Did the Prophet and the Sahaba Advocate Forcing People to Become Muslim?

Answered by Shaykh Ilyas Patel

Question: Assalamu alaykum. There is an issue which is bothering me, hence I am sending this email to you.

A non-Muslim sent me a message trying to emphasize that Rasool (Sallalahualaihiwasallam) and the Sahaba (R.A.) forced people to become Muslim.

In this message, to back up his claim the non-Muslim gave me this particular quote:

‘Abu Bakr said: “You asked me for the best advice that I could give you, and I will tell you. God sent Muhammad with this religion and he strove for it until men accepted it VOLUNTARILY OR BY FORCE.” (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, pp. 668-669)’

However I am aware that Allah declares in Surah Baqara that there is no compulsion in Islam.

Has ibn Ishaq really written this and if ibn Ishaq has written this, then is it true what he says?

Answer: Wassalamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu,

I hope you in good health.

Yes he might have said the above. Far from being apologetic or polemical, ‘force’ is not meant in its literal sense, but the meaning of it has to be taken into its wider context and meaning. It is mentioned under the commentary of the above verse in Ibn Kathir, as follows:

Abu Dawud and An-Nasa’i also recorded this Hadith. As for the Hadith that Imam Ahmad recorded, in which Anas said that the Messenger of Allah said to a man,’ Embrace Islam.’’ The man said, ‘I dislike it.’ The Prophet said, ‘Even if you dislike it.’

First, this is an authentic Hadith, with only three narrators between Imam Ahmad and the Prophet. However, it is not relevant to the subject under discussion, for the Prophet did not force that man to become Muslim. The Prophet merely invited this man to become Muslim, and he replied that he does not find himself eager to become Muslim. The Prophet said to the man that even though he dislikes embracing Islam, he should still embrace it, `for Allah will grant you sincerity and true intent.’

Mufti Shaf’i writes, this approach of Islam makes it clear that is does not force people to accept and enter Islam, far from it, rather it is to remove oppression from the world. When Umar( Allah be pleased with him) invited an old Christian woman to Islam, she said, I am an old woman and very close to death, but rather Umar replied with the above verse, there is no compulsion in religion.

Coercion and force is not possible at all as faith is not related to the outward but to the inward, heart. Coercion and compulsion affect nothing but the outward physical and this is all that is affected by jihad and qital (fighting). Finally, it is just not possible that people can be forced to accept faith through these measures. This proves that the verses of jihad and qital are not contradictory to the following verse, there is no compulsion in faith.

A famous letter sent by 36 Islamic scholars to Pope Benedict XVI addressed this verse:

“This verse is acknowledged to belong to the period of Quranic revelation corresponding to the political and military ascendance of the young Muslim community. “There is no compulsion in religion” was not a command to Muslims to remain steadfast in the face of the desire of their oppressors to force them to renounce their faith, but was a reminder to Muslims themselves, once they had attained power, that they could not force another’s heart to believe.”

There is no compulsion in religion addresses those in a position of strength, not weakness. The earliest commentaries on the Qur’an (such as that of Al-Tabari) make it clear that some Muslims of Medina wanted to force their children to convert from Judaism or Christianity to Islam, and this verse was precisely an answer to them not to try to force their children to convert to Islam.

As for the statement of Abu Bakr mentioned in Ibn Ishaq, it should be reliable. Ibn Ishaq is regarded by Imam al-Shafi`i, Ahmad b. Hanbal, Yahya b. Ma`in, al-Bukhari, Muslim and many others by and large reliable especially with regards to sira.

And Allah alone gives success


Ilyas Patel