Does the Quran call on all believers to impose Islam on the world by force?

Strictly this is a GQ because either some passage of the Quran explicitly says it or not. However I am posting the question in GD because there seems to be a lot of debate on the subject, especially on the interpretation of the term “Jihad”.

Have you read the book? It’s surprisingly short, and you’ll recognize a lot of the stories.

Let me lead off with a well-known quote from the Qur’ân — verse 2:256 —

I think that’s pretty self-explanatory. Also, consider how it played out in history. After the Muslims took over Coptic Egypt in 640, it remained a Christian majority country for centuries. Conversion to Islam was gradual and voluntary. Cite: See Islam, the View from the Edge by Richard W. Bulliet (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994).

Christians and Jews paid a poll tax to the Muslim administration, and in return the Muslims were obligated to defend their lives, liberty, and property. Once when an enemy attacked Islamic territory and despoiled a Christian town, the caliph returned to them the poll tax they had paid because he had failed to keep up his end of the deal.

I see on preview that Jomo Mojo has beaten me to the punch, but since I have this all written out, I’ll post it anyway :).

Well, I’ll preface my comments by noting that as with most religious texts, the Qur’an is fertile ground for interpretation. So one should take any dogmatic view with a grain of salt, as you’ll usually be able to find someone of ostensibly the same faith that disagrees.

However in general modern Islamic theology does not view the Qur’an as commanding that Muslims impose Islam on the rest of the world by force.

First of all we can pretty much dismiss the idea of actual forced conversion. The Qur’an is relatively unambiguous in saying ‘let there be no compulsion in religion’, a phrase that has pretty much universally been interpreted as meaning that conversion by the sword is verboten. Not that it hasn’t happened, of course. But such instances can generally be considered exceptions that prove the rule.

On the other hand the notion that the rule of Islam should be extended over the globe, has better legalistic and historical grounding in Islam. It’s from this that controversy arises. This idea was first put forward in the mid-8th century ( about a century after the death of Muhammed ) by one Al-Nu`man ibn Thabit al-Taymi, better known as al-Imam Abu Hanifa, founder of one the four ( and currently the largest ) schools of Sunni jurisprudence. He articulated the concept of the Dar al-Islam ( “domain, abode, or land of peace, depending the translation” ) vs. the Dar al-Harb ( “domain of war” ), which was also interchangeable with the Dar al-Kufr ( “domain of the unbeliever” ). In his reckoning there could never be a permanent peace between the Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Islam ( though truces and other temporary treaties were acceptable ), until the Dar al-Islam had spread to completely eliminate the Dar al-Harb. This became the common view among at least classical Sunni jurists and the idea has persisted to this day in certain quarters.

But you’ll note that the above is a legalistic interpretation ( ijtihid ) based on reading of the Qur’an and the Hadith and not something taken straight from the Qur’an itself. In the milieu of mid-8th century it seemed a perfectly reasonable interpretation and indeed a justification for what seemed was inevitable - Islam was still actively expansionist at this point and the Caliphate was the greatest empire in the world ( with the decline of T’ang China ). However times change and religion evolves. As it does legalistic interpretations are subject to modification and ijtihid is not considered sacred.

And so it is here. Current mainstream Islamic theology now usually defines Dar al-Harb not as all non-Muslim-ruled regions, but rather as, " the territory under the hegemony of unbelievers, which is on terms of active or potential belligerency with the Domain of Islam, and presumably hostile to the Muslims living in its domain." To this and the Dar al-Islam there is now the widely recognized concept of Dar al-'Ahd ( “domain of the covenant” ), covering non-Muslim countries that have treaties and alliances with Muslim nations. This idea of a intermediate position is also a classical concept, actually ( sometimes also referred to as Dar al-Sulh ), but it has shifted from being more a minority-held concept to a majority-held concept over time. It derives at least in part from a line in the Qur’an that talks about the honoring treaties of mutual alliance with non-Muslim states or tribes.

So in summary, Islam, at least mainstream Islam, does not currently recognize a religiously-mandated armed expansion against all non-Muslims. It does, however, still recognize the concept of defensive jihad against those who agress against Muslims and that issue still has play in current world politics.

  • Tamerlane


is there an annotated Qur’an agreeable to you? I want to see it’s interpretation of 3:85, 8:12, 9:5, 19:69-70… etc. et multiple etc.

