1 When every method of persuasion (over 13 years of preaching) had failed, the Prophetsa took to the sword… that sword removed evil and mischief, the impurities of the heart and the filth of the soul. The sword did something more. It removed their blindness—they could see the light of truth—and it also cured them of their arrogance; arrogance which prevents people from accepting the truth… stiff necks and proud heads bowed with humility.
—Maulana Abul Ala Maududi
Muhammad preached Islam with a sword in one hand and the Quran in the other.
—Prof. Wilfred Cantwell
2 The critics are blind. They cannot see that the only sword Muhammad wielded was the sword of mercy, compassion, friendship and forgiveness—the sword that conquers enemies and purifies hearts. His sword was sharper than the sword of steel.
—Gyanandra Dev Sharma
These are two conflicting views about the way in which the message of Islam was conveyed to the world. Critics, especially orientalists, claim that the wars the Prophet of Islamsa fought were offensive wars and that people were converted by force. According to objective historians, however, this view is not upheld by the facts. The Prophetsa did not use force to preach and all the battles he fought were defensive. The expansion of Islam was due to the Prophet’ssa spiritual and moral power.
Nevertheless, the view that Islam was spread by force is, unfortunately, held by some Muslim leaders. They, like the orientalists, divide the life of the Prophetsa into Meccan and Medinite periods. They maintain that at Mecca he was weak and powerless, hence that compromising and submissive attitude of peaceful co-existence. Then, having gained some power at Medina, he resorted to the sword, according to this school of thought.
Had he not done so there would have been no spiritual revolution in Arabia and Islam would not have spread. The late Maulana Abul Ala Maududi was a leading proponent of this view. In his book, Al-Jihad fil Islam, the Maulana says:
The Messenger of Allahsa invited the Arabs to accept Islam for 13 years. He used every possible means of persuasion, gave them incontrovertible arguments and proofs, showed them miracles and put before them his life as an example of piety and morality. In short, he used every possible means of communication, but his people refused to accept Islam.
It grieves my heart to quote the rest of this passage but it needs to be set out.
When every method of persuasion had failed, the Prophet took to the sword.
That sword removed evil mischief, the impurities of evil and the filth of the soul. The sword did something more—it removed their blindness so that they could see the light of truth, and also cured them of their arrogance; arrogance which prevents people from accepting the truth, stiff necks and proud heads bowed with humility.
As in Arabia and other countries, Islam’s expansion was so fast that within a century a quarter of the world accepted it. This conversion took place because the sword of Islam tore away the veils which had covered men’s hearts2
The above statement is doubly unfortunate because it was made by a Muslim scholar who claimed to be mizaj-shanasi-Rasul, the one who found himself in complete harmony with the mind and heart of the Prophetsa, so much so that he acquires a measure of authority in explaining the true meanings of the words and deeds of the Prophetsa—a claim which, if accepted, would give the claimant as much or more right to represent than the Holy Prophetsa enjoyed vis-à-vis his understanding of the Word of God. This means that the Maulana’s understanding is tragic beyond words—it has been made by a Muslim leader and repeats a baseless assertion of Islam’s enemies. It is the biased orientalists who accused the Prophetsa of converting people by force. The Maulana’s phraseology appears to glorify Islam, but in reality it endorses the accusation of the European critics of Islam. R. Dozy said: ‘Muhammad’s generals preached Islam with a sword in one hand and the Quran in the other.’ Smith asserted that it was not the generals but the Prophetsa himself who ‘preached with a sword in one hand and the Quran in the other’. George Sale wrote: ‘When the followers of the Prophet increased in number he claimed that God had allowed him to attack the unbelievers so that idolatry be destroyed and true religion be established.’
The Revd Dr C. G. Pfander, who was actively engaged in missionary work among Indian Muslims during the latter part of the nineteenth century, provoked great unrest by writing controversial tracts to expose, as he put it, ‘The false Prophet of Islam’. In one such tract he said:
1. For 13 years Muhammad preached his new religion in conciliatory terms and with great patience.
2. Now (in Medina) he became Al-Nabiyyussaif, ‘The sword-wielding Prophet’, and since then Islam’s strongest argument has been the sword.
