The Muslim Conquests and the Truth Regarding Muslim wars (Jihad) and the Issue of Violence
- Was Islam spread by the sword?
- Were the Islamic conquests a form of colonization?
- What was Islam's attitude regarding the ancient civilizations and was Islam responsible for the burning of the Library of Alexandria?
- What is the truth regarding Muslim wars (jihad)?
- What are Islam's rulings regarding fanaticism and terrorism?
(I) Was Islam spread by the sword?
1- There is a fundamental rule stated in the Quran namely the right to choose one's religion: "let there be no compulsion in religion," (2/256).Accordingly Islam emphasized that a person's belief in Islam or his rejecting to believe in it is a matter that depends upon man's free will and his sincere conviction. This is stated in the following Quranic verse: "Let him who will, believe, and let him who will, reject (it) ". (18/129) God, in the verses of the Quran, drew the Prophet's attention to this fact and emphasized that he was only a messenger whose duty was only to relate the Divine Message and that he had no authority to force people into conforming to Islam. This is clearly expressed in the following Quaranic verses: "Will you then compel mankind, against their will, to believe!"(10/99) "You are not one to manage (men's) affairs". (88/10)" If then they turn away, We have not sent you as a guard over them. Your duty is but to convey (The Message)". (42/48).The aforementioned verses make it clear that Holy Book of the Muslims definitely prohibits forcing anyone to follow the Faith of Islam.
2- Islam has defined the course that Muslims must follow when inviting people to believe in the Faith of Islam and the manner in which the Faith should be spread everywhere. The manner in which Muslims should invite people to embrace Islam is stated in the following Quranic verses:" Invite (all) to the way of your God with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious". (16/125). Also "Speak fair to the people." (2/83)
The Quran contains no less than one hundred and twenty verses, which emphasize that the basic rule to be followed, when Muslims invite people to believe in Islam, is to convince them calmly and graciously and then to leave them to decide for themselves whether to accept or reject the faith. After the conquest of Mecca: the Prophet addressed its people saying: "You are free now'' and he did not force them to adopt Islam in spite of his decisive victory. 1
3-The Muslims never forced a Jew or a Christian to adopt Islam and Omar ben Al khattab - the Second Orthodox Caliph - assured people of Jerusalem that their lives, their churches and their crosses would be harmed on account of his faith. The Prophet recorded in his first constitution for AI Madina, after having emigrated from Mecca that the Jews were a nation living with the Muslims and that he acknowledged their right to believe in their faith.
4- In her book: "Allah is completely different ", the German Orientalist, Sigrid Hunke refutes the accusation that Islam was spread by the sword. She wrote: "The tolerance of the Arabs played an important role in the spreading of Islam, contrary to what has been falsely claimed that it was spread by fire and the sword, which is an unjust and unverified accusation against Islam." She also wrote: "Christians, Jews, Sabians and Pagans embraced Islam of their own free will.2
It is a well-known fact that Muslim armies never invaded South Asia or West Africa, yet Islam spread and flourished in these countries after Muslim merchants travelled with their merchandise to these countries. Muslim Sufis with their peaceful attitude also impressed the inhabitants of these lands. The natives of these distant countries saw for themselves the conduct, morals and the dealings of the Muslims and accordingly embraced Islam of their own free will. 3
(II) Were the Islamic Conquests a form of colonization?
1- Islamic conquests were by no means a form of colonization. Colonization is based on plundering the wealth, and the occupied country. It also neglects developing its economy, its culture and its civilization. History bears witness that Muslim conquerors were never unjust and their rule was always based on equity and tolerance. Andalusia, which is a European country, flourished during the Muslim reign and prospered in all branches of life, and was superior to other European countries in every aspect as a result of the cultural and scientific progress introduced by the Arabs. The same applies to every country during Arab rule. The relics of architecture and other manifestations of the Islamic civilization can still be witnessed.
2- The tribute imposed on the inhabitants of the occupied lands were taxes which they paid to be protected by the Islamic State against their enemies. Any person who enlisted in the ranks of the army was immediately exempted from this financial obligation. Sir Thomas Arnold stated that the Christian tribe of Al Jarajma that dwelt near to Antioch was at peace with the Muslims vowed to be their allies during peace and that in the event of war, they would fight side with them providing that they be exempted from paying the tribute. 4 Fighting in the cause of God in order to acquire the spoils of war is prohibited in Islam and is considered a crime. The Prophet was once asked about his opinion of a person who fights in the cause of God in order to acquire the spoils of war. He answered: "He is denied the divine reward". He repeated this statement twice, thus uttering it three times in order to emphasize it. 5
3- The allegation that Muslim Conquests were an economically motivated form of colonization is an attempt to conceal the West's colonization of Islamic countries in recent time. There is a great difference between the latter and the former and the following example, among many, should clarify this point. A peace treaty was signed between Khaled ben Al Waleed and the inhabitants of the towns near to Al Hira which stated: ''If we Muslims protect you from your enemies you pay the tribute, otherwise you are exempted from it''. When the Muslims were unable to protect these occupied Syrian towns during the rule of Omar ben Al Khattab, the Second Orthodox Caliph, after Emperor Hercules had prepared a great army to attack the Muslims, Khaled ben Al Waleed wrote to the inhabitants of the Syrian cities stating: "Since the Emperor Hercules has prepared a great army to attack as, we must face him and will not be able to defend you, so we return your money to you. Should God grant us victory, the terms of the treaty will remain". 6
(III) What was Islam's attitude regarding the ancient civilizations and was Islam responsible for the burning of the Library of Alexandria?
