Is there any compulsion in faith? That’s the topic I want to look into today.
This issue is very similar in nature to the Question of Free Will, which I feel has been done justice already. So what is different here? The question has been raised on Twitter, regarding the nature of ones ability to believe as they like. Some are saying that Islam says people should be forced to believe in a certain way. Lets examine this.
Firstly, we need to understand that as Muslims we accept that we have the ability to “will”, or do things, including believe as we like. This issue has been examined in far more detail here, but its important to recap the major points. We do not have absolute free will in the sense we can do anything we like, for example we can not just raise the dead, or fly, or turn invisible. Our capability is limited, these limitations are not chosen by us, and we will not be questioned about them. Our abilities, and therefore our will is as a result of God’s will. So what we are discussing now, is with this ability that Muslims believe is God given, are we free to exercise it as we like?
Freedom to Choose
The allegation is that effectively Islam does not give the freedom to choose a path, religion or way of life. This is not without basis. There are Muslims who act in a way that leads some to think that this must be a concept within Islam. As is so often the case, looking at followers is not the best way to understand what they claim to be following. Lets examine what we find in the Quran.
2|256|There shall be no compulsion in religion; the right way has become distinct from the wrong way. Whoever renounces evil and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy handle; which does not break. God is Hearing and Knowing.
This is a commonly referred to verse in the Quran on this topic. In Islam you can not just hold a sword to someone and say “Believe”. That kind of thinking is utterly rejected. Such a situation would lead to a person who externally complies with faith, but internally rejects it, a hypocrite. Islam is very clear about such concepts and hypocrisy is seen as an extremely negatively trait, worse than actually just rejecting faith.
4|145|The hypocrites will be in the lowest level of the Fire, and you will find no helper for them
So does God force us to believe or are we given the ability to choose?
10|99|Had your Lord willed, everyone on earth would have believed. Will you compel people to become believers?
10|100|No soul can believe except by God’s leave; and He lays disgrace upon those who refuse to understand.
5|48|And We revealed to you the Book, with truth, confirming the Scripture that preceded it, and superseding it. So judge between them according to what God revealed, and do not follow their desires if they differ from the truth that has come to you. For each of you We have assigned a law and a method. Had God willed, He could have made you a single nation, but He tests you through what He has given you. So compete in righteousness. To God is your return, all of you; then He will inform you of what you had disputed.
2|253|These messengers: We gave some advantage over others. To some of them God spoke directly, and some He raised in rank. We gave Jesus son of Mary the clear miracles, and We strengthened him with the Holy Spirit. Had God willed, those who succeeded them would not have fought one another, after the clear signs had come to them; but they disputed; some of them believed, and some of them disbelieved. Had God willed, they would not have fought one another; but God does whatever He desires.
Ok so God is not forcing, but are his followers, the Muslims supposed to force others to believe?
18|29|And say, “The truth is from your Lord. Whoever wills—let him believe. And whoever wills—let him disbelieve”. We have prepared for the unjust a Fire, whose curtains will hem them in. And when they cry for relief, they will be relieved with water like molten brass, which scalds the faces. What a miserable drink, and what a terrible place.
So what is the status quo here? There is a chapter which sums it up nicely :
109|1|Say, “O disbelievers.109|2|I do not worship what you worship.109|3|Nor do you worship what I worship.109|4|Nor do I serve what you serve.109|5|Nor do you serve what I serve.109|6|You have your way, and I have my way.”
Consequences and Compulsion
So the above points seem fairly clear, but what about their application? Was the spirit of the Quranic verses above put into practice?
The Treaty of Hudaybiyyah is an important practical implementation of the principles outlined already, here is the treaty :
“In your name, O God!
This is the treaty of peace between Muhammad Ibn Abdullah and Suhayl ibn Amr. They have agreed to allow their arms to rest for ten years. During this time each party shall be secure, and neither shall injure the other; no secret damage shall be inflicted, but honesty and honour shall prevail between them. Whoever in Arabia wishes to enter into a treaty or covenant with Muhammad can do so, and whoever wishes to enter into a treaty or covenant with the Quraysh can do so. And if a Qurayshite comes without the permission of his guardian to Muhammad, he shall be delivered up to the Quraysh; but if, on the other hand, one of Muhammad’s people comes to the Quraysh, he shall not be delivered up to Muhammad. This year, Muhammad, with his companions, must withdraw from Mecca, but next year, he may come to Mecca and remain for three days, yet without their weapons except those of a traveler, the swords remaining in their sheaths.”
As one can see from the wording, everyone is free to believe as they like. In fact, if a non Muslim comes to Islam without the permission of his family, he is to be returned. If any of the Muslims leave, they are free to do so.
The Treaty of Medina again shows how Muslims and Non Muslims interact. There is no mention of killing people who do not believe or any compulsion to believe.
This is in stark contrast to the actions of some Muslims today, however as previously mentioned, you do not judge a a religion by its followers. Just as if you have a cake, you do not judge its taste by the taste of the cardboard box that the cake comes in, you have to sample the cake itself.
So where have some Muslims gone wrong?
There are some Muslims who do believe in killing people or persecuting them for their beliefs, how do we explain this in the light of all the evidence we have seen so far?
There are some verses that these people rely on, here is one :
5|33|The punishment for those who fight God and His Messenger, and strive to spread corruption on earth, is that they be killed, or crucified, or have their hands and feet cut off on opposite sides, or be banished from the land. That is to disgrace them in this life; and in the Hereafter they will have a terrible punishment.
Now clearly if someone is fighting you, you have a right to fight back, this is the common sense of war. As usual, everything needs to be taken in context. For example a group like ISIS who are spreading corruption, causing mayhem and killing, is that they need to be stopped and that requires physical force. Asking nicely, or ignoring them does not work when they are perpetrating massacres in the land.
Some Muslims are just plain wrong. They have reached unislamic conclusions, and are following sects and ideologies that give very bad advice. Does this mean that Islam is wrong or responsible? No. Just as if someone ignores the instructions on some flat pack furniture, builds the wardrobe and its all wrong, is it the manufactures fault? Should the manufacture or the instructions be blamed?
What does the Quran say about blasphemous people ?
Lets see what the Quran actually says.
4|140|He has revealed to you in the Book that when you hear God’s revelations being rejected, or ridiculed, do not sit with them until they engage in some other subject. Otherwise, you would be like them. God will gather the hypocrites and the disbelievers, into Hell, altogether.
6|108|Do not insult those they call upon besides God, lest they insult God out of hostility and ignorance. We made attractive to every community their deeds. Then to their Lord is their return, and He will inform them of what they used to do.
3|186|You will be tested through your possessions and your persons; and you will hear from those who received the Scripture before you, and from the idol worshipers, much abuse. But if you persevere and lead a righteous life—that indeed is a mark of great determination.
There is no mention of any executions or mob beatings. The advise is simply to walk away and ignore them.
Its not just the Prophet Muhammad SAW either, every prophet has been accused and slandered.
23|44|Then We sent Our messengers in succession. Every time a messenger came to his community, they called him a liar. So We made them follow one another, and made them history. So away with a people who do not believe.
There will always be people who interpret things wrongly, and who want to portray Islam in a certain light, this is not new or going to change anytime soon.