3. If we study the behavior of Muhammad’s followers we notice that they thought it was not necessary for them to follow a religious and moral code. God demanded from them only one thing: that they should fight for God with swords, arrows, daggers and sabres to continue to kill3
And after this introduction the Revd Dr Pfander concluded: ‘You have to choose between Jesus, Word of God, and Hazrat Muhammad, son of Abdullah; between one who devoted his life to acts of piety and one who dedicated his life to the sword.4
Aloy Spranger, Henry Copey and many other critics of Islam followed the same line of attack on both Islam and the Prophetssa. Washington Irving went a step further; printed on the title page of one of his books is an imaginary painting of the Prophetsa with a sword in one hand and the Quran in the other.5
If one compares all that has been quoted above with the opening quotation of Maulana Maududi’s AI-Jihad fil Islam, one finds the Prophet’ssa critics in agreement. Both the Maulana and the orientalists maintained that Islam had a violent nature. Yet, despite this belief, the Maulana believed in Islam while they rejected it. Apart from the wording, there is no difference between paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of the quotation from Maulana Maududi above and the quotation from Dr Pfander above. But one shows the respect of a Muslim; the other, the sarcasm of a bitter critic.
The snide remarks of the orientalists about the Prophet of Islamsa are as unsurprising as they are hurtful. They are sometimes made out of ignorance, but mostly out of malice. The hostility towards Islam colors the objectivity of even the most balanced historian. But most hurtful of all are the writings of Muslims who claim devoutly to follow the Prophetsa, yet present him, either through ignorance or arrogance, as a barbarian who wielded the sword to convert and conquer.
Maulana Mandudi was not convinced of the inherent beauty of Islam or that it could conquer hearts by its spiritual force alone, either in the past or present. He said:
Human relations and associations are so integrated that no state can have complete freedom of action within its own principles, unless those same principles are in force in a neighboring country. Therefore, Muslim groups will not be content with the establishment of an Islamic state in one area alone. Depending on their resources, they should try to expand in all directions. On one hand, they will spread their ideology and on the other they will invite people of all nations to accept their creed, for salvation lies only in it. If their Islamic state has power and resources it will fight and destroy non Islamic governments and establish Islamic states in their place.6
Maulana Maududi supports Sir William Muir’s twisted views of the Prophetsa and of Islam. In his biography of the Prophetsa, which he wrote to expose ‘the false Prophet of Islam’ 7 at the request of Dr Pfander, Sir William Muir said: ‘The sword of Mahomet, and the Coran are the most fatal enemies of civilization, liberty and truth which the world has yet known.’ 8
The great Hindu leader, Gandhi ji, in his earlier days, must have been influenced by a distorted picture of Islam such as this when he said: ‘Islam was born in an atmosphere of violence. At that time its determining force was the sword and even today it is the sword.’ But Gandhi ji was an observer of great insight and subsequently he corrected himself and wrote in Young India: ‘The more I study the more I discover that the strength of Islam does not lie in the sword.’
Other Hindus—even Arya Samajists, who made an objective study of Islam—followed Gandhi ji in his ‘discovery’. Pandit Gyanandra Dev Sharma Shastri said:
Biased critics of Islam and especially those who want to provoke Hindu-Muslim riots in the country say that Hazrat Muhammad after acquiring power in Medina could not maintain his facade of mercy and kindness.There he used force and violence and became a murderous prophet to achieve his life-long aim of power, status and wealth. He fell short of his own ideal of patience, moderation and endurance. But this is the view of those observers who are prejudicial and partisan, who are narrow minded and whose eyes are covered by a veil of ignorance. They see fire instead of light, ugliness instead of beauty and evil instead of good. They distort and present every good quality as a great vice. It reflects their own depravity…
The critics are blind. They cannot see that the only ‘sword’ Muhammad wielded was the sword of mercy, compassion, friendship and forgiveness—the sword that conquers enemies and purifies their hearts. His sword was sharper than the sword of steel.9
No comment! One only wishes that Maulana Maududi, a follower of the Prophet Muhammadsa, had been as fair to the Prophetsa as a follower of Krishnaas had been. Non-Muslims who have studied the history of Islam have had to admit that the Prophetsa was not only magnanimous and kind, but also a paragon of human virtues. Another Hindu, the editor of the Sat Updaish, wrote:
Some people say that Islam was preached by the sword, but we cannot agree with this view. What is forced on people is soon rejected. Had Islam been imposed on people through oppression, there would have been no Islam today. Why? Because the Prophet of Islam had spiritual power, he loved humanity and he was guided by the ideal of ultimate good.10
The anti-Muslim stance of the Arya Samaj movement is well known. Its founder, Swami Dayanand, was highly critical of Islam and its Prophetsa and yet the following statement was made by a Hindu at a meeting sponsored by the Arya Samaj in Lahore. The editor of the Vedic Magazine and a former professor of Gurukul, Kangri Ram Dev, said:
Sitting in Medina, Muhammad Sahib (peace be to him) held the Arabs spellbound; he filled them with spiritual strength; strength that makes devtas [gods] out of men… it is incorrect to say that Islam spread with the force of the sword. It is a fact that the sword was never wielded to propagate Islam. If religion can be spread by force then let anyone try it today.11
The last sentence of the above passage is a challenge no one would ever accept—not even Maulana Maududi. No sword can change a heart and turn belief into disbelief. There was a long chain of prophets before the Prophet of Islamsa and it is an historical truth that every prophet was opposed by force. Every time a prophet taught the true religion he was opposed by the sword and yet true religion spread and the sword failed to cut it back. If all past prophets and their followers could stand against the sword’s might, how is it possible that Muhammadsa could have adopted a different approach and taken to the sword—the instrument of oppression, not truth? There is no greater injustice than to accuse him of using force to change people’s beliefs.
