Let There be no Compulsion in Religion (Qur'an 2:256)
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Quran 2:256 ("There is no compulsion in religion...") is a verse often mentioned on the topic of freedom of and from religion (along with Qur'an 109:1-6 "to you your religion and to me (my) religion."). Modernist and reformist Muslim commentators (who do not necessarily accept hadith in the traditional way) commonly cite such verses to advocate for religious freedom in Islam. Others argue that the verse relates only to conversion to Islam, but not apostasy from Islam.
Patricia Crone wrote an extensive article on the history of interpretation of the no compulsion verse. She notes that Q 2:256 was commonly interpreted alongside Quran 10:99-100, which uses the same verb, "to compel", ikrāh ("And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed - all of them entirely. Then, [O Muhammad], would you compel the people in order that they become believers?"). Crone describes the widely varying views as to the time and context in which the no compulsion verse was revealed, as exegetes gave it legal implications but disagreed on how to reconcile it with Quran 9:29. She concludes that some exegetes had to interpret Q 2:256 as abrogated because by their time religion had come to function as a civic status and religious freedom had become undesirable. Nowadays, neither modernists nor Islamists consider 2:256 to be abrogated. In her view, the verse was plainly not uttered in a law-giving capacity but rather expressed the principle that religious choice cannot be coerced by people upon others, which had become a commonplace and self evident truth in the post-pagan, Christian millieu in which the principle became relevant.
Yohanan Friedmann has also writen extensively on these verses in his book, Tolerance and Coercion in Islam. Quran 2:256 was discussed by early commentators in terms of the circumstances of revelation and seen as an injunction against forced conversion, though there was discussion on the question as to which groups of disbelievers it applied, and whether it had been abrogated by verses promoting jihad. The circumstances of revelation of that verse reportedly involved Jewish children in Medina whose parents wanted to force their children to join them in the new faith to prevent their expulsion from the city. Alternative, similar traditions held that Muhammad had been asked by a father in Medina to forcibly convert his sons, or a slave owner made the same request regarding his slave. Later commentators on 2:256 were interested instead in the theological issues regarding the feasibility of forcing belief and considered that forced belief would render meaningless the Quranic concept that life is a test.
When the children of a woman (in pre-Islamic days) did not survive, she took a vow on herself that if her child survives, she would convert it a Jew. When Banu an-Nadir were expelled (from Arabia), there were some children of the Ansar (Helpers) among them. They said: We shall not leave our children. So Allah the Exalted revealed; "Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error."
It was reported that the Ansar were the reason behind revealing this Ayah, although its indication is general in meaning. Ibn Jarir recorded that Ibn `Abbas said [that before Islam], "When (an Ansar) woman would not bear children who would live, she would vow that if she gives birth to a child who remains alive, she would raise him as a Jew. When Banu An-Nadir (the Jewish tribe) were evacuated [from Al-Madinah], some of the children of the Ansar were being raised among them, and the Ansar said, `We will not abandon our children.' Allah revealed,
(There is no compulsion in religion. Verily, the right path has become distinct from the wrong path.)
Abu Dawud and An-Nasa'i also recorded this Hadith. As for the Hadith that Imam Ahmad recorded, in which Anas said that the Messenger of Allah said to a man,
("Embrace Islam." The man said, "I dislike it." The Prophet said, "Even if you dislike it.")First, this is an authentic Hadith, with only three narrators between Imam Ahmad and the Prophet . However, it is not relevant to the subject under discussion, for the Prophet did not force that man to become Muslim. The Prophet merely invited this man to become Muslim, and he replied that he does not find himself eager to become Muslim. The Prophet said to the man that even though he dislikes embracing Islam, he should still embrace it, `for Allah will grant you sincerity and true intent.'
Tafsir Ibn Kathir
Ibn Kathir in the version of his tafsir abridged by Sheikh Muhammad Nasib Ar-Rafa‘i, has this to say (note that this portion has not been translated by Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri who is responsible for the abridged version of Tafsir Ibn Kathir widely available on the internet):
Asbab Al-Nuzul by Al-Wahidi, trans. Mokrane Guezzou
• It is said that it is abrogated because the Prophet forced the Arabs to adopt the din of Islam and fought them and was only pleased with Islam for them. Sulayman ibn Musa took the view, saying, "It is abrogated by ‘O Prophet! Do jihad against the unbelievers and the hypocrites.’ (9:73)" That is related from Ibn Mas‘ud and many commentators.