1-The claim that Muslims did not respect the ancient civilizations is a false and unjust allegation. In fact they benefited from the positive aspects of these civilizations and they translated many Greek, Persian and Indian books into Arabic, solemnly believing that human heritage includes the skills, the experience and the learning of different nations all of which should be employed for the benefit of mankind. In this respect the Prophet said: "Seek knowledge even if it is in China". This means that one should seek to acquire knowledge even in a land that does not believe in one's faith and even if it were at the other end of the world since at that time China was considered the most distant place on earth.
2- The Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushed explained the Muslim's attitude concerning the ancient civilization in the following passage. "The religion of Islam urges us to read the books of the civilization that preceded us provided that their aim was to guide people to the truth which our faith urges us to follow. This includes the use of our powers of comprehension and reasoning in studying all created beings." Ibn Rushd then added:" We must study and understand what they wrote in their books. It is then up to us to accept what is consistent with our beliefs to be grateful to them. However, whatever is not consistent with our beliefs should not confuse us, but we should reject it, warn others about it and not blame them in any way." 7
3- It is a historical fact the Muslims did not set fire to the Library of Alexandria. This unjust and unfounded accusation has been ascribed to the Muslims by the enemies of Islam who spread this rumour, which was confirmed in peoples' minds as if it were an established fact. This false accusation was spread during the thirteenth century A.D. as a result of the aggressive attitude of the Crusaders, and it is still repeated up to this very day in spite of the authentic proof of objective historians who have refuted it.
The origin of this false allegation goes back to Omar ben Al Khattab, the second Orthodox Caliph, who was falsely accused of having given the order to set fire to the Library. He was also falsely accused of having said that if the books in the library contained what was written in the Quran, then they were useless and if these books contained any contradiction to what was written in the Quran, then they must be destroyed. It has been proved beyond a shadow of doubt that 'Omar never made such a statement. Another accusation which is equally false and unjust is that the Muslim Arabs used books in the library as fuel for the public baths for six whole months.
4- Sigrid Hunke presented documentary evidence in her books:
"Allah is completely different", proving that the Arabs entered Alexandria in the year 642 A.D. and that there had been no library in Egypt then, since the library had been burned and destroyed centuries before that date. She also added that there were no public baths in Egypt during that era. Sigrid Hunke stated that the old library annexed to the academy founded by Ptolomy the First (Soter) about the year 300 B.C. was burned in the year 47 B.C. when Julius Caesar besieged the city. The library was later rebuilt by Cleopatra who furnished it with books from Bergamun.
5- The third century A.D witnessed the beginning of the organized destruction of the Library of Alexandria. Emperor Caracal suspended the Academy, and religious fundamentalists set fire to the library, which they considered to be a manifestation of Paganism. In the year 391 A.D. Patriarch Theophilos obtained the permission of Emperor Theodosios to destroy what remained of the Academy and to set fire to the annexed library which at that time, contained three hundred thousand scrolls, in order to found a church and a monastery in its place. Destruction of the library was resumed in the fifth century A.D. during the attack launched upon the Pagan men of learning and scholars and their places of worship in addition to the destruction of their library. 8
The aforementioned facts prove that the allegations concerning setting fire to the library of Alexandria were spread in order to distort the image of Islam so that the Muslims would appear to be the enemies of learning and civilization, when in fact they were completely innocent of the crime they had been accused of. 9
(IV) What is the truth regarding Muslim wars (jihad)?
The Western World has misinterpreted Muslim fighting against aggression as being a Holy War. The truth is that Islam does not acknowledge the term " Holy War". Islam regards wars as either unjust or just. The word Jihadis derived form the world juhd which means exerting one's utmost efforts and is divided into tow forms of efforts, the first of which is the effort made by one's soul and the second is the effort in fighting a just and righteous war. The first strenuous effort that is made is titled the Greater Jihad by which one endeavours to repel all evil, temptation and to purify one's soul from vices especially the vices of jealousy, envy, and hatred, thereby deserving to be brought into the Grace of God. The other form of Jihad is known as the Lesser Jihad and it means fighting a just and righteous war.
