Freedom of Religions

There is No Compulsion in Religion – Part 2

Surah Al-A‘raf (Chapter 7)

In today’s so-called Islamic society, whether Islam is being truly practised or not, the dictate issued is to call people to guidance and to use the compulsion of the sword if they refuse. Allah the Almighty says:

And if you invite them to guidance, they hear not. And thou seest them looking towards thee, but they see not. [i.e. they totally blank you out as if they see nothing; even then, do not resort to force against them in that state. Allah The Almighty continues] Take to forgiveness, [The word used suggests that you hold fast to forbearance and forgiveness] and enjoin kindness, [Instead of resorting to force the instruction is] and turn away from the ignorant. (Ch.7:Vs.199-200)

Surah Al-Anfal (Chapter 8)

In the field of Badr, Allah the Almighty granted a glorious victory to the Holy Prophet(saw) and his companions. The verses of the Holy Qur’an revealed at that occasion clearly state that the war had been initiated by the infidels and that if war was to be resumed after the great victory of the Muslims and the humiliating defeat of the enemy, it would be initiated by the enemy.

In verse 20: addressing the non-believers, Allah the Almighty says:

If you sought a judgement, then judgement has indeed come to you. And if you desist, it will be better for you; but if you return to hostility, We too will return. And your party shall be of no avail at all to you, however numerous it be, and know that Allah is with the believers. (Ch.8:V.20)

This section of the verse, stating ‘if you desist, it will be better for you, but if you return to hostility, We too will return’ clearly demonstrates that hostilities had been initiated by the non-believers and that it would be better for them to desist. Were they to attack again as they attacked before, even their great numbers would be of no help because Divine assistance would be on the side of the Muslims.

The declaration shows clearly that the hostilities had been initiated by the disbelievers but some folklore would have us believe that the Muslims had started the hostilities!

One strange concept found amongst the traditional beliefs is that there are grounds for Muslims to use force, make a pre-emptive strike, or to start a war. This argument claims that there are directives which allow all insurrection to be suppressed and crushed by force. They say that as the false views of the opponents of Islam or even those of sects within Islam are damaging, it is entirely lawful and legitimate to use force to eradicate them.

The question which arises however is whether the use of force is necessary or lawful for eradicating every kind of mischief. The verses of the Holy Qur’an clearly enjoin that if any group initiates hostilities against Muslims unjustly, then to counter such an attack with force is not only lawful but necessary. This kind of action is categorised as defensive and a basic human right, whether in Islam or outside Islam.

If it is declared lawful that every wrong idea, every false ideology must be annihilated by force on the basis that it is a source of mischief or trial, then it becomes incumbent on every Muslim to put to death his children and destroy his wealth and belongings because the Holy Qur’an has declared them to be ‘fitna’, which means mischief or trial. Allah the Almighty says:

And know that your possessions and your children are but a trial. (Ch.8:V.29)

If the directive is to do away with all ‘trials’ with the sword, then when the Holy Qur’an declares possessions and children to be a ‘trial,’ are we then required to annihilate them?

The fact is that the only evil and trial which can be legitimately combated with force is the attempt by others to compel a certain belief or disbelief by force. As the non-believers were attempting to eradicate Islam not through the use of argument or miracles but by force and strength alone, Allah the Almighty says:

Say to those who disbelieve, if they desist, [and cease their hostilities] that which is past will be forgiven them; and if they return thereto, [to what they were doing] then verily, the example of the former peoples has already gone before them. And [then] fight them until there is no persecution and religion is wholly for Allah. [i.e. the persecution and fear of war and attacks have no bearing on the adopted faith; the faith is solely for the sake of God]. But if they desist, then surely Allah is watchful of what they do. (Ch.8:Vs.39-40)

The perfection of the Holy Qur’an should be closely noted – there is no room to infer an incorrect interpretation. When in Verse 29, children and possessions were declared a source of mischief or trial it was thus made clear that not everything categorised as such is to be combated with force. On the contrary, the only evil which must be combated with force, is force: force which is used to impose faith upon people and where religion is no longer solely for the sake of God.

The Muslims of this age are trapped in a self-contradiction. Practically speaking, they are at peace with non-Muslims, even with those who associate partners with Allah. As a matter of fact, these Muslims are often subsisting entirely on the assistance they receive from non-believers. Their traditionally held views meanwhile, tell them it is unlawful to even make peace with non-Muslims!

