Jihad in Islam is not to forcibly convert others to Islam
It aims to break the back of evil, end moral disorder and corruption
Dr. Muhammad Razi-ul-Islam Nadvi
Translated by Shayma S
Out of all the terminologies associated with the Islamic worldview and theology, it is possibly the term ‘jihad’ that has garnered the most controversy and opposition. The concept has been painted in such a fearsome light that the mere invocation of it appears to induce fear. This is precisely why Indian Muslims are called upon to give up on it. The commonsensical notion that has been propagated is that Muslims forced people to convert to Islam and conquered the country by the force of the sword and this is what led to the rise and spread of Islam.
It is a bizarre proposition that the very religion (Islam) which is the biggest advocate of freedom of thought and ideology and under the rule and governance of which minorities have been breathing the air of freedom in many countries is accused of oppression.
The basic fact is that Islam does not force its thoughts and ideas on anyone. It gives the freedom to human beings to ponder upon its essential beliefs and ideas, to understand it by keeping the windows of reason open, and then, to accept it if they wish and reject it otherwise. The positive results of accepting the truth and the consequences of the denial of the truth have been explained in fine detail, but no one is forced to convert to Islam. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ was told to clearly state:
وَقُلِ الْحَقُّ مِنْ رَّبِّكُمْ فَمَنْ شَاۗءَ فَلْيُؤْمِنْ وَّمَنْ شَاۗءَ فَلْيَكْفُر
“And proclaim: “This is the Truth from your Lord. Now let him who will, believe; and let him who will, disbelieve.”
According to Islamic belief, Allah has clearly stated the facts of both right and wrong in front of human beings, but at the same time He has bestowed them with free will and the freedom to exercise choice. By exercising this freedom, some people accept the truth and become obedient to Allah and some people do not accept it and continue in the way of disobedience. Forcing a person to convert to Islam is akin to curtailing the freedom with which Allah has blessed all human beings:
وَلَوۡ شَآءَ رَبُّكَ لَاٰمَنَ مَنۡ فِى الۡاَرۡضِ كُلُّهُمۡ جَمِيۡعًا ؕ اَفَاَنۡتَ تُكۡرِهُ النَّاسَ حَتّٰى يَكُوۡنُوۡا مُؤۡمِنِيۡنَ
“Had your Lord so willed, all those who are on the earth would have believed. Will you, then, force people into believing?” (10:99)
Islamic beliefs and ideas are backed by certain reasoning and the unshakeable belief that whoever ponders them with an open heart and mind will surely embrace the truth. This is why, there is an emphasis that no one should be forced in matters of religion:
لَاۤ اِكۡرَاهَ فِى الدِّيۡنِ
قَد تَّبَيَّنَ الرُّشۡدُ مِنَ الۡغَىِّ
“There is no compulsion in religion. The Right Way stands clearly distinguished from the wrong.” (2:256)
One of the fundamental aspects of Islam is to maintain a peaceful atmosphere, so that all people can think about Islam in an open environment, with complete freedom and without any pressure. It is understood that if there is a state of fitnah and corruption, anarchy, unrest and war, the path of understanding is narrowed even further than usual. Therefore, the Islamic principle is to try to avoid war as much as possible and to consent to it only if there is no other option left but to fight.
The extent to which Islam seeks peace and security can be understood from the imperative that if there is an offer of peace from the enemy during the war, it should be accepted at once, even if there is a suspicion of the enemy’s malice and deception. As Allah Ta’ala says:
وَاِنْ جَنَحُوْا لِلسَّلْمِ فَاجْنَحْ لَہَا وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَي اللہ، اِنَّہٗ ہُوَالسَّمِيْعُ الْعَلِيْمُ، وَاِنْ يُّرِيْدُوْٓا اَنْ يَّخْدَعُوْكَ فَاِنَّ حَسْـبَكَ اللہُ
“If they incline to peace, incline you as well to it, and trust in Allah. Surely, He is All-Hearing. All-Knowing. And should they seek to deceive you, Allah is sufficient for you. He it is Who strengthened you with His succour and the believers.” (8:61-62)
In 6 A.H., the Messenger of Allah ﷺ along with his Companions left Madinah with the intention of performing ‘Umrah, but even before they could reach Makkah, the enemies stopped them and declared their intention of battle. On this occasion, the terms of the peace agreement prepared at Hudaibiyah were explicitly one-sided and on the face of it, led to retreat of the Muslims and boosted the sense of superiority of their enemies. Because of this, many Muslims were feeling uneasy and some of the Companions had run out of patience. But the Messenger of Allah ﷺ accepted all the conditions that in turn, led to a great opportunity for lasting peace and security. The days to come and the consequences that emerged proved that this decision was correct. In the name of peace, this apparent retreat proved to be a precursor to ‘manifest victory’. In the span of two years more people entered the fold of Islam than those who had done so in the six years preceding of the Medinian era.
