Yet another Hindu couple has been forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan, this time in the city of Nawabshah in the province of Sindh. According to the international news sites ‘Devdiscourse’ and ‘ANI’, local media have reported that Imam Hamid Qadri solicited the forced conversion in a mosque on Friday; with the leader of the organisation representing the Barelvi movement, Jamaat Ahle Sunnat, present to witness. Barelvi is a Sunni, Sufi movement that adheres strictly to devotion to Allah and the teachings of Muhammad.
The general consensus is that in Pakistan, the forced conversion of young girls and women occurs around 1,000 times every year, and these girls and women are regularly partnered with Muslims in marriage. Considering the fearfulness that surrounds a forced conversion, it is highly likely that the numbers are substantially greater than this. According to the National Commission for Justice and Peace, a Catholic organization, most forced conversion victims are Hindu, with Christians also frequently targeted.
The main issue behind this phenomenon is whether forced conversion is permissible according to Islam or not. Popular mainstream Islamic sites, as well as outspoken Muslim activists such as Reza Aslan and Mehdi Hasan, both of whom have refused to debate Robert Spencer, tend to appeal to the Qur’an’s Surah 2:256, which states, ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’. This verse is often used to argue that forced conversion is anti-Islamic, but this is a flawed claim.
In the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir, who is recognised by many as the greatest Qur’an commentator, he states: ‘This verse [2:256] is abrogated by the verse of fighting…Therefore, all people of the world should be called to Islam. If anyone of them refuses to do so, or refuses to pay the Jizya they should be fought till they are killed. This is the meaning of compulsion.’ Ibn Kathir concludes here that if one is to be faithful to Islam and the Qur’an, one must follow verses such as Surahs 9:123, 9:29, 9:5 and 9:73.
The Islamic Prophet Muhammad himself also carried out forced conversions. The most prominent example is in Sahih Muslim 4589, where a man called Thumama ibn Uthal, of the Arab tribe Banu Hanifa, was first brought to the Prophet and then tied to the pillars of the mosque, despite offering money to the Prophet and asking for kindness. Muhammad came back repeatedly until on the third day, Thumama recited the Shahada, the Islamic profession of faith. This would most certainly be an example of the man whom Muslims consider to be the most perfect man, the pattern of conduct for all mankind, compelling another man to accept Islam. Of course, later on, Thumama said he wasn’t really Muslim, but submitted to Muhammad, supporting Ibn Kathir’s premise that no compulsion tells us that only Allah can compel anyone to become Muslim, not that someone like Muhammad shouldn’t try to subjugate them.
It logically follows from this evidence that if the Qur’an commands Muslims to fight disbelievers close to them and let them find harshness in the Muslims (9:123), and to fight those who believe not in Allah… until they pay the Jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued (9:29), and to kill the Mushrikin (idolaters, polytheists) wherever they find them (9:5), and to strive hard and be harsh against disbelievers (9:73), and the idea is promoted by a commentator like Ibn Kathir that the Prophet Muhammad forcing conversions himself, that the correct action for a faithful Muslim to undertake is to follow those commands and force unbelievers to convert to Islam. This issue, however, is virtually always ignored and never addressed in discussions about Islam in the West.