Let us turn to the Holy Qur’an for guidance.

And if they incline towards Peace, incline thou also towards it, and put thy trust in Allah. Surely, it is He Who is All-Hearing, All Knowing. And if they intend to deceive thee, [it is essential for you to maintain Peace!] then surely Allah is sufficient for thee. He it is Who has strengthened thee with His help and with the believers. (Ch.8:Vs.62-63)

In these verses there is a forceful admonishment to make peace if the attacking enemies sue for it. Even if it is apparent that such an offer on their part is only a deception, it remains the obligation of the Muslims to accept the offer of peace and to rely on Allah’s protection from the deception of the enemy. In the real world, despite the Muslims’ traditional belief that cordial relations with non-Muslims are unlawful, social and political relations are maintained for all intents and purposes!

Allah the Almighty says:

As for those who have believed but have not left their homes, you are not at all responsible for their protection until they leave their homes. But if they seek your help in the matter of religion, then it is your duty to help them, except against a people between whom and yourselves there is a treaty. (Ch.8:V.73)

In this verse it is made clear that a Muslim nation cannot provide assistance for a Muslim community against the nation in which such a community is resident (i.e. the community has not migrated).

Chapter 9 Surah Al-Taubah

In World politics today, all Muslim countries are essentially dependent on secular or religious non-Muslim nations and have formulated various pacts with them. On the other hand, as far as religious edict is concerned, their directive is that a Jihad should be conducted against the non-believers and it is essential to make all non-believers recite the credo of Islam. Let us turn to the Qur’an. Allah the Almighty says:

[Excepting those of the idolaters with whom you have entered into a treaty and] who have not fallen short of fulfilling their obligations to you, nor aided anyone against you. So fulfil to these the treaty you have made with them till their term. Surely, Allah loves those who are righteous. (Ch.9:V.4)

The traditionalists would dictate that the non-believers who persist in their refusal to believe should be put to death, while the Holy Qur’an’s edict permits the making of pacts with non-believers! Moreover, the Qur’an directs that such pacts should be fulfilled to the letter, and declares that to do so is an act of righteousness!

If a disbeliever falls into your hands, what would be the edict issued by those who make pronouncements in the name of ‘Jihad?’ What is the pronouncement of the Holy Qur’an? Allah the Almighty says:

And if anyone of the idolaters asks protection of thee, grant him protection, so that he may hear the word of Allah; then convey him to his place of security. That is because they are a people who have no knowledge. (Ch.9:V.6)

Is the noble concept of for-bearance embodied in this verse mirrored in any way in the traditional edicts?

The traditional edicts declare it obligatory to wage war when faced with non-acceptance of Islam by the enemy. Verse 13 of Chapter 9 describes an entirely different occasion for stoking the fires of war. Allah the Almighty says:

Will you not fight people who have broken their oaths [i.e. the pacts bound by firm promises] who plotted to turn out the Messenger of Allah, and they were the first to commence hostilities against you? (Ch.9:V.13)

This verse shows quite clearly that there is no moral or legal impediment to fighting those who have attacked first and broken their pledges of peace and who have plotted against the Messenger of God. This verse makes it clear and obvious that grounds for war were established when hostilities were initiated by the enemy, yet some scholars state that it was the Muslims who attacked first on the basis of the non-acceptance of Islam by the enemy! Verse 36 of Surah Al-Taubah also states the reasons for war. Allah the Almighty says:

And fight the idolaters all together [united amongst yourselves]) as they fight you all together.

It is apparent here that before fighting the Muslims, the non-believers had united as one force. This is indicated by the Arabic word ‘Kama’ (translated by the word ‘as’ above) meaning ‘the way’ or ‘like’ they have united.

For those who enter the faith and then turn away from it, the often and forcefully stated traditional edict is that the punishment is death. The Holy Qur’an on the other hand, states again and again that these hypocrites first made a declaration of their faith in Islam, and then they renounced their faith. Did  the Holy Prophet(saw) put a single one of these hypocrites to death?

