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Can compulsion be applied to non-believers? (2:256) – Join islam

The Quran informs us that there is no compulsion in religion.

[2:256] There shall be no compulsion in religion: the right way is now distinct from the wrong way. Anyone who denounces the devil and believes in GOD has grasped the strongest bond; one that never breaks. GOD is Hearer, Omniscient.

 لَآ إِكْرَاهَ فِى ٱلدِّينِ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ ٱلرُّشْدُ مِنَ ٱلْغَىِّ فَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِٱلطَّـٰغُوتِ وَيُؤْمِنۢ بِٱللَّهِ فَقَدِ ٱسْتَمْسَكَ بِٱلْعُرْوَةِ ٱلْوُثْقَىٰ لَا ٱنفِصَامَ لَهَا وَٱللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ

This verse clearly states that individuals should not be forced to embrace Islam (Submission) or any other religion. The context of this verse is inclusive, indicating a general principle against compulsion in matters of faith. Yet, many traditionalists justify all kinds of compulsion in religion, most notably the killing of an apostate.

Narrated Ikrima: Some Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn `Abbas who said, “If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) forbade it, saying, ‘Do not punish anybody with Allah’s punishment (fire).’ I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ), ‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.’

حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو النُّعْمَانِ، مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ الْفَضْلِ حَدَّثَنَا حَمَّادُ بْنُ زَيْدٍ، عَنْ أَيُّوبَ، عَنْ عِكْرِمَةَ، قَالَ أُتِيَ عَلِيٌّ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ بِزَنَادِقَةٍ فَأَحْرَقَهُمْ فَبَلَغَ ذَلِكَ ابْنَ عَبَّاسٍ فَقَالَ لَوْ كُنْتُ أَنَا لَمْ أُحْرِقْهُمْ لِنَهْىِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَلَقَتَلْتُهُمْ لِقَوْلِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ “‏ مَنْ بَدَّلَ دِينَهُ فَاقْتُلُوهُ ‏”‏‏.‏

Sahih al-Bukhari 6922

Not only does the killing of apostates contradict 2:256, but it also contradicts other verses of the Quran as well: 2:190-193, 9:73-74, 10:99, 18:29, 60:8-9, 109:1-6.

So, how do traditionalists reconcile this?

One approach is to claim that these verses that prohibited compulsion were abrogated. The other argument attempts to make a linguistic claim that the verse does not state what it appears to state. As we discussed in a previous article, the concept of verses of the Quran being abrogated is a satanic innovation. So, for the sake of this article, we will only address the linguistic argument.

في vs. على

The Arabic phrase “لَآ إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ” (La ikraha fid-din) is commonly translated as “There is no compulsion in religion.” In this context, the preposition “في” (fi) means “in.”

Some traditionalists argue that because the word “في” (fi) is used, this verse only deals with compulsion toward individuals inside the religion and, therefore, has no bearing on compulsion towards individuals outside the religion. Additionally, they even argue that if this was meant to mean that there is no compulsion to non-Muslims, then it would use the preposition “على” (ala), which means “on” or “upon.”

Linguistically, both these claims are false. Using “على” in the sentence would alter the meaning significantly. The phrase “لَآ إِكْرَاهَ عَلَى الدِّينِ” would translate to “There is no compulsion on religion,” which implies that religion itself is not being forced upon, rather than stating that individuals should not be compelled to adopt the religion.

The phrase “لَآ إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ” from Surah Al-Baqarah (2:256) emphasizes that acceptance of faith should be a matter of personal choice without any coercion within the context of religious belief. The use of “في” correctly indicates the context of being within the scope of religion, aligning with the intended meaning that individuals should not be forced into religious belief irrespective if they are part of the religion or not.

فِي الدِّينِ

Secondly, the following verses use the expression “فِي الدِّينِ” (fid-din) “in the religion” to describe what kind of relations God permits with non-believers.

[60:8] GOD does not enjoin you from befriending those who do not fight you in the religion, and do not evict you from your homes. You may befriend them and be equitable towards them. GOD loves the equitable.

لَّا يَنْهَىٰكُمُ ٱللَّهُ عَنِ ٱلَّذِينَ لَمْ يُقَـٰتِلُوكُمْ فِى ٱلدِّينِ وَلَمْ يُخْرِجُوكُم مِّن دِيَـٰرِكُمْ أَن تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوٓا۟ إِلَيْهِمْ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلْمُقْسِطِينَ

[60:9] GOD enjoins you only from befriending those who fight you in the religion, evict you from your homes, and band together with others to banish you. You shall not befriend them. Those who befriend them are the transgressors.

