Liberal view of other religions
From the Introduction to the English translation
of the Holy Quran
Maulana Muhammad Ali
Faith in all prophets
There is a very general and very deep-rooted misconception that
the Quran preaches intolerance, and that Muhammad preached his faith
with the sword in one hand and the Quran in the other. Misrepresentation
could go no further. The basic principle of Islam, a faith in all
the prophets of the world, is enough to give the lie to this allegation.
The great and liberal mind that preached not only love and respect
for the founders of the great religions of the world but much more
than that, faith in them, could not shrink to the narrowness of
intolerance for those very religions. Tolerance is not, in fact,
the word that can sufficiently indicate the breadth of the attitude
of Islam towards other religions. It preaches equal love for all,
equal respect for all, and equal faith in all.
No Compulsion in Religion
Again, intolerance could not be ascribed to a book which altogether
excludes compulsion from the sphere of religion.
“There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256),
it lays down in the clearest words. In fact, the Holy Quran is
full of statements showing that belief in this or that religion
is a person’s own concern, and that he is given the choice of adopting
one way or another: that, if he accepts truth, it is for his own
good, and that, if he sticks to error, it is to his own detriment.
I give below a few of these quotations:
“We have truly shown him the way; he may be thankful or unthankful”
“The Truth is from your Lord; so let him who please believe
and let him who please disbelieve” (18:29).
“Clear proofs have indeed come to you from your Lord: so whoever
sees, it is for his own good; and whoever is blind, it is to his
own harm” (6:104).
“If you do good, you do good for your own souls. And if you do
evil, it is for them” (17:7).
Why fighting was allowed
The Muslims were allowed to fight indeed, but what was the object?
Not to compel the unbelievers to accept Islam, for it was against
all the broad principles in which they had hitherto been brought
up. No, it was to establish religious freedom, to stop all religious
persecution, to protect the houses of worship of all religions,
mosques among them. Here are a few quotations:
“And if Allah did not repel some people by others, cloisters
and churches and synagogues and mosques in which Allah’s name
is much remembered, would have been pulled down” (22:40).
“And fight them until there is no persecution, and religion is
only for Allah” (2:193).
“And fight them until there is no more persecution, and all religions
for Allah” (8:39).
Under what conditions was the permission to fight given to the
Muslims? Every student of Islamic history knows that the Holy Prophet
and his companions were subjected to the severest persecution, as
Islam began to gain ground at Makkah; over a hundred of them fled
to Abyssinia, but persecution grew still more relentless. Ultimately,
the Muslims had to take refuge in Madinah, but they were not left
alone even there, and the sword was taken up by the enemy to annihilate
Islam and the Muslims. The Quran bears express testimony to this:
“Permission (to fight) is given to those on whom war is made,
because they are oppressed. And Allah is able to assist them —
those who are driven from their homes without a just cause except
that they say: Our Lord is Allah” (22:39, 40).
Later, the express condition was laid down:
“And fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against
you, but be not aggressive. Surely Allah loves not the aggressors”
The Quran, therefore, allowed fighting only to save a persecuted
community from powerful oppressors, and hence the condition was
laid down that fighting was to be stopped as soon as persecution
“But if they desist, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
And fight them until there is no persecution” (2:192, 193).
If the enemy offered peace, peace was to be accepted, though the
enemy’s intention might be only to deceive the Muslims:
“And if they incline to peace, incline thou also to it, and
trust in Allah. Surely He is the Hearer, the Knower. And if they
intend to deceive thee, then surely Allah is sufficient for thee”
The Holy Prophet made treaties of peace with his enemies; one such
treaty brought about the famous truce of Hudaibiyah, the terms of
which were not only disadvantageous, but also humiliating to the
Muslims. According to the terms of this treaty “if an unbeliever,
being converted to Islam, went over to the Muslims, he was to be
returned, but if a Muslim went over to the unbelievers, he was not
to be given back to the Muslims”. This clause of the treaty cuts
at the root of all allegations of the use of force by the Holy Prophet.
It also shows the strong conviction of the Holy Prophet that neither
would Muslims go back to unbelief, nor would the new converts to
Islam be deterred from embracing Islam because the Prophet gave
them no shelter. And these expectations proved true, for while not
a single Muslim deserted Islam, a large number came over to Islam,
and, being refused shelter at Madinah, formed a colony of their
own in neutral territory.
