How to respond to the misconception that Islam was spread by the sword

A friend of mine was visiting from the States last week and as we were talking about his new life in New York our conversation drifted to the situations he’s faced with as a Muslim in America. Apparently he had gotten a lot of questions about Islam and the many misconceptions surrounding it. But one misconception that he was particularly interested in clearing up was the idea that Islam was spread “by the sword”. This is a common accusation leveled mostly by non-Muslims who draw the bulk of their historical “knowledge” from what they’ve heard about the Crusades – a classic example of projection.

Fortunately, this is an easy accusation to respond to. Most of the below points are drawn from a workshop I attended with Fadel Soliman of the Bridges Foundation.

1) The Islamic conquests took place during the historical era of empire-building. Invading territories to build empires was the main method of civilization-building.  That was just the dominant paradigm at the time, the nation-state is a very modern concept.

2) Although Muslim armies conquered other territories, they never forced the residents of those territories to convert to Islam. Wars were only launched against tyrants who started hostilities against Muslims.

3) Islam ruled India & Spain for years, and yet when they left, there were still millions of Hindus, Christians and other religions. Not only that, but their monuments, temples and churches were not destroyed. Add to that the millions of Arab Christians today who trace their roots back to biblical times (Copts in Egypt often trace their roots back to the time of the Pharaohs).

5) What are the 2 biggest Muslim countries today? Indonesia & Malaysia. Not one Muslim soldier has ever been there. Islam spread there 100% by the choice of their residents to embrace it. You can search anywhere in history, there is no record of any conquest in those countries.

6) An interesting example of people coming to Islam by choice is the Mongols. The mongols were not Muslim. They invaded Islamic countries, occupied the Muslims, killed millions and occupied them for years. Eventually, they converted to Islam! This may be the only instance in history where the occupier embraces the religion of the occupied rather than the other way around. And nobody can claim that the Muslims forced their Mongolian occupiers to embrace Islam.

7) Finally, you might want to conclude by making clear to your friend that Islam is, by definition of the word itself, an action of the heart: the act of submission to Allah. Such an act can never be achieved by force. Many ayahs in the Quran point to this, such as:

{Let their be no compulsion in religion} (Al-Baqarah 256)

{And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed all of them together. So will you [O Muhammad] then compel mankind until they become believers?} (Yunus 99)

{And say: The truth is from your Lord. Then, whosoever wills, let them believe, and whosoever wills, let him disbelieve.} (Al-Kahf)

– Dee.

~ by youngmuslimworld on June 11, 2010.

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