But when a section of people start imposing their will on others, curtailing their freedoms, carrying out immeasurable oppression, and exerting force upon them, Islam is firmly on the side of the oppressed. It becomes necessary to stop such cruel and oppressive people who torture the servants of Allah and deny them freedom and peace while living on the very land that Allah has created. Allah Ta’ala asks of his believers in the Qur’ān:
وَمَا لَكُمْ لَا تُقَاتِلُوْنَ فِيْ سَبِيْلِ اللہِ وَالْمُسْتَضْعَفِيْنَ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ وَالنِّسَاۗءِ وَالْوِلْدَانِ الَّذِيْنَ يَقُوْلُوْنَ رَبَّنَآ اَخْرِجْنَا مِنْ ھٰذِہِ الْقَرْيَۃِ الظَّالِمِ اَہْلُھَا وَاجْعَلْ لَّنَا مِنْ لَّدُنْكَ وَلِيًّا وَّاجْعَلْ لَّنَا مِنْ لَّدُنْكَ نَصِيْرًا
“How is it that you do not fight in the way of Allah and in support of the helpless – men, women and children – who pray: ‘Our Lord, bring us out of this land whose people are oppressors and appoint for us from Yourself, a protector, and appoint for us from Yourself a helper’?” (4:75)
Similarly, Islam also commands Muslims to confront and fight those who take the lead in fighting them. Just as Islam does not permit others to be wronged, it does not permit a person or a community to silently suffer oppression.
This can be understood in the following context: the atrocities of the polytheists of Makkah crossed all foreseeable limits, the Muslims were forced to emigrate to Madinah to save their religion and faith, but the polytheists of Makkah did not allow the Muslims to live in peace here as well, and conspired against them and incited others against them. Finally, when all options were exhausted and their patience had been tested to its limits, the Muslims were also allowed to fight them:
لَّذِيۡنَ اُخۡرِجُوۡا مِنۡ دِيَارِهِمۡ بِغَيۡرِ حَقٍّ اِلَّاۤ اَنۡ يَّقُوۡلُوۡا رَبُّنَا اللّٰهُ ؕ وَلَوۡلَا دَ فۡعُ اللّٰهِ النَّاسَ بَعۡضَهُمۡ بِبَـعۡضٍ لَّهُدِّمَتۡ صَوَامِعُ وَبِيَعٌ وَّصَلٰوتٌ وَّمَسٰجِدُ يُذۡكَرُ فِيۡهَا اسۡمُ اللّٰهِ كَثِيۡرًا ؕ وَلَيَنۡصُرَنَّ اللّٰهُ مَنۡ يَّنۡصُرُهٗ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ لَقَوِىٌّ عَزِيۡزٌ
“Those who were unjustly expelled from their homes for no other reason than their saying: “Allah is Our Lord.” If Allah were not to repel some through others, monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques wherein the name of Allah is much mentioned, would certainly have been pulled down. Allah will most certainly help those who will help Him. Verily Allah is Immensely Strong, Overwhelmingly Mighty.” (22:40)
In Islam, it is commanded to spread what is ma’ruf – what is beneficial and well-accepted, and to put an end to munkar – what is evil and wrong; often translated as “enjoining what is good and forbidding the wrong.” Both are equally important and are mentioned together in the Qur’ān. But there is a slight difference between the two that is nevertheless significant. Islam invites all human beings to the former and encourages them to accept it, but does not force their acceptance.
However, it does not give them a free hand to commit and spread evil, but instead stops them and urges them to refrain from it. Islam says that those who commit injustice in the world, spread corruption and make evil commonplace, will nevertheless have to live in the world under the divine law of Allah. The rightful owners of power in this world will be those who establish the divine will and command of Allah on it and keep it free from disorder and corruption.
وَقَاتِلُوۡهُمۡ حَتّٰى لَا تَكُوۡنَ فِتۡنَةٌ وَّيَكُوۡنَ الدِّيۡنُ كُلُّهٗ لِلّٰهِۚ فَاِنِ انْـتَهَوۡا فَاِنَّ اللّٰهَ بِمَا يَعۡمَلُوۡنَ بَصِيۡرٌ
“And fight against them until the mischief ends and the way prescribed by Allah – the whole of it – prevail. Then, if they give up mischief, surely Allah sees what they do.” (8:39)
It is clear from this that the purpose of ‘Jihad’ in Islam is not to forcibly convert others to Islam, but its purpose is to break the back of ‘evil’, end moral disorder and corruption, and fight against those who have become the means of promoting corruption, oppression and evil in this world so that the servants of Allah are free and they may be able to exercise their choice of faith freely.