Saturday, 13 June 2009

"No Compulsion In Religion" And Other Islamic Apologetics (Part 3)

Following on from Part 1 here and Part 2 here.



Another verse commonly quoted by Islamic apologists reads: “There is no compulsion in religion.” (2:256) Muslims often cite this verse to demonstrate that Islam forbids the spreading of the faith by the sword. And yet, verse 9:5, discussed in Part 1, commands Muslims to fight idolaters and pagans until they convert to Islam. The choice for them is either conversion or the sword. Ibn Kathir says of 9:5 that polytheists “have no choice, but to die or embrace Islam.”

How, then, can we reconcile this with the idea that there is “no compulsion in religion”? One common but not majority view is that the latter verse abrogated the former. Tabari, on the other hand, contends that this verse was not abrogated but was revealed specifically in relation to the People of the Book, Jews and Christians: “Arab society was compelled to enter Islam because they were an unlettered community, having no book which they knew. Thus nothing other than Islam was accepted from them. The People of the Book are not to be compelled to enter Islam if they submit to paying the jizya [poll tax] or kharaj [land tax].”

So this verse ultimately does not contradict the purpose of jihad outlined in Qur'anic verses such as 9:5 and 9:29, because its purpose, at least regarding Jews and Christians, is not to force them to accept Islam, but rather to force the Islamic legal system upon them, relegating them to second-class status and payment of the jizya if they refuse to convert. But if they do convert, they do so freely. Sayyid Qutb makes clear that Muslims can wage offensive jihad against unbelievers without forcing them to convert to Islam:

“As the only religion of truth that exists on earth today, Islam takes appropriate action to remove all physical and material obstacles that try to impede its efforts to liberate mankind from submission to anyone other than God...The practical way to ensure the removal of those physical obstacles while not forcing anyone to adopt Islam is to smash the power of those authorities based on false beliefs until they declare their submission and demonstrate this by paying the submission tax. When this happens, the process of liberating mankind is completed by giving every individual the freedom of choice based on conviction. Anyone who is not convinced may continue to follow his faith. However, he has to pay the submission tax to fulfill a number of paying this tax, known as jizya, he declares that he will not stand in physical opposition to the efforts advocating the true Divine faith.”

In this context, the imperative to wage war against and subjugate unbelievers remains intact.


We should not allow ourselves to be deceived or distracted by the apologetics of some Muslims who ignore traditional understandings of the Qur'an in order to re-package Islamic doctrine and history to ill-informed non-Muslims. Not only does this result in a failure to address the root causes of Islamic jihad violence, it also hinders the progress of genuine Muslim reformers. Moderate Muslims will not succeed in formulating a new, peaceful understanding of Islam unless they acknowledge the problems inherent in its mainstream tradition and orthodoxy. Those who acknowledge these problems, then work to reform them, are to be commended and their efforts supported. Those who simply whitewash these basic realities should not be encouraged or supported, for their efforts do more harm than good in the important struggle for Islamic reform.

No comments:

Post a Comment