Was Islam spread at the point of sword? Was the Muslim emblem “The Qur’an or the sword?” Were the Muslims imperialist and after mundane power or loot ? Some people like to think about that in affirmative terms; some others in the negative, and some are undecided, perplexed and reluctant. But where does the Qur’an stand? What does the history of Muhammad reveal in this connection? It is certainly imperative on every honest person who has respect for truth and human dignity to find out for himself, and to reveal his findings to others.
The Qur’an makes it clear that, whether we want it or not, war is a necessity of existence, a fact of life, so long as there exist in the world injustice, oppression, capricious ambitions, and arbitrary claims. This may sound strange. But is it not a matter of historical record that humanity – from the early dawn of history up till now – has suffered from local, civil and global wars? And is it not also a fact that, more often than not, victorious allies settle their disputes over their gains and the status of their defeated enemies through wars and threats of war? Even today humanity lives under constant fear and buzzes of war over many hot spots in the world. Could God overlook these facts of life? Or could the Qur’an fail to deal with the matter in a realistic and effective manner? Certainly not! And that is why Islam has recognized war as a lawful and justifiable course for self- defense and restoration of justice, freedom and peace. The Qur’an says:
Fighting is prescribed for you, and you dislike it. But it is possible that you dislike a thing, which is good for you, and that you love a thing, which is bad for you. God knows, and you know not (2:216).
And did not God check one set of people by means of another, the earth would indeed by full of mischief: But God is Full of bounty to all the worlds (2:251). And did not God check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques in which the name of God is commemorated in abundant measure (22:40).
Although realistic in its approach, Islam never tolerates aggression from its own side or from any other side, nor does it entertain aggressive wars or the initiation of aggressive wars. Muslims are commanded by God not to begin hostilities, or embark on any act of aggression, or violate any rights of others. In addition to what has been already said in the previous chapter, some particular verses of the Qur’an are of significant bearing. God says:
Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, and do not transgress limits (begin not hostility): For God loves not transgressors. And slay them wherever you catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith. But if they cease, God is Forgiving, Most Merciful. And fight them on until there is no more persecution or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression (2:190-193).
War is not an objective of Islam nor is it the normal course of Muslims. It is only the last resort and is used under the most extraordinary circumstances when all other measures fail. This is the actual status of war in Islam. Islam is the religion of peace: its meaning is peace; one of God’s names is peace; the daily greetings of Muslims and angels are peace; paradise is the house of peace, the adjective ‘Muslim’ means Peaceful. Peace is the nature, the meaning, the emblem and the objective of Islam. Every being is entitled to enjoy the peace of Islam and the kindness of the peaceful Muslims, regardless of religious or geographical or racial considerations, so long as there is no aggression against Islam or the Muslims. If non-Muslims are peaceful with the Muslims or even indifferent to Islam, there can be no ground or justification to declare war on them. There is no such thing as religious war to force Islam on non-Muslims, because if Islam does not emerge from deep convictions, from within, it is not acceptable to God, nor can it help its professor. If there is any religion or constitution to guarantee peaceful freedom of religion and forbid compulsion in religion, it is Islam and Islam alone. To this point the Qur’an refers as follows:
Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error; Whoever rejects Evil and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy handhold, that never breaks, And God hears and knows all things (2:256).
Even in the propagation of Islam a Muslim is not only forbidden to employ force but is also commanded to use the most peaceful methods. To Muhammad God says:
Invite (all) to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: For your Lord knows best who have strayed from His path and who receive guidance (16:125).
And dispute you not with the people of the Book (Jews and Christians) except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): But say: ’We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; our God and your God is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam) (29:46).
Now if Islam is so designated for peace, and if the Muslims are so dedicated to peace, and if the Qur’an is favorable to peace, why then did Muhammad launch wars and command battles? Why does the Qur’an say ‘slay them’ and fight them? To examine this seemingly innocent inquiry, it is indispensable to mention some historical facts that accompanied and anticipated the Muslim wars against the infidels.
