What does Islam really teach about forced conversion?
Muslims are called upon to fight unbelievers until they are either dead, converted to Islam or are in a permanent state of submission under Muslim rule. Allowing people of other faiths to live and reverence independently of Islamic rule is not an available option.
Muhammad's efforts to recruit peacefully in Mecca were not really crowned with success. In 13 years, he managed to convince less than 100 followers, mostly friends and family. His tactics changed drastically during his last ten years. As soon as he had sufficient power, he began to force others with the sword-head to recognize him as a prophet and Allah as the only God. In many places in Hadith, he tells his successors that Allah has commanded him to fight unbelievers until they profess their faith in Islam (the Shahada).
During the later years, Muhammad did not appear to be at all disturbed by the fact that conversions were usually carried out under obvious compulsion. These include those of his sworn enemy of Abu Sufyan and his wife Hind. According to Muslim historians, when Abu Sufyan sought peace with Muhammad, he was instead forced to convert to Islam. The exact words which he was to speak in the presence of Muhammad were: "Say and testify that there is no God but Allah, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah before you lose your head" (Ibn Ishaq / Hisham 814).
The entire city of Mecca converted to Islam, although the inhabitants and leaders originally abhorred Muhammad and resisted his sermons. Most of them "converted" to Islam on the day when he entered the city abruptly with an army. Only the most gullible would think that this is a genuine religious epiphany that coincides coincidentally with the time when a sword is held to their necks.
Meccans who did not want to change their religion were forcibly expelled from the city after the last Haj (9:5). The Christians and Jews who lived in Arabia at that time suffered the same fate. The cause was a kind permission of a murder order from Muhammad. They were given the choice either to accept Islam or be expelled from their land (Sahih Muslim 19:4366).
The Jews in Khaybar were not at war with Muhammad when he ordered his jihadis to attack them. Even his faithful son-in-law Ali, who was to lead the mission to Muhammad's instructions, was somewhat confused about the pretext under which he was to attack this peaceful peasant community, far from Medina:
Muhammad said: "Proceed on and do not look about until Allah grants you victory", and Ali went a bit and then halted and did not look about and then said in a loud voice: "Allah's Messenger, on what issue should I fight with the people?"
Thereupon he (the Prophet) said: "Fight with them until they bear testimony to the fact that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his Messenger" (Sahih Muslim 31:5917)
The Jews were, of course, quite surprised. Their wealth was stolen and their wives and children were taken and sold by the Prophet of Islam and his men as slaves. Muhammad even took a woman, after the death of her husband, for himself.
Before he died, Muhammad sent his warriors against pagan Arab tribes, like the al-Harith, and demanded that they should either be converted to Islam or extinguished. In the great selection which they had, they naturally chose the "religion of peace". He cursed Christians and Jews until his last breath (Bukhari 8:427).
According to al-Shafi from "The ordinances of the Koran", "Muhammad defeated the people until they bend Islam or break". Muslims are taught to follow their prophet. A messenger under Umar's rule has formulated it, "Our Prophet, the messenger of the Lord, has commanded us to fight them until you worship Allah alone or pay Jizya (i.e., tribute)" (Bukhari 53:386).
It also expressed Abu Bakr, Muhammad's closest companion and immediate successor, when he aggressively invaded foreign territory in jihad and protested against people who did not want war and were not a threat. In a letter to the Persians, the Caliph declared bluntly, "You have be converted to Islam, and then you will be safe, if you do not, you must know that I will come to you with an army which loves the same way the death as you love life."
Over the centuries, Muslims have forced Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Gentiles, and others to accept Islam by either offering them death as an alternative or making their lives so miserable (taxes, denial of rights, etc.) that they finally converted to Islam.
There are compulsory conversions among extremists to this day. Recently, a Christian girl was kidnapped in Egypt and told that she would be raped if she did not convert. In 2010, an 11-year-old Christian boy was enslaved in Pakistan by his Muslim landlords. He proudly told the world that he would free the boy if he would convert to Islam.
None of these examples of attempted forced conversion was condemned by Islamic organizations, including in the West. From the Muslim perspective, the victim in any case retains technically the "choice" to convert, even if the only alternative is death. In fact, some even praised the Pakistani slave owner for magnanimous worship of freedom and debt relief to his theme for the embrace of Islam.
Since Muslims believe so sincerely that their religion is truth, they often can't help but feel, on some level, that forced conversion is more of a favor done to the subject - a case of the end justifying the means. As Muhammad said, "Allah wonders at those people who will enter Paradise in chains." (Bukhari 52:254).
After the high-caliber abduction and forced conversion of hundreds of Christian girls of Boko Haram in 2014, a Muslim woman in the United Kingdom proclaimed that the girls had actually been liberated from the "fetters of slavery".
It is also important to note the critical role that Jizya plays in the Islamic world. According to the Quran, the payment of a "tax" to the Muslims is the only way out for those who do not want to deny their religion. This source of income explains why Muhammad and his successor do not force anyone to commit to Islam after a military conquest.
Muhammad realized in the case of the Jews of Khaybar who were allowed to keep their farming as long as they abolished the profits of their labor to him that it was more lucrative to save the local economy in the place than to kill any man who was not converted. This loose rule followed the Muslim armies that swept through Christian, Jewish, Persian, Hindu and Buddhist countries throughout the centuries. Parts of the collected money were used to finance further Islamic military expansions, which in turn produced more income and more "converts".
