The Quran says:
نَّحْنُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا يَقُولُونَ ۖ وَمَا أَنتَ عَلَيْهِم بِجَبَّارٍ ۖ فَذَكِّرْ بِالْقُرْآنِ مَن يَخَافُ وَعِيدِ
(50:45) – Fully aware are We of what they [who deny resurrection] do say; and thou canst by no means force them [to believe in it]. Yet none the less, remind, through this Qur’an, all such as may fear My warning. [Asad]
Therefore, Muslims are not supposed to forcibly compel people to follow the right path or to stop them from following the wrong path. They should keep on presenting the Quran to them. Only the one who is cognizant of the working of Allah’s Law of Requital will learn a lesson from it, according to which the consequence of every wrong way is destruction.
What the Quraysh were saying among themselves about the Prophet (PBUH) and his small group of companions? What do tyrants always say regarding the people under their subjugation? Well, they were saying that these people are out of their minds if they demand justice and human rights. Don’t they know that we will crush them? Don’t they know that if they organize any movement against us then we will nip them in the bud? How can the week and poor challenge us, the mighty and the strong? This kind of mentality always takes over tyrants, the usurpers of humanity. But the Quraysh were in for a shock – a real deep shock and that too in the month of Ramadan – which shattered them at the battlefield of Badr. But they didn’t learn a lesson from it as is the case with all tyrants. Even after the battle of Badr the Quraysh never let up. In fact, they gathered together all the tribes – known as the battle of Ahzaab or the Battle of the trench – and attacked Muslims. They kept attacking the Momineen and kept losing although in some battles the Muslims did suffer some temporary setbacks, ultimately they prevailed over the Quraysh.
But here is the difference between the Quranic values and the commonly accepted norms of warfare.
The Quran summarizes the philosophy of war beautifully. The important thing to note here is this: وَمَا أَنتَ عَلَيْهِم بِجَبَّارٍ
(50:45) – thou canst by no means force them [to believe in it]. [Asad]
Prophet (PBUH) was not sent to forcibly compel people to follow the right path, or to stop them from following the wrong path. There must not be any kind of compulsion in Islam – physical, social, economic, political, psychological, emotional, traditional, etc.
The Quraysh were engaged in these wars with the Prophet (PBUH), although the Prophet (PBUH) was not trying to force them to accept Islam. In fact, it was just the other way around: The Quraysh were trying to force the Prophet (PBUH) away from Islam and not letting him live in peace. The Quran declares:
لَا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ
(2:256) – THERE SHALL BE no coercion in matters of faith. [Asad]
If Allah, the possessor of the infinite might had desired, then His Order could have been established in the human sphere as it is established in the natural sphere. But Allah has granted humans free will and He did not wish to exercise compulsion. The Quran, in fact, tells the Bedouins who had accepted Islam willingly, that Iman has not entered your hearts, so you can’t call yourselves Momin:
قَالَتِ الْأَعْرَابُ آمَنَّا ۖ قُل لَّمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَٰكِن قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنَا وَلَمَّا يَدْخُلِ الْإِيمَانُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ
(49:14) – THE BEDOUIN says, “We have attained to faith.” Say [unto them, O Muhammad]: “You have not [yet] attained to faith; you should [rather] say, ‘We have [outwardly] surrendered’ - for [true] faith has not yet entered your hearts. [Asad]
The Quran even tells born Muslims, to acquire Iman:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا آمِنُوا بِاللَّـهِ
(4:136) – O you who have attained to faith! Hold fast unto your belief in God. [Asad]
Iman is derived from “Amn” which means peace. There is no peace in coercion or force. The Quran even goes so far as to say that if the verses of the Quran are presented to you then do not accept them as if you are dumb and deaf:
وَالَّذِينَ إِذَا ذُكِّرُوا بِآيَاتِ رَبِّهِمْ لَمْ يَخِرُّوا عَلَيْهَا صُمًّا وَعُمْيَانًا
(25:73) – And who, whenever they are reminded of their Sustainer’s messages, do not throw themselves upon them [as if] deaf and blind. [Asad]
You should accept its verses only after giving due thought and consideration:
أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ أَمْ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبٍ أَقْفَالُهَا
(47:24) – Will they not, then, ponder over this Qur’an? - or are there locks upon their hearts? [Asad]
Therefore, the Quran not only does not suppress intellect but appeals to it. In fact, it spurs and fortifies it. The Kuffar were asking the Prophet (PBUH) to show miracles, and only then they will believe. Allah told the Prophet (PBUH) to tell them that if We created this gigantic Universe from nothing then it would be easy for Us to show miracles. But that would be accepting Our message without due thought and understanding. The Quran does not accept such an Iman because Iman must be based on intellect and understanding. Forcing (directly or indirectly) anyone to accept Islam is totally out of the question according to the Quran (50:45).
