No Compulsion in Religion
In the Quran we have a group of verses which specify that religion is to be accepted freely and cannot be forced upon someone and this confirms what we have been saying namely that in Islam no one can be coerced, be told either to become Muslims or die. These verses illuminate those unconditional verses in a different way.
One is a part of Ayatul-kursi (2:255-257) and is well-known;
"La ikraha fid-din. Qat-tabayanar-rushdo min al-ghayy."
"There is no compulsion in religion, for the truth has been made manifest from the false" (2:255)
Which means that we must explain clearly the right path to people; its own reality, is manifest. There is no place for the use of compulsion in religion, no one must be obliged to accept the religion of Islam. This verse is explicit in its meaning. In the Quranic commentaries it is written that an Ansari who had previously been a polytheist had two sons who had converted to Christianity. These two sons had become fascinated by Christianity and very devoted to it, but their father was now a Muslim and upset that his sons had become Christians. He went to the Holy Prophet and said to him: "Rasula-lah! What can I do to these sons of mine who have become Christians? Whatever I have tried, still they do not accept Islam. Do you give me permission to force them to leave their religion and become Muslims?" The Prophet said: "No. La ikraha fid-din, there is no compulsion in religion."
About the circumstances in which this verse was revealed, it is also written that there were two tribes, the Aws and the Khazraj, who were living in Medina, and who were the original inhabitants of Medina. At the dawn of Islam they were living there together with several large Jewish tribes who had come to Medina at a later period. One was the tribe, Bani Nazil, and another was the Bani Qoraizeh, while there was yet another large tribe of Jews that lived on the fringes of the city.
The Jews, having Judaism as their religion and having also a holy book, came to be more or less considered as the learned of that society, while, amongst the original inhabitants of Medina, who were polytheists and generally illiterate, there had newly come into existence a small group also able to read and write. The Jews, as a result of their superior culture and the wide dimension of their thoughts, exercised quite an influence on this group. Thus, despite the fact that the religion of the Aws and Khazraj was different from that of the Jews, nevertheless they allowed themselves to be influenced by Jewish ideas. As a result, they would sometimes send their children to the Jews to be educated, and while they were among the Jews, the children would once in a while renounce their pagan religion of polytheism and convert to Judaism. Thus, when the Holy Prophet entered Medina, a group of these boys from that city were being trained by the Jews and had chosen for themselves the Jewish religion, which some of them chose not to renounce. The parents of these children became Muslims, yet the children did not give up their new religion Judaism. And when it was settled that the Jews should leave Medina (as a punishment for the chaos they had instigated), those children also left with their fellow Jews. Their fathers came to the Holy Prophet asking him for permission for them to separate their children from the Jews, to force them to relinquish Judaism and to become Muslims; permission which the Holy Prophet did not give. They said: "O Rasula-lah! Allow us to force them to leave their religion and embrace Islam." The Holy Prophet told them: "No. Now that they have chosen to go with the Jews, let them go with them." And the commentators say that it was then that the verse:
"La ikraha fid-din. Qat-tabayanar-rushdo min al-ghayy" (2:255) was revealed.
Another famous verse is:
"And call to the way of your Lord (Rabb) with the judgment and beautiful admonitions, and dispute with them with that which is beautiful ..." (16:125)
Invite people to the path of your Rabba. With what? With force of sword? No. With beautiful admonitions and advice.
"And dispute with them with that which is beautiful ... " (16:125)
With those who dispute with us, we must also dispute, beautifully. This verse has introduced clearly the way for Islam to be embraced.
In another verse we are told:
"The truth is from your Rabba, so whoever has the will so he must reject ..." (18:29)
Whoever wants to believe will believe, and whoever wants to be a kafir will be a kafir. So this verse has also stated that faith and rejection, iman and kufr, can only be chosen by oneself, they cannot be forced upon one by others. So Islam does not say that others must be forced into Islam; that if they become Muslims, well and good, and if they do not, they are to be killed, that the choice is theirs. Islam says that whoever wants to believe will believe, and whoever does not want to, will not.
There is also this verse:
"And if your Rabb willed all the earth would have believed, in total, will you then compel them to be believers." (10:99)
The verse is addressed to the Prophet. The Holy Prophet really loved the people and wanted them to be true believers. The Quran says that the use of force in the matter of belief is meaningless. If force was valid, God Himself, with His own Power of creation would have made believers of all the people, but belief is a thing that people must choose for themselves. God with all His Powers of creation and compulsion has not forced mankind to be true believers and has given them the free will to choose. Thus, for the same reason the Prophet also was to let them choose for themselves. He whose heart has the desire will become a good believer, and he whose heart does not want to, will not.
Another verse addressed to the Prophet says:
"Seemingly you will grieve yourself to death that they do not become good believers." (26:3)
"O Prophet! it is as if you intend to kill yourself because they have not believed as if you want to destroy yourself. Do not be so full of grief for their sakes. We, with Our Power of Creation and Might, if we wanted to force the people to belief we could easily have done so. If we willed it, we could send down the sky a sign to overshadow their neck, for them to be submissive" (26:4)
Here God says that if He wanted to send down from the sky a sign, an affliction, and tell the people that they must either become true believers or be destroyed by that affliction, all the people under compulsion would become believers, but He does not do so because He wants the people to choose for themselves.
These verses further clarify the idea of jihad in Islam and make clear that jihad in Islam is not that which some self-interested parties have said it is. These verses clarify that Islam's aim is not compulsion; that it does not command Muslims to raise the sword over the head of whoever is not a Muslim and offer the simple choice of Islam or death; that this is not the purpose of jihad.
Adapted from the book: "Jihad; The Holy War of Islam and Its Legitimacy in the Quran" by: "Ayatullah Morteza Mutahhari"
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