The historical background to this ayat shows that the opposite is true …
Lots of Muslims, when pressed about their religion, deny that there is any obligation in Islam, that there are no apostasy laws (death sentence for apostasy is compulsory, but on that please check the next post). They often make reference to Surah 2:256. But, by giving a look to Tafsir (comments), and to different ahadith, the opposite is true:
We don’t even need to talk about this Surah or ayat being abrogated by later more belligerent or restrictive verses. It suffices to show what its plain meaning is:
PS: actually, it IS abrogated
2:256 is actually related to the fact that if a child would be in danger of not surviving, then an Ansar woman (one from Medina) would convert it a Jew: Here from a "true hadith": From The Sunan of Abu Dawud, Book 14, Number 2676
“ Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas: When the children of a woman (in pre-Islamic days) did not survive, she took a vow on herself that if her child survives, she would convert it a Jew. When Banu an-Nadir were expelled (from Arabia), there were some children of the Ansar (Helpers) among them. They said: We shall not leave our children. So Allah the Exalted revealed; "Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error."
In the tafsir of Ibn Kathir we can find:
“ Ibn Jarir recorded that Ibn 'Abbas said that before Islam "when (an Ansar) woman would not bear children who would live. she would vow that if she gives birth to a child who remains alive, she would raise him as a Jew. When Banu An-Nadir (the Jewish tribe) were evacuated from al-Madinah, some of the children of the Ansar wee being raised among them, and the Ansar said, " we will not abandon our children" Allah revealed (there is no compulsion in religion. Verily the right path has become distinct from the wrong path)
“ There is no compulsion in religion” actually means there is no compulsion out from Islam out, into another faith. It is not generally and universally meant.
Now, let’s consider the fact that it IS an abrogated Surah. We will detail more about the concept of Naskh (or doctrine of abrogation) in another post. It suffices not to say that allowing to Surah 16:101, 13:39 2:106, in order to make away an unpleasant truth, i.e. that there are contradictions in the Qur’an (in some cases even in the same Surah or ayat), later revealed Surahs, if in contradiction with some revealed truth, take the place of the former. What is sad (except that the Qur’an should be without errors and it should be the latest, perfect revelation, that is written since the beginning of time on golden tables in heaven), is the fact that more belligerent verses (the later ones) nullify the more gentle and political ones (the former ones). If the Qur'an was written on golden tables on the high, then the whole issue about Naskh is illogical and, contradictory.
Let’s now give a look to the historical background to 2:256: it has been revealed when the political rise of Islam was not consolidated. From 609 AD, Muhammad was trying to find new adepts for his faith, but in 12 years, there were only around 100 Muslims. For this reason, he went to at-Taif 619 AD. During the pilgrimage to Mecca he converted some people from Medina that, in turn, in some years converted 70-80 people in Medina. For this reason he migrated there. There were thus the converts from Mecca, called “muhajirons” (emigrants) and the Medinan ones, called “Ansar” (helpers). The Ansar were not well-disposed to raiding caravans and to follow his violent behaviours. For this reason, Surah 2:216 was revealed “ fighting is prescribed for you enven if you dislike”. After seven months in Medina, at Nakhla, Muhammad made his first raid. But it was during the last day of Rajab (the sacred period), in which any type of violence was forbidden, . This created of course a lot of disaffection between the Ansars. Thus, Surah 2:217 was revealed, that justified violence and threatens against desertion:
“ They ask thee concerning fighting in the Prohibited Month. Say: "Fighting therein is a grave (offence); but graver is it in the sight of God to prevent access to the path of God, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its members." Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter…” (Yusuf Ali)
It has to be made clear that all conversions to Islam were free, that no Muslim was once threatened by the Quraysh because he left the “old belief”, even if Muhammad was uncivilized and he insulted their religion. Muslims were not oppressed, the opposite was true. Of course, some convert was bad treated, but this is normal. You know that for example, if you want to convert out from Islam, that you risk ending 15 cm shorter. Surah 2:217 hints to the fact that actually, the Muslims, access to the Kabaa was prohibited. This caused them to escape to Medina. To say that it was “tumult and oppression” is illogical and unjust. It is barbaric and gruesome to think that just this prohibition lead Muslims to justify massacres and killing!
Surah 2:216 “ Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But God knoweth, and ye know not.” (Yusuf Ali). This is practically one of the first ayat on jihad has been revealed in Medina (when most didn’t want to attack the Meccan caravans). If Allah was so strong and magnificent, he would have no problem to convince the world of his beauty and of his truth. He promised to reveal this, (Surah 41:53 "We shall show them Our portents on the horizons and within themselves until it will be manifest unto them that it is the Truth. Doth not thy Lord suffice, since He is Witness over all things?" (Pickthall)), but actually, where is the proof? It is a weak reasoning that if you are not convinced, that we will turn to violence.