A righteous just war according to the laws of Islam is a war of defence, the aim of which is to repel the enemy attack or assault, and the following Quranic verses permit Muslims to fight the enemy who attacks them::" To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged." (22/39) Also: "Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits, for God does not love transgressors." (2/190)
This Quranic verse proves that despite permission to fight in self-defence, the Muslims were warned not to go beyond defending themselves to the extent of transgression. The following Quranic verse permits the Muslims to attack those who attack them::" If then anyone transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress likewise against him." (2/194)
Islam's extreme aversion to fighting and bloodshed is obvious, and fighting in self-defence is the exception that is permitted.
"Fighting is prescribed for you and you dislike it." (2/216)
Thus beginning an attack on others is not permitted in Islam.Although Jihad means fighting in defence of the faith and the Muslims, this Jihad is not limited to fighting in a battle. It includes Jihad with one's wealth, one's thought or any other means which help repel any attack or assault, in order to protect the Islamic community and the Faith in which they believe. Such a principle is the legitimate right of every nation and has been sanctioned by international agreements in modern times.
If the Muslims learn that their enemy desires peace and is willing to cease all forms of aggression, Islam commands the Muslims to agree to their enemy's request. This is stated in the following Quranic verse::" But if the enemy incline towards peace, you (also) incline towards peace and trust in God." (8/61)
Furthermore Islam calls for peaceful coexistence with others and establishing good will with them providing that they do not attack the Muslims. The Quranic verses urge the Muslims to treat people fairly, justly and benevolently: "God forbids you not with regards to those who do not fight your Faith, nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and with them: for God loves those who are just." (60/8) Thus the aim of Islam is to spread and establish peace and tolerance between people and to urge them to cooperate with each other for the welfare of mankind.
Therefore, the allegations you find in some international mass media that Islam is a religion which preaches aggression, extremism, fanaticism and terrorism, are completely unjustified accusations, which have absolutely no fundament in Islam. Islam is on the contrary a religion of mercy and justice. We shall explain this greater detail in our following expositions.
(V) What are Islam's rulings regarding fanaticism and terrorism?
Islam is against any form of bigotry and accordingly does not urge its followers to dogmatism. Furthermore there is no evidence of any kind in sources of Islam, namely the Quran and the Traditions of the Prophet, to that effect. The summons to embrace Islam as stated in the Quran is based on a wise and eloquent invitation and such conduct can never be considered a manifestation of bigotry: "Invite all to the Way of Your God with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious." (16/125) The Prophet himself said to the Pagans of Mecca who refused to believe in the Faith of Islam: "To you be your faith and to me my faith."(109/6).
As regards the divine religions which were revealed before Islam, Muslims are instructed to believe in the Prophets that preceded Muhammad and this belief in them is an essential element in the Faith of Islam. This is stated in the following Quranic verse:
"Say: We believe in God and in the revelation given to us, and to Ibrahim, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes and that given to Moses and Jesus and that given to (all) Prophets from their God; we make no difference between one and another of them and we bow to God in Islam. (2/136) This verse states that there is to be no discrimination between any prophets and this tolerance has no parallel in any other religion. How can such a religion be accused of bigotry and fanaticism?
Islam calls upon all people to become united and to live together in friendship and affection despite the differences between them
"O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other.'' (49/13). Similarly Islam invites its followers in explicit terms to live in peace with Non- Muslims as is clear from the following Quranic verse: "God dose not forbid with regards to those who do not fight you for (your) Faith, nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for God loves those who are just."(60/8)
Islam urges Muslims to forgive and pardon those who wrong them
"And the remission is the nearest to righteousness." (2/237)
Furthermore, Islam urges Muslims to meet any wrong with kindness in hope that enemy may become a friend: "Nor can Goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better: then will he between whom and you was hatred, become as it were friend and intimate! "(41/34).
The Prophet said in one of his sayings: "Announce good news and glad tidings and do not repel alienate people." This is clearly a summons to reject bigotry which breeds hatred whereas the announcement of good news and glad tidings is a sign of tolerance and leniency. Since Islam condemns fanaticism and extremism it consequently condemns terrorism and terrorizing and killing people. In fact Islam considers an attack on one single person, an attack on all mankind: "If anyone slew a person- unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land-it would be as if he slew whole people." (5/32)
Accordingly accusing Islam of terrorism is an absolutely unfounded allegation. If some Muslims are fanatics or even terrorists that does not mean that Islam should be held responsible for their actions. It is essential to differentiate between the tolerant teachings and just principles of Islam and the irresponsible and bigoted behaviour of some Muslims. We must all keep in mind that bigotry and fanaticism are not limited to the followers of any one religion and that terrorism has become an international phenomenon and problem, and this is a fact which is witnessed by our contemporary world. How then can the Faith of Islam be blamed for the universal phenomenon of terrorism, which exists among the followers of all faiths?
