Was Islam Spread by Force?

13 April, 2017
Q Hello admin, I'm Ashemoto Prince Asare from Ghana,a devouted Roman Catholic. I have few questions about your faith not to make a criticism but to quest for an answer. North Africa especially Egypt and Libya were names most mentioned in the Bible. I know most of the inhabitants were much into their indigenous pagan ways (kemet) with much enlightenment. Muslims invaded these African state and imposed their religion on them therefore making them adherent to the Islam faith. Similarly to Constantinople present day Turkey. Why did Islam seek to use force rather than mutual consent? I stand to be pardoned and to be corrected if I presented something inaccurate.


  • The preachers of Islam followed the Quranic teaching {Let there be no compulsion in religion} (Quran 2:256). Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) set an example of peaceful preaching and discussion with followers of other religions.

Salam (Peace) Brother Ashemoto,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam. We welcome your questions as well as your criticisms.

As you know the history of the world is riddled with wars and military conquests.

The central motive behind these wars has been an urge to have political hegemony over others coupled with a desire for luxury or the enjoyment of life provided chiefly by the acquisition and control of wealth.

This is the general trend visible in human history, irrespective of race, language, or nationality.

Religion, in the sense of Revealed Divine Guidance for mankind, is meant to enable man to rise above his animal instincts or to foster the angelic in man. Religion does this by subordinating the materialistic aspects of life to the spiritual.

Worldly empires turn to dust, but the spiritual empire is for all time.

But in history we find how “religious” people forget the noble teachings of religion and seek worldly power or personal glory. This has happened in all religious history including Islam.

The French philosopher and Protestant Christian Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) has written:

The Christians have not been given orders to do anything but preach and instruct, yet, despite this, from time immemorial they have been exterminating by fire and sword all those who are not of their religion. We may feel certain that if Western Christians, instead of the Saracens and the Turks, had won the dominion over Asia, there would be today not a trace left of the Greek Church, and that they would never have tolerated Muhammadanism [archaic and derogatory term Christians called Muslim] as the ‘infidels’ have tolerated Christianity there. We (Christians) enjoy the fine advantage of being far better versed than others in the art of killing, bombarding and exterminating the Human Race.

The spread of Islam in North Africa did not happen instantaneously with the Muslim conquest, as is sometimes supposed. Indeed it took centuries for Islam to spread over the vast area of North Africa.

For a long time Muslims were only a small minority in these lands even under Muslim rule. That is to say, the expansion of territory under Arab rulers took place pretty quickly, but the spread of Islam in the region was a slow process.

The preachers of Islam followed the Quranic teaching {Let there be no compulsion in religion} (Quran 2:256). Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) set an example of peaceful preaching and discussion with followers of other religions.

There is the famous instance where he hosted the Christians of Najran (Yemen) in his Masjid in Madinah. They were not only hospitably received by him, but also were allowed to perform their Christian prayer inside the Masjid.

The foregoing means that the use of force in Islamic propagation is against the tenets of the Quran and the Sunnah (tradition) of the Prophet. Besides, one can see that a person who accepts Islam under compulsion would renounce it as soon as the threat of the sword disappears.

Such outward conversion would be to the detriment of Islam ultimately; and no reasonable person can say that a religion spread at the point of the sword would become the fastest growing religion on earth.

It is indeed an ironic fact that in several regions of the world Islam spread most rapidly when Muslim political regimes were weak or completely absent.

Muslim traders and travelers as well as the Sufis of the Indian subcontinent, through their exemplary and compassionate character have influenced more Non-Muslims to embrace Islam than powerful rulers, who were often viewed negatively by the people.  

There were also instances where Non-Muslim rulers embraced Islam without any sort of invasion. In such cases their example was followed by their people. And in several regions far from Muslim ruling centers, people came to Islam by following the example and teaching of Muslim traders and travelers.

One may wonder how Islam could spread so rapidly over large areas, even replacing Christianity, if force was not a factor. It is true that the preachers of Islam came to some of these regions in the wake of Muslim conquests.

Even if the rulers were interested only in the enjoyment of the privileges of power, there were sincere Muslims who could go about and have personal engagement with people. It is through their influence that the people learned about Islam and eventually became its followers.

The influence of Islamic ethics on Africans is described by a nineteenth century, Western writer in these words:

Polytheism disappears almost instantaneously; sorcery, with its attendant evils, gradually dies away; human sacrifice becomes a thing of the past. The general moral elevation is most marked; the natives begin for the first time in their history to dress, and that neatly. Squalid filth is replaced by some approach to personal cleanliness; hospitality becomes a religious duty; drunkenness, instead of the rule becomes a comparatively rare exception; chastity is looked upon as one of the highest, and becomes, in fact, one of the commoner virtues. It is idleness that henceforward degrades, and industry that elevates, instead of the reverse. Offences are henceforward measured by a written code instead of the arbitrary caprice of a chieftain–a step, as everyone will admit, of vast importance in the progress of a tribe […]

And A. J. Arberry points out that the reason for the spread of Islam is Islam itself and its religious values.

The rapidity of the spread of Islam, noticeably through extensive provinces which had long been Christian, is a crucial fact of history. The sublime rhetoric of the Qur’an, that inimitable symphony, the very sounds of which move men to tears and ecstasy … and the urgency of the simple message carried, holds the key to the mystery of one of the greatest cataclysms in the history of religion. When all military, political and economic factors have been exhausted, the religious impulse must still be recognized as the most vital and enduring.

An objective study of what happened in North Africa and elsewhere under Muslim rule would lead us to the conclusion that the Muslim conquests of these regions liberated the people from the darkness of ignorance and superstition, paving the way for them to submit to no one but God Almighty.

I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch. 


Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

The Untold History – How Islam Spread


A Basic Introduction to Islam (Special Folder)