The Mythical ‘Koranic Injunction Against Compulsion in Islam’

by Andrew C. McCarthy

The persecution of Christians, particularly in Islamic countries, and the indifference of Western elites (particularly the Obama administration which, as Ed Whelan observes, cavalierly adopts the rhetoric of war in its campaign against believing Christians), are outrages that must not be allowed to stand. It is great comfort today to find Conrad Black and Nina Shea shedding light on NRO. Nevertheless, I hope my friend Nina does not mind if I rail for a moment at her allusion to the mythical “Koranic injunction against compulsion in Islam,” which she suggests is transgressed by the fact that “Christians held in Saudi prisons for practicing their faith can be pressured to convert to Islam.”

I admit this is a bugbear of mine, but it is worth hammering because it is the very core of our failure to grasp classical Islamic doctrine. As I relate in The Grand Jihad, the Koranic verse in question is sura 2:256, which states in pertinent part, “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” We should know it by heart at this point, so often does it roll off the tongues of Islamist charlatans and their Western echo chambers — I’d be surprised if Georgetown hasn’t yet draped the passage over the Christian inscription it compliantly concealed at the Obama administration’s urging in 2009.

Do you seriously believe that we have a firmer grasp of this injunction the Saudis do?

The passage means that Islam forbids coercive conversion. But Islam most certainly does not prohibit coercing conformance with sharia. It is sharia (Islamic law), not the desire that everyone become a Muslim, that catalyzes both jihadist terror and the stealthier “dawa” campaign to infiltrate Islamic legal principles into our law and institutions. This should be obvious: Sharia contemplates that there will be non-Muslims — they are a source of revenue because they are taxed for the privilege of living under the protection of the Islamic authority.

The point of sharia, the reason for its palpable elevation of Muslims and reduction of non-Muslims to a lower caste (dhimmitude), is to persuade non-Muslims of the good sense of becoming a Muslim. The idea is that once Allah’s law has been implemented, there will be no need for compulsion in religion (i.e., compulsion to convert to Islam) because it will be crystal clear that Islam is the highest form of life.

If we look around at the evidence of sense, at the pervasive violence and intimidation, it couldn’t be more clear that Islam is not against compulsion. But it is compulsion to accept the Islamic legal structure, which is not a set of religious guidelines but a full-scale social system, regulating everything from economics to hygiene. It is true, no one will make you become a Muslim, and for sound financial reasons a sharia state will let you remain an infidel as long as you pay the freight and meekly accept second-class status (“feel [yourselves] subdued” as sura 9:29 puts it). But we really must stop repeating the canard that Islam is a “religion of peace” that forbids compulsion. The Saudis are not violating scripture; they are enforcing it.