Among the most widely believed myths about Islam in the West today is the myth of forcible conversion to Islam.
Many Westerners believe that Islam is so widespread in the world today simply because of a "holy campaign of terror" carried out by the early Muslims to convert non-Muslims to Islam. They believe that non-Muslims were offered the freedom to choose between two things: Islam or death.
During a discussion, a Baptist Minister said: "Muslims tend to kill non-Muslims and anyone who disagrees with them". In a syndicated column appearing in over 30 papers (on July 23, 1994) entitled, ‘Muslim Persecution of Christians Increasing’ the author blames many Muslim countries for persecuting Christians, then he quotes the Quran (which means): "There is no compulsion in religion" [Quran 2:256] and ends the quote by rudely writing: "Really?"
How to confront such misconceptions? First, there is no need for us to be apologetic. As Muslims, we should search for the truth and present it as it is. This is how we have been instructed by Allaah Almighty (which means): "Say: The truth from your Lord and let him who will believe and let him who will reject" [Quran 18:29]
Islam is the religion of the Truth and the Quran is the Book which testifies to the Truth; Allaah Says (what means): "We sent down the Quran in Truth and in Truth has it descended" [Quran 17:105]
And (what means): "Put your trust in Allaah for you are on the path of the manifest Truth" [Quran 27:79]
Therefore, we should ask ourselves first, before we are asked by anyone else: what is the truth? Did Muslims really force others to convert to Islam? Is there any evidence for consistent forcible conversion throughout Islamic history? In fact, there is no such evidence anywhere in the history of Islam. Many distinguished Western historians have attested to this fact -- foremost among whom is Sir Thomas W. Arnold in his book, The Preaching of Islam. Similarly authors like, Marshall G. Hodgson, in his book The Venture of Islam, Albert Hourani in his book, A History of the Arab People, Ira Lapidus in his book, History of Islamic Societies, L.S. Starorianos in his book, A Global History: The Human Heritage and many others have testified to this.
On the contrary, there is substantial evidence that Muslims were often seen as liberators of the oppressed people everywhere.
The question that remains to be answered is: why have so many people chosen Islam in the 1400 years of its history? Islam has penetrated the Middle East, North Africa, Spain, West Africa, East Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Afghanistan, India, Western China and the Malay Archipelago. In all these regions, Islam replaced so many other well-established religions: Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism and Animism. What are the reasons behind the triumph of Islam over all these religions?
First, Islam is an amazing blend of simplicity and rationality, as Professor Hodgson explains: "Muslims made a personal appeal to people's religious consciousness. On the level of straight argument, they often put forward the populistic intelligibility of Islam. Muslims commonly ridiculed, in the name of intellectual good sense, the more mythically convoluted teachings of older traditions. This could seem attractively straightforward to people dissatisfied with taking things on faith from a learned priest whose mysteries they could not comprehend.
A single Creator, to be worshipped by each person for himself, based on revelation that had been given to a famous prophet whom millions already acknowledged. This was at once intelligible and plausible."
The unambiguous and uncompromising belief in the Unity, Greatness and Wisdom of God, the Creator of the universe, is unparalleled among other religions. The French professor Edouard Montet said: "The dogma of the unity of God...has always been proclaimed in the Quran with a grandeur, a majesty, an invariable purity and with a note of pure conviction which is hard to find surpassed outside the pale of Islam. A creed so precise, so stripped of all theological complexities and so accessible to the ordinary understanding might be expected to possess and does indeed possess a marvelous power of winning its way into the consciences of men."
Besides its simple and rational creed, Islam offers an impressive set of rituals, which has gained the admiration and, subsequently, the conversion of many non-Muslims. The second pillar of Islam, Salaah [prayer] has been described as follows by Sir Arnold: "The religion of the Muslim is continuously present with him and, in the daily prayer, manifests itself in a solemn and impressive ritual which cannot leave either the worshipper or the spectator unaffected."
In addition to the prayers, the other pillars of Islam, Zakaah [alms tax distributed to the poor], Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah), Siyaam (fasting in Ramadhaan), have always been factors in attracting many hearts to Islam. To this day, one still meets converts who were impressed by the social justice of Islam, brilliantly expressed in the payment of Zakaah, the unique congregation of the Hajj and Siyaam. Thus, it is the union of rationalism and Divine rituals that explains the power that Islam has exercised over the hearts and minds of so many people.
Islam simply presents the truth in a tangible form, with the help of a miraculous book: the Quran. The marvelous power and beauty of the words of the Quran have also been a decisive factor in the conversion of many people to Islam.
The famous Jewish American convert to Islam, Maryam Jameelah, cited the Quran as the major factor of her conversion. After a deep study of both the Old Testament and the Quran, the contrast between the two scriptures became increasingly evident to her until she firmly believed that the Quran was indeed God's message to the human race.
A conference of Christian missionaries in 1887 was discussing why Islam has almost swept away Christianity from the Middle East. What did Islam offer these people to forsake Christianity for good? One of the missionaries was insightful enough to say the following: "Islam brought out the fundamental dogmas of the Unity and Greatness of God, that He is Mindful and Righteous. It proclaimed the responsibility of man, a future life, a Day of Judgment and stern retribution to fall upon the wicked, and enforced the duties of prayer, alms giving and fasting. It replaced monkishness by manliness; it gave hope to the slave, brotherhood to mankind and recognition to the fundamental facts of human nature."
The formidable rationalism and clarity of Islam not only led the Christians of the Middle East to forsake Christianity and embrace Islam in the past, it continues to do so with Christians in the West to the present day.
A Muslim sister, from California, who was a practicing Christian and an active member in her nearby Presbyterian church, wrote in her conversion story. She said that in spite of her active affiliation with the church, she always had serious questions about the fundamentals of Christianity, which did not make sense to her. She debated her questions with her friends but they never came up with reasonable answers. The church could not give them answers either, but only told them to "have faith". All her questions were answered when she took a course about Islam. Listen to her words:
"This class brought back all of the concerns that I had about Christianity. As I learned about Islam, all my questions were answered. All of us are not punished for Adam's original sin. Adam asked God for forgiveness and our Merciful, Loving God forgave him. God doesn't require a blood sacrifice in payment for sin. We must sincerely ask for forgiveness and amend our ways. Jesus wasn't God; he was a prophet like all of the other prophets. This answered all of my questions about the trinity and the nature of Jesus. I found a teaching that put everything in its proper perspective and appealed to my heart and my intellect. It seemed natural. It wasn't confusing. I had been searching and I had found a place to rest my faith."
Islam is so strong and so self-assured that it does not need to use force to attract others to it. The moral and intellectual superiority of Islam over all other religions has manifested itself clearly throughout the history of Islam. Despite the ills that Muslims are facing everywhere, Islam continues to be the fastest growing religion on earth. Professor Huston Smith of the MIT in his book, The Religions of Man says:
"In some areas where Islam and Christianity are competing for converts, Islam is gaining at a rate of 10 to 1."
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