Were Hindus and Sikhs Forced to Convert to Islam?

19 September, 2016
Q As-salamu Alaykum, I was told that people in India were forced to convert to Islam during the reign of the Moguls and that those who refused to do so were tortured and killed by them. I was even shown clear proof that some of the Gurus died as “martyrs” because they never chose to accept Islam. Could you please explain? Because I hope that the reason I am a Muslim is not that my ancestors were forced into accepting Islam. Jazakum Allahu khayran.

Answer

Salam Dear Mohammad,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

If we study the books of history that deal with the Moguls and other Muslim rulers of India, you come across many stories that describe Muslims as heartless brutes. In fact, you will find exaggerated stories of the martyrdom of many Sikh Gurus in some sites.

In those days of turmoil, there were many conflicts in India between the Muslims and the Sikhs, in which many people on both sides died. The Moguls were often ruthless to their subjects, irrespective of their religion. Besides, there were brutal fanatics who committed atrocities on non-Muslims in the name of religion.

It is also noteworthy that most of the Muslim rulers of India were not in fact good Muslims interested in the true values of religion.

They were intoxicated with power and were indulging luxuriously in their whims and fancies, with utter disregard to the teachings of Islam. History bears ample testimony for the fact that they were not really interested in converting people to Islam as some stories depict. Often it was some of their henchmen who were responsible for the horrors for which they are blamed today.

Anyway the point we want to stress is that, using force to convert is forbidden in Islam; and anyone who does so acts against Allah Almighty’s clear injunction in the Quran. It reads what means:

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

The Quran also states what means:

{Say: “The truth is from your Lord.” Let him who will, believe, and let him who will, reject [it].} (Al-Kahf 18: 29)

From this emphasis on free will, it follows that Islam can only be accepted by free choice. The purpose of human life is to worship God out of one’s own free will. That is to say, faith has value only if it is accepted on the basis of freedom of choice.

If a person is coerced into accepting any religion, that acceptance is false and has no value.

Much has been made of Islam’s history and the perception that Islam was spread by the sword. Nothing could be further from the truth. From the shores of Portugal to the forests of India, Islam has spread not by force, not by kings and emperors, not even by missionaries, but by example.

Despite the flawed common perception that Islam was spread by the threat of force, all unbiased historical scholars agree that Islam was a religion that was spread through peaceful assimilation. Even today, this is evidenced by the amazing rate of converts into Islam in the West.

So the force that has been used for conversion to Islam by any unthinking soldier or king or others is the force used against Islam, not for Islam. That is because Allah has laid so much of emphasis on justice and truth; on peace and free will. And what is more, forced conversions are useless, and they do not help to build a lasting society of Muslims.

Most of the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent are the descendants of the people who opted for Islam on their own will, seeing the good example set by Muslim scholars and imams; and also the Sufis have played a great role in this.

So, if Islam has come to stay in the subcontinent, it is clear that the grandparents of the present day Muslims were not forced into conversion as you have been misled to think. So let us study about Islam and spread its message of peace among our non-Muslim brothers. May Allah bless us all and guide us!

Thank you again for your question and please stay in touch.

Salam.

About Professor Shahul Hameed
Professor Shahul Hameed is an Islamic consultant. He also held the position of the President of the Kerala Islamic Mission, Calicut, India. He is the author of three books on Islam published in the Malayalam language. His books are on comparative religion, the status of women, and science and human values.