The Holy Qur’an then mentions their mischief, their ridicule, their excuses and pretexts and finally advises that they be treated with forbearance. Exhortation should be given to them towards truth and guidance! Nowhere is it said that they should be put to death, despite the Holy Prophet(saw) being informed through Divine revelation that these claimants of belief were hypocrites who had turned away from faith. Not a single instance can be found. Allah the Almighty says:

The hypocrites fear [mockingly] lest a Surah [a chapter of the Holy Qur’an] should be revealed against them, informing them of what is in their hearts. Say, ‘Mock ye! Surely, Allah will bring to light what you fear.’ And if thou question them, they will most surely say: ’We were only talking idly and jesting.’ Say, ‘Was it Allah and His Signs and His Messenger that you mocked at? (Ch.9:Vs.64-65)

After this clear statement declaring them apostates, were they put to death? Instead of killing them, Allah the Almighty says in the next verse:

Offer no excuse. You have certainly disbelieved after your believing [i.e. you became apostates]. If We forgive a party from among you, a party shall We punish, for they have been guilty. (Ch.9:V.66)

The same hypocrites who are described as having disbelieved after believing are mentioned in verse 94-95 of this Surah:

They will make excuses to you when you return to them. Say: Make no excuses; we will not believe you. Allah has already informed us of the facts about you. (Ch.9:V.94)

If the traditional edicts held true, they should certainly have been put to death for the Divinely revealed fact of their abandoning faith after accepting it. Instead what was said to them is stated in the Holy Qur’an:

And Allah will observe your conduct, and also His Messenger; then you will be brought back to Him Who knows the unseen and the seen, and He will tell you all that you used to do. They will swear to you by Allah, when you return to them, that you may leave them alone. So leave them alone. [The traditionally held beliefs would have dictated that they be put to death! Allah the Almighty says] Surely they are foul and their abode is Hell – a fit recompense for that which they used to earn. (Ch.9:Vs.94-95)

Thus regarding these apostates whom traditional belief would sentence to death, Allah the Almighty says:

And say, ‘Do what you may; surely Allah will watch your acts, so also will His Messenger and the believers. [But in accordance to the edicts of the traditional scholars, these people will be put to death as soon as their apostasy becomes known, but the verse goes on to say:] And you shall be made to return to the Knower of the unseen and the seen; then He will tell you what you used to do. (Ch.9:V.105)

In Verse 129, Allah the Almighty says:

But if they turn away, say, ‘Allah is sufficient for me.’ (Ch.9:V.129)

Alas, the fabricated and twisted beliefs circulated amongst the Muslim public preach that Allah cannot be taken as sufficient. Those who hear the message of faith and turn away should be compelled to recite the Kalimah, the credo of Islam, else they should be immediately dispatched from this world!

Chapter 10 Surah Yunus

There is no compulsion in Islam. This is the clear declaration of the Divine wisdom recorded in the Holy Qur’an. The traditionally held views however, in total disregard for the instructions of the Holy Qur’an, suggest that compulsion is as necessary in matters of faith as it may be in the dispensing of medicine to an ailing patient.

Addressing the pristine nature of the Holy Prophet(saw), Allah the Almighty very forcefully rejects any such concept:

And if thy Lord had enforced His will, surely, all who are in the earth would have believed, without exception… (Ch.10:V100)

The point to note here is that Allah the Almighty says ‘If’ He had desired to enforce His Will, He would have made it so. Then is it proper for us to use force? The verse continues:

…Wilt thou, then, force men to become believers? (Ch.10:V.100)

That is to say, ‘O Prophet, when your gracious nature does not permit you to compel people to adopt faith by force, how can it be imagined that the exceedingly Gracious nature of Allah the Almighty would desire to compel people to adopt faith?’ Instead of enjoining conversion by force, the Holy Qur’an adds:

What then do they expect, save the like of the days of punishment suffered by those who passed away before them? Say, ‘Wait then and I am with you among those who wait.’ (Ch.10:V.103)

But our traditionalists and their views do not permit one to wait for the punishment to arrive from Allah. On the contrary, they advise that the Muslims should proceed with the attack and not spend any time in waiting, as Allah the Almighty has commanded.

Verse 109 of this Chapter again draws out attention to this subject, reminding us that we are not the superintendents or over-seers of the people. Allah the Almighty says:

Say, ‘O ye men, now has the truth come to you from your Lord. So whosoever follows the guidance, follows it only for the good of his own soul, and whosoever errs, errs only against it. And I am not a keeper over you.’ (Ch.10:V.109)

Chapter 11 Surah Hud

In verses 122-123, the Holy Prophet(saw) has been directed:

And say to those who believe not: Act as best as you can, we too are waiting. And wait ye, we too are waiting [for the verdict of God] (Ch.11:Vs.122-123)

In this verse, the Holy Prophet(saw) has not been directed to attack those who disbelieve; rather it is advised that both parties carry on as they deem best and await Allah’s verdict.

