Islam spread by the sword?
Among the most widely believed myths about Islam in the West today is the myth of forcible conversion to Islam. Many Westerners do believe that Islam is so widespread in the world today simply because of a "holy campaign of terror" carried out by the early Muslims to convert non-Muslims to Islam. Non-Muslims were offered the freedom to choose either Islam or death.
In a discussion with a Baptist Minister he said to me that "Muslims tend to kill non-Muslims and anyone who disagrees with them". In a syndicated column appearing in over 30 papers (on July 23rd, 1994) entitled, "Muslim persecution of Christians increasing" the author blames many Muslims countries for persecuting Christians then he quotes the Qur'an, "There is no compulsion in Religion" and ends the quote by rudely writing "Really?".
How to confront such misconceptions? First, there is no need for us to be apologetic. We Muslims should search for the truth and present it as it is. This is how we have been instructed by Allah (SWT) "Say: the truth from your Lord and let him who will believe and let him who will reject."(18:29) Islam is the religion of the Truth. The Qur'an is the book of the Truth. "We sent down the Qur'an in Truth and in Truth has it descended." (17:105) "Put your trust in Allah for you are on the path of the manifest Truth."(27:79)
Therefore, we should ask ourselves first, before we are asked by anyone else, what is the truth? Did Muslims really force others to convert to Islam? Is there any evidence for consistent forcible conversion throughout the Islamic history? As a matter of fact, there is no such evidence anywhere in the history of Islam. Many distinguised Western historians have attested this fact-- foremost among whom is Sir Thomas W. Arnold in his book, "The Preaching of Islam". Also there is Marshall G. Hodgson in his book, "The Venture of Islam", Albert Hourani in his book, "A History of the Arab People", Ira Lapidus in his book, "History of Islamic Societies", L.S. Starorianos in his book, "A Global Hisotry, the Human Heritage" and many others. In fact, there is substantial evidence to the contrary. We have already seen in a previous *khutbah* that Muslims were often seen as liberators of the oppressed people everywhere.
The question that remains to be answered is why then so many people have chosen Islam throughout the more than 1400 years of its history. Islam has penetrated the Middle East, North Africa, Spain, West Africa, East Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Afghanistan, India, Western China, and the Malay archipelago. Islam in all these regions replaced so many other well-established religions: Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism and animism. What are the reasons behind the triumph of Islam over all these religions in so many different places at so many different times?
First and foremost, Islam is an amazing blend of simplicity and rationality: a very simple religion yet very rational at the same time. Professor Hodgson has explained the reasons for the popularity of Islam as follows: "Muslims made a personal appeal to people's religious consciousness. On the level of straight argument, they often put forward the populistic intelligibility of Islam. Muslims commonly ridiculed, in the name of intellectual good sense, the more mythically convoluted teachings of older traditions. This could seem attractively straightforward to people dissatisfied with taking things on faith from a learned priest whose mysteries they could not comprehend. A single Creator, to be worshipped by each person for himself, on the basis of revelation that had been given to a famous prophet whom millions already acknolwedged. This was at once intelligible and plausible."
The unambiguous and uncompromising belief in the Unity, the Greatness, the Wisdom of God, the Creator of the universe, is unparalleled among other religions. The French professor Edouard Montet said, "The dogma of the unity of God...has always been proclaimed in the Qur'an with a grandeur, a majesty, an invariable purity and with a note of pure conviction which is hard to find surpassed outside the pale of Islam. A creed so precise, so stripped of all theological complexities and so accessible to the ordinary understanding might be expected to possess and does indeed possess a marvellous power of winning its way into the consciences of men."
Besides its simple and rational creed, Islam offers an impressive set of rituals which has gained the admiration and, subsequently, the conversion of many non-Muslims. The second pillar of Islam, **salah**, the prayer, has been described as follows by Sir Arnold, "The religion of the Muslim is continuously present with him and, in the daily prayer, manifests itself in a solemn and impressive ritual which cannot leave either the worshipper or the spectator unaffected." Then Sir Arnold narrated the story of an Egyptian Jew who converted to Islam at the end of the 13th century mainly because of the sight of the **Juma'a** prayer. Actually, it is not only in the 13th century that people converted to Islam because of the prayers; it just happened a few years ago in Ottawa that a non-Muslim Canadian woman converted to Islam because of **Juma'a** prayers. She used to go to the Ottawa Mosque on Friday and pray among the sisters for several months. She loved the prayer and eventually she embraced Islam.
