Having accepted that from the Islamic point of view, faith in God is ingrained in human nature, and that it is only the parents and the society that corrupts the soul and divert it from the Right Path, the question comes: Can Islam be imposed forcefully on non-Muslims? Or we may even ask: Is the minor jihād a means of imposing the faith of Islam on non-Muslims?
I do not intend to get into the issue of the minor jihād; but, briefly stated, the majority of Sh`iah jurists (mujtahidin) do not believe in initiating a jihād without the clear permission of an infallible (ma`sum) Imam. Even those who allow the initiation of jihād, do not believe that jihād can be used to impose Islam on non-Muslims.
At the most, they say that jihād can be initiated to remove tyranny and oppression from a non-Muslim society in order to eliminate the factors that prevent the Divine message from reaching to the masses. Jihād cannot be used for imposing Islam on others; it is just for putting an end to the aggression on Muslims or for helping the oppressed non-Muslims. (The history of Muslims bears out this idea; an unbiased historian can clearly separate the spread of the Muslim rule over areas outside Arabia āby military mightā and the spread of Islam āwithout forceā in those same regions.)3
The Qur'ān clearly says that,
"There is no compulsion in the religion." (2:256)
What this verse actually means is that: "There is no compulsion in (accepting) the religion (of Islam)." Why? The verse continues,
"Surely the Right Path is clearly distinct from the crooked path."
So Muslims can always show the difference between the right and the wrong paths, but not force the non-Muslims to accept Islam. The Prophet of Islam has also been mentioned as a reminder, not as a person who forces Islam upon others.
"Therefore, you remind (them), for you are only a reminder; you are not a watcher over them." (88:21-22)
In many other verses, the Prophet is described as
"a bearer of good news and a warning of God's punishment." (2:119)
His role was just to remind the people about their natural instinct of believing in God. Force is not needed because the right way is clearly distinct from the crooked way. Even during the conquest of Mecca, the idol-worshippers were given a grace time of four months to study Islam, and thereafter either become Muslims by their own choice or leave the sacred city.4
3. See Ira M. Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies (Cambridge: CUP, 1988) p. 243-244; M. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, vol. 1, p. 199. For more details, see my "How Did Islam Spread? By Sword or By Conversion?"
4. See Chapter 9 of the Qur'ān.