One of the bizarre myths perpetuated about Islam, during the centuries of mistrust during and after the Crusades, is that Muslim armies forced people to accept Islam at the point of the sword. Unfortunately this myth survives to this day.
Many Western scholars have now repudiated this myth. The great historian De Lacy O’Leary wrote in “Islam At the Cross-roads”:
“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.”
Indeed, it is a historical fact, that Islam spread much faster during periods of peace than in periods of war. Islam continued to spread, as it does now, when Muslims were not prevailing economically, socially or politically.
History of Tolerance and Mutual Respect
The Glorious Qur’an says:
“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error” [Al-Qur'an 2:256]
Traditionally Muslims have treated other religions with respect, even when they were in a position to use force.
Muslims ruled Spain for about 800 years. During these 800 years, until Muslims were finally forced out by the crusaders, non-Muslims flourished in Spain. Muslims have ruled Arabia for 1400 years, except for brief periods of British and French rule. Yet there are today 14 million Arabs who are Coptic Christians whose families have been Christians going back several generations.
The Muslims ruled India for about a thousand years. They had the power to forcibly convert each and every non-Muslim of India to Islam. Today more than 80% of the population of India is non-Muslim. All these non-Muslim Indians are bearing witness to the fact that Islam was not spread by the sword.
Thomas Arnold, a former Christian missionary in India, who cannot be accused of being pro-Islam, in his famous book ‘The Preaching of Islam’, indicates that there have been certain periods where Muslim rulers have diverted from this tolerance, but it was due to a deviation from Islamic principles, rather than conformance to them.
He concludes that the two primary reasons for the spread of Islam all over the world were merchants and the Sufis, two groups of people who went out, worked with humanity and gently invited others to their faith.
Legal Safeguards for non-Muslims under Islamic Law
The Quran and Sunnah (Traditions of the Prophet) explicitly dictate regulations and rights for the protection of non-Muslim minorities living under the rule of Islam. The Prophet even said that if a Muslim hurts a covenanted person (i.e. a non-Muslim living under the rule of Islam) or commits any injustice to him, then on the Day of Judgment the Prophet (pbuh) would be the advocate on behalf of the non-Muslim against the Muslim. What would be the sense and need for all of these prescriptions and advice, if Islam required that they be compelled to accept the religion?
The Rapid Spread of Islam
An article in Reader’s Digest ‘Almanac’, year book 1986, gave the statistics of the increase of percentage of the major religions of the world in half a century from 1934 to 1984. This article also appeared in ‘The Plain Truth’ magazine. At the top was Islam, which increased by 235%, and Christianity had increased only by 47%. May one ask, “Which war took place in this century which converted millions of people to Islam?”
Indonesia is a country that has the maximum number of Muslims in the world. The majority of people in Malaysia are Muslims. Similarly, Islam has spread rapidly on the East Coast of Africa. May one ask, “Which Muslim army went to Indonesia and Malaysia, and to the East coast of Africa?”
Today the fastest growing religion in America and in Europe is Islam. Which sword is forcing people in the West to accept Islam in such large numbers?