Pre-Islamic Arabia, like much of the rest of the pre-modern world, was a place of continual low-intensity warfare. (So was Europe, which is why castles and fortifications litter the continent’s landscape, and why Shakespeare’s historical plays almost always feature violent conflicts and intrigue.)
But when Muhammad came along and when, in response to his preaching, people from various Arabian tribes began to join the Islamic community, he told them that they could no longer pillage and murder one another. They were now, in effect, members of a single faith-based super-tribe.
So their traditional urge to raid — again, not much different than that of every other tribe and petty kingdom worldwide — had to be turned outward. Which it was, and with great success. The Sassanid Persian Empire, one of the two great powers of the seventh century Middle East, fell under Arab control not many years after the Prophet’s death, and much of the rest of the Middle East, along with North Africa and Spain, fell to the Arabs within the next few decades.
So, were the Arabs’ defeated subjects compelled to accept Islam? Was the ultimatum really “Convert or die?”
No. In fact, for the first two centuries or so, conversions to Islam were often actually discouraged. In Egypt, which seems to be roughly typical, fully three centuries were required before Muslims constituted a bare majority of the population.
Why would the Arab overlords of the Middle East discourage conversions to their Islamic faith? The answer lies within the politics of the Arab empire itself.
After Muhammad’s relatively sudden death in 632 AD, his immediate successors, known as the four “orthodox caliphs,” were chosen from among the ranks of his earliest disciples. But then, in 661 AD, a new dynasty called the Umayyads took power, based in Damascus.
The Umayyads were descendants of Muhammad’s archenemies in Mecca. Mu’awiyah, the first Umayyad ruler, was the son of Abu Sufyan, who had led armies in battle against the Prophet and the Muslims.
By William J. Hamblin and Daniel Peterson, For the Deseret News
Islam & Sword:
This is another successful innovation (source). Although some other religions have spread themselves using force, they had very little justification from their own religious doctrines to do so. Not so with Islam. Expanding by conquest is very much accepted and encouraged by the idea-collection. Islamic teachings present it this way: The non-Muslims need to be saved from the sin of following laws other than Allah’s. If they won’t voluntarily change their laws to Shari’a, then it is a Muslim’s duty to insist. The world cannot be at peace until every government on earth follows the laws of Allah. Mohammad’s own experience showed the example — an example, says the Qur’an 91 times, that every Muslim should follow. At first, Mohammad tried to spread Islam by peaceful means. After thirteen years he’d gained 150 converts. But then he changed tactics and started using caravan raids, warfare, executions, ransoming captives, and assassination, and within ten years he converted tens of thousands. After he died, his followers used the same tactics and converted millions. And by now it is one and a half billion. The use of warfare combines synergistically and powerfully with the instruction to create an Islamic state. So Islam spread quickly as their armies got bigger. They conquered and set up Islamic states, most of which have lasted to this day, and the laws within an Islamic state make Islam very difficult to dislodge. The laws also make it very advantageous to convert to Islam. This is one of the most effective methods ever invented for getting an idea-collection followed by huge numbers of people. It’s a method of control and indoctrination similar to those used successfully in communist and totalitarian states. But as you’ll discover below, Islam makes unique use of the power of the law to enforce complete conversion to the religion.
Islam started under unique conditions. All other major religions were started within an already-existing state. Islam is an historical exception to this rule. Any organized government will, of course, put a stop to violent uprisings of a rebellious political group — especially one that wants to wage war and apply its own system of law. Christianity arose within the Roman Empire, for example. If Christianity had been a militant or political uprising, Rome would probably have killed or imprisoned the followers. Probably many military or political religions did start up then, but we’ve never heard of them. They couldn’t get off the ground. But Islam arose in Arabia when there was no central ruling power. The whole area was comprised of individual tribes. Under those circumstances, conversion by war and the use of force was possible.
