Did Muslims Fight to Convert People to Islam?


War has always been a difficult subject for objective analysis. Given the nature of humankind, one cannot imagine a world without wars. What we can do is to have a code of rules for war.

Islam provides such rules, which remain ever nobler and more realistic than any other code existing for the conduct of war.

Concerning the rules of fighting as outlined in the Quran and taught by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the following points may be noted:

In war as in peace, the injunctions of Islam are to be strictly observed. Worship does not cease during times of war. Islam maintains that whatever is prohibited during peace is also prohibited during war.

Allah says in the Quran what means:
{Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loves not, aggressors.} (Al-Baqarah 2:190)

The above permission to fight clearly lays down the following conditions: (1) Never commit aggression; fighting is allowed only for self-defense. (2) Fighting must never be against non-combatants or non-fighting personnel.

The Prophet used to instruct his followers during battles and tell them not to be embittered or inclined to commit treachery. He asked them to spare non-combatants, particularly children and hermits. Following the example of the Prophet, Caliph Abu Bakr gave the following instructions to the commander who led the campaign to Syria:

“Do not betray, be treacherous or vindictive. Do not mutilate. Do not kill children, the aged or women. Do not cut or burn palm trees or fruit trees. Do not slay a sheep, a cow, or camel except for your food. And you will come across people who stay in hermitages for worship; leave them alone to what they devote themselves to.”

Justice is highly valued in Islam and no Muslim is allowed to violate it even in times of war against their bitterest enemies. From the early days of Islam, medical assistance was available to all irrespective of religion or creed and was even given to the enemies. The medical profession itself was specially honored in Islam, and it was the duty of the Muslims to offer help in this regard to all.

A well-known example is that of Saladin who gave medical help to his opponent Richard the Lion-Hearted of England, who was seriously ill during the Crusades. He sent his own doctor and personally supervised Richard’s treatment until he became well.

This is in contrast with the behavior of the invading crusaders. When they entered Jerusalem on July 15, 1099, they slaughtered seventy thousand Muslims, including women, children, and the elderly: “They broke children’s skulls by knocking them against the wall, threw babies from roof tops, roasted men over fires and cut open women’s bellies to see if they had swallowed any gold.”

This description was given by Edward Gibbon, the famous historian; and here you get an answer to the claim that if Christians had not fought the Crusades, the Muslims would have gone on killing people who did not accept Islam. And in modern times, this example is paralleled by the atrocious behavior of the Serb army in Bosnia, to quote just one instance.

The battles fought by the Prophet were all for self-defense or for ensuring the freedom of practicing Islam. And no battle was fought by the Prophet for imposing Islam on the people.

Indeed, God in the Quran has commanded not to compel any one to accept Islam. There are several Quranic verses and sayings of the Prophet that prove this. Because, Islam specifically and categorically teaches that unless a person accepts the truth of Islam with understanding, there is no meaning in his/her outward show of allegiance.

Islam is staunchly against any war meant for colonization or occupation. On the contrary, it permits fighting for the sake of liberation from oppressors and occupiers.

And once a people have been liberated, they are allowed the freedom to choose their religion, and if needed Muslims should fight to ensure this freedom. I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch. Salam.


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