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Thursday, 20 September 2007

Was Islam Spread by the Sword?

This was a question posted on islamonline.net last year. It was beautifully answered and is worth sharing.

The Question (posted by Mark on 04/Oct/2006)
A few days ago, the Pope (Benedictus) said in a speech he was giving: "In the seventh conversation ... the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. … He addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Obviously, Muslims all over the world are upset, and today an Italian nun in her seventies was shot by gunmen in Somalia. I just wanted to ask the obvious question: Was Islam spread by the sword? How can Muslims continue to say that it wasn't when Muslim armies expanded the Islamic Empire just years after the death of their Prophet? Do they have to kill innocent people to prove it wasn't?

The Answer: (submitted by : Idris Tawfiq)

Salam, Mark.

Thank you for your question. It is, unfortunately, a question that comes up again and again by those wishing to know more about the real Islam.

You see, there are many misconceptions about Islam. Some of them are genuine misunderstandings. Others have been deliberately and maliciously spread so that people will get a false impression about what Islam is really like.

Perhaps one of the greatest misconceptions about Islam is that it was spread by the sword. However, this idea is now so widespread that people accept it as a fact. Even the Pope, whether he intended to or not, caused great offense to Muslims throughout the world by referring to this myth of Islam being spread by the sword.

It is not the place here to discuss the Pope's ill-timed and ill-conceived remarks, but we can address your central question about whether or not Islam was spread by the sword. It is, in fact, a pleasure to do so, since Islam has nothing to be ashamed of.

Indonesia has around 450 million Muslims, which is more than the population of all the Arab countries put together. In fact, Arabs count for only around 18 percent of all Muslims. By far the greatest concentration of the world's 1.1 billion Muslims lives in Southeast Asia. Islam has been deeply rooted there for centuries.

Those who beat the drum of Islam being spread by the sword fail to mention Southeast Asia, since it does not fit into their agenda. No Muslim armies ever went there. In fact, the story of Islam being brought there is quite marvelous and well worth telling.

It was brought not by soldiers, but by merchants. The honesty and integrity of these first few Muslim merchants, whose names are celebrated as part of Indonesia's history, so impressed the people that they wanted to be like them. In closing up their businesses each day at prayer times and in the fair and just way they dealt with their customers, these Muslim merchants drew many to Islam. Their message and their fame spread quickly until millions had embraced their religion.

Soon after the death of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the death of Abu Bakr, the first caliph, the Muslim faithful were led by Caliph `Umar, one of the Prophet's Companions.
When `Umar entered Jerusalem at the head of a Muslim army in 638 CE, just six years after the Prophet's death, he entered the city on foot, as a gesture of humility in a city sacred to Muslims, Christians, and Jews. There was no bloodshed. There were no massacres or forced conversions.

On the contrary, those who wanted to leave were allowed to do so with all their possessions. Those who wanted to stay were granted protection for their lives, their property, and their places of worship. `Umar very famously declined to pray one of the five daily prayers in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, lest in years to come Muslims might try to turn it into a mosque in his memory. Instead, `Umar cleansed the so-called Temple Mount with rose water and built a small mosque there, where the Dome of the Rock now stands.

All of this is in marked contrast to what happened when the Crusader armies later took Jerusalem. Seventy thousand men, women and children were slaughtered. Any remaining Muslims and Jews were driven out. When the city was recaptured by Salah Ad-Din (Saladin), the Christian inhabitants were granted protection and were escorted to safety by the Muslim army. But those who have a different aim would have us believe that it is Islam that is cruel.

When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) finally entered Makkah at the head of a Muslim army in AH 8, he did so not to force the Makkans to convert, but because they had violated their peace treaty with the Muslims. The Prophet entered with great humility, ordering that there should be no fighting or bloodshed. Instead, he forgave all those who had opposed him and the growth of Islam for so many years. Those who wanted to leave were allowed to do so. The whole city, so impressed by the men they had fought against for so long, converted to Islam.

Another great example that many deliberately choose to ignore is that of the Muslim presence in southern Spain for nearly eight centuries. Described as Islam's Golden Age, this was a time when the Islamic civilization flourished. It was centuries ahead of northern Europe in the way arts and sciences were encouraged and in the way cities and towns were advanced well beyond anything in Germany, France, or England at the same time.

During this Golden Age, the rights of Christians and Jews were respected and honored, and many of them rose to high positions at court. When the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella reconquered southern Spain, Muslims and Jews were either forced to convert to Christianity or were put to death. Mosques and synagogues were desecrated and destroyed.

The excesses of the Spanish Inquisition had begun.

We might ask if Islam was taken to America by the sword, or taken to Denmark or Ireland or Poland by the sword. It wasn't. And yet Islam is now the world's fastest growing religion, according to some people.

So what about North Africa? What about the Muslim armies that swept across North Africa, forcing all in their way to become Muslim or die? The army of Muslim general `Amr ibn Al-`Aas entered Egypt in 642 CE. He built in Cairo the first mosque in the whole of Africa. He also ordered that the Muslims had a duty to protect the rights of the Christians living in Egypt.

It was to be another two centuries before the population of Egypt became Muslim. To this day, there are nearly seven million Christians living there. For 14 centuries they have lived in peace with their Muslim neighbors and they were never forced to convert.

Islam is a religion of peace. It is the natural religion of mankind and has existed since the beginning of time.In some countries today we see violence on a massive scale. We see tragedy in Afghanistan and Iraq as the people r espond to the invasion of their countries by foreign armies. We see violence in Palestine as the Palestinians respond to oppression and injustice.

Let it be clear that Islam does not condone violence against innocent people. Perhaps those driven to violence are being mistaken for Islam itself. If individual Muslims present a distorted image of Islam, all Muslims in the world must not be labeled as violent. When IRA violence was at its height in Northern Ireland and Britain in the 1970s and 1980s, no one spoke of Christian terrorists. The ETA bombing campaign in northern Spain is not labeled Catholic. So why are all Muslims linked with violence?

Islam has a very proud history. If Muslims have acted in a less than perfect way, Islam itself has nothing to be ashamed of. Islam teaches respect for all religions. In fact, for Muslims, Abraham, David, Solomon, and Jesus are all prophets of Islam. All of them, according to Islam, taught the worship of one God. The greeting that Muslims give is "as-salamu `alaykum" (peace be upon you).

Islam is not a religion of violence. It is sad that Pope Benedict XVI failed to quote from the many wonderful examples of Islam spreading peace and encouraging learning and tolerance. Instead, he quoted from an obscure source, which was wrong.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did not ever give the command to spread Islam by the sword. The strongest and also the gentlest of men ever to have lived, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) left behind a legacy of worshiping one God and of respecting all people of good will. His detractors try repeatedly to distort the facts and to paint a different picture. Islam is both very beautiful and very sweet, and its followers spend their whole lives trying to serve Allah and their brothers and sisters.

I hope this answer helps you. Please keep in touch.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark before putting a finger to our religion did u know from where the bible came who wrote it was it written by jesus peace be upon him or from his seven believers one of them sold him to jewish peoples and after killed itself is it a part of christianity to have sexual relationship and drink alcohol or was it made by the persons after him I hope u will research first and then get back to us thanks