some people claim that islam would not have millions of adherents all over the world if it had not been spread by military force. many school textbooks contain the picture of an arab on horseback with the qur'an in one hand and a sword in the other, symbolizing forcible conversion to the religion.
it has never been permitted to compel people to enter islam by the use of weapons or any other means. if islam was spread by the sword, then it was the sword of intellect and convincing arguments, the inherent force of truth, reason and logic - something which conquers the hearts and minds of people everywhere. far from being spread by the sword, islam has always accorded respect and freedom of choice to people of all faiths. the qur'an instructs:
"there shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. the right course has become clear from the wrong."1
"invite to the way of your lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best."2
the facts speak for themselves:
indonesia has the largest number of muslims in the world, and the majority of people in malaysia are muslims. but no muslim army ever went into indonesia or malaysia. muslim traders and educators carried the message of god to those regions and impressed people as outstanding models of honesty and morality.
similarly, islam spread rapidly on the east coast of africa although no muslim army was ever dispatched to east africa.
despite the disappearance of islamic rule from many regions of asia and africa, their people have remained muslims. this shows that the effect of islam is one of approval and moral conviction, quite in contrast to that of western colonial occupation which left its formerly subjugated peoples with painful memories of exploitation, affliction and oppression.
muslims ruled spain for over 800 years. it is a documented historical fact that during this period christians and jews enjoyed freedom to practice their respective religions. but thereafter, under christian spain, muslims and jews were subjected to tribunals of inquisition and torture.
there was no "sword of islam" held over non-muslim minorities in muslim countries. until fairly recently christian and jewish minorities have lived peacefully with their muslim neighbors in the middle east3. if muslims had made use of the sword, there would no longer be arabs of other religions.
islamic law protects the status of minorities, and in many countries one can find places of worship belonging to other faiths. islamic law also allows non-muslim minorities to set up their own courts to implement family laws drawn up by the minorities themselves. the lives and properties of all citizens, whatever their religion, must be safeguarded by an islamic government.
muslims ruled india for 800 years, during which they possessed enough power and authority to force all the people to convert to islam. but they did not do so, and thus, more than 80% of the population remains non-muslim.
worldwide statistics for the period from 1934 to 1984 show that adherents to islam had increased by 235%, while adherents to christianity had increased by 47%. there was obviously no islamic conquest during that fifty-year period.
• the fastest growing religion in america and europe today is islam in spite of the fact that muslims in these lands are still small minorities. the only sword they have in their possession is the sword of truth. it is this sword which is converting people to islam.