In addition to the prayers, the other pillars of Islam, **Zakah**, **Hajj**,**Siyam**, have always been factors in attracting many hearts to Islam. Up until the present day, one still meets converts who were impressed by the social justice of Islam brilliantly expressed in the payment of **Zakah**. The genius of **Hajj** and **Siyam** has always been a determining factor in the conversion of many people. It is this union of rationalism and ritualism that explains the power that Islam has exercised over the hearts and minds of so many people. Islam simply gives the truth, neat and clear in a visible and tangible form. The neatness and clarity of Islam was presented to human beings in the form of a miraculous book, the Qur'an. The marvellous power and beauty of the words of the Qur'an have always been a decisive factor in conversion to Islam. The famous Jewish American convert to Islam, Maryam Jameelah, cited the Qur'an as the major factor of her conversion. After a deep study of both the Old Testament and the Qur'an, the contrast between the two scriptures became increasingly evident to her until she firmly believed that the Qur'an was indeed God's message to the human race.
A conference of Christian missionaries in 1887 was discussing why Islam has almost swept away Crhistianity from the Middle East. What did Islam offer these people to forsake Christianity for good? One of the missionaries was insightful enough to say the following: "Islam brought out the fundamental dogmas of the Unity and Greatness of God, that He is mindful and Righteous. It proclaimed the responsibility of man, a future life, a Day of Judgement and stern retribution to fall upon the wicked, and enforced the duties of prayer, alms-giving and fasting. It replaced monkishness by manliness, it gave hope to the slave, brotherhood to mankind and recognition to the fundamental facts of human nature."
The formidable rationalism, ritualism and clarity of Islam did not only lead the Christians of the Middle East to forsake Christianity and embrace Islam in the past. It continues to do so with Christinas in the West to the presnt day. An Australian-born Christain who converted to Islam four months ago and who was studying here with us at Queen's wrote in her story of conversion to Islam, "Christianity continued to be difficult for me. So much didn't make sense, the trinity, the idea that Jesus was God incarnate, the worship of Mary, the Saints, or jesus, rather than God. The priests told me to leave reason behind". The she went on to say, "Could Muhammad really be a messenger? Could the Qur'an be God's word? I kept reading the Qur'an, it told me that Eve wasn't alone to blame for the fall, that Jesus was a messenger, that people would question the authenticity of Muhammad's claim to revelation but that if they tried to write something as wise, consistent and rational they would fail. This seemed true. Islam asked me to use my intelligence to contemplate God, it encouraged me to seek knowledge." Then at the end of her sincere search for the truth she prayed to God saying, "Dear God, I believe in You, I believe in the compelling and majestic words of the Qur'an and I believe in the prophethood of your messenger Muhammad (SAW)."
Another Muslim sister, from California, who was a practising Christian and an active member in her nearby Presbyterian church, wrote in her conversion story that despite her active affiliation with the church, she always had serious questions about the fundamentlas of Chrsitianity which did not make sense to her. She debated her questions with her friends but never came up with good answers. The church couldn't give them good answers either, they only told them to "have faith". All her questions were answered when she took a course about Islam. Listen to her own words. "This class brought back all of the concerns that I had about Christianity. As I learned about Islam, all my questions were answered. All of us are not punished for Adam's original sin. Adam asked God for forgiveness and our merciful, loving God forgave him. God doesn't require a blood sacrifice in payment for sin. We must sincerely ask for forgiveness and amend our ways. Jesus wasn't God, he was a prophet like all of the other prophets. This answered all of my questions about the trinity and the nature of Jesus. I found a teaching that put everything in its proper perspective and appealed to my heart and my intellect. It seemed natural. It wasn't confusing. I had been searching and I had found a place to rest my faith."
Islam is so strong and so self-assured that it does not need to use force to attract others to it. The moral and intellectual superiority of Islam over all other religions has manifested itself so clearly throughout the history of Islam. Despite all of the ills of Muslims everywhere, Islam continues to be the fastest growing religion on earth. Professor Huston Smith of the MIT in his book, "The Religions of Man" says, "In some areas where Islam and Christianity are competing for converts, Islam is gaining at a rate of 10 to 1."
Ambassador Herman Ellis, in a testimony in front of the committee on Foreign Affirs of the House of Represntatives of the United States Congress on June 24th, 1985, said, "The Muslim community of the globe today is in the neighbourhood of one billion. That is an impressive figure. But what to me is equally impressive is that Islam today is the fastest growing monotheistic religion. This is something we have to take into account. Something is right about Islam. It is attracting a good many people."