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Page last edited on 23 April, 2003

How did Islam spread?

By Professor Shahul Hameed

Tolerance In Islam It is a striking fact of history that within three centuries, after Prophet Muhammad started preaching Islam in Mecca, Islam spread over the area of three continents; Asia, Africa and Europe. There are many reasons why people have been, from past to the present embracing Islam. Muhammad Asad, a Jewish convert to Islam, says:

“Islam appears to me like a perfect work of architecture. All its parts are harmoniously conceived to complement and support each other, nothing lacking, with the result of an absolute balance and solid composure. Everything in the teaching and postulates of Islam is in its proper place.” (Islam at the Crossroads, p.5)

In the race for the propagation of religion, Islam has always won over Christianity, in spite of the latter’s sophisticated and well-organized missionary activities. This has been the case in the course of fourteen centuries. As a result, most of the Christian missionaries started depicting Islam as a regressive, vulgar religion of savage people which was spread by the sword.

Yet, an unbiased Western Christian writer has written:

“…We may feel certain that if Western Christians, instead of the Saracens and the Turks, had won the dominion over Asia, there would be today not a trace left of the Greek Church, and that they would never have tolerated Muhammadanism as the 'infidels' have tolerated Christianity there. We (Christians) enjoy the fine advantage of being far better versed than others in the art of killing, bombarding and exterminating the Human Race." (Bayle P., Dictionary, 'the article Mahomed', 1850)

Among the reasons for the rapid and peaceful spread of Islam was the simplicity of its doctrine. Islam calls for believing in only One God, worthy of worship. It also repeatedly instructs man to use his powers of intelligence and observation. Within a few years after the dawn of Islam, great civilizations and universities were flourishing under its influence, for according to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), “seeking knowledge is an obligation for every Muslim man and woman”.

The zeal for understanding God’s creative power, as realized in the universe, led the followers of this religion to new ideas, new realms of knowledge and great advances in medicine, mathematics, physics, astronomy, geography, architecture, art, literature, and history.

We find that the spread of Islam was not limited to its miraculous early expansion outside of Arabia. During later centuries, the Turks embraced Islam peacefully, as did a large number of the people of the Indian subcontinent, as well as the people of Malaysia and Indonesia.

In Africa too, Islam spread during the past two centuries, while under the mighty power of European colonial rulers. Today Islam continues to grow, not only in Africa, but also in Europe and the Americas as well. Islam is the fastest growing religion now, with a following of about one and a half billion people.

Mr. Lamaan Ball, editor of Ask About Islam, adds:

Although in the early years of the expansion of the Islamic state much land came under the rule of the Muslims, conversion to Islam of its inhabitants took several generations. This is because conversion by force is explicitly forbidden in the Qur'an:

Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And God heareth and knoweth all things. (Surah 2 Verse 256)

In more recent times such as in the case of Indonesia, conversions to Islam happened in the absence of an Islamic state and where the rulers were Dutch Christians. Commentators and historians have to acknowledge the fact of Islam's peaceful spead even if they dislike it. A classic example of such a grudging acknowledgment is in the book "The Legacy of Islam" edited by Joseph Schacht with C.E. Bosworth (1974) p145:

"... the general picture of the spread of Islam so far as we know it. This is often said to resemble an oil stain: gradual yet effective. Many, too, have praised its peaceful nature. Again so far as we know, the acceptance of Islamic doctrine has been a gradual process, partly thanks to the practice of conversion prior to indoctrination"

The false allegations that Islam was spread by the sword is just part of unfounded propaganda. To which the best reply is perhaps the Qur'an itself. In particular this verse comes to mind:

Their intention is to extinguish God's Light (by blowing) with their mouths: But God will complete (the revelation of) His Light, even though the Unbelievers may detest (it). (Surah 61 Verse 8)

Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Young India – 1920:

‘I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place in 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 his pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and his own mission. These and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every trouble.’

By Professor Shahul Hameed

Copyright © 1999-2002 Islam Online

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* pbuh - Peace be upon him; It is a Muslim practise to convey prayers of peace whenever the name of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and other prophets is taken.

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Last updated on 13 March, 2003

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