This is a very important issue which relates to the propagation of all divine messages. It relates to the instrument of propagation. Adherents of almost all religions, as they move away in time from the source, are invariably known to have employed coercion either to keep people within the fold of their religion, or to convert others into their faith. But according to the Holy Quran, this in no way reflects upon their religion’s attitude to coercion. No religion at its source has ever permitted the use of force in any form whatsoever. In fact all religions have been made targets of coercion and no efforts were spared by their opponents to arrest the growth of religions at their source and to annihilate them completely. Every time a new prophet came, attempts were invariably made by the enemies to suppress his message through the use of force and merciless persecution. It is the most tragic irony therefore that of all the books, the Holy Quran is singled out today as proponent of the employment of coercion for the sake of the spread of its message. Even greater tragedy lies in the fact that it is the Muslim clergy itself which loudly propounds this view, blatantly attributing it to the Holy Quran.
The Holy Quran, it should be remembered, is the only divine book which absolves all the prophets of the world, wherever and in whichever age they were born, of the crime of coercion in relation to the spread of their message. Hence it is inconceivable that the Quran should present its Holy Prophet(sa) as the harbinger of an era of bloodshed in the name of peace and hatred in the name of love of God. This is no place to engage in intricate polemical discussions, so this brief introduction should suffice here. According to the Quran, the Holy War, called Jihad, is in reality a holy campaign which uses the help of the Quran to bring about a spiritual revolution in the world.
Fight against them by means of it (the Quran) a great fight. (Quran 25:53)
These are the very words of the Quran which throw light on the nature of Jihad. It must be fought by means of the Quran and the Quranic message alone. Again, to tame one’s rebellious nature into complete submission to God is another form of Jihad which is in fact the greater Jihad, according to the Holy Prophet(sa) of Islam. On returning from a battle, he is reported to have said:
We are returning from the lesser Jihad to the greater Jihad.
Of course, defensive war is permitted only on the condition that the enemies initiate hostilities and raise sword against a weak, defenceless people for having committed the only crime of declaring that God is their Lord. All offensive wars according to Islam are unholy.