Refuting the Charge of the Sword





The first day of Ramadan, 1427H., nine o’clock sharp, the doorbell rang. I received and warmly welcomed the two guests. Father Nicholas introduced his companion:

My friend, Father Stephano, from the cultural section of the Italian Embassy here.

I welcomed the guest again and we started talking about this and that. I played host to both of them and fulfilled my obligations as best as I could, according to our Islamic teachings and in line with what the Prophet (pbuh) said: “Whoever believed in God and the Day of Judgment let him honour and be generous to his guest.” , Sahih Muslim, electronic copy, Hadeeth no. 47.

Father Stephano took the initiative, asking me in an Arabic tinged with a foreign accent:

-I have a question to put to you and I hope you’d have the answer.

-Sure, I said. I’d love to oblige if I could. Perhaps it is to do with what the Pope said lately, isn’t it, I asked?

-Oh, no, never mind that, Father Stephano said smiling. Every now and then somebody somewhere throws about these firecrackers, often goaded by some big wig politicians. They serve their hidden agendas and conspiratorial plans. Mind you, he added, the animated and misguided person often retracts what he said when he realizes what he’s really got himself into and how inflammatory are such remarks.

-Still, seen as you’ve brought it up, how do you see what the Pope said? Is the charge that Islam spread by the sword true or false? For a refutation of the charge that Islam spread by the sword, see Rene Jinoux’s The Symbolism of the Crucifix.

-And how would I know, I asked?

-Surely, judging by the primary sources and the original texts from which you Muslims derive the bulk of your religious teachings, he said.

-And where would I find these texts, I asked?

-Oh everyone knows that your primary sources and original texts are the verses of the ‘Quran, your Holy Book, the veritable Hadeeths your Prophet said, and the true accounts of the life story or sirah of the Prophet. Biography is the nearest English equivalent to sirah, though the Arabic term includes all the sayings and patterns of conduct of the Prophet and His Companions, with all that is related to them. In what follows I would rather use the Arabic term with its broader associations. (Trans.)


-But would you accept the authority and referentiality of these texts?

-And why not, he asked? We wouldn’t know the truth about any religion, creed or philosophy except with reference to its own texts and as approved by its own people and advocates. At least thus spake reason. -Fair enough. Well, in that case, I’ll give you the texts whose authority you’ve accepted, and I’ll leave it up to your good sense and fair mindedness to judge.

-I’m all ears.

-Listen to the following verse of the venerable ‘Quran, teaching the Prophet of Islam himself, and through him all Muslims, the right way to go about spreading the Islamic faith. The verse directly addresses the Godsend Messenger (pbuh) and all Muslims, saying: “Invite (mankind) to the Way of your Lord through wisdom and sound preaching.” Al-Nahl, 125.

Now do you see in this a call to use the sword or to resort to reason, debate and dialogue?

-Debate rather, he said, and a spirited and good-tempered debate for that.

-Another ‘Quranic verse also addresses the Godsend Messenger (pbuh) and all Muslims directly, saying: “Argue with them in the best and most gracious ways.Al-Nahl, 125.

Do you find any swords drawn here or just a call for reasoning and debate?

-Reasoning and debate, he said, and like the previous one, spirited and good-tempered.

-A third ‘Quranic verse says: “Argue not with the People of the Scripture(s) save in the better way.” Al-Ankabout, 46.  And the people of the Scriptures, as you know, are the Jews and the Christians. A sword is it or a rational debate?

-Only debate, and, like the previous two, lively and good-tempered.

But, he hastened to add, would you explain to me, with reference to the original texts, how this debate is conducted “in the better way”?

-Yes, without veering an inch from the original texts. Listen to the rest of the ‘Quranic verse and it’ll make the point abundantly clearly. The Lord says: “Argue not with the people of the Scripture(s) save in the better way, with the exception of those amongst them who are unfair and oppressive. And to those do say: ‘We believe in what is revealed to us, and we believe in what was revealed to you; our God and your God are one and the same, and to Him we remain (Faithful) Muslims.” Al-Ankabout, 46.

We, Muslims that is, have to explain to Jews and Christians the truth about our religion- first, that it acknowledges all former prophets, Godsend to enlighten and guide human beings and, second, that it acknowledges all divine books, including the Old and the New Testaments, revealed unto Moses and Jesus (pbut).

-Fine, Father Stephano said, but I’d like you to tell me more about a specific phrase mentioned in the ‘Quranic verse.


-“With the exception of those amongst them who are unfair and oppressive”. Who are those people exempted from the goodly and kind way of debate and dialogue?

-The ones who curse Islam swear at its Prophet and attack and repress Muslims. Would the better way of rational debate be of any use with the likes of them?

-I suppose not, he said, transgressors must be held to account. Reason tells us if we let the aggressors get away with their offence, they’d inflict even more harm on the innocent.

