An Answer to the Opponents of Islam
Opponents of Islam make the criticism that Islam relied on military force in order to secure its progress. However, we see that the Prophet never initiated hostilities against any group or people, whether it be the Jews or the Quraysh or the Byzantines. History bears witness that all the wars waged by the Most Noble Messenger, upon whom be peace and blessings, were defensive in nature: the purpose was always to respond to the attacks of the enemy, with the exception of certain cases where the Muslim were convinced that the enemy would persist in its aggressiveness and treachery and were correspondingly ordered to take the initiative in defending themselves. In the following verses from the Quran, the initial reason for legislating jihad - i.e., responding to the attacks of an aggressive enemy - is clearly laid forth:
"Permission is given to the warriors of Islam to fight against their enemies, for they have suffered oppression at their hands. God is able to aid them, and they are people who have been expelled from their homeland without due reason. Their crime was this, that they said, "God is our Lord."
(22:3940) "Fight in the way of God against those who do battle with you, but be careful not to transgress the bounds, for God loves not the transgressors." (2:190) they break their oath after concluding a treaty and vilify your religion, fight against the leaders of the unbelievers, for they observe no pledge or treaty; only then may they cease their violations." (9:12) Were the Muslims carrying weapons at the very dawn of Islam when the polytheists began turning to Islam in droves?
Did the Muslims start a war in order to diffuse and propagate the religion of God? Everyone knows that in the very beginning, far from attacking any group or nation, the Muslims were themselves the victims of aggression. Moreover, if it be supposed that the early Muslims embraced Islam without understanding its veracity, later generations were under no compulsion to follow them; it was the profundity of the Divine teachings that elicited their belief, in accordance with love, willingness and free choice. If we assumed that Islam was imposed on people through coercion and threats, a corollary of this assumption would be that conversion to Islam was compulsory wherever Islam was strong.
We see, however, that Islam gave human beings the choice of either accepting Islam or simply assenting to its governmental institutions while retaining their own religion. If Islam did not respect freedom of opinion, it would never have provided for the second possibility. Islam never took advantage of its position of strength to force people to accept the religion of God. Apart from all this, faith and belief are a matter of the heart; they can never come into being without an inward inclination on the part of the human being, purely through the exercise of compulsion and force. In order to change the beliefs and ideas of people, instruction, teaching, deduction and logic are called for; force and coercion can never remove beliefs that have taken root in people's minds.
Islam had a recourse to military force and began an armed struggle at a time when people had been deprived of freedom of thought and denied the opportunity to choose the correct path. Islam issued its proclamation of war in order to defeat the oppressive tyrants who were preventing the Islamic call from being preached freely and to put an end to the stifling of thought.
Only then would the masses of humanity be able, in an atmosphere of liberty to choose with absolute freedom a correct path in life. If Islam had not acted thus, truth would have been stifled in the cradle. In order for the religion which has human happiness as its aim and wishes to reform all of human affairs to reach its lofty goals, and in order for those persons who have the capacity to learn and assimilate the teachings of that religion to come into contact with it, without encountering any obstacle, a position of dominance must be attained.
It is obvious, moreover, that power can be defeated only by power. In order to destroy the forces that were standing in the path of the diffusion of the light of truth and were fighting against the formation and development of sound and exalted modes of thought, does any path exist save confrontation and battle against the agents of corruption? The obstinate chiefs of the Quraysh wished to exploit the ignorance and weakness of the people, to continue ruling over their lives, their property and their honor, and to preserve forever the customs of ignorance that underlie their hereditary rule. They could not tolerate the influence, still less the prevalence, of a religion that was seizing them by the throat and dragging them down from their thrones of arrogance and self-worship.
They understood well that the spread of Islam would utterly destroy their ancient, rotting customs and all their pomp and splendor. Hence they rose up with all their beings to fight against this religion and the laws it was bringing, in a struggle the purpose of which was the defense of their ancestral customs and traditions and their hereditary lordship and rule. Was it possible for Islam to respond to such ideas and motivations purely with logic and proof? If a certain group of people tries to place a government in difficulty, drawing the sword and lighting fires everywhere, can the government in question save itself without resort to military force? How else can it defeat the miscreants.
Thus the Quran says: "Fight against them until disorder is brought to an end and the religion of God is established. If they cease causing disorder, do not fight against them. " (2:190) No one can deny that in such cases it is a necessary final resort to take up weapons, because disorder, corruption, and violence will end only when the glint of the sword flashes and the hands of the miscreants are severed Islam is not, then, a religion of violence and war, nor was the Prophet of God one who sought to destroy the enemy in battle despite the availability of other means.
At a time when the Muslims were being harassed and tortured by the polytheists in Mecca for the crime of having accepted Islam, a Divine command entrusted them with the duty of delivering the oppressed masses from the grasp of cruel tyrants and cleansing the surrounding area of all forms of slavery and domination, by recourse to military force. Only thus could the newly emergent Islamic society continue to grow and develop in freedom.
The Quran says: "Why do you not rise up in jihad in the path of God and for the sake of delivering the oppressed ? A group of men, women and children in Mecca are prisoners to the cruelty of the unjust, and they say: 'O Lord, deliver us from this realm of the oppressors and set us free, and send us one who will lead us and aid us."' (4:75) The battle implied here is one waged against oppressors who are fighting against God, freely indulging in the oppression of mankind, and depriving human beings of their share of the justice and luminosity that is contained in God's religion.
This is in contrast to the wars waged by the conquerors known to us from history, of whom it certainly cannot be said that they were fighting for the sake of justice, equal human rights and happiness for the whole of mankind! If a people sought to defend its life and dignity and refused to accept humiliation, did not these world-conquering warriors become infuriated and order massacres and plundering to take place? Did Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, have an aim similar to theirs? Did he engage in bloodshed to satisfy his own whims so that men would bow reverentially before his splendor and might and he might seize their property for his own use? Did not their conquests augment their arrogance and self-worship, and did they not use the booty of war to enhance the opulence of their rule?
However ignorant and unjust a person might be, no one can attribute any of this to the Prophet of Islam.
The war waged by Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, was a war of monotheism against polytheism. It was a struggle of light against darkness, and represented the last resort for the destruction of misguidance and the diffusion of virtue and justice. He was a reformer devoted to advancing the true life of the human being and he progressed unceasingly toward that lofty goal. When the Prophet first proclaimed his mission, all the Arab tribes were prepared to submit to his rule and assign him all kinds of privilege, but he decisively rejected their proposals. He wished to unite the masses of mankind beneath the banner of virtue and Divine unity, to establish the government of reason and piety, and to guide mankind on the path to eternal felicity. Today, after the passage of more than fourteen centuries, the triumph of the Prophet is fully apparent.
The book that he brought, which includes within it the essence of all heavenly scriptures, guarantees the happiness of mankind, and the noble name of this lofty personage is reverentially mentioned by millions of human beings. His name resounds from all the minarets in the world with a great spiritual splendor, and it will always continue to do so, morning and evening, in accordance with a Divine promise, penetrating the souls of men and illumining their hearts. For God said in the Quran: " We have elevated and borne on high your goodly name. " (94:4)