Did Islam Spread by the Sword? A Critical Look at Forced Conversions
Published: May 12, 2018 • Updated: August 24, 2021
Author: Hassam Munir
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
The Positions of Historians
“There is No Compulsion in Religion”
Early Islamic History
This is the assurance of safety [amān] which the servant of God, ʿUmar, the Commander of the Faithful, has given to the people of Jerusalem. He has given them an assurance of safety for themselves, for their property, their churches, their crosses, the sick and healthy of the city and for all the rituals which belong to their religion. Their churches will not be inhabited by the Muslims and will not be destroyed. Neither they, nor the land on which they stand, nor their cross, not their property will be damaged. They will not be forcibly converted…
Case Study: South Asia
Case Study: The Ottoman Empire’s Devshirme System
Case Study: The “Orphans’ Decree” in Yemen
1 Conrad Hackett and Michael Lipka, “Why Muslims are the world’s fastest growing religious group,” 6 April 2017, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/06/why-muslims-are-the-worlds-fastest-growing-religious-group/.
2 Karen Armstrong, “We cannot afford to maintain these ancient prejudices against Islam,” The Guardian, 18 September 2006, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2006/sep/18/religion.catholicism.
3 Barbara Metcalf, “Too Little and Too Much: Reflections on Muslims in the History of India,” The Journal of Asian Studies 54, no. 4 (1995): 953-54.
4 See, for example, Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (And the Crusades) (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2005), 107-17.
5 William Muir, The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall (London, 1898; reprint Beirut: Khayats, 1963), 45
6 William H. McNeill, “Mythistory, or Truth, Myth, History and Historians”, The American Historical Review 91, no. 1 (1986): 8.
7 Amalendu Misra, Identity and Religion: Foundations of Anti-Islamism in India (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2004), 223.
8 De Lacy O’Leary, Islam at the Cross Roads (New York: E.P. Dutton and Co., 1923), 8.
9 Marshall G. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, Volume 1: The Classical Age of Islam (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1974), 199.
10 Ira M. Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 271.
11 Jamal Malik, Islam in South Asia: A Short History (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 183; Jonathan Berkey, The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600-1800 (New York: Cambridge University Press), 162; Kevin Barrett, “Is Islam Reasonable?,” in Reasonable Perspectives on Religion, ed. Richard Curtis (Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books, 2010), 204.
12 All quotations from the Qur’an in this article are taken from Mustafa Khattab, The Clear Quran: A Thematic English Translation of the Message of the Final Revelation (Lombard, IL: Book of Signs Foundation, 2016).
13 Ismā‘īl ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr (Vol. 2) (New York: Darussalam Publishers, 2003), 30.
14 Michael Bonner, Jihad in Islamic History: Doctrines and Practice (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 90.
15 Bat Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide, tr. Miriam Kochan and David Littman (Madison/Teaneck, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002), 50.
16 Bernard Lewis, “The New Anti-Semitism”, The American Scholar 75, no. 1 (2006), https://theamericanscholar.org/the-new-anti-semitism; Chase F. Robinson, “Review of “The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam, from Jihad to Dhimmitude: Seventh-Twentieth Centuries by Bat Ye'or, Miriam Kochan, David Littman””, Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 31, no. 1 (1997): 98.
17 Bonner, Jihad in Islamic History, 91.
18 Milka Levy-Rubin, “New Evidence Relating to the Process of Islamization in Palestine in the Early Muslim Period: The Case of Samaria,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 43, no. 3 (2000): 263.
19 Bonner, Jihad in Islamic History, 91.
20 Hugh Kennedy, The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In (Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press, 2007), 91.
21 Ibid, 315.
22 William Cleveland and Martin Bunton, A History of the Modern Middle East (4th ed.) (Westview Press, 2009), 14.
23 Hugh Kennedy, “Was Islam Spread by the Sword?: The Early Muslim Conquests Revisited,” The Yale Conference on Religion and Violence (Yale University, New Haven, CT, February 16, 2008).
24 Richard W. Bulliet, “Conversion to Islam and the Emergence of a Muslim Society in Iran”, in Conversion to Islam, ed. Nehemia Levtzion (New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1979), 36.
25 Richard C. Martin, “Conversion to Islam by Invitation,” in Sharing the Book: Religious Perspectives on the Rights and Wrongs of Proselytism, eds. John Witte Jr. and Richard C. Martin, (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2008), 103.
26 Kennedy, “Was Islam Spread by the Sword?”
27 Ismā‘īl ibn Kathīr, Al-Bidāyah Wa’l-Nihāyah, ed. ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿAbd al-Muḥsin Turkī (Al-Qāhirah (Cairo): Dār Hajr, 1997), 12:667.
28 Kennedy, “Was Islam Spread by the Sword?”
29 Will Durant, The Story of Civilisation: Our Oriental Heritage (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1935), 459.
30 Ibid, 12.
31 Sudeshna Guha, “Negotiating Evidence: History, Archeology, and the Indus Civilisation”, Modern Asian Studies 39, no. 2 (2005): 403.
32 See, for example, Derryl N. MacLean, Religion and Society in Arab Sind (Leiden: Brill, 1989), 25-27.
33 Peter Hardy, “Modern European and Muslim Explanations of Conversion to Islam in South Asia: A Preliminary Survey of the Literature”, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 2 (1977): 185; the quotation at the end of this sentence is from the discussion about Hardy’s position in Richard M. Eaton, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 114.
34 Rowena Robinson, “Modes of Conversion to Islam”, in Religious Conversion in India: Modes, Motivations, and Meanings, eds. Rowena Robinson and Sathianathan Clarke (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003), 23.
35 Yohanan Friedmann, “A Contribution to the Early History of Islam in India,” in Studies in Memory of Gaston Wiet, ed. Myrian Rosen-Ayalon (Jerusalem: Institute of Asian and African Studies, 1977), 322.
36 Eaton, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 115.
37 Robinson, “Modes of Conversion to Islam”, 26.
38 Ibrahim Kalin, “Islam and Peace: A Survey of the Sources of Peace in the Islamic Tradition”, Islamic Studies 44, no. 3 (2005): 347.
39 Ibid, 348.
40 Krstic, Tijana. Contested Conversions to Islam: Narratives of Religious Change in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011), 21.
41 Ari Ariel, “A Reconsideration of Imam Yahya's Attitude Toward Forced Conversion of Jewish Orphans in Yemen,” Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 29, no. 1 (2010), 97.
42 Ibid, 103.
43 Ibid, 99.
44 Ibid, 103.
45 Ibid, 111.
47 Bat-Zion Eraqi Klorman, “Muslim Society as an Alternative: Jews Converting to Islam,” Jewish Social Studies 41, no. 1 (2007): 90.
48 A.J. Forey, Western Converts to Islam (Later Eleventh to Later Fifteenth Centuries), Traditio 68 (2013): 154.
49 See, for example, Lamin Sanneh, Beyond Jihad: The Pacifist Tradition in West African Islam (New York, Oxford University Press, 2016), including a discussion of an established case of forced conversion to Islam in Ghana which most likely never even happened (p. 284).
50 Hugh Kennedy (“Was Islam Spread by the Sword?”), for example, offers a simple but much more useful starting point to our investigation: “Islam was not spread by the sword but without the sword it would not have spread.”