-I must say, though, he added, the gesture in the ‘Quranic verse does preserve the dignity of Muslims. In her book Muhammad, the British theological scholar Karen Armstrong says: “We often imagine Muhammad in the West as a military leader wielding his sword to impose Islam on reluctant societies. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Muhammad and the Muslim pioneering forefathers were only struggling to stay alive.” (New York: Harper Collins, 1993. Translated into Arabic by F. Nasr & M. ‘Anani, Cairo: Kitab fi Su’tur, 1998, p. 252.) “After the Hijrah, the ‘Quran started to lay down and develop specific legislations for the just war. For war is indeed necessary sometimes to maintain moral values,” Ms Armstrong adds. “Had it not been for some religious people who defended themselves and stood up to aggression, all their places of worship would have been desecrated and destroyed.” (Ibid., P. 254.) “Many Christians today approve of the concept of the just war,” she goes on to say, “because they know that taking up arms against the likes of Hitler and Sese Siko is the only effective way. That is why Islam does not passively turn the other cheek but actively fights tyranny and oppression.” (Ibid., P. 259.)

-Fair is fair. Thank you, I said.

-I agree, then, according to these texts, that the Islamic Faith calls for dialogue and debate, but…

Father Stephano kept silent for a while.

-But what, I said, spurring him on.

-But if the ones you are arguing with would not listen to or accept your calling, if debate is well and truly pointless, what then? The sword, isn’t it?

-Hold on, I said. Let’s not jump to conclusions. We are still agreed to defer to the primary sources and original texts, I take it?

-Sure, and I shall not absolve you of your promise to stick to them.

-Listen then to this ‘Quranic verse, which instructs the Prophet of Islam and every Muslim as to how to conduct the debate with Christians and Jews, and how to reply to the rejectionists among them. The verse says: “People of the Scripture, let us come to a fair deal that you and us worship none but God, that we ascribe no partners unto Him, that we take not each other as lords and masters besides God. If they refuse and turn away, then say to them: ‘Bear witness that we are Muslims and we take the Islamic way.’ ‘Al-‘Imran, 64.

If Christians and Jews reject what you ask them to do, i.e. believe in the oneness of God and in the worship of the Almighty Lord, then leave them alone and remain staunch believers in Islam yourselves. In the same book, Muhammad, Karen Armstrong notes: “Like Christians, the Jews enjoyed complete religious freedom in the Islamic Empire. They lived peacefully in the region till the establishment of the state of Israel in our present century (the twentieth century). They never suffered under Islam what they had suffered under Christianity. As for the European anti-Semitic myths, they were brought to the Middle East towards the end of the nineteenth century at the hands of Christian missionaries, and were usually treated with contempt by the local people.” (K. Armstrong, Muhammad, cit., pp. 309-310.)

I reiterated: “If they refuse and turn away, then say to them: ‘Bear witness that we are Muslims and we take the Islamic way.” Now is there any sword, violence or coercion in this?

-Truth is, Father Stephano said, no swords, violence or coercion used or called for.

-Even clearer and more explicit is the ‘Quranic verse that says, referring to all human beings of every sect and creed: “The Truth comes down from your Lord- whoever wishes to believe, let him believe; whoever wishes to disbelieve, let him disbelieve.” Al-Kahf, 29.

Once again I reiterated: “Whoever wishes to believe, let him believe; whoever wishes to disbelieve, let him disbelieve.” Holding believers and disbelievers to account is thus God’s business, not any human being’s.

More categorical still is the ‘Quranic verse stating the generic principle of preaching Islam and of all missionary Islamic work: “No coercion in religion: Right stands clear and distinct from wrong.” Al-Bak’arah,256. Do you know, in accordance with this basic principle, what the Muslim Prophet did when infidel pagans and polytheists had rejected his call, refused to accept the oneness of God and insisted on their intractable and perverse ways of worship?


-He brandished no swords, scolded no one, used no means to coerce anyone. He only took refuge in his Lord, praying to Him and asking His guidance in what to do with those headstrong disbelievers. The ‘Quranic verse came down to him from the Lord Almighty later on, instructing him and his followers to “Say: You disbelievers! I do not worship what you worship, and you do not worship what I do. Nor shall I worship what you worship, or shall you worship what I do. You have your own faith, I have mine.” Al-Kafirun, 1-5.”You have your own faith, I have mine,” I reiterated.

The Divine Revelation also instructed the Prophet that “If they belie you, say: ‘I have my own ways and my own deeds; you have your own. You are innocent of what I do, and I am innocent of what you do.’ Yunis, 41.

It further tells him to “Say: ‘God alone I worship. To Him alone is my whole Faith and devotion. You worship what you will beside Him.’ Al-Zumar, 14-15.Is there more religious tolerance than this, I added?

-The epitome of fairness and justice, I must say, Father Stephano declared. I personally testify to that.

-Do you know now, judging by the original texts, whether the charge of spreading Islam by the sword is true or false?

-Sure, I do, he said. It is decidedly false. Islam is wholly innocent of it. Mahatma Ghandi said in relation to this charge: “I wanted to know the best of the life of one who holds today an undisputed sway over the hearts of millions of mankind… I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet, the scrupulous regard for pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his mission. These and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every obstacle. When I closed the second volume of the Prophet’s biography, I was sorry there was no more for me to read of that great life.” (Muhammad fi Nathar Falasifat Al-Gharb, cit., p. 39.)

Ref: Was Muhammad peace be upon him Merciful? by: Muhammad Husseam Al-Khateeb P.16:23

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *