Spreading Islam by the Sword
Question asked by .
Answered by Dr. Shehzad Saleem

In the early period of Islam, we find that the Islamic rule was extended by the Companions (rta) of the Prophet (sws) to a large part of the world. They conquered Persia, Rome, Egypt and many other countries of their times. My question is that why did they impose Islam on these countries? Why were they not given the option of accepting Islam if they wanted to?


Indeed, it is generally held that the rise of Islam in the early period was due to a wave of ‘Arab Imperialism’ that shook the super powers of those times and forced them into submission. In an astounding series of conquests, country after country fell to the sword of Islam. It was not long before the Muslim empire stretched from the shores of the Mediterranean in the west to as far as Indonesia in the east.1

The fact that all these conquests took place is established history and hence cannot be denied in any way. However, the thesis that it was ‘Arab Imperialism’ that accounted for these conquests is something which cannot be condoned. While looking at the spread of Islam in the early period, one must resort to the basis which the Qur’ān itself offers for these conquests:

It has already been explained in a previous query2 that those who are divinely invested with the status of shuhadā ‘ala al-nās (witnesses to the truth before people) are ‘used’ and ‘employed’ by the Almighty to punish people who deny the truth in spite of being convinced about it. According to the Qur’ān, Muhammad (sws) and his Companions (rta) were invested with this status.

Consequently, the Companions (rta) of the Prophet (sws) in their collective capacity were only enforcing the implication of their status as witnesses of the religion of the truth. Their conquests were not basically aimed at spreading Islam as such. Their basic objective was to subjugate and punish people who had deliberately denied the truth. Muhammad (sws) himself initiated their task by writing letters to eight heads of state and thereby demarcated the areas where the Companions (sws) could go. It was only these areas upon which the process of shahādah would get completed before the Companions (rta) would reach them.

However, after the departure of the Companions (rta) from this world, no one has the authority to subjugate people in the name of Islam. This is so because no one after them has been conferred the status of Shuhadā (witness to the truth). Moreover, the conquests that took place after their departure by their followers must be viewed separately. Whether they were justified or not must be viewed in the light of the Qur’ān.

Summing up, it can be said that it is erroneous to conclude that Islam was spread by the sword. The whole exercise of the Companions (rta) must be viewed as a specific practice of the Almighty according to which He punished people who deny the truth even though they are fully convinced about it.



1. For a detailed account of these conquests see: Bilādhurī, Futūhu’l-Buldān, Qum, Manshūrāt al-Arummiyyah, 1404 AH.

2.‘Waging War against the Disbelievers’.


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