Warfare and Humanity:
It is irrational to ignore the lust of blood in stubborn man as a form of evil which has to be combated “within the limits”, set by Allah. At the time of creation of Adam: “The angels said: Will You place there one who will make mischief and shed blood? ..”(Qur’an;2:30). It may undoubtedly be realized that human beings often resort to war without solid justification, at times over petty matters. One has to look at history, the past and present. The motives of war could be many, broadly they are; (1) Pursuit of trade and to gain economic advantage, (2) Spread of influence or religion, (3) Desire for security and political power, and (4) Combination of one or more of these three. At different times and in different places, different motives are dominant. War is a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between political units, such as states or nations or between rival political factions of the same state or nation. It is a popular myth among critics that Islam was spread through wars [Jihad] ordained upon Muslims through Qur’an. Warfare is one of the ways to defend oneself when all peaceful efforts and persuasion fails, and aggressor try to impose its will upon weak. Human history is witness to the fact that those who did not resist oppression and aggression suffered.
Warfare [armed struggle, Qital] was also permissible in the previous scriptures. It is mentioned in Qur’an: “Indeed God has purchased from the believers their persons and their wealth and in return has promised them paradise; they fight in the cause of Allah and slay and are slain. This is a true promise which is binding on Him mentioned in Torah, the Gospel and the Qur’an; and who is more true in fulfilling his promise than Allah? Rejoice, therefore, in the bargain which you have made, and that is a mighty achievement.”(Qur’an;9:111). As regards actual ‘fighting with the sword’ there has been some difference in theological theories at different times, but very little in the practice of those who framed those theories.
Forced Conversion to Islam not Permissible:
Conversion by force is prohibited in Islam. Allah says: “There shall be no coercion in matters of faith. Distinct has now become the right way from the (way of ) error: hence, he who rejects the powers of evil and believes in God has indeed taken hold of support most unfailing, which shall never give way: for God is all-hearing, all-knowing.”(Qur’an;2:256). “So if they argue with you, tell them: “I have submitted myself entirely to Allah and so have those who follow me.” Then ask those who are given the Book and those who are illiterates (not having revealed scriptures): “Will you also submit yourselves to Allah?” If they become Muslims they shall be rightly guided but if they turn back, you need not worry, because your sole responsibility is to convey the Message. God is watching all His servants very closely.”(Qur’an;3:20). “Call people to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and best advice, and reason with them, if you have to, in the most courteous manner: for your Lord knows best who strays from His Way and He knows best who is rightly guided.”(Qur’an;16:125). “O Muhammad, declare: “O mankind! The truth has come to you from your Lord! He that follows guidance (Right Way) follows it for his own good, and he that goes astray does so at his own risk; for I am not a custodian over you.”(Qur’an;10:108). “Say “The Truth is from your Lord”: let him who will believe and let him who will reject (it): for the wrongdoers We have prepared a Fire…. (Qur’an;18:29). “Will they not then ponder on the Qur’an?..”(Qur’an;4:82). “Say, O Muhammad: “Would you dispute with us concerning God, who is our Lord and your Lord as well? We shall be accountable to Him for our deeds and you for yours; to Him alone we are devoted.”(Qur’an;2:139). “And argue not with the followers of earlier revelations unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender.(Qur’an;29:46). “Have you ever seen the one who has taken his own desires as his god? Would you take the responsibility of guiding him?”(Qur’an;25:43). “If there are some among you who believe in the message with which I have been sent and others who disbelieve it, then be patient until Allah judges between us, for He is the best of all judges.”(Qur’an;7:87). “He creates man out of (mere) drop of sperm: and lo! This same being shows himself endowed with the power to think and argue”(Qur’an;16:4).
It is well known historic fact that after eight centuries of the Muslims inSpainthey were totally eliminated from that country after Christian reconquest. If the Muslims had used force, military or economic there would not have been any Christian left inSpainto have kicked the Muslims out. One cannot charge Muslims with using the sword to convert Spaniards to the Islamic religion. Today, Islam is still spreading all over the world and Muslims have NO sword!! The Muslims were also the masters ofIndiafor almost thousand years, but they did not force Islam down the Hindus. InSpainand inIndia, the Muslims were no paragons of virtue, yet they obeyed the Qur’anic injunctions. Indonesia and Malaysia in the Far East and The majority of the people on the East coast of Africa as far down as Mozambique, as well as the bulk of the inhabitants on the West coast of the continent are Muslims, but history does not record any invading hoards of Muslims from anywhere. The Muslim traders and preachers through their good conduct and moral righteousness achieved the miracle of conversion. This forced De Lacy O’Leary in to write : ‘History makes it clear however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.’ (“Islam at the Crossroads”London, 1923, p.8).
More at: Jihad: Myth & Reality