Written By: Nasser El-Morshidy
Islam has given great importance to the process of seeking knowledge. If we look at the first five verses revealed from the Holy Qur’an, we can see that the word “اقـــــرأ” (read) is repeated two times, the word "قـــــلــــم" (pen) is mentioned once and the word "عــــلَّـم" (teach) is repeated twice.
Quran VerseAnother verse in the Holy Qur’an emphasized the same meaning and made it clear that the freedom of belief is a fundamental principle in Islam: “Say: The truth is from your Lord; so let whosoever wills, believe and let whosoever wills, disbelieve.” Qur’an 18:29
Moreover, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was one man who called on his people to believe in Islam and many people believed him and accepted Islam in Mecca. It is unrealistic to think that the Prophet (PBUH) forced them to believe in Islam. It is a fact that the Prophet (PBUH) and his followers faced persecution and torture to abandon Islam. Had it been that the Muslims used violence to force others to embrace Islam, they would not have migrated from their hometown, Mecca, to Medina to escape persecution.
Ten years after the migration, Muslims conquered Mecca because the Meccans breached a truce with them. When Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) entered Mecca and the people gathered in front of him, he asked them: “What do you think I am going to do with you today?” They replied “You are a good brother and a son of a good brother”. He said to them: “Go! You are all free”. The Prophet (PBUH) forgave them despite all the torture they carried out against Muslims when they were in Mecca and the wars they waged against the new Islamic state in Medina. He did not force them to embrace Islam.
Before the spread of Islam, many countries bordering the Arabian Peninsula were under occupation of two large empires: the Byzantine Empire and the Persian Empire. These countries suffered different kinds of oppression by the Persian and Byzantine rulers. For example, the Byzantine Empire, whose rulers were Christians, persecuted other Christians who belonged to other denominations. They persecuted Egyptian Christians who differed with them on the nature of Jesus Christ (PBUH). The Patriarch of Alexandria escaped for years from the Byzantine rulers and only resumed his work after Muslims conquered Egypt.
The two large empires felt threatened by Islam which united the tribes in Arabia and they feared the possibility of the spread of Islam amongst the people in their countries. They launched aggressions against Muslims during the life of the Prophet (PBUH) and even after his death. Muslim armies fought back against them, drove them out of the countries under their occupation and gave people of these countries all their rights under the Islamic rule.
Actually, there were people of different beliefs in the Muslim state during the lifetime of the Prophet (PBUH) and he did not force them to adopt Islam. There were Jews living in Medina and Christians living in Yemen. They totally enjoyed the freedom of worship. The Prophet (PBUH) wrote letters of covenants to them assuring them that they would enjoy their freedom of worship and instructing Muslims to give them help in case they need help even in maintenance of their places of worship.
The Prophet (PBUH) made it clear that if a Muslim abuses a non-Muslim, he himself will stand against that Muslim on the Day of Judgement. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Whoever persecutes a Zimmi (singular of Ahlu-Zimma) or usurps his right or asks him to do work beyond his capacity or takes something from him unwillingly, I shall be a witness against him on the Day of Judgement.” Abu Dauwd
Many historical incidents show how Muslims abided by the instructions of the Holy Qur’an and the Prophet (PBUH) in dealing justly with non-Muslims living in the Islamic Caliphate. For example, An Egyptian Christian came to Omar Ibn Al-Khattab in Medina, and said, “O Commander of the Believers! I seek refuge in you from oppression.” Omar replied, “You have sought refuge where it is to be sought.” The Egyptian said, “I was racing the son of `Amr Ibn Al-`Aas -Ruler of Egypt-, and defeated him. Then he began to beat me with a whip saying: “I am the Son of Nobles!”Quran_Verse1
So Omar wrote to `Amr commanding him to come to Medina with his son. Soon after their arrival and after confirming the claim made by the Egyptian, Omar told him “Beat the Son of Nobles!” so he beat him. Then Omar asked the Egyptian to beat ‘Amr Ibn Al-‘Aas. He replied that he has beaten the one who beat him. Upon this Omar said to `Amr, “Since when do you enslave the people when their mothers bore them as free men?”
It is a historical fact that there was peaceful coexistence between the followers of different religions in countries under the dominion of the Islamic Caliphate. Muslims conquered many countries to establish justice and peace and gave the people their freedom to adopt the religion they choose. Historical records prove without doubt that Muslims had never forced people of any of these countries to embrace Islam. On the contrary, they helped those people to enjoy total freedom of belief and worship.
There are many well-known non-Muslim historians who refuted the argument that Muslims forced others to adopt Islam. For example, De Lacy O’Leary in his book “Islam at the crossroads” said: “History makes it clear however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races, is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated”. (p.8)