• It is not abrogated and was sent down about the people of the Book in particular and means that they are not forced to adopt Islam when they pay jizya. Those who are forced are the idolaters. Only Islam is accepted from them, and they are the ones about whom ‘O Prophet! Do Jihad against the unbelievers and the hypocrites.’ (9:73) was revealed. This is the position of ash-Sha‘bi, Qatada, al-Hasan and ad-Dahhak. The evidence for this position is related by Zayd ibn Aslam from his father, "I heard ‘Umar in al-Khattab say to an old Christian woman, ‘Become Muslim, old woman, become Muslim. Allah sent Muhammad with the Truth.’ She replied, ‘I am an old woman and close to death.’ ‘Umar said, ‘O Allah, witness!’ and he recited, ‘There is no compulsion where the din is concerned.’"
• Abu Dawud reported from Ibn ‘Abbas that this was revealed about the Ansar. There was a woman, all of whose children had died. She made a vow that if she had a child who lived she would become a Jew. When the Banu’n-Nadir were exiled, among them were many of the children of the Ansar. They said, "We will not leave our sons!" Then Allah revealed this. One variant has, "We did what we did and we think that their din is better than what we have." When Allah brought Islam, they denied it and this was revealed. Whoever wished remained with them and whoever wished, entered Islam. This is the position of Sa‘id ibn Jubayr, ash-Sha‘bi and Mujahid, but he added that the reason that they were with the Banu’n-Nadir was through suckling. An-Nahhas said, "The position of Ibn ‘Abbas regarding this ayat is the best position since its isnad is sound."
• As-Suddi said that the ayat was revealed about a man of the Ansar called Abu Husayn who had two sons. Some merchants came from Syria to Madina with oil and when they wanted to leave, his sons went to them. They invited the two sons to become Christians and they did so and went back with them to Syria. Their father went to the Messenger of Allah to complain about this and asked the Messenger of Allah to send someone to bring them back. Then, "There is no compulsion where the din is concerned" was revealed. He had not been commanded to fight the People of the Book. He said, "Allah has put them far. They are the first to disbelieve." Abu’l-Husayn felt annoyed that the Prophet did not send someone after them. Then Allah revealed, "No, by your Lord, they are not believers until they make you their judge in the disputes that break out between them" (4:65). Then "No compulsion" was abrogated and he was commanded to fight the People of the Book in Surat at-Tawba. The sound view for the reason behind the words, "No, by your Lord, they are not believers …" is the hadith of az-Zubayr with his Christian neighbour about water as will be dealt with in Surat at-Tawba, Allah willing.
• It is said that it means "do not call those who have submitted through the sword compelled and forced".• It is said that it was related about the captives who were People of the Book. They are not compelled when they are adults. If they are Magians, young or old, or idolaters, they are compelled to adopt Islam because their captivity does not help them when they are idolaters. Do you not see that their sacrifices are not eaten nor their women married. That is what Ibn al-Qasim reported from Malik. Ashhab said that children are considered to have the din of those who captured them. If they refuse that, they are compelled to become Muslim. Children have no din and that is why they are compelled to enter Islam so that they do not go to a false din. When other types of unbelievers pay the jizya, they are forced to become Muslim, whether they are Arabs or non-Arabs, Quraysh or otherwise. This will be dealt with in Surat at-Tawba.
Translated by Aisha Bewley,Dar Al-Taqwa Ltd., 2003, pp. 659-661
Mahmoud M. Ayoub, SUNY Press, 1984, Volume I, pp. 253-254
Al-Nahas, p. 80
Sobhy as-Saleh, Dar al-'Ilm Lel-Malayeen, Beirut, 1983, p. 269
The scholars explained that these two verses [ Quran 10:99 and Quran 2:256], and other similar verses, have to do with those from whom the jizyah may be taken, such as Jews, Christians and Magians (Zoroastrians). They are not to be forced, rather they are to be given the choice between becoming Muslim or paying the jizyah.
Other scholars said that this applied in the beginning, but was subsequently abrogated by Allaah’s command to fight and wage jihad. So whoever refuses to enter Islam should be fought when the Muslims are able to fight, until they either enter Islam or pay the jizyah if they are among the people who may pay jizyah. The kuffaar should be compelled to enter Islam if they are not people from whom the jizyah may be taken, because that will lead to their happiness and salvation in this world and in the Hereafter. Obliging a person to adhere to the truth in which is guidance and happiness is better for him than falsehood. Just as a person may be forced to do the duty that he owes to other people even if that is by means of imprisonment or beating, so forcing the kaafirs to believe in Allaah alone and enter into the religion of Islam is more important and more essential, because this will lead to their happiness in this world and in the Hereafter. This applies unless they are People of the Book, i.e., Jews and Christians, or Magians, because Islam says that these three groups may be given the choice: they may enter Islam or they may pay the jizyah and feel themselves subdued.
