Indeed, it is generally held that the
rise of Islam in the early period was due to a wave of ‘Arab Imperialism’
that shook the super powers of those times and forced them into submission.
In an astounding series of conquests, country after country fell to the
sword of Islam. It was not long before the Muslim empire stretched from the
shores of the Mediterranean in the west to as far as Indonesia in the east.
The fact that all these conquests took place
is established history and hence cannot be denied in any way. However, the
thesis that it was ‘Arab Imperialism’ that accounted for these conquests is
something which cannot be condoned. While looking at the spread of Islam in
the early period, one must resort to the basis which the Qur’ān itself
offers for these conquests:
It has already been explained in a previous
query that those who are
divinely invested with the status of shuhadā ‘ala al-nās (witnesses to the
truth before people) are ‘used’ and ‘employed’ by the Almighty to punish
people who deny the truth in spite of being convinced about it. According to
the Qur’ān, Muhammad (sws) and his Companions (rta) were invested with this
Consequently, the Companions (rta) of the
Prophet (sws) in their collective capacity were only enforcing the
implication of their status as witnesses of the religion of the truth. Their
conquests were not basically aimed at spreading Islam as such. Their basic
objective was to subjugate and punish people who had deliberately denied the
truth. Muhammad (sws) himself initiated their task by writing letters to
eight heads of state and thereby demarcated the areas where the Companions (sws)
could go. It was only these areas upon which the process of shahādah would
get completed before the Companions (rta) would reach them.
However, after the departure of the
Companions (rta) from this world, no one has the authority to subjugate
people in the name of Islam. This is so because no one after them has been
conferred the status of Shuhadā (witness to the truth). Moreover, the
conquests that took place after their departure by their followers must be
viewed separately. Whether they were justified or not must be viewed in the
light of the Qur’ān.
Summing up, it can be said that it is
erroneous to conclude that Islam was spread by the sword. The whole exercise
of the Companions (rta) must be viewed as a specific practice of the
Almighty according to which He punished people who deny the truth even
though they are fully convinced about it.