The spinning and twists of logic there must surely make Muhammad Sa’id al-Sahhaf proud.

djbdjb: Unfortunately I am not enough of a scholar to really give much of a recommendation when it comes to translations. Jomo Mojo, or someone else who can read it in the original Arabic ( I can’t ) are better judges. At best all I can do is relay the opinions of others ;).

Usually I first use the searchable database here:

…which combines the Ali, Pickthall, and Shakir translations ( the one you linked to is the Shakir ). I believe JM mentioned he was personally partial to the Ali in this thread on the topic:

However the cite for that link I just posted notes that they actually prefer the newer Maududi translation, they just don’t have it up yet. I posted this comment plus links to a few more online translations and one ( admittedly slanted ) article on their relative worth in this thread:

  • Tamerlane

Oh, here’s a better side by side list of the Pickthall, Ali, and Shakir verses:

  • Tamerlane

In Jomo’s humble opinion, the translation by A. J. Arberry is best for the literary quality of the English. The translation by Muhammad Asad is best for its rational appeal to intelligent thinking people. Unfortunately, nobody is making these available online or mass-distributing them in mosques. You have to seek them out.

Mawdudi is a dangerously extremist fundamentalist. Please. Trust me on this. You do not want to go there.

You know, I have to admit I blanked on the connection, if only because the references I saw mentioned Syed or Sayyid Mawdudi and I’ve been conditioned to think of the ideologue as Mawlana Mawdudi. Of course half a second of checking reveals they are one and the same ( Mawlana Sayyid Abu A’la Mawdudi ).

A lesson to me to pay closer attention :).

  • Tamerlane

Well, what sacred texts say and what their supposed followers do don’t always agree.

Still, for most of modern history, it’s pretty clear that Moslem nations were far more tolerant of other religions than Christian countries were. At any time from, say, 700 AD - 1945, if you had asked a Jew, “Where would you feel safer from persecution, in a Christian land or a Moslem land,” that Jew wouldn’t have hesitated for a second: “In a Moslem land, of course.”

The tables seem to have turned, at the moment… but to put it mildly, it wasn’t always this way.

Is there a good printed version of the Quran (in English) which is readily available at bookstores?

“Is there a good printed version of the Quran (in English) which is readily available at bookstores?”

Well, hijack, I don’t know about a “good” translation but I read a new translation that I borrowed from the library that was approved by some Islamic clerics entitled simply…“The Qur’an” translated.

From it I concluded that the Qur’an in translation is riddled with ambiguities…

*** The Qur’an is not be translated into the languages of he infidels.

*** Beating your wife occasionally makes a happy home, but in a later section, Mohammed says “don’t” .

***Be nice to Christians and Jews when necessary but never become their friends.

***And so forth…

The teachings and rules within this version of the Qur’an were a little too invasive for my Southern Baptist tastes. Sorta like the dietary and perfunctory rituals found in the Old Testament.

Tam - on a personal/individual level, it appears that children of Muslims are born Muslim with no say in the matter. Such that they cannot “choose” - if they reject Islam after first being a Muslim, they’re apostate. So how does this fit with “there shall be no compulsion”? Does it come from somewhere else, or is it a misinterpretation?

I ask this because I know of many non-practising muslim-born people who can’t get alcohol licenses because leaving the faith is not recognised by authorities here.

I think that would be a different matter. Those individuals are already Muslims, because their parents raised them as such, and it’s a parent’s duty to raise his son and daughter as Muslims. That’s different than compelling a person who already follows a different religion to convert.

What I was after was not a Koran translation, but an a “back-pedaling” interpretation of such verses as

[3.85] And whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the hereafter he shall be one of the losers

[9.5] So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
It seems to me that the answer to the OP has to be “yes”.

I wish it was “yes, but contemporary Islamic theology just ignores all that horrible stuff”, but is seems there is no such contemporary philosophy.

Well, your first verse just says if you’re not a Muslim, yer goin’ t’be sorry when you die. No commandment to forcibly convert people there.

Your second verse deals with a specific situation, when the Prophet and his followers had fled to Medina and the hostile Meccans were raising an army to march on Medina and kill the Muslim community there. It’s not intended to be a universal commandment binding on all Muslims all the time, just on the Muslims of Medina, and by extension, on Muslims when they are being threatened by those who would try to wipe out Islam.