Chapter 13 Surah Al-Ra’d

Faith is a matter of the depths of the heart. Allah the Almighty states:

Surely, Allah changes not the condition [or withdraws a favour] of a people until they change that which is in their hearts. (Ch.13:V.12)

In this verse, it is clearly stated that the treatment given by Allah is related to the state of people’s hearts. According to those holding and promoting the so-called traditional beliefs, it is not only appropriate but essential to use the sword for cultivating faith.

It is quite obvious that force cannot change the state of a heart and in accordance with this verse of the Holy Qur’an, Allah the Almighty does not change the condition of a people until they bring about a change in their hearts, that is to say in their fundamental beliefs and attitudes. Thus, according to the statement of this verse of the Holy Qur’an, faith acquired under duress, without the corresponding change in the heart, has no value.

Verse 33 describes the practice of Allah the Almighty regarding those who mock religion. When the Messengers of Allah are mocked at, Allah the Almighty, grants respite to those indulging in mockery, allowing them time to mend their ways and when Allah the Almighty deems fit His punishment descends on the culprits:

And surely, Messengers have been mocked at before thee; but I granted respite to those who disbelieved. Then I seized them, and how was then my punishment! (Ch.13:V.33)

It is Allah the Almighty Himself Who allows respite to those who mock and after the respite it is Allah the Almighty Himself Who administers retribution. ‘What right does Allah the Almighty have to grant respite?’ the traditionalists seem to ask! When faced with any opposition or ridicule they cry, ‘We will draw our swords and annihilate the enemy.’

In Verse 41 of Chapter 13, the Holy Prophet(saw) is directed:

..on thee lies only the delivery of the message [O Prophet!] and on Us the reckoning. (Ch.13:V.41)

Chapter 16 Surah Al-Nahl

The misguided traditionally held views urge people to compel others to join the fold of Islam by force. In the face of attack or otherwise, they urge the Muslims to attack the enemy.

In verses 126-129 of Chapter 16, this subject has been made absolutely clear in a most succinct manner. Allah the Almighty says:

Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, [would compelling people with the might of sword, be called goodly exhortation?] and argue with them in a way that is best. [i.e. most attractive in its appeal. Would the use of force be the best and most attractive method?] Surely, thy Lord knows best who has strayed from His way; and He knows those who are rightly guided. (Ch.16:V.126)

Thus, force is by no means appropriate to direct a person to guidance and truth. The establishment of who is rightly guided and who is not, is a matter of the heart and as such is known only to Allah the Almighty. He alone knows who is rightly guided and who is not!

The extremists believe that whether the enemy has launched an attack or not, it is essential to attack the enemy. Verse 127 of this Chapter allows retaliation against injury or attack but directs that the retaliation be limited to the degree or extent of injury received. Moreover, the verse goes on to say that if circumstances permit, and you can show forbearance despite being wronged, it would be better for you. Allah the Almighty says:

And if you desire to punish the oppressors, then punish them to the extent to which you have been wronged; but if you show patience, [and do not take revenge] then, surely, that is best for those who are patient. (Ch.16:V.127)

In the next two verses, Allah the Almighty says:

And endure thou with patience; and verily, thy patience is possible only with the help of Allah [and for the sake of Allah]. And grieve not for them, nor feel distressed because of their plots. [Allah says this is not an occasion for you to grieve.] Verily Allah is with those who are righteous, and those who do good. [i.e. are benevolent]. (Ch.16:Vs.128-129)

Chapters 17, 18, 20 (Surah Bani Isra’il, Surah Al-Kahf and Surah Ta Ha)

The fact that the knowledge of people’s state of guidance or misguidance belongs to Allah alone is made manifestly clear in Surah Al-Nahl.

In Verse 55 of Surah Bani Isra’il, Allah the Almighty says:

Your Lord knows you best [for that reason He has reserved the right to reward and punish]. If He pleases, He will have Mercy on you; or if He pleases, He will punish you [this decision remains solely in His hand]. And we have not sent thee to be a keeper over them. (Ch.17:V.55)

Allah the Almighty has addressed the Holy Prophet(saw), saying – O Prophet, we have not sent you to be responsible for their conduct! This is the declaration of Allah the Almighty, whereas the declarations of others would make us the arbiters of punishment for our enemies.