2:217 sanctioned that fighting, killing and the capture of booty during the sacred period was allowed. After two weeks, 300 Muslims attacked a strong Meccan caravan (composed by around 1000 people), and surprisingly won. This is called the battle of Badr, where 40 Meccans died. Surah 3:123-125 and 8:12 got the Muslims the justification for the attack. In these Surahs, Allah promised the paradise for those who would have fought for his cause.
After the battle of Badr, he diverted his attention to the tribe of the banu Qainuqa. A stupid joke (where a Muslim lady was left without her skirt) was the “casus belli”. Muslims retaliated by killing a Jew, and Jews retaliated by killing a Muslim. But Muhammad had the overhand and got the expulsion of the Qanuqa (that had to leave without their belongings). Muhammad actually wanted them all to be killed, but Abdullah ibn Ubayy protected them (he was very strong and took Muhammad by his collar; he didn’t accept all cruelties of Muhammad, even if he was a recent convert). For this reason, Allah sent down Surah 5:51 -52 “ O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends” (Pickthall). Muhammad left the Qaunuqa go, but wouldn’t it have been for Ubayy… he would have killed them all. During the same time, Muhammad instigated the killing of his main critics that were: Asma Bint Marwan (59 years old), Ka'b ibn Ashraf and Abu Afaq (120 years old).
This is the background of Surah 2:256: from the first attack to a caravan during the “prohibited month” (Nakhla), till to the expulsion of the Qanuqa and the killing of his main critics, only 20 months had passed. All this horrendous acts were performed under the mantra of “there is no compulsion in religion”. Does thus 2:256 prove that Muhammad was a person of peace? The opposite is true: that he was a liar. If he believed what he was telling, he would not have obliged people to accept Islam, and he would not have performed 74 raids or wars during 10 years. (check Ibn Sa’d and Wakidi).
As we have seen, 2:256 was revealed when there were no more than 300 Muslims (between Nakhla and Badr), and it was meant to the conversions TO Islam.
In any case, 2:256 is intended as abrogated by several Surahs, as 9:73 “Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites! Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is hell” (Pickthall), with the obligation to convert non Muslims. You can find that 2:256 is abrogated as well in the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir and Ibn Ishaq to Surah 9:29 and 9:5 (where Ibn Abbas is cited)
Surah 9.29 is related to the submission of non Muslims to Islam; i.e. if they don’t convert, they have two choices: payment of Jizya (submission tax) or death. This holds only to Christians, Jews and Sabeans and not for polytheists.
9:29 e 9:5 (the verse of the Sword “Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush”): abolish all Meccan (somehow peaceful) verses. Both threaten immanent carnage. It is very essential to know that these two verses were revealed AFTER that the polytheistic Meccans had capitulated. Actually 9:1-37 were revealed around 9 AH, and after the treaty of peace of Hudaybiyah between Meccans and Muslims. On December 1630 Muhammad goes back to Mecca, violating the ten year truce of Hudaybiyah, but of course, he was condoned by Allah (Surah 60:10). Muhammad started the conquest of the Arabian Peninsula, but he was not happy with that: he wanted the conversion of all habitants. It was Muhammad and not the polytheists that had a harsh relationship with the others (take for example Ibn Ishaq p 221). Muslims did not respect the treaty of Hudaybiyah and not the pagans (check the tafsir of Ibn Abbas and Ibn Kathir): Muhammad didn’t respect the pact, by not giving back a woman that had escaped from Mecca (and shocking news: Muhammad complains against Allah because he didn’t respect the pact). Muhammad invaded Mecca in 8 AH. And from this moment on, all treaties with the pagans were abolished. The first part of the Surah was revealed when he came back from Tabuk (during the Hajj). As per definition, Muslims that live in non-Muslim countries are oppressed (check Surah 4:75: “Bring us forth from out this town of which the people are oppressors” (Pickthall), even if they have the same rights
All four Sunni madhah (the Shi’ia agree as well), agree about the fact that 2:256 has been abrogated by successive Surahs as 9:29; 9:50 (as we have already seen); 9:73 “Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites” (Pickthall). Notice that the verb that is employed for “to strive” is “jahidi”, the verbal form of the substantive “jihad”); 8:39 “And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is all for Allah”, and some more….