Note also, that verse contains a qualifier…“If they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them.”

In my opinion:

the bad news is, yes they do want to take over the world.

the good news is, since the fall of their golden age (the Caliphate) they have no currently foreseeable means of doing so.

However note that when Islam was in the ascendency, they had no problem with attempting to conquer other countries in the name of Islam eg Spain, France and had to be driven back by the first two crusades. Christianity also has a dubious history but the difference is that, in Christianity, this can’t be justified by Jesus’ teachings whereas Islam’s teachings can justify conversion by the sword.

Most muslims have now fallen into a kind of christian-like trance state - when Jesus returns all the Christians will convert to Islam. They don’t necessarily think that they should convert the world right now since this will happen anyway (by magic) when Jesus comes back.

Since Jesus isn’t going to return then we don’t have to worry overmuch about it. However the militants live in a kind of dream world where the return of Jesus is imminent. Muslims believe that there will be a big war between Islam and non-muslims and that lots of muslims will die, the extremists are therefore trying to provoke this war in order to herald the second coming.

However they are wrong because the koran says that no one but God knows when the end of the world will be, not Mohammed, not Osama, not anyone.

Islam has big problems (IMO). It’s not a religion like we normally think of religions because it’s also a political ideology and a fairly fascistic one at that. Christians and Jews (eg) can differ with each other but respect their differences, likewise all other religions. But muslims are so convinced that they are right that they don’t really understand the concept of respect for other beliefs.

They have the koran, the koran is the direct word of God so why should they listen to any other viewpoint when they have the word of God right there in front of them? This is why Islam doesn’t really lend itself to democracy. Democracy implies that different viewpoints have an equal right to be heard but how can there be another viewpoint to Gods viewpoint?

Therefore, by allowing democracy, muslims would be (tacitly) admitting that the koran may be wrong and they can’t admit this. Muslim democracies aren’t really democracies as such since only Islamic parties are allowed.

Islam (as it is now) is a threat to civilisation and needs to be contained until they learn to chill out. But I don’t worry too much about all this since we’ve been fighting Islam ever since it first started. Basically they need to have some kind of reformation but this is hard in Islam - even though individual muslims may want their religion to chill, it’s hard to argue against the word of God.

However there are lots of holes in Islam, in fact so many, it’s amazing anyone believes it eg there are many factual, historical errors in the koran as is to be expected since the koran was written by Mohammed on the hoof as he went along.

The reasons Islam survives are:

  • ruthless suppression of alternative viewpoints in muslim countries

  • the biggest sin in islam is to leave islam (in fact the koran says it is ok to kill apostates)

  • another sin in islam is to listen to people who try to lead you astray from islam (so there’s a form of mind control going on - you shouldn’t even think that the koran may be wrong. Thought crimes, 1984 anyone?)

Here’s an interesting (and funny) atheist take on Islam.

This is a christian site but does debunk some of the stuff that appears in the koran eg the muslim view of Jesus which isn’t borne out by any of the available evidence.

This site makes the point that whereas the bible of the jews and christians appears to be a history of a people over one and a half thousand years and is supported by other independent writings and archealogical evidence, the koran (when it talks about biblical stuff) is just a jumble of misunderstood history and inaccurately regurgitated tales with no independant or archeological evidence to support it’s version of events (which often differ massively from what history understands to be the case).

eg the koran is sometimes out by a thousand years on when certain people lived or events are known to have happened eg the Jewish exodus.

(On preview)

Captain Amazing, don’t try to justify the idea that non-muslims should pay a tax to muslims in order to avoid being killed. Where I come from, this is called a protection racket.

And the militants use other verses apart from the “no compulsion” one to justify compulsion.

Jojo that’s just waaaay to many dubious statements in one post!

Well, Jojo, here’s my response. If I miss any of your points, please let me know.

  1. Muslim Expansion into France and Spain

I think it’s a mistake to consider Muslim expansion into either France or Spain to be part of some coordinated “convert the heathens” policy. Tariq ibn Ziyad invaded Spain mostly as an attempt to get land for his Berbers, and because the Visigoths were so corrupt and so hated by the people they ruled over that he wouldn’t have any trouble with unrest if he conquered it.