After receiving the Charge from God, Muhammad called a public meeting and told the assembly of what he had received, appealing to them to give up their idol-worship and believe in the One True God. His first peaceful and logical appeal was met not only with resistance but also with jeers, mockery and laughter. He tried continually to present his people with the blessed call but had little success. Because he was not left free to propagate Islam in the open, he had to resort to private preaching for some years to save the lives of his few followers and mitigate their hardships. When instructions from God came to him to preach in the open, persecutions and torture increased and were brutally inflicted on the Muslims. But the more the persecutions increased, the higher the number of Muslims arose. The infidels tried all kinds of pressure and temptation to silence the Call of God. But the more they tried, the firmer Muhammad and the Muslims stood. When the infidels failed to shake the Faith of the Believers by threats, pressure, confiscation of property, jeers, etc., they organized a harsh boycott, a fierce campaign of ostracism, against the Muslims. For some years the Muslims were forced to remain within a very tight circle of association, unable to preach or sell or buy or marry or contact any of their fellow Meccans. Even this did not shake the Muslims’ Faith. The boycott went on until the infidels themselves were tired of its observance and had to call it off.
Bringing the severe boycott to an end was no indication of peace or anticipation of tranquillity on the part of the infidels. On the contrary, pressure and persecution continued with a rapid increase, but it was all in vain as far as the Muslims were concerned. Finally, the infidels convened a summit conference behind closed doors to discuss what to do next to eliminate Islam and get rid of Muhammad once and for all. A unanimous resolution was adopted to select a strong man from every tribe and murder Muhammad in his bed. The mission of Muhammad was not destined to end at that level. So, God instructed him to leave
While Muhammad was engaged in these reforms, trying to organize the Muslim community at
Now the Muslims were being constantly threatened from within by the disenchanted at
It must have been a paradox. Islam came to assure them of dignity and strength, freedom and security, and to ally them with God the Supreme Source of goodness and help, power and peace. Yet here they were helpless and anxious, threatened and terrified. Islam commissioned them to establish peace, to enjoin the right and forbid the wrong, to support the oppressed and emancipate the subjugated, and to prove how reliable and helpful to His servants God is. But how could they do that, if they themselves were oppressed, subjugated to terror and projected to helplessness?
What perplexed them most of all was that the Qur’an had been silent on the matter, and had given them no specific instructions as to what to do. Their perplexity did not last long, and God relieved their grief by a Divine resolution to solve their problems and those of any who might find themselves in a similar situation. Here is how God words His resolution:
Verily God will defend those who believe: Verily God loves not any that is a traitor to faith or shows ingratitude. To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged; and verily, God is Most Powerful for their aid; (they are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right, (for no cause) except that they say: ‘ Our Lord is God’. Did not God check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of God is commemorated in abundant measure. God will certainly aid those who aid His (cause); for verily God is Full of strength, Exalted in Might, (Able to enforce His Will). (They are) those who, if We establish them in the land, establish regular prayer and give regular charity, enjoin the right and forbid the wrong. With God rests the end (and decision) of all affairs (-41).
With this permission from God there was no more persecution or oppression to be inflicted on the Muslims. There was resistance from their side to restore tranquillity, to regain their peace and freedom, to reunite with their families and take back their belongings. There were battles and wars with the malicious infidels who flagrantly denied the Muslims peace and freedom. But never was there any aggression from the Muslim side, or any destruction of homes, crops, supplies, etc., or any killing of non-fighting children, women, elders and disabled people. The Muslims observed these rules and remained within the limits of God. That was something which had never been experienced before nor has been experienced after. It was under these circumstances that the Muslims had to fight, and it was with these principles and instructions of God that they in the end achieved decisive victories.
So much has been said or written about the “ruthless” Muslims, who emerged from the burning and dry deserts of dark
Another trend of thought is adopted by some who like to call themselves intellectuals or enlightened critics and authorities. They are not satisfied with that silly and naive opinion about the spread of Islam by force. They attribute the expansion of Islam to the aggressive wars launched by Muslims who suffocated in the heat and drought of
There is still one more trend adopted by some people who ascribe the Muslim wars out of
The dispute between these various sections is quite serious and sometimes takes the shape of academic discussion. But be that as it may. The fact of the matter is that none of these critics has made any serious attempt to understand the whole question and present the truth in any honest manner. None of them has had the needed insight and the moral courage to come out with the true version of the entire case. How heavy their burden will be when they discover some day that they have misled and misinformed millions of people! How serious their responsibility will be when they know that they have committed grave offenses against the truth, against the Muslims and against their own followers!
It will be impossible to present here the viewpoint of Islam in detail concerning each war or battle. However, there are certain main points which will, when mentioned, give a fair idea of the whole Matter.