Some of the scholars are of the view that others may also be given the choice between Islam and jizyah, but the most correct view is that no others should be given this choice, rather these three groups are the only ones who may be given the choice, because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) fought the kuffaar in the Arabian Peninsula and he only accepted their becoming Muslim. And Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): [Quotes Quran 9:5]
He did not say, “if they pay the jizyah”. The Jews, Christians and Magians are to be asked to enter Islam; if they refuse then they should be asked to pay the jizyah. If they refuse to pay the jizyah then the Muslims must fight them if they are able to do so. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): [Quotes Quran 9:29]
And it was proven that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) accepted the jizyah from the Magians, but it was not proven that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) or his companions (may Allaah be pleased with them) accepted the jizyah from anyone except the three groups mentioned above.
This verse is known as Ayat al-Sayf (the verse of the sword).
These and similar verses abrogate the verses which say that there is no compulsion to become Muslim.
And Allaah is the Source of strength.Majmoo’ Fataawa wa Maqaalaat li’l-Shaykh Ibn Baaz, 6/219
Islam Q&A, Fatwa No.34770
“(Second), the married person who commits adultery”—I will return to him (later) Allah-willing, in another of the signs.
“(Third), the one who abandons his religion, and separates himself from the community.” The hadith is in both of the Sahihs (i.e. Bukhari and Muslim). “The one who abandons his religion, and separates himself from the community.” Islam does not compel anyone to enter it. This (concept) needs to be firmly established. Islam does not compel anyone to enter it. No. There is no compulsion in religion. But rather we preach (Islam) in truth, mercy, propriety, and humility. Whoever says after the preaching—whoever says after (receiving) the preaching and the call (to Islam), “No, I will not enter this religion.” We say to him, “There is no compulsion in religion.” Truth stands out clear from error. We recite the saying of Almighty Allah, “Let him who will believe, and let him who will disbelieve” (Qur’an 18:29). We recite the saying of Allah Almighty, “You have your religion and I have my religion” (Qur’an 109:6). Beautiful. This is after the preaching and the call (to Islam).But if he enters Islam of his own free will and choice, he does not have the right to leave the religion of Allah whenever he wants, to shake the foundations of Muslim society. No, he does not have the right. Absolutely not. But he does have the right, after having (Islam) preached to him, to say, “I will enter” or “I will not enter this religion.” But to enter it just to leave it whenever he wants? No. This is something which is unacceptable in the religion of Almighty Allah. Show me a constitution anywhere on earth which grants this for its citizens. But rather whoever comes out against the constitution of any nation is accused of treason. Everyone familiar with treason knows that the penalty is death. So what do you think about the one who betrays the religion of Allah Almighty, the one who betrays Allah and His Messenger? “O ye who believe! Do not betray Allah and His Messenger, nor knowingly betray your trusts” (Qur’an 8:27).
Shaykh Muhammad Hassan on the Egyptian satellite station al-Nas
assalamualaikum, in the quran it states that there is no compulsion in religion (ie. you can`t/don`t need to force someone into beleiving the truth). how do you reconcile this with the hadith regarding the killing of apostates? ("he who changes his deen must be killed" - the book i read this in had no reference, so im not sure about how authentic the hadeeth is).
In the name of Allah, We praise Him, seek His help and ask for His forgiveness. Whoever Allah guides none can misguide, and whoever He allows to fall astray, none can guide them aright. We bear witness that there is no one (no idol, no person, no grave, no prophet, no imam, no dai, nobody!) worthy of worship but Allah Alone, and we bear witness that Muhammad (saws) is His slave-servant and the seal of His Messengers.
Your Question: in the quran it states that there is no compulsion in religion (ie. you can`t/don`t need to force someone into beleiving the truth). how do you reconcile this with the hadith regarding the killing of apostates?
Allah Says in the Holy Quran Chapter 2 Surah Baqarah verses 256-257:
256 Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error; whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.
257 Allah is the Protector of those who have faith: from the depths of darkness He will lead them forth into light. Of those who reject faith the patrons are the Evil Ones: from light they will lead them forth into the depths of darkness. They will be companions of the fire to dwell therein (for ever).
