Allah does not forbid you [O you who believe!] from being kind and just to those who have not waged war against you because of your religion and have not driven you out of your homes. Surely Allah loves those who are just (60.8). He only forbids you from making friends with those who have waged war against you because of your religion, have driven you out of your homes, and have supported others in driving you out. And whoever makes friends with them, these are the wrongdoers (60.9).
Note how Allah identifies the enemies of the Muslims. The enemies are not simply those who are not Muslims, but rather those who have waged war against the Muslims and driven them out of their homes for embracing Islam. Significantly, Allah orders the Muslims to be “kind” and “just” to the non-Muslims who did not take part in violence against them. The two verses above remove any possible ambiguity and misunderstanding as to how Muslims should treat non-Muslims who are willing to live in peace with them, and how to identify and treat their enemies.
Allah has explicitly prohibited coercing people to accept religion saying: “there is no compulsion in religion” (from 2.256). Elsewhere in the Qur’an, Allah mentions this complaint of the Prophet to Him: “O my Lord! Surely they are a people who do not believe” (from 43.88), before revealing His reply to the Messenger: “So turn away from them and say ‘Peace,’ for they shall come to know” (43.89). Allah instructed the Prophet to turn away from the disbelievers on peaceful terms, reminding him that they will come to know one day that what they rejected is the truth.
I have cited below more verses that instruct the Prophet to turn away from the disbelievers who are not interested in his Message. Clearly, forcing people to adopt Islam was never an option:
Follow [O Muhammad!] what has been revealed to you from your Lord; there is no god but He; and turn away from the polytheists (6.106).
Therefore turn away [O Muhammad!] from him who turns aside from Our Reminder [the Qur’an] and does not desire anything but this world’s life (53.29). That is as much knowledge as they will get. Surely your Lord knows best those who have gone astray from His path, and He knows best the guided ones (53.30).
Therefore declare [O Muhammad!] openly what you are commanded, and turn away from the polytheists (15.94). Surely, We will suffice you against the scoffers (15.95). Those who set another god with Allah; so they shall come to know (15.96). And surely We know that your heart is distressed at what they say (15.97). Therefore celebrate the praise of your Lord, and be of those who make prostration (to Him) (15.98).
There are so many verses that make it clear that the role of the Prophet was simply to deliver the divine Message, that is the Qur’an, to people. The Prophet warned the disbelievers of hell and brought good news to the believers. He was not a “controller” or “keeper” over people, and he was not to answer for their disbelief. These are some of the relevant verses:
And those who disbelieve say: “If only a sign had been sent down upon him [Muhammad] from his Lord.” You are not [O Muhammad!] but a warner, and for every people a guide (13.7).
Surely We have sent you [O Muhammad!] with truth, as a bearer of good news and a warner; and you shall not be called upon to answer for the people of hell (2.119).
Surely We have revealed to you [O Muhammad!] the Book for the people with truth; so whoever follows the right way, it is for his own soul, and whoever goes astray, he goes astray only to its detriment; and you have not been put in charge of them (39.41).
Had Allah willed, they [the disbelievers] would not have associated gods with Allah. And We have not appointed you [O Muhammad!] a keeper over them, and you have not been put in charge of them (6.107).
Whoever obeys the Messenger, he has indeed obeyed Allah; and as for he who turns away, We have not sent you [O Muhammad!] as a keeper over them (4.80).
Therefore do [O Muhammad!] remind [with the Message that We revealed to you], for you are only a reminder (88.21). You are not a controller over them (88.22).
We know best what they say [about Our revelation to you, O Muhammad!], and you are not to be a dictator over them. Therefore, remind by the Qur’an he who fears My threat (50.45).
But if they turn away, then We have not sent you [O Muhammad!] as a keeper over them; only deliverance [of the Message] is your duty (from 42.48).
And if you [O disbelievers!] deny [the truth], then nations before you did indeed deny [the truth]; and nothing is incumbent on the Messenger other than plain deliverance [of the Message] (29.18).
And whether We show you [O Muhammad!] part of what We threaten them (the disbelievers) with or cause you to die, [only] deliverance [of the Message] is your duty, while calling [the disbelievers] to account is Our business (13.40).
The Qur’an teaches that attracting people to Islam must occur through good-mannered preaching and discussion:
Call [O Muhammad!] to the way of your Lord with Wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in the best manner; surely your Lord best knows those who go astray from His path, and He best knows those who follow the right way (16.125).
Obviously peaceful rather than armed jihad is the Qur’anic way of calling people to Islam. I will talk about this more in the next chapter.
As well as prohibiting forcing people to embrace Islam, the Qur’an has also made it absolutely clear that other religions can coexist with Islam. This Meccan chapter carries clear instructions to Prophet Muhammad to seek peaceful coexistence with the polytheistic Qurayshites:
Say [O Muhammad!]: “O disbelievers! (109.1) I do not worship that which you worship (109.2). Nor do you worship that which I worship (109.3). Nor I shall worship that which you worship (109.4). Nor do you worship that which I worship (109.5). You have your religion, and I have my religion” (109.6).
The situation in al-Madina was similar. Muslims sought peaceful coexistence with the People of the Book. There are many verses that show various theological discussions and debates that were taking place between Muslims and followers of other religions. The Qur’an promised paradise to all those who believe in Allah and the Last Day and do righteous deeds, whether Jews, Christians, Sabians, or Muslims:
Surely those who believe, the Jews, the Sabians, the Christians – whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does righteous deeds – they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve (5.69).
Relations between the Muslims and the People of the Book in al-Madina deteriorated only when the later got involved in the Qurayshites’ wars and conspiracies against the Muslims. Muslims had to fight against the People of the Book for the same reasons that they had to fight the polytheistic Meccans: defending their right to choose Islam as their religion.
History of Jews, Christians, and believers of other faiths who lived under Islam reflects the tolerance of the Qur’an. Karen Armstrong notes the following:
After Muhammad’s death, Jews and Christians were never required to convert to Islam but were allowed to practice their religions freely in the Islamic empire. Later Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs were also counted among the People of the Book. It has never been a problem for Muslims to coexist with people of other religions. The Islamic empire was able to play host to Christians and Jews for centuries; but Western Europe has found it almost impossible to tolerate Muslims and Jews in Christian territory.
This Qur’anic tolerance toward other religions, which history tells us Muslims applied wherever they ruled, is in complete contradiction with the extremely intolerant image of Islam in the West today.
Copyright © 2004 Louay Fatoohi
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