It is a mistake to suppose that the conditions related above were
abrogated at any time. The condition to fight “against those who
fight against you” remained in force to the last. The last expedition
led by the Holy Prophet was the famous Tabuk expedition, and every
historian of Islam knows that, though the Prophet had marched a
very long distance to Tabuk at the head of an army of thirty thousand,
yet, when he found that the enemy did not fulfil the condition laid
down above, he returned, and did not allow his troops to attack
the enemy territory. Nor is there a single direction in the latest
revelation on this subject, in ch. 9, The Immunity, that
goes against this condition. The opening verse of that chapter speaks
expressly of “idolaters with whom you made an agreement”, and then,
v. 4, excepts from its purview “those of the idolaters with whom
you made an agreement, then they have not failed you in anything
and have not backed up anyone against you”, thus showing clearly
that the “immunity” related only to such idolatrous tribes as had
first made agreements with the Muslims and then, violating them,
killed and persecuted the Muslims wherever they found them, as v.
10 says expressly:
“They respect neither ties of relationship nor covenant in the
case of a believer”.
Such people are also spoken of in an earlier revelation:
“Those with whom thou makest an agreement, then they break their
agreement every time, and they keep not their duty” (8:56).
Further on, in ch. 9, the condition of the enemy attacking the
Muslims first is plainly repeated:
“Will you not fight a people who broke their oaths and aimed
at the expulsion of the Messenger, and they attacked you first?”
So from first to last, the Holy Quran allowed fighting only against
those who fought the Muslims first; it allowed expressly only fighting
in defence without which the Muslims could not live and it clearly
forbade aggressive war. The waging of war on unbelievers to compel
them to accept Islam is a myth pure and simple, a thing unknown
to the Holy Quran. It was the enemy that waged war on the Muslims
to turn them away from their religion, as the Holy Book so clearly
“And they will not cease fighting you until they turn you back
from your religion, if they can” (2:217).
Relations of friendship with others
It is sometimes asserted that the Quran forbids relations of friendship
with the followers of other religions. How could a Book which allows
a man to have as his comrade in life a woman following another religion
(5:5), say in the same breath that no friendly relations can be
had with the followers of other religions? The loving relation of
husband and wife is the friendliest of all relations and, when this
is expressly permitted, there is not the least reason to suppose
that other friendly relations are forbidden. The fact is that, wherever
there is prohibition against making friends with other people, it
relates only to the people who were at war with the Muslims, and
this is plainly stated in the Quran:
“Allah forbids you not respecting those who fight you not for
religion, nor drive you forth from your homes, that you show them
kindness and deal with them justly. Surely Allah loves the doers
of justice. Allah forbids you only respecting those who fight
you for religion, and drive you forth from your homes and help
(others) in your expulsion, that you make friends of them; and
whoever makes friends of them, these are the wrongdoers” (60:8,
No punishment for apostasy
Another widely prevailing misconception may also be noted here.
It is generally thought that the Quran provides a death sentence
for those who desert the religion of Islam. Anyone who takes the
trouble to read the Quran will see that there is not the least ground
for such a supposition. The Quran speaks repeatedly of people going
back to unbelief after believing, but never once does it say that
they should be killed or punished. I give here a few quotations:
“And whoever of you turns back from his religion, then he dies
while an unbeliever — these it is whose works go for nothing in
this world and the Hereafter” (2:217).
“O you who believe, should anyone of you turn back from his religion,
then Allah will bring a people whom He loves and who love Him”
“Those who disbelieve after their believing, then increase in
disbelief, their repentance is not accepted, and these are they
that go astray” (3:90).
On the other hand, the Quran speaks of a plan of the Jews to adopt
Islam first and then desert it, thus creating the impression that
Islam was not a religion worth having (3:72). Such a scheme could
never have entered their heads while living at Madinah, where the
Government was Muslim, if apostasy, according to the Quranic law,
were punishable with death. The misconception seems to have arisen
from the fact that people who, after becoming apostates, joined
the enemy, were treated as enemies, or that, where an apostate took
the life of a Muslim, he was put to death, not for changing his
religion, but for committing murder.