As Muhammad said it by himself: "My sustenance is under the shade of my spear, and he who disobeys my orders will be humiliated by paying Jizya" (or by another translation: "My provision has been placed under the shadow of my spear, and abasement and humility have been placed on the one who disobeys my command.") This hadith has been quoted by al-Qaeda and is found in the original version of Bukhari and Ahmad (5114 or 4869, depending on the translation).
In fairness it must be said that Muslims generally tend to follow verse 2:256 of the Koran, saying, "There is no compulsion in religion" and it is not right to force others to embrace Islam. But this does not change religion itself. Verse 2:256 was clearly overthrown by later verses, especially of Sura 9, otherwise the practice of killing apostates if they reject their previous creed would not have become an acceptable part of Islamic law.
Another point must be kept in mind. It is an important part of faith in Islam. Muslims are ordered to fight unbelievers until they say they believe in Allah or pay the Jizya. But there seems to be a tacit understanding that faith itself can not be compelled. (Really meant is "compulsion in religion"). However, as soon as a subjugated individual is converted to Islam under the burden of taxes and discrimination, a possible death penalty must also be revoked. The children also have to be educated as Muslims. And if they do not, they are exposed to garbage and killing. Thus, Islam succeeded in spreading successfully within the conquered populations in high percentages.
It is ironic that the Muslim community is most sensitive to a non-Muslim presence in "Muslim countries". Especially if these countries were not originally Muslim until they were conquered by force. The crass double standard is tempered purely rhetorically by explaining that Islam is the original religion practiced by Jews (like Moses) and Christians (like Jesus and his followers). Thus, the conquered populations are "restored". As many Muslims already seem to realize, this trick is neither wise nor even less convincing.
A final point of interest is that Muhammad's practice of obliging people to profess their faith in him was catastrophic for his own family and the legacy of his religion. At the time of his death, his empire comprised a great multitude of people and tribes, who had accepted his rule only to avoid war and bondage. Many of them, after he died, immediately wanted their freedom and self-determination back. There were several wars, causing thousands of deaths. The legacy of violent intolerance was firmly cemented in Islam.
Even Muhammad's sworn enemy, Abu Sufyan, has got a last laugh. So ambitious was the prophet of Islam to expand his empire, forcing his former archenemy to convert with the tip of his sword. Nevertheless, it was Abu Sufyan's own children who ultimately benefited - at the expense of Muhammad's family.
Abu Sufyan's son, Muawiyah, inherited the kingdom after defeating Muhammad's adopted son Ali. He also poisoned Hasan, one of the two dearest grandchildren of the Prophet. Abu Sufyan's grandson, Yazid, became the next caliph and immediately demanded the head of Muhammad's other favorite grandchild, Hussein. This was brought to him on a plate.
Say to those who have disbelieved, if they cease (from disbelief) their past will be forgiven. But if they return (thereto), then the examples of those (punished) before them have already preceded (as a warning). (8:38)
And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and polytheism: i.e. worshipping others besides Allah) and the religion (worship) will all be for Allah Alone [in the whole of the world ]. But if they cease (worshipping others besides Allah), then certainly, Allah is All-Seer of what they do. (8:39)
Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allah, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
Sureas 9 and 5 are the last great chapters that Muhammad narrated, replacing what had come before, including the oft-quoted verse 2:256 - "There is no compulsion in religion ...".
Then when the Sacred Months (the Ist, 7th, 11th, and 12th months of the Islamic calendar) have passed, then kill the Mushrikun (see V.2:105) wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and prepare for them each and every ambush. But if they repent and perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat), and give Zakat, then leave their way free. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
Prayer and poor tax are among the five pillars of Islam, as salat and zakat. (See below). The Quran thus sanctions violence as a means of forced conversion.
But if they repent, perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat) and give Zakat, then they are your brethren in religion. (In this way) We explain the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) in detail for a people who know.
In connection with the preceding passage, this confirms that Muhammad speaks of conversion to Islam.
They swear by Allah that they are truly of you while they are not of you, but they are a people (hypocrites) who are afraid (that you may kill them). (9:56)
Should they find a refuge, or caves, or a place of concealment, they would turn straightway thereto with a swift rush. (9:57)
This refers to people who live with the Muslim tribe, but can not truly be believers. They must pretend to be believing to survive. They have no safe refuge to escape the Muslims. If Islam were a religion of peace, then why are they afraid?
And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah) and (all and every kind of) worship is for Allah (Alone). But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against Az-Zalimun (the polytheists, and wrong-doers, etc.)
The key phrase is here: "and (all and every kind of) worship is for Allah (Alone)".
Do they seek other than the religion of Allah (the true Islamic Monotheism worshipping none but Allah Alone), while to Him submitted all creatures in the heavens and the earth, willingly or unwillingly. And to Him shall they all be returned.
But did not the earlier verse 2:256 say that there is no compulsion in religion? This contradiction is resolved by abolition - where the later verse replaces the earlier one.
These are the dangers of forcing others to recognize you as a prophet. Even if they do not consider it true.