Dear and Beloved Brother, in light of the context of the guidance of the Quran and the Sunnah this Command of the Lord Most High ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’ means and implies that since Allah has given every individual a ‘free will’ as a test; for a period of one lifetime every individual has a God-given right to choose for himself between the paths of Truth and error, Guidance and misguidance, Belief and disbelief, Obedience or disobedience. Every individual has a right to choose whatever path he wishes to live his life, and none should or can be forced or coerced or compelled to choose belief if one chooses to disbelieve. Thus it is absolutely impermissible in Islamic Law to force, or coerce, or compel anyone to accept Islam as their way of life if they do not themselves, of their own free will, choose to do so.
But if one, of his own free will chooses to believe and enters Islam by declaring the ‘shahaadah’ or testification of faith, then he is bound by his declaration and all the disciplines of Islam become obligatory upon such a person. If one after accepting Islam as his deen does not pray, he will be compelled by Law to offer his prayers; or if he refuses to pay the zakah dues, he will be compelled by Law to fulfill his zakah dues; or if he refuses to distribute inheritance as prescribed by Shariah, he will be compelled by Law to do so; etc. Once the person of his own free will accepts Islam, he has no right to pick-and-choose the laws he wishes to follow; but rather he will be compelled to follow all the obligatory dictates of Shariah by Law. Here one cannot say or bring forth the excuse ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’! nor would it be accepted. This command only applies to one who has not accepted Islam as his way of life.
Allow us to relate a simple example to further explain the point. In today’s age, one is not compelled to take citizenship of any nation (for eg. United States of America); but if one of his own free will chooses to take on and accept US citizenship, he cannot pick-and-choose which law he wishes to follow. If the law of the land states that he has to pay tax, he will be compelled to pay it whether he likes it or not; of if the law of the land states he has to be drafted in the army, he will be compelled to join the army; or if the law of the land states he has to pay half his wealth to his divorced wife, he will be compelled to do so; etc.
Your Question: how do you reconcile this with the hadith regarding the killing of apostates? ("he who changes his deen must be killed" - the book i read this in had no reference, so im not sure about how authentic the hadeeth is).
Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 9.17 Narrated by Abdullah
Allah's Messenger (saws) said, "The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Messenger cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas (retribution) for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse, and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims."
It is indeed an authentic and established hadith and thus a part of Islamic Law that corporal punishment will be applied to one who, after accepting Islam as his way of life, openly and verbally declares in a Court of Islamic Law in a proper Islamic State that he wants to become an apostate.
One must bear in mind that it is not as if every person who declares apostasy, or every person one may think or believe is an apostate will be put to death without due process of law. It is only when one confesses in a Shariah Court in a proper Islamic State that he wills to become an apostate, after knowing fully well and being warned that the punishment for apostasy in Islam is death, he still holds on to his confession in a Shariah Court that he wills to become an apostate that he will be prescribed the due corporal punishment.
Thus even if there is enough evidence and a case of apostasy has been brought against one in a Shariah Court, all the person has to do is declare the ‘shahaadah’ or testification of faith in Court to save himself from the prescribed punishment!The wisdom behind this Law of prescribing corporal punishment for apostasy in Islam is only to manifest the value and worth of the declaration of ‘shahaadah’ which enables one to enter Islam, and the severity of the crime of becoming an apostate in the Sight of Allah, Islamic Law, and the believers.; for unless and until one, of his own free will and without any coercion or force, himself declares his apostasy in a Shariah Court of a righteous Islamic State, the prescribed punishment of apostasy cannot be implemented.
IslamHelpline, accesessed June 26, 2013, http://www.islamhelpline.com/node/3459.
- Patricia Crone. No Compulsion in Religion: Q 2:256 in Mediaeval and Modern Interpretation In Le Shi’isme Imamite Quarante ans apres: Hommage ‘a Etan Kohlberg. Edited by Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, Meir M. Bar-Asher and Simon Hopkins. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2009, pp. 131–78
- Yohanan Friedmann, Tolerance and Coercion in Islam: Interfaith Relations in the Muslim Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003
- Friedmann, 2003, pp. 100-101
- Tafsir of Ibn Kathir, Surah Al-Baqarah, ayat 253 to 286, Surah Al-Imran, ayat 1 to 92, abridged by Sheikh Muhammad Nasib Ar-Rafa‘i [Al-Firdous Ltd., London, 1999: First Edition], Part 3, pp. 37-38