The case for France is even murkier, and most historians argue that the invasion was punitive, against Eudes, Duke of Aquitaine, who had made an alliance with Muslim Spain and then broke it, and not intended as a conquest at all.

The main focus of the Crusades, of course, wasn’t Spain, but Jerusalem, and the impetus was alleged attacks on pilgrims in the Holy Land.

  1. Muslim dream worlds and apocylpse

There’s an apocylptic<sp> tradition in Islam, just like there is in Christianity, and in Judaism, especially among Shi’ites, but it’s mainly a quietist one, and Shi’ites especially have historically been politically neutral and apathetic. That’s not to say that messianistic doesn’t ever break out in Islam in big ways. It did during the Anglo-Sudanese war, for example, but you saw outbreaks in Christianity like that too, like the Cathars, and in Judaism, like Shabbetai Tzevi. It’s not unique to Islam, and I don’t think Muslim fundimentalists are acting the way they are to herald the end of the world.

  1. Islam, tolerance, and democracy

Muslims do think the Koran is right, and that Islam is the true religion. That’s also not something unique to Islam. Neither Judiasm or Christianity, for the most part, are relativistic in scope. All three religions believe that they are correct and that the other two are, in some manner, incorrect. All three have intolerant aspects. However, all three can be tolerant, as well. Jews were treated much better in the Middle Ages under Muslim rule than under Christian rule, in general, for example. Christianity exists in most countries in the Middle East, even though the area’s been under Muslim rule for ocver a millennia,

Some elements of Islam are incompatible with democracy, that’s correct…but the same is true of some elements of both Judaism and Christianity. However, all three religions have democratic elements, and in fact, in Islam, the view of the ummma (the view of the Muslim community as a whole) is supposed to be taken into account by leaders. In Muslim democracies, it’s not true that Muslim parties are the only ones around. In fact, in most Muslim democracies, secular parties predominate, either nationalist, classical liberal, and socialist. In fact, in Turkey, Muslim parties are explicitly banned from existing, and those Muslim parties that do exist (usually some form or another of the Muslim brotherhood) do so in secret, and risk arrest if the religious nature of their parties come out.

  1. Islam, threats to civilization, and it’s survival

Saying that Islam is one of the greatest threats to civilization today is pretty extreme, and I see no evidence that it’s true. If you could explain why it’s one of the greatest threats to civilization today, I’d appreciate it. I think Islam is surviving and growing because a lot about it appeals to a lot of people…its sense of community, it’s explicit denunciation of racism, prejudice, and political and economic inequality, and it’s clear enunciation of a moral code and moral standards.

  1. The poll tax

First of all, that Qu’ranic verse I quoted doesn’t mention poll taxes, but there’s no question that non Muslims in various Muslim societies were subject to special taxes. The only thing I can say in justification of that is the justification invented by those people who made up the taxes. Jews and Christians were barred from military service, or service in the city militias, and the tax was in lieu of military service.

I will point out that, often, when Muslims conquered Byzantine land, the inhabitants were glad about the taxes because, even with the poll tax, taxes were lower under the Muslims than the Byzantines.

Well, I’m not going to deal with another Islam is eeeeeevil post. Especially since Captain Amazing is doing a perfectly decent job of it.

Istara: Yeah, that’s a tough one for me as well. I think Captain Amazing has the main part of the answer - i.e. the issue of children being able to convert is not well-sussed by modern standards - the ‘no compulsion’ clause is really intended to refer to adults. Children of Muslims tend to be considered Muslims by default because it is assumed they are brought up in Muslim traditions. Ideally my take would be that becoming a Muslim in a formal sense would involve a ceremony upon reaching the age of majority - However since children were regarded as having accepted Islam during Muhammed’s time ( Ali is perhaps the most famous example ), the idea of informed consent being impossible for a child in terms of religion doesn’t seem to be universal.

As regards apostasy, my understanding is that different schools of jurisprudence have different takes on the matter when it comes to children. Some ( I think maybe Shafa’i for one ) consider children to fall under the same heading as the mentally ill and those that were forcibly converted - i.e. they cannot be apostates because the lack the capacity to make such a choice. Others say they can be. However even in the more liberal traditions ( on this issue ) I think a Muslim child is still considered Muslim by default.

Don’t quote me on that, though. I’m sure there are exceptions. There almost always are.

  • Tamerlane