100 Years Ago… – Islam does not permit compulsion in religion: Correction of a statement published in the Indian Military Almanac 


The Review of Religions [English], December 1922

Hazrat Musleh e Maud 1

A correction in the Indian Military Almanac

We [The Review of Religions, 1922] reproduce below the correspondence that passed between the additional secretary to His Holiness the Khalifatul Masih [IIra], Qadian, and the private secretary to His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief of India, Simla [now Shimla], on the above subject.


The Private Secretary to His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief of India, Simla.


I have the honour to draw your kind attention to the following passage occurring in the Indian Military Almanac 1922, page 36, “Islam has always been an aggressive religion, and in theory, it is in a state of continual war against infidels offering them the alternative of conversion or death.”

The statements in question are a gross misrepresentation of the teachings of Islam. I need not go into details in this letter, but I may point out here that the Holy Quran nowhere enjoins compulsion in religion. On the other hand, it expressly prohibits such compulsion. For instance, it says in one of the Surahs revealed at Medina: 

[لَاۤ اِكۡرَاهَ فِي الدِّيۡنِ ۙ قَدۡ تَّبَيَّنَ الرُّشۡدُ مِنَ الۡغَيِّ]

“There is no compulsion in religion. Now is the right way made distinct from error.” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.257) 

Many other verses might be quoted to show that Islam does not permit violence and compulsion in matters of religion. But out of consideration for the limits of space, I content myself with two more quotations. One of these verses occurs in a Surah that was revealed towards the close of the Holy Prophet’s[sa] ministry. It refers to the unbelievers who were at war with the Muslims with a view to extirpate Islam, and says: 

[َاِنۡ اَحَدٌ مِّنَ الۡمُشۡرِكِيۡنَ اسۡتَجَارَكَ فَاَجِرۡهُ حَتّٰي يَسۡمَعَ كَلٰمَ اللّٰهِ ثُمَّ اَبۡلِغۡهُ مَاۡمَنَهٗ ؕ ذٰلِكَ بِاَنَّهُمۡ قَوۡمٌ لَّا يَعۡلَمُوۡنَ]

“And if any of the idolaters shall ask protection of thee, grant him permission that he may hear the word of God and afterwards let him reach his place of safety. This shall thou do because they are people devoid of knowledge.” (Surah at-Taubah, Ch.9: V.6) 

This [above] verse clearly shows that Islam does not teach compulsion. In another Surah revealed at Medina, the Holy Quran says: 

[وَقُلۡ لِّلَّذِيۡنَ اُوۡتُوا الۡكِتٰبَ وَالۡاُمِّيّٖنَ ءَاَسۡلَمۡتُمۡ ؕ فَاِنۡ اَسۡلَمُوۡا فَقَدِ اهْتَدَوۡا ۚ وَاِنۡ تَوَلَّوۡا فَاِنَّمَا عَلَيۡكَ الۡبَلٰغُ ؕ وَاللّٰهُ بَصِيۡرٌۢ بِالۡعِبَادِ]

“And say to those who have been given the Book and to the Arabs, ‘Have ye become Muslims?’ If they become Muslims, then are they guided; but if they turn their backs, then, verily, your duty is only to preach; and Allah sees His servants.” (Surah Aal-e-Imran, Ch.3: V.21)

It is impossible to quote even a single verse from the Holy Quran in support of the allegation that Islam is “an aggressive religion” and that “in theory it is in a state of continual war” with the non-Muslims, offering them the alternatives of conversion or death. There is not a single verse in the whole of the Holy Quran that may lend credence to such a conclusion. The opponents of Islam are in the habit of misconstruing certain verses of the Holy Quran in order to show that it requires its followers to put to death every non-Muslim who refuses to accept Islam. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The verses that are thus misconstrued refer to the Arabs who were the first to make war against the small Muslim community that had accepted the Holy Prophet[sa] of Arabia as the divine Messenger and which the idolatrous Arabs sought to destroy in order to nip Islam in the bud. It was therefore in self-defence that the Holy Prophet[sa] and his companions were permitted to take up arms against the lawless enemies of Islam. This is clear from the Holy Quran itself. The verse that first gave permission to the Muslims to fight runs thus: 