The Holy Prophet(saw) was not given the responsibility to issue reward and punishment to people on the basis of their degree of faith; rather he was Mercy personified, even to the dis-believers. Their rejection of guidance resulted in his soul grieving to the point that it threatened his life and well-being. Thus, Allah the Almighty addressed him in Surah Al-Kahf and said:

So haply thou wilt grieve thyself to death for sorrow after them if they believe not in this discourse. (Ch.18:V.7)

This is a measure of the greatness of the heart and compassion of the Holy Prophet(saw) – that the extent of his grief had become life-threatening.

On the other hand, the traditionally held views place so much stress on pre-emptive attacks and violent compulsion as to entirely dispel any conception of mercy or benevolence. Again and again, the Holy Qur’an instructs us to wait for the Divine decree and not to take the decision into our own hands and not to compel the opponents by violence into making a statement of faith.

Verse 136 of Surah Ta Ha admonishes:

Say, ‘Each one is waiting; [for his end] wait ye, therefore, and you will know who are the people of the right path and who follow true guidance’ [and who do not]. (Ch.20:V.136)

Forgetting this oft-repeated admonishment, the opinion that has entered popular belief is that having conveyed the message it becomes obligatory to respond to any rejection without delay, resorting to beheadings in place of waiting for any Divine manifestation.

Chapter 21 (Surah Al-Anbiya)

What should be the reaction of believers having conveyed the message of the unity of God and the teachings of Islam, if the opponents turn away and refuse to listen? Verses 109-113 of Surah Al-Anbiya, expound this subject very clearly. Allah the Almighty says:

Say, ‘Surely it has been revealed to me that your God is but one God. Will you then submit?’ But if they turn back, [Here the traditional beliefs would have you believe that you follow them, sword in hand. Allah the Almighty says:] say,’ I have warned you all alike and I know not whether that which you are promised is near or distant. Verily, He knows what is open in speech, and He knows that which you conceal. And I know not but that it may a trial for you, and only an enjoyment for a while.’ (Ch.21:Vs.109-112)

It is quite apparent from the above verse that when faced with rejection, the Holy Prophet’s(saw) reaction was not to decide the matter with the might of the sword, on the contrary his response, in accordance with Divine revelation, was to say only: the decree of Allah is in the hands of Allah alone and He will make it apparent sooner or later, I do not know when. Perhaps you will be tried, and allowed to benefit from your worldly possessions for a while.

In the last verse of this chapter, the attitude of the Holy Prophet(saw) was stated thus:

He also said, ‘My Lord, judge Thou with truth; Our Lord is the Gracious God Whose help is to be sought against that which you assert.’ (Ch.21:V.113)

That is to say the Holy Prophet(saw) sought Allah’s help to counter the allegations, criticisms and lies directed against him by his enemies. This was the method the Holy Prophet(saw) used, to respond to the rejection and slander of the enemy, but the method taught by the traditionalists to the general masses is to put to death whoever dares to refuse to believe.

Chapter 22 (Surah Al-Hajj)

The permission for Muslims to fight a defensive war and the conditions under which such action is legitimate are explained fully in Surah Al-Hajj. Permission is given to the Muslims for a defensive fight because they were attacked, expelled from their own homes and deprived of the freedom of thought and religion. Allah the Almighty says in verses 39-41 :

Surely, Allah defends those who believe. [It is not said that Allah will help the aggressive attack by the believers!)]. Surely, Allah loves not anyone who is perfidious [deceitful] or ungrateful. (Ch.22:V.39)

Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged [according to the tradition-alists, the Muslims should launch the offensive whether they were wronged or not] and Allah indeed has power to help them [those are mentioned against whom the attacks were made and they were wronged]. Those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly only because they said, ‘Our Lord is Allah’ [The wisdom in granting per-mission to fight when attacked, is for the reason:] And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated. (Ch.22:Vs.40-41)

The above injunction of Allah, the Almighty, is based on the wisdom that no Jewish, Christian, Muslim or other house of worship will be pulled down.

In direct opposition to this injunction, the traditionalists promote the stance that non-Muslims should be attacked, their places of worship destroyed, and they should be entered into Islam by force!

(To be continued in the next edition)