1. It should be remembered that Muhammad, who was commissioned by God as a mercy for all mankind, tried to approach the rulers of the neighboring territories, inviting them to embrace Islam and share in the mercy of God. It should also be remembered that they did not only reject his gracious invitation but also derided him and declared open wars against the Muslims. In his lifetime the Roman and Persian soldiers crossed the Muslim borders in various raids. So by the time of his death the Muslims were involuntarily at war with their neighbors.
That state of affairs continued, and whatever happened later in the following generations has to be seen in the context of those first incidents. This meant at the time that all Christendom, including
2. None of the said critics tries to understand the nature and circumstances of those early centuries. The media of mass communication did not exist. There was no press or radio or television or even regular mail service. There was no way of public information or preaching except by personal contacts. There was no respect for life or property or honor or treaties of the individuals and of the weak nations. There was no security or freedom of expression. Whoever stood for a noble cause or came out with unpopular beliefs was menaced. This is revealed from the history of Socrates the Greek philosopher, of the Christian pioneers, and of the early Muslims. Many emissaries commissioned to deliver special messages to rulers and governors never came back alive. They were cold-bloodedly murdered or captured by their very hosts.
With all these hardships the Muslims of Arabia had to cope, and under all these circumstances they had to work. They had a message to deliver to mankind, a contribution to make to humanity, and a formula of salvation to offer. The Qur’an says invite to the Way of God by wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue in the most gracious manner. But who was there prepared to listen to the peaceful Call of God? It is a fact that many disbelievers used to avoid hearing the Prophet lest they might be affected by his peaceful preaching. They even resisted by force the peaceful Call of Islam. The early experience of
Now they had, by the order of God, to make Islam known to the outside world, but there was no telecommunication system or press or any other mass medium of communication. There was only one course to take, namely, personal and direct contacts, which meant that they had to cross the borders. But they could not do that in small or unarmed groups. So they had to move in large protected groups which must have appeared like an army, but was not an army in the real sense. They crossed the borders in various directions at different times. What took place then deserves consideration. In some areas they were warmly welcomed by the natives, who had long been oppressed and subjugated by the foreign powers of
Those who rejected Islam and refused to pay tributes in collaboration with other sectors to support their state made it hard for themselves. They resorted to a hostile course from the beginning, and meant to create trouble, not so much for the new Muslim comers as for the new Muslim converts and their compatriots, the tribute-payers. In a national sense, that attitude was treacherous; in a human sense, mean; in a social sense, careless; and in a military sense, pro- vocative. But in a practical sense it needed suppression, not so much for the comfort of the newcomers as for the sake of the state in which these very traitors were living. This is the only time force was applied to bring such people to their senses and make them realize their responsibilities: either as Muslims by accepting Islam freely, or as loyal citizens by being tributepayers, capable of living with their Muslim compatriots and sharing with them equal rights and duties.
3. It may be wise for these critics to study the Qur’an with honest intentions to see what it ordains with regard to war and peace. It may be wiser still for them to investigate the status of the “conquered” people, and the conditions under which they lived before and after their contact with the Muslims. What will they say, if they find out that urgent appeals were made to the Muslims by natives of the Persian and Roman protectorates to come and deliver them from the oppressing foreign rule? What will they think, if they happen to discover that the Muslim “conquerors” were joyfully welcomed by common people as well as by the religious patriarchs, who were longing for Muslim protection and Muslim justice of administration? How would they explain the phenomenon that some of the “conquered” people not only welcomed the “invading” Muslims but also fought on their side against the oppressors? How would they conceive the prosperity, freedom and progress of the “invaded” regions under Islam, in comparison to what had prevailed therein before?
We are not ascertaining any particular point of view on the matter or making any hasty conclusions. We simply believe that the question is worth reconsidering and deserves serious investigation. The findings will certainly by interesting and significant. Perhaps a Western mind can understand better, if the whole matter is considered in the light of the prevailing conditions in today’s world. The deep concern of the Western Allies over Berlin, the appeals of the oppressed everywhere, the anxiety of the South Koreans, the fears of the Laotians, the NATO business, the SEATO affairs, the Instability of the Communist Satellites - all that may help the Western mind to understand the events of those remote centuries and the actual policies of the Muslims of those days.
4. The idea that Muslim wars in the outside world were motivated by economic needs of the Arabs is worth considering too. Although seemingly certain of their own assumptions, the upholders of such an idea have not really studied the case seriously. Do they honestly think that the economic needs were the reasons to urge the Muslims to cross their Arabian borders? On what ground do they assume that
The attempt to interpret the Muslim contacts with non- Muslims in terms of economic needs may sound novel and worthy of sympathy, but it does not seem to have much truth in it or carry much bearing on serious scholarship. The least reservation that can be made as regards this attempt is that it is so far from being satisfactory and complete. There is so much yet to be done in terms of research, investigation, analysis and comparison. Until this is done, no critic has any moral right to pass his own theoretical assumptions as valid or binding. This presents another gracious invitation of Islam to all critics to make more serious attempts to search for the truth.