اُذِنَ لِلَّذِيۡنَ يُقٰتَلُوۡنَ بِاَنَّهُمۡ ظُلِمُوۡا ؕ وَاِنَّ اللّٰهَ عَلٰي نَصۡرِهِمۡ لَقَدِيۡرُ۔ الَّذِيۡنَ اُخۡرِجُوۡا مِنۡ دِيَارِهِمۡ بِغَيۡرِ حَقٍّ اِلَّاۤ اَنۡ يَّقُوۡلُوۡا رَبُّنَا اللّٰهُ ؕ وَلَوۡلَا دَفۡعُ اللّٰهِ النَّاسَ بَعۡضَهُمۡ بِبَعۡضٍ لَّهُدِّمَتۡ صَوَامِعُ وَبِيَعٌ وَّصَلَوٰتٌ وَّمَسٰجِدُ يُذۡكَرُ فِيۡهَا اسۡمُ اللّٰهِ كَثِيۡرًا

“Permission (to fight) is given to those who are fought against because they have suffered outrages; and verily God is well able to succour them. Those who have been driven forth from their homes wrongfully only because they say ‘Our Lord is Allah.’ And if Allah had not repelled some men by others, cloisters, and Churches, and oratories, and Mosques wherein the name of God is ever commemorated would surely have been destroyed.” (Surah al-Hajj, Ch.22: V.40-41)

The above verses clearly establish the following facts:

The Muslims were permitted to fight not to propagate their religion or to force men to accept Islam but because they were fought against, and had suffered outrages. 

The verse also gives the reason why it was necessary to take up arms against the aggressors. It states that if the hand of the aggressors is not checked, then there will be no religious freedom and the followers of one religion will even destroy the worship houses of other religions. This shows that Islam, far from being an advocate of compulsion, is a champion of religious toleration. Islam, being a perfect religion, does not forbid war, but permits it in cases when the honour and religious liberty of a people are at stake. When order and peace cannot be restored except by resorting to arms, Islam does permit it.

That the Muslims were permitted to fight only against those who were the first to attack them is clear from other verses of the Holy Quran also. For instance, it says: 

[وَقَاتِلُوۡا فِيۡ سَبِيۡلِ اللّٰهِ الَّذِيۡنَ يُقَاتِلُوۡنَكُمۡ وَلَا تَعۡتَدُوۡا ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الۡمُعۡتَدِيۡنَ]

“And fight for the cause of God against those who fight against you, but commit not the injustice of attacking them first: God loves not such injustice.” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.191 [JM Rodwel’s Translation])

Can anything be more clear than this? But this is not all. Fighting even against the aggressive party is forbidden when it desists from fighting. The Holy Quran says:

‭[‬فَاِنِ‭ ‬انۡتَهَوۡا‭ ‬فَلَا‭ ‬عُدۡوَانَ‭ ‬اِلَّا‭ ‬عَلَي‭ ‬الظّٰلِمِيۡنَ‭]‬

“But if they desist then let there be no hostility save against the wicked.” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.194) 

If the aggressive party sues for peace, the Muslims are required to make peace with them even if they doubt their sincerity. The Holy Quran says:

[وَاِنۡ جَنَحُوۡا لِلسَّلۡمِ فَاجۡنَحۡ لَهَا وَتَوَكَّلۡ عَلَي اللّٰهِ ؕ اِنَّهٗ هُوَ السَّمِيۡعُ الۡعَلِيۡمُ۔ وَاِنۡ يُّرِيۡدُوۡۤا اَنۡ يَّخۡدَعُوۡكَ فَاِنَّ حَسۡبَكَ اللّٰهُ]

“And if they lean to peace, lean thou also to it, and put thy trust in God, for He is Hearing, the Knowing, and if they seek to betray thee God will be All Sufficient for thee.” (Surah al-Anfal, Ch.8: V.62-63)

During war, the Muslims are also bidden not to exceed limits. 

‭[‬وَاِنۡ‭ ‬عَاقَبۡتُمۡ‭ ‬فَعَاقِبُوۡا‭ ‬بِمِثۡلِ‭ ‬مَا‭ ‬عُوۡقِبۡتُمۡ‭ ‬بِهٖ‭]‬

“If ye punish, punish only as ye were punished.” (Surah al-Anfal, Ch.8: V.127)

Far from offering the alternatives of conversion or death to the Non-Muslims, the Holy Quran expressly bids its followers to deal kindly with such of them as do not make war upon them. It says: 