Therefore, one cannot by any means force someone to accept Islam. All the wars that the Prophet (PBUH) fought were defensive wars. These were not to spread Islam by force. One cannot be called Muslim if one accepts Islam due to compulsion according to the Quran.
Every messenger’s very first message to his people was: أَعْبُدُ اللَّـهَ (10:104) – Obedience is exclusively due to Allah. No human (or group of humans) has the right to demand obedience. And every messenger declares:
يَا قَوْمِ لَا أَسْأَلُكُمْ عَلَيْهِ أَجْرًا ۖ إِنْ أَجْرِيَ إِلَّا عَلَى الَّذِي فَطَرَنِي ۚ أَفَلَا تَعْقِلُونَ
(11:51) – O my people! No reward do I ask of you for this [message]: my reward rests with none but Him who brought me into being. Will you not, then, use your reason? [Asad]
It is purely one’s choice whether one accepts or rejects the divine message because there is no compulsion in Deen. The Prophet (PBUH) didn’t ask for any reward. He told: I am only here to present you Allah’s message through the Quran. However, only those people will accept its message who truly feel in their hearts that they will be held accountable for their deeds. Only those who are aware of the working of Divine Law of Requital will learn a lesson from it, according to which the consequence of every wrong way is destruction.
So, the Prophet (PBUH) only showed them the right path. It was up to them whether or not to follow it. It was not the duty of the Prophet (PBUH) to force anyone to walk on the right path. One who does not want to follow the guidance of the Quran is his problem. He shall face the consequences. Allah’s Law of Requital will ultimately hold him accountable.
Forcing people to follow Sharia is against the Quran
If one accepts Islam willingly and with full sincerity of his heart after due diligence and understanding of the Quran, then it will be incumbent on him to obey the laws of the Islamic system. This is not a compulsion because he has willingly and voluntarily accepted Islam and its principles. This is similar to the case that if one accepts the citizenship of a country then he has to abide by the laws of that country. This is not considered compulsion because if he wants to relinquish that citizenship and wants to go somewhere then he is free to do so. But the exit door has been closed by our Sharia. If a non-Muslim accepts Islam and later he wants to leave Islam, then our Sharia does not allow it. It declares him a Murtad, and the verdict of Sharia is that his punishment is death. What could be greater compulsion than this? If he remains a Muslim because of fear of death, then what could be greater hypocrisy than this?
That means these people are creating a whole group of hypocrites among them. Here are our custodians of Sharia forcing people to remain Muslims by the threat of death whereas the Quran told no less a personality than the Prophet (PBUH) himself that you are not to force anyone to become Muslim (50:45). Not only that, he (PBUH) is not to force even his enemies (who made his life so difficult) to accept Islam if they become prisoners of war. The Prophet (PBUH) could have done anything to them, but this is the order of the Quran: It tells that you have to treat them well while they are in your custody: that you can exchange them for your prisoners; or you can release them for ransom; or if that is not possible then release them as a goodwill gesture (47:4).
The Prophet (PBUH) did not compel anyone to accept Islam nor did he compel anyone from leaving Islam if one wanted to. He presented them the Quran and left the choice to their free will to accept or to reject it:
إِنَّا هَدَيْنَاهُ السَّبِيلَ إِمَّا شَاكِرًا وَإِمَّا كَفُورًا
(76:3) – Verily, We have shown him the way: [and it rests with him to prove himself] either grateful or ungrateful. [Asad]