 إِنَّمَا يَنْهَىٰكُمُ ٱللَّهُ عَنِ ٱلَّذِينَ قَـٰتَلُوكُمْ فِى ٱلدِّينِ وَأَخْرَجُوكُم مِّن دِيَـٰرِكُمْ وَظَـٰهَرُوا۟ عَلَىٰٓ إِخْرَاجِكُمْ أَن تَوَلَّوْهُمْ وَمَن يَتَوَلَّهُمْ فَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلظَّـٰلِمُونَ

If the expression “فِي الدِّينِ” (fid-din) “in the religion” was limited to individuals who are inside the religion, this understanding would clearly contradict the above verses. This is because 60:8-9 are regarding external parties’ actions towards believers because of their religion.

These verses illustrate that “فِي الدِّينِ” (fid-din) is not limited to people within the religion. In these verses, the expression clearly encompasses interactions and conflicts initiated by non-believers toward the believers. If “فِي الدِّينِ” as used in 2:256, was to signify only those within the religion, it would create a contradiction with the verses from 60:8-9. Therefore, “فِي الدِّينِ” (fid-din) in 2:256 is not limited to the compulsion of people within the religion but encompasses all people both internal to the religion as well as external to the religion.

ikraha of God vs. ikraha of Man

The word “إِكْرَاهَ” (ikraha), as used in 2:256, means compulsion or force. Some argue that if there is no compulsion, then why does God punish the disbelievers. The answer to this is very easy, we are not God. There are many things that God can do that we are not permitted to carry out, such as punishing someone for committing sins. If someone chooses to disbelieve, that is their prerogative. God informs the believers that the punishment for such disbelievers is Hellfire, but the duty upon the believers is to let them be.

[18:29] Proclaim: “This is the truth from your Lord,” then whoever wills let him believe, and whoever wills let him disbelieve. We have prepared for the transgressors a fire that will completely surround them. When they scream for help, they will be given a liquid like concentrated acid that scalds the faces. What a miserable drink! What a miserable destiny!

 وَقُلِ ٱلْحَقُّ مِن رَّبِّكُمْ فَمَن شَآءَ فَلْيُؤْمِن وَمَن شَآءَ فَلْيَكْفُرْ إِنَّآ أَعْتَدْنَا لِلظَّـٰلِمِينَ نَارًا أَحَاطَ بِهِمْ سُرَادِقُهَا وَإِن يَسْتَغِيثُوا۟ يُغَاثُوا۟ بِمَآءٍ كَٱلْمُهْلِ يَشْوِى ٱلْوُجُوهَ بِئْسَ ٱلشَّرَابُ وَسَآءَتْ مُرْتَفَقًا

God even tells the prophet that he is not responsible for those who commit idol worship. If it was the believer’s responsibility to punish those who leave the religion to commit idol worship, then the prophet would not have been told that he is not their guardian or advocate.

[6:107] Had GOD willed, they would not have worshiped idols. We did not appoint you as their guardian, nor are you their advocate.

 وَلَوْ شَآءَ ٱللَّهُ مَآ أَشْرَكُوا۟ وَمَا جَعَلْنَـٰكَ عَلَيْهِمْ حَفِيظًا وَمَآ أَنتَ عَلَيْهِم بِوَكِيلٍ

Additionally, the Quran promotes the non-aggression principle such that believers are never permitted to be aggressors and can only retaliate in kind.

[2:190] You may fight in the cause of GOD against those who attack you, but do not aggress. GOD does not love the aggressors.

 وَقَـٰتِلُوا۟ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ ٱلَّذِينَ يُقَـٰتِلُونَكُمْ وَلَا تَعْتَدُوٓا۟ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ ٱلْمُعْتَدِينَ

Yet, even then, God advocates for forgiveness and patience when possible.

[16:126] And if you punish, you shall inflict an equivalent punishment. But if you resort to patience (instead of revenge), it would be better for the patient ones.

 وَإِنْ عَاقَبْتُمْ فَعَاقِبُوا۟ بِمِثْلِ مَا عُوقِبْتُم بِهِۦ وَلَئِن صَبَرْتُمْ لَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لِّلصَّـٰبِرِينَ

[42:40] Although the just requital for an injustice is an equivalent retribution, those who pardon and maintain righteousness are rewarded by GOD. He does not love the unjust.