Another non-Muslim scholar, Dr D. W. Leitz, in rebutting this false charge, based his argument on the Quran itself. He said:
All these arguments, advanced to prove that the purpose of jihad was to spread Islam by force, are contradicted by the Quran. The Quran says that the purpose of jihad is to protect mosques, churches, synagogues and cloisters.12
After such a clear defense of the Prophetssa, let so-called Muslims who accuse him of wielding the sword answer this Quranic question: ‘Do they not ponder over the Quran, or is it that their hearts are locked up from within? (47.25) Maulana Maududi, the author of the voluminous commentary on the Quran, Tafhim-ul-Quran, must have read this verse many times. Did it not occur to him that interpreting the Quran for political purposes might lead the commentator astray? The Maulana then says:
This was the policy which was adopted by the Prophetsa and his rightly guided caliphs. Arabia, where the Muslim Party was first formed, was the first to be put down. After this, the Prophetsa sent invitations to all neighboring countries, but did not wait to see whether these invitations were accepted. As soon as he acquired power, he started the conflict with the Roman Empire. Abu Bakr became the leader of the Party after the Prophetsa and attacked both the Roman and Persian Empires and Umar finally won the war.13
This is virtually a declaration of war against all non-Muslim neighboring states—they are safe only as long as the Muslim state is weak. Had the above passage been written by a Marxist historian from the Communist Party, one would not have given it a second glance. But it is the considered opinion of a Muslim leader of Maulana Maududi’s stature. As such, it is certainly far more insulting to the Prophetsa than all that Muir, Pfander, Smith and other critics of Islam have written. The above passage was translated from the Maulana’s original Urdu. The words: ‘Muslim Party’ were used deliberately by Maududi. He was degrading the Muslim umma to the status of a political party. He was well aware of the difference between the two words, for in another book he said: ‘The other word the Quran has used for “party” is umma.14 Having dubbed Muslims a political party, the Maulana either subconsciously or, more likely, deliberately, equates the Prophetsa with a political party leader, assigning to him the morals of a politician. How else can one explain the following passage written by the Maulana?
After this the Prophetsa sent invitations to all the neighboring countries, but he did not wait to see whether these invitations were accepted or not. As soon as he acquired more power he started the conflict with the Roman Empire.
It is amazing that a Muslim scholar could even by implication suggest that the Prophet was guilty of a Hitler-style invasion—Naaudhu billah.15 The Prophetsa was the Prince of Peace, not an invader. Maulana Maududi loved political power and, unfortunately, this colors his interpretation of Islamic history. But Islam does not need politics to prop it up. In Bengal, now Bangladesh, Muslims were an infinitesimal minority in the middle of the eighteenth century when the British took over the administration from the Mughals. By the time Bengal became independent in 1947 it had a Muslim majority. Muslims had no political control of the area nor was there any migration of Muslims from northern India during British rule. This increase in Bengal’s Muslim population was owing to peaceful conversion by traveling sufis, the roving Muslim missionaries and the Imams of the village mosques.
Thomas Arnold’s observation on the subject is significant. He said: ‘Islam has gained its greatest and most lasting missionary triumphs in times and places in which its political power has been weakest.”16 Maulana Maududi probably never read the history of Islam in Bengal, Malaysia or Indonesia. He was so enthralled by the Turko-Afghan and Mughal conquests that he never had time to note that the largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia, never had a Muslim conqueror—that there was no fighting nor any violence there. That was the case also in Malaysia.
