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It's much easier to act as if critics of Islam have a problem with Muslims as people than it is to accept the uncomfortable truth that Islam is different


The Quran


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What can we learn about
Islam from this woman?

Games Muslims Play

 The Quran Says that There Can be No Compulsion in Religion

The Game:

Verse 2:256 from the Quran is often quoted to prove what a tolerant religion Islam is.  The verse (supposedly) reads in part, "Let there be no compulsion in religion; truth stands out clearly from error..."

The Truth:

The word "let" is not in the Arabic, so the verse is not an imperative.  What it actually says is "there is no compulsion in religion..."  It is a statement that true belief can't be forced.  However, this is not to say that others can't be forced into an outward manifestation of faith, such as the pillars of Islam:
Allah's Apostle (Muhammad) said, "I have been ordered to fight the people till they say: 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah'. And if they say so, pray like our prayers, face our Qibla and slaughter as we slaughter, then their blood and property will be sacred to us and we will not interfere with them except legally."  Bukhari 8:387
Even within the same sura (chapter) of the Quran that verse 256 appears, Muslims are instructed to "fight with them (non-Muslims) until there is no more persecution and religion is only for Allah.  (v. 2:193)"  Apologists claim that this applied to the people of Mecca.  This is interesting because these same Meccans were later converted to Islam by force (compulsion).

Sura 2 is from the early Medinan period.  It was narrated at a time when the Muslims had just arrived in Medina after being chased out of Mecca.  They needed to stay in the good graces of the stronger tribes around them, many of which were Jewish.  It was around this time, for example, that Muhammad decided to have his followers change the direction of their prayer from Mecca to Jerusalem.

But Muslims today pray toward Mecca.  This is because Muhammad Allah issued a later command that abrogated (or nullified) the first.  In fact, abrogation is a very important principle to keep in mind when interpreting the Quran – and verse 2:256 in particular – because later verses (in chronological terms) are said to abrogate any earlier ones that may be in contradiction (Quran 2:106, 16:101).

Muhammad’s message was far closer to peace and tolerance during his early years, when he didn’t have an army and was trying to pattern his new religion after Christianity.  This changed dramatically after he attained the power to conquer, which he eventually used with impunity to bring other tribes into the Muslim fold.  Contrast verse 2:256 with Suras 9 and 5, which were the last “revealed,” and it is easy to see why Islam has been anything but a religion of peace from the time of Muhammad to the present day.

Though most Muslims today reject the practice of outright forcing others into changing their religion, forced conversion has been a part of Islamic history since Muhammad first picked up a sword.  As he is recorded in many places as saying, "I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify that there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah..."  (See Bukhari 1.2.24)

Muhammad put his words into practice.  When he marched into Mecca with an army, one of his very first tasks was to destroy idols at the Kaaba, which had been devoutly worshipped by the Arabs for centuries.  By eliminating these objects of worship, he destroyed the religion of the people and supplanted it with his own.  Those who would not convert were killed or evicted.  Later, he ordered that Jews and Christians be expelled from Arabia.  Does forcing others to choose between their homes or their faith sound like "no compulsion in religion?"

According to Muslim historians, Muhammad eventually ordered people to attend prayers at the mosque to the point of burning alive those who failed to comply.  He also ordered that children who reached a certain age be beaten if they refused to pray.

Interestingly, even the same contemporary Muslims who quote 2:256 usually believe in Islamic teachings that sound very much like religious compulsion.  These would be the laws punishing apostasy by death (or imprisonment, for females), and the institutionalized discrimination against religious minorities under Islamic rule that is sometimes referred to as “dhimmiitude.” 

Islamic law explicitly prohibits non-Muslims from sharing their faith and even includes the extortion of money from them in the form of a tax called the jizya.  Those who refuse to pay this arbitrary amount are put to death.  If this isn’t compulsion, then what is?

Further Reading

Muhammad and Forced Conversions (Raymond Ibrahim)

Games Muslims Play Index

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