[لَا يَنۡهٰكُمُ اللّٰهُ عَنِ الَّذِيۡنَ لَمۡ يُقَاتِلُوۡكُمۡ فِي الدِّيۡنِ وَلَمۡ يُخۡرِجُوۡكُمۡ مِّنۡ دِيَارِكُمۡ اَنۡ تَبَرُّوۡهُمۡ وَتُقۡسِطُوۡۤا اِلَيۡهِمۡ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ يُحِبُّ الۡمُقۡسِطِيۡنَ۔ اِنَّمَا يَنۡهٰكُمُ اللّٰهُ عَنِ الَّذِيۡنَ قٰتَلُوۡكُمۡ فِي الدِّيۡنِ وَاَخۡرَجُوۡكُمۡ مِّنۡ دِيَارِكُمۡ وَظٰهِرُوۡا عَلٰۤي اِخۡرَاجِكُمۡ اَنۡ تَوَلَّوۡهُمۡ ۚ وَمَنۡ يَّتَوَلَّهُمۡ فَاُولٰٓئِكَ هُمُ الظّٰلِمُوۡنَ]

“God doth not forbid you to deal with kindliness and fairness towards those who have made war upon you on account of your religion, or driven you forth from your homes; for God loveth those who act with fairness. Only doth God forbid you to make friends of those who on account of your religion have warred against you and have driven you forth from your homes, and have aided those who drove you forth, and whoever maketh friends of them are wrongdoers.” (Surah al-Mumtahinah, Ch.60: V.9-10)

I may point out here that the verses quoted above occur in a Surah that was among the last revealed at Medina.

Such are the teachings of Islam and it is most painful to see that this religion, in spite of such teachings, is represented as an aggressive religion that offers non-Muslims the alternatives of conversion or death. Can there be a greater injustice than this? 

I, therefore, hope that in the interests of justice and fairness you will not allow the passage referred to above to stand in the [Indian Military] Almanac any longer and will be pleased to take early steps to issue a circular pointing out the glaring misstatement contained therein. It is a pity that statements that are not only extremely offensive but run counter to the plain teachings of Islam find a place in books that purport to furnish authentic information.

These statements are not only opposed to the teachings of the Holy Quran, but they are also contrary to facts, for the Muslims never offered the alternatives of conversion or death to any people. On the other hand, they maintained perfect religious toleration wherever they went.

In order to shed further light on the subject, I may quote one more verse from the Holy Quran, which gives directions to the Muslims as to how they should propagate their religion. It runs as follows:

‭[‬اُدۡعُ‭ ‬اِلٰي‭ ‬سَبِيۡلِ‭ ‬رَبِّكَ‭ ‬بِالۡحِكۡمَةِ‭ ‬وَالۡمَوۡعِظَةِ‭ ‬الۡحَسَنَةِ‭ ‬وَجَادِلۡهُمۡ‭ ‬بِالَّتِيۡ‭ ‬هِيَ‭ ‬اَحۡسَنُ‭]‬

“Summon them to the way of the Lord with wisdom and with kindly warning; dispute with them in the kindliest manner.” [Surah al-Anfal, Ch.8: V.126]

The compiler of the [Indian Military] Almanac seems to be singularly misinformed about Islam, for on the same page he makes another misstatement, which betrays his sad ignorance of the teachings of Islam. He says that, “the Muslims acknowledge Jesus as one of the greatest prophets but not as the Christ,” while the fact is that the Muslims believe him to be the Christ, but they do not look upon him as God or son of God. The following verse, as translated by George Sale, will suffice to expose the ignorance of the compiler of the [Indian Military] Almanac

[اِذۡ قَالَتِ الۡمَلٰٓئِكَةُ يٰمَرۡيَمُ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ يُبَشِّرُكِ بِكَلِمَةٍ مِّنۡهُ  ۖ  اسۡمُهُ الۡمَسِيۡحُ عِيۡسَي ابۡنُ مَرۡيَمَ وَجِيۡهًا فِي الدُّنۡيَا وَالۡاٰخِرَةِ وَمِنَ الۡمُقَرَّبِيۡنَ]

“The angels said (to Mary while giving her the glad tidings of the birth of a son) His name will be Christ, Jesus the son of Mary, honourable in this world and in the world to come, and one of those who approach near to the presence of God.” (Surah Aal-e-Imran, Ch.3: V.46)

Hoping that you will be pleased to take immediate steps to rectify these glaring misstatements contained in the [Indian Military] Almanac.

Reply from the private secretary to the Commander-in-chief of India

Copy of a letter No. 11112/11/MO 3, dated 8 June 1922, Simla, from the Chief of the General Staff, Army Headquarters, to the Additional Secretary to His Holiness the Khalifatul Masih [IIra]:

1. I am directed to acknowledge receipt of your letter No. 23-5-22, and to thank you for the points brought to notice therein.

2. The statement taken exception to in the Indian Military Almanac of 1922 will be corrected or omitted in the next issue.

(Transcribed by Al Hakam from the original, published in The Review of Religions[English], December 1922)

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