5. There is not much need to take as serious the opinions of those who consider the Muslim wars in terms of plunder and loot. What can be more casual or more stereotyped than such an opinion? It is a short cut in the field of scholarship and an easy way out of some Intellectual and moral problems, but it is so far from being the truth. The same questions of points 3 and 4 above can be asked again, just to find out how much loot the Muslim adventurers took or sent back to
Whether or not the critics of these various grades accept the point of view of this survey, the fact remains that Islam is the religion of peace in the fullest sense of the term; that unjust war was never among its teachings; that aggression was never in its tenets or tolerated by it; that force was never employed to impose it on anyone; that the expansion of Islam was never due to compulsion or oppression; that misappropriation was never forgivable by God or acceptable to Islam; and that whoever distorts or misrepresents the Islamic teachings will do more harm to his own self and his associates than to Islam. Because it is the religion of God and the straight path to Him, it survived under the most difficult conditions, and it will survive to be the safe bridge to happy eternity. Should these critics have any doubt about this fact, they would be wise to study Islam, re-read the Qur’an, and refresh their memory of history.
The fact that economic prosperity and cultural renaissance followed the spread of Islam into the “conquered” regions does not necessarily mean that the Muslims were after economic gains and military spoils. Even if such alleged gain and spoils became incentives in later periods of Islamic history, it still does not follow that Islam prefers war to peace and the Muslims relish war spoils. There are better explanations. One of these should be very clear to those who are familiar with the classical discussion of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism where Protestantism, along with other factors, led to the rise of modern capitalism. No serious mind would contend that the Protestants developed their ethic to become economically prosperous or that modern capitalism still depends on the Protestant Ethic.
6. Finally, the word “Jihad” when associated with the word “Terrorism” become an abused term; the common meaning of Jihad is the action of a Muslim to defend his Muslim country when attacked, but it will never be a Jihad if you break the Muslims rules of engagement. It is a fact that Islam is both a faith and a set of rules of conduct, even in times of war Muslims are not allowed to kill anybody except the one who is engaged in face to face confrontation with them. The Muslims rules of engagement insist that children, women, the infirm, the aged, the men of religion and all those who are not engaged directly in battle should not be harmed. Moreover, Muslims in times of war are not allowed to destroy buildings housing innocent people or to destroy lands or to cut trees or to poison wells or to endanger the environment. Also Islam forbids haphazard killing where innocent people are killed along with wrongdoers.
At the same time the wide meaning of the word Jihad is ‘striving to do good’. So if you educate your family correctly your action is a Jihad, if you do your job properly your action is a Jihad, if you control your anger continuously your action is a Jihad, and the greatest Jihad is to restrain your soul from impure evil lower desires and lusts.
It should be stated that Islam, the religion of tolerance and forgiveness, holds the human soul in high esteem, and considers the killing of innocent human beings a grave sin and a terrible crime; This is backed by the Qur’anic verse which reads: ” …that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people, and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people…” (Qur’an 5: 32)
The Prophet is reported to have stated that: ‘ a woman would go to Hell because she locked up a cat that died as a result ’; If such is the ruling on protecting animals, no doubt aggression against human beings deserves greater prohibition, for human beings are honored by God.
Also Islam teaches justice: “O you who believe, stand out firmly for God as witnesses to fair dealing; and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just; that is next to piety, and fear God.” (Qur’an 5:8).
The Prophet said God had revealed to him: “O my servants, I have prohibited myself from doing anything unjust and have forbidden you from doing anything unjust as well. So don’t do anything unjust”.
Muslims who are aware of the teachings of Islam, the directives of the Holy Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet will never involve themselves in any kind of terrorist acts of aggression against innocent civilians. Such acts are considered an injustice to innocent people who are terrorized without any reasons.
If any terrorist attacks were carried out against innocent civilians then Islam reject the act and incriminate the perpetrator, and the aggressor deserves the punishment irrespective of religion, race or gender. It is unfair to hold a whole nation accountable for a crime carried out by a limited number of fanatic extremists, or to characterize a certain religion as a faith giving support to violence and terrorism.