 وَجَزَٰٓؤُا۟ سَيِّئَةٍ سَيِّئَةٌ مِّثْلُهَا فَمَنْ عَفَا وَأَصْلَحَ فَأَجْرُهُۥ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ إِنَّهُۥ لَا يُحِبُّ ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَ

Summary

The claim that compulsion on non-Muslims is permissible contradicts the overarching principles of justice, compassion, and free will emphasized throughout the Quran. The expression “لَآ إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ” in Surah Al-Baqarah 2:256 sets a general principle against compulsion in religious matters.

The broader context of the Quran supports this understanding, including verses like Surah Al-Mumtahanah 60:8-9, which show that “فِي الدِّينِ” applies to interactions with non-Muslims as well. By considering the context and the usage of the phrase “فِي الدِّينِ” in other parts of the Quran, it becomes clear that the principle of no compulsion in religion applies universally, including both interactions with Muslims as well as non-Muslims. This is consistent with numerous other verses of the Quran.

[10:99] Had your Lord willed, all the people on earth would have believed. Do you want to force the people to become believers?

 وَلَوْ شَآءَ رَبُّكَ لَـَٔامَنَ مَن فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ كُلُّهُمْ جَمِيعًا أَفَأَنتَ تُكْرِهُ ٱلنَّاسَ حَتَّىٰ يَكُونُوا۟ مُؤْمِنِينَ

To suggest that Surah Al-Baqarah 2:256 contains a loophole allowing the very compulsion it explicitly prohibits is a clear distortion of God’s message.

[3:99] Say, “O followers of the scripture, why do you repel from the path of GOD those who wish to believe, and seek to distort it, even though you are witnesses?” GOD is never unaware of anything you do.

 قُلْ يَـٰٓأَهْلَ ٱلْكِتَـٰبِ لِمَ تَصُدُّونَ عَن سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ مَنْ ءَامَنَ تَبْغُونَهَا عِوَجًا وَأَنتُمْ شُهَدَآءُ وَمَا ٱللَّهُ بِغَـٰفِلٍ عَمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ

Ironically, these individuals who argue that the compulsion mentioned in 2:256 is limited to those within the religion find no issues with instituting compulsion within the members of their religion. This can be seen in their forcing of strict dress codes or speech laws for those within the religion.

[2:139] Say, “Do you argue with us about GOD, when He is our Lord and your Lord? We are responsible for our deeds, and you are responsible for your deeds. To Him alone we are devoted.”

 قُلْ أَتُحَآجُّونَنَا فِى ٱللَّهِ وَهُوَ رَبُّنَا وَرَبُّكُمْ وَلَنَآ أَعْمَـٰلُنَا وَلَكُمْ أَعْمَـٰلُكُمْ وَنَحْنُ لَهُۥ مُخْلِصُونَ

Individuals who push for such interpretations only do so so that they can avoid the blatant contradiction between verses like this and their inherited traditions.

[4:60] Have you noted those who claim that they believe in what was revealed to you, and in what was revealed before you, then uphold the unjust laws of their idols? They were commanded to reject such laws. Indeed, it is the devil’s wish to lead them far astray.

 أَلَمْ تَرَ إِلَى ٱلَّذِينَ يَزْعُمُونَ أَنَّهُمْ ءَامَنُوا۟ بِمَآ أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكَ وَمَآ أُنزِلَ مِن قَبْلِكَ يُرِيدُونَ أَن يَتَحَاكَمُوٓا۟ إِلَى ٱلطَّـٰغُوتِ وَقَدْ أُمِرُوٓا۟ أَن يَكْفُرُوا۟ بِهِۦ وَيُرِيدُ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنُ أَن يُضِلَّهُمْ ضَلَـٰلًۢا بَعِيدًا

This shows that the intent of the traditionalists who make these kinds of arguments is not that they even believe their interpretations, but they make these claims just to argue and to repel people from following the words of God inside the Quran.

[6:26] They repel others from this (Quran), as they themselves stay away from it, and thus, they only destroy themselves without perceiving.

 وَهُمْ يَنْهَوْنَ عَنْهُ وَيَنْـَٔوْنَ عَنْهُ وَإِن يُهْلِكُونَ إِلَّآ أَنفُسَهُمْ وَمَا يَشْعُرُونَ

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