The Prophetsa was obviously innocent. He took up the sword only in self-defense and only when oppression became unbearable. Here is what an objective Sikh has to say on the subject:
In the beginning the Prophet’ssa enemies made life difficult for him and his followers. So the Prophetsa asked his followers to leave their homes and migrate to Medina. He preferred migration to fighting his own people, but when oppression went beyond the pale of tolerance he took up his sword in self-defense. Those who believe religion can be spread by force are fools who neither know the ways of religion nor the ways of the world. They are proud of this belief because they are a long, long way away from the Truth.17
Who knows better: a Sikh journalist or the mizaj shanasi nubuwwat?18
- Maulana Abul AlaMaududi, the amir (head)of
Jamaati Islami until his death, spent his early life in the former princely
Indian state of Hyderabad. The young Maududi left school before completing
his secondary education because of his father’s death. For some time
he worked as editor of the Al-Jamiyat of Delhi,
the newspaper of the Jamiyat Ulamai Hind. In 1927 he resigned his editorship
and, having worked so long with the Deoband ulema, he decided to devote himself
to the study of theology. He was self-taught in theology, Arabic and English.
Despite his great learning, immense knowledge and forceful style of Urdu,
which has all the ingredients of scholarship, his critics—especially
ulema of the Deoband and Lucknow schools—say that his lack of training
in theological discipline was his great weakness. In 1941 the Maulana founded
the Jamaati Islami and assumed its leadership. He criticized the Jamiyat
Ulamai Hind for its composite nationalist theory which exposed Muslim India
to the gave dangers of religio-cultural absorption into Hinduism, and at
the same time assailed Qaid-i-Azam’s Muslim nationalism as no less
dangerous than Congress nationalism. To him, it made no difference whether
the irreligious Muslims of India survived in the form of Pakistan or not
( Musalman our Maujudah Siyasi Kashmakash ,
Pathankot, 1946, 6–7).
- Al-Jihad fil Islam , 137–8.
- Revd Dr C. G. Pfander, Mizanul
Haq , 648, 499
- Revd Dr C. G. Pfander, Tatimma Mizanul Haq
- Washington Irving, Mahomet and His
Successors , 2 vols. (New York: G.P. Putman’s Sons, 1868).
- Haqiqat-i-Jihad (Lahore:
Taj Company Ltd, 1964), 64; emphasis added.
- For details of Dr Pfander’s
campaign against Islam, see ‘The Mohammedan controversy’, The
Calcutta Review (Calcutta, July–December 1845), Vol. IV, 420.
- Sir William Muir, The
Life of Mahomet (London: Smith Elder & Co., 1859), Vol. l,
- Translated from an Urdu
speech by Pundit Shastri at a Gorakhpur (India) meeting,
1928, to commemorate the Prophet’s birth, see Dunya ka Hadi Ghairon
ki Nazar Main , 57, 61.
- Sat Updaish, Lahore, 7
July 1915; see Barguzida Rasul Ghairon Main Maqbul ,
- Prof. Ram Dev, The
Prakash , see Burguzida Rasul Ghairon Main
Maqbul , 24.
- Dr D. W. Lenz, Asiatic
Quarterly Review , October 1886. Dr Leitz
has referred to verses 40 and 41 of chapter 22 of
the Quran, Al-Hajj. The verses say: ‘Permission
to fight is granted to those against whom war has been made because they
have been wronged. Allah indeed has the power to help them. They are
those who have been driven out of their homes because they affirmed that
our Lord is Allah. If Allah did not repel the aggression of some by the
means of others, then surely cloisters, churches, synagogues and mosques—where
His name is honored—would be destroyed?’
- Haqiqat-i-Jihad , op.cit .,
- Masala’-i-Qaumiyat (Pathankot:
Maktaba Jamaati Islami, 1947), 105.
- We seek the protection
of Allah from this blasphemous use of language,
which only Maulana Maududi could use.
- W. Thomas Arnold, The
Preaching of Islam: a History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith ,
2nd ed. (London: Constable and Co. Ltd, 1913), 279–80.
Hindustan , Delhi, 17 November 1947.
- Literally, ‘The knower
of the psyche of the Prophet’, or ‘The observer of the Prophet’s