More precisely, on Surah 2:256, there are two opinions
a) it is abrogated by all more belligerent Surahs (verses of fighting, see Ibn Kathir);
b) it is not applicable to Jews and Christians, if they pay the Jizya (i.e., they submit unconditionally to Islam), but applicable to all others.
Anyway, it doesn't change the fact that Muslims cannot be obliged to convert, while all others are.
This is corroborated by the fact that if 2:256 were normative, everyone would be free to change his religion in a Muslim country. But it should be noticed that Muhammad said as well:
- “if someone changes religion, kill him” (Bukhari 9.84.57) (Link);
- “no one ha to be put on death except for assassination, illicit sex and apostasy” ).(Bukhari 9.83.17) (Link)
- Surah 4:89: “if they renegade, take them, and kill them where ever they are” (Pickthall).
For this reason, all madhah allow forced conversion (it suffices to analyse history during all Islamic dynasties: Umayyad, Abassid, Fatimid, and Devshirme (500’000-1 million forced conversions in the Balkans)). If 2:256 were true, then for example, the forced conversion 2006 of journalists of Fox TV in Gaza would be illegal (Link) (Link)
Why didn’t any Muslim bother to protest? Why didn’t any cleric issue a fatwa proclaiming the conversion as illegal? Even the general director of religious affairs in Turkey, just some hours after his famous academic “Regensburger speech”, denounced Pope Benedict XVI, while he didn’t say a word for weeks about the kidnapped journalists?
Some Muslims point out that we have some additional Surahs that permit religious freedom:
- 18:29 “whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve” (Pickthall)
- 109:1-6: “Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion.” (Pickthall)
But again, and on that all madhah again agree, these verses are abrogated. These verses were revealed in Mecca, and afterwards abrogated. Actually, Surah 109 actually divides Muslims from the rest of society.
Some say that apostasy at the beginning was seen as a crime against the State. But the same holds true till now, because there is no difference between politics and religion in a Muslim State (except Turkey, might be). If there were thousands of Muslims before Mosques, asking for the creation of a Christian State, how would Muslims react?
Even the Tanzimat reform 1850 AD, didn’t make non-Muslims as Muslims (it was intended against dhimmitude, that is prescribed by Shariah). The Muslim world has seen the kemalistic reform as a betrayal of Islamic principles that let the Turkish Nation loose the leadership of the Islamic world. Moreover, the tentative to abolish dhimmitude came most from Western pressure. There is no Islamic version of “mother Theresa of Calcutta”. It would be unthinkable. The Otthoman Empire was probably the most tolerant based on disparity, while in the 20th Century, Western societies might be the most tolerant “way of life”, but based on equality. Muslims think that to leave Islam is an insult to God. But, if (as Muslims say), we pray and have the same God, how can it be an insult?
Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406 AD, one of the most important Muslim theologians) speaks about the universalism of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert anyone with persuasion or force. For Shi’ias, the “quietistic” school allows open warfare only if guided by the Imam, and if there is no Imam or he’s in hide (like now), then jihad is forbidden. Contrariwise, for the “activist” school, there is no need to have the presence of the Imam. It is enough to have a delegate of him (see: Khomeini against Saddam). Sufis agree about the meaning of jihad (=war). All acts are exoteric (external meaning) and esoteric (internal meaning); the exoteric meaning of jihad is “warfare by force”, and it is applied in the name of the “internal jihad”. They are not auto-exclusive, at the contrary, often the exoteric leads to the esoteric. Thus, the general idea that Sufism is pacifistic is false. It is just a different way of performing jihad. For Sufis, it starts from the internal struggle but leads to open warfare (didn’t the most important Sufi scholar al-Ghazali say that “everyone has to go to jihad at least once a year”?). For Sunnis, the first meaning is “by force”; they divide the world in “dar-al-islam (the real of Islam), dar-al-harb (the realm of war) and dar-as-sulh (the realm of the treaty). The objective is do expand Islam into dar-al- harb (by force obviously). Some Sunni sects (like the ahmadi), jihad by force is not allowed any more, the conquest ha to be continued through pacific jihad.
Some scholars point out that jihad doesn’t necessary mean violence or war, but they don’t give an example of Muhammad hat would corroborate this view.
If it is true that it is not allowed to attack non-combatants, then Muhammad broke this principle first, when the captured the banu Quraiza (of course, because Allah had given permission through Surah 33:26-27).
That Islam didn’t expand through violence is a big lie. On the site of the Government of Oman, we can find “Islam was spread by use of fear”. Do the examples of Nakhla, Badr, banu Qainuqa, of the killing of the poets, of the banu Nadir, and banu Quraiza, say nothing?