possess and does indeed possess a marvellous power of
winning its way into the consciences of men."
Besides its simple and rational creed, Islam offers an impressive set
of rituals which has gained the admiration and, subsequently, the
conversion of many non-Muslims. The second pillar of Islam, Salah
[prayer] has been described as follows by Sir Arnold:
"The religion of the Muslim is continuously present with him and, in
the daily prayer, manifests itself in a solemn and impressive ritual
which cannot leave either the worshipper or the spectator
Then Sir Arnold narrated the story of an Egyptian Jew who converted
to Islam at the end of the 13th century mainly because of the sight
of the Juma'a prayer. Actually, it is not only in the 13th century
that people converted to Islam because of the prayers; it just
happened a few years ago in Ottawa that a non-Muslim Canadian woman
converted to Islam because of Juma'a prayers. She used to go to the
Ottawa Mosque on Friday and pray among the sisters for several
months. She loved the prayer and eventually she embraced Islam.
In addition to the prayers, the other pillars of Islam, Zakah [alms
tax distributed to the poor], Hajj [pilgrimage to Makkah], Siyam
[fasting in Ramadan], have always been factors in attracting many
hearts to Islam. Up until the present day, one still meets converts
who were impressed by the social justice of Islam brilliantly
expressed in the payment of Zakah. The genius of Hajj and Siyam has
always been a determining factor in the conversion of many people. It
is this union of rationalism and ritualism that explains the power
that Islam has exercised over the hearts and minds of so many people.
Islam simply gives the truth, neat and clear in a visible and
tangible form. The neatness and clarity of Islam was presented to
human beings in the form of a miraculous book, the Qur'an. The
marvellous power and beauty of the words of the Qur'an have always
been a decisive factor in conversion to Islam. The famous Jewish
American convert to Islam, Maryam Jameelah, cited the Qur'an as the
major factor of her conversion. After a deep study of both the Old
Testament and the Qur'an, the contrast between the two scriptures
became increasingly evident to her until she firmly believed that the
Qur'an was indeed God's message to the human race.
A conference of Christian missionaries in 1887 was discussing why
Islam has almost swept away Crhistianity from the Middle East. What
did Islam offer these people to forsake Christianity for good? One of
the missionaries was insightful enough to say the following:
"Islam brought out the fundamental dogmas of the Unity and Greatness
of God, that He is mindful and Righteous. It proclaimed the
responsibility of man, a future life, a Day of Judgement and stern
retribution to fall upon the wicked, and enforced the duties of
prayer, alms-giving and fasting. It replaced monkishness by
manliness, it gave hope to the slave, brotherhood to mankind and
recognition to the fundamental facts of human nature."
The formidable rationalism, ritualism and clarity of Islam did not
only lead the Christians of the Middle East to forsake Christianity
and embrace Islam in the past. It continues to do so with Christinas
in the West to the present day. An Australian-born Christain who
converted to Islam four months ago and who was studying here with us
at Queen's wrote in her story of conversion to Islam:
"Christianity continued to be difficult for me. So much didn't make
sense, the trinity, the idea that Jesus was God incarnate, the
worship of Mary, the Saints, or jesus, rather than God. The priests
told me to leave reason behind".
The she went on to say:
"Could Muhammad really be a messenger? Could the Qur'an be God's
word? I kept reading the Qur'an, it told me that Eve wasn't alone to
blame for the fall, that Jesus was a messenger, that people would
question the authenticity of Muhammad's claim to revelation but that
if they tried to write something as wise, consistent and rational
they would fail. This seemed true. Islam asked me to use my
intelligence to contemplate God, it encouraged me to seek knowledge."
Then at the end of her sincere search for the truth she prayed to God
saying, "Dear God, I believe in You, I believe in the compelling and
majestic words of the Qur'an and I believe in the prophethood of your
messenger Muhammad (SAW)."
Another Muslim sister, from California, who was a practising
Christian and an active member in her nearby Presbyterian church,
wrote in her conversion story that despite her active affiliation
with the church, she always had serious questions about the
fundamentlas of Chrsitianity which did not make sense to her. She
debated her questions with her friends but never came up with good
answers. The church couldn't give them good answers either, they only
told them to "have faith". All her questions were answered when she
took a course about Islam. Listen to her own words:
"This class brought back all of the concerns that I had about
Christianity. As I learned about Islam, all my questions were
answered. All of us are not punished for Adam's original sin. Adam
asked God for forgiveness and our merciful, loving God forgave him.
God doesn't require a blood sacrifice in payment for sin. We must
sincerely ask for forgiveness and amend our ways. Jesus wasn't God,
he was a prophet like all of the other prophets. This answered all of
my questions about the trinity and the nature of Jesus. I found a
teaching that put everything in its proper perspective and appealed
to my heart and my intellect. It seemed natural. It wasn't confusing.
I had been searching and I had found a place to rest my faith."
My dear brothers and sisters, Islam is so strong and so self-assured
that it does not need to use force to attract others to it. The moral
and intellectual superiority of Islam over all other religions has
manifested itself so clearly throughout the history of Islam. Despite
all of the ills of Muslims everywhere, Islam continues to be the
fastest growing religion on earth. Professor Huston Smith of the MIT
in his book, "The Religions of Man" says:
"In some areas where Islam and Christianity are competing for
converts, Islam is gaining at a rate of 10 to 1."
Ambassador Herman Ellis, in a testimony in front of the committee on
Foreign Affirs of the House of Represntatives of the United States
Congress on June 24th, 1985, said:
"The Muslim community of the globe today is in the neighbourhood of
one billion. That is an impressive figure. But what to me is equally
impressive is that Islam today is the fastest growing monotheistic
religion. This is something we have to take into account. Something
is right about Islam. It is attracting a good many people."
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