(VI )Does Islam encourage extremism and violence?
Islam is a faith of mercy and tolerance that advocates justice and peace. Islam also preserves and safeguards man's freedom, honour and dignity. These are not slogans but are the principles upon which Islam is found. God Almighty sent His Prophet Muhammad: "As a Mercy for all creatures." (21/107) The Prophet Muhammad also said:"I have been sent to fulfill the perfection of high moral qualities." Islam grants man the freedom of choice, even in matters of choosing to believe in God or refusing to do so: "Let Him who will, believe, and let him who will, reject (it)." (18/29)
The invitation to embrace Islam is based upon convincing people by preaching graciously to them and by amicable discussions and not by any form of force or compulsion. The Faith of Islam commands Muslim to be just and liberal and prohibits injustice, tyranny corruption and evil deeds, and advocates repelling evil with goodness: "Repel evil with what is better. "(41/34).When the Prophet Muhammad triumphed over the people of Mecca, he pardoned them, in spite of their previous injustice and persecution of him and his companions saying: "You are all absolutely free."
There is a definite compatibility between the Faith of Islam and Peace. In Arabic are both words Islam and Salaam, which is the Arabic word for peace, derived from the same origin. God Almighty describes himself in the Quran as peace. The Muslim greeting is also a greeting of peace, which is a continual reminder that peace is one of Islam's principle aims that should always be kept in mind. Every Muslim concludes his prayers five times a day with the greetings of peace to half the world on his right and then repeats it to the other half of the world on his left.
It is obvious from the aforementioned facts that Islam is a peace-loving Faith and accordingly there is no possibility of its advocating violence, fanaticism, bigotry, terrorism or any form of assault on people and their property. Islamic rulings and principles aim at safeguarding the Human Rights, which include his right to life, family, beliefs, thought and property.
The Faith of Islam prohibits any form of assault on others, so much so that Islam declares that attacking one and individual of the human race is considered an attack on all mankind and this is expressed in the following Quranic verse: "If anyone slew a person unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land it would be as if he slew the whole people; and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if saved the life of the whole people."(5/34). Thus every individual represents humanity, and Islam's concern for the safeguarding and preservation of humanity is manifested in every human being's respect for other human beings by respecting their freedom, their dignity and all their human rights. One of the sayings of the Prophet states that every Muslim is forbidden to shed the blood, steal the wealth, or disgrace the honour of any Muslim. Another saying of the Prophet states that whoever terrorizes a believer in God will not be delivered from the Terror of the Day of Judgement.
The Faith of Islam also calls for peaceful coexistence among nations and commands Muslims to treat Non- Muslims justly and fairly as is stated in the following Quranic verse: "God does not forbid you, with regard to those who do not fights you for (your) Faith, nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them, for God loves those who are just."(60/8)
The responsibility of preserving the safety of the members of any community must be shared by everyone in the community. Shouldering this responsibility together is the only way to ensure security and stability in face of the danger of corruption and depravity. Another saying of the sayings of the prophet compares us all to a group of people who drew lots to see where they would be seated aboard a ship. The result was that some of them stayed on deck while others went down inside the ship. When the people inside the ship wanted water to drink, they went up to the people on deck and told them that they could get water to drink by making a hole in the bottom of the ship, which was their own part of the ship, and by so doing they would not harm the deck of the ship or the people on it. If the people on deck had allowed them to do that, they would all have perished but if they had prevented them they would all have been delivered from drowning.
1- Al Ghazali, Muhammad : One Hundred Questions about Islam ,vol.1.pp.118,129… Thabet’s Publishing Home .
2-Sigrid , Hunke: Allah ist ganz anders . Horizont Verlag ,p .42, f.
3- Zakzouk , M, Hamdy, Ph .D.:Islam in the Mirror of Westren Thought ,Dar Al Fikr Al Araby , 1994.
4- Arnold , Thomas .W. : The Preaching of Islam . Translated by Hassan Ibrahim et al ., 79,80 , Egyption Renaissance Bookshop Cairo .
5- A l Ghazali , Muhammad : One Hundred Questions about Islam , vol .2,page 42. Thabit Publishing House ,1984.
6- Arnold, Sir Thomas: The Preaching of Islam.p.79
7- Ibn Rushd .The Philosophy of Ibn Rushd p.17. Beirout ,1982.
8- Sigrid Hunke : Allah ist ganz anders .pp.85-90 .
9- Zakzouk ,M. Hamdy. Islam in the Mirror of Western Thought , p.110 …