Throughout many decades, media coverage has been portraying Islam as a violent and bloody religion whose main aim is to force all people either to adopt Islam or be killed. This is done by focusing on some extremist and terrorist groups, which seize lands and kill innocent people. Unfortunately, they do all these vicious crimes in the name of Islam, claiming that this is the only way for the application of Shari’ah to the real life.
However, if we come to judge these claims, it is inevitable to refer to the main sources of Islam in order to investigate whether or not they are compatible with the objectives and principles of Islam. The Qur’an and its real application by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, are the criteria in this regard.
In many verses of the Qur’an, Allah, the Almighty, tells Muslims that belief and disbelief is a matter of personal choice and that Muslims’ main mission is to convey Allah’s Message to all people without coercion or compulsion. Allah, the Almighty, says, “There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion.” (The Quran, 2:256) Commenting on this verse, Ibn kathir states, “[Allah says:] do not coerce anyone to embrace Islam as it is extremely evident and its proofs are crystal clear. Thus, there is no need that anyone coerces another to accept it.” This is because Islam wants people to be fully convinced of the message of Islam and its sublime principles and values, not only blind imitators. Yet, the Qur’an clearly learns those who deny Islam about the consequences of their rejection in the hereafter order to be well acquainted with their final abode.
On the other hand, the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is a practical application of the message of Islam. He (PBUH) never forced anyone to accept Islam. There are many examples which clearly show that he (PBUH) used to call people to worship Allah, the Almighty, alone and not to associate others with Him in worship, and to leave them to take their decision. In Mecca, He (PBUH) called people to Islam for thirteen years, during which he had no power to coerce them save the power of persuasion. Moreover, he (PBUH) as well as all his companions went through hard times and severe persecution at the hands of the people of Quraysh, who refused his message. Nevertheless, he (PBUH) did not attack them or reciprocate their persecution.
After his (PBUH) migration to Medina, he never initiated a war for the purpose of converting people to Islam and all his battles were to defend the very existence of Muslims and to secure the fledgling state. Furthermore, He established good and friendly relations with the non-Muslim tribes of Medina upon his arrival. The constitution of Medina (Sahifat al-Madinah or Dustur al-Madinah) can be cited as an evident case in point here. This constitution provided that Muslims have their own religion and Jews have their own religion and that Jews and Muslims constitute one entity against any outsider enemy.
One may get astonished when upon knowing that after his victory and having authority over Mecca, the land where he and his companions were persecuted and banished, he (PBUH) did not seek revenge or try to force them to accept Islam. Instead, he pardoned them and gave them pledge of security. It was a great day of mercy, not a day for bloodshed. This clearly witnesses to the essence of this great religion whose prime purpose is to free people from being slaves to anything that humiliates them or strip them of their free will and to guide them to the only God worthy to be worshipped.
All these evidence and examples lead us to state, without hesitation or doubt, that Islam guarantees the right to freedom of religion. Any claim that people accept Islam by force or that it is a religion of violence and bloodshed is unfounded. Islam, like all true divine religions, calls for mercy, love and peaceful coexistence.