The common conception is that Islam was spreading by sword.

No matter how you cut it, Muhammad was not only a religious leader, but a military leader who waged war against his enemies as soon as he had the means. Following his example, Muslims quickly carved out an enormous empire. And what ended Muslim expansion was not a change of heart or doctrine, but European military might.

Furthermore, the traditional doctrine of jihad remains alive to this day.

This means that Christians should not accept the sweeping claim that Islam is a religion of peace. There’s just too much contrary evidence.

However, the Islam defenders say ( of course) that this is not true:

Additionally, if one considers the small number of Muslims who initially spread Islam from Spain and Morocco in the West to India and China in the East, one would realize that they were far too few to force people to be members of a religion against their will. Additionally, the great empire and civilization established by the Muslims had great staying power -- its citizens were proud to be part of it. The spread of Islam stands in contrast to the actions of the followers of Christianity, who since the time of the Emperor Constantine have made liberal use of the sword - often basing their conduct on Biblical verses. This was especially true of the colonization of South America and Africa, where native peoples were systematically wiped-out or forced to convert. It is also interesting to note that when the Mongols invaded and conquered large portions of the Islamic Empire, instead of destroying the religion, they adopted it. This is a unique occurrence in history - the conquerors adopting the religion of the conquered! Since they were the victors, they certainly could not have been forced to become Muslims! Ask any of the over 1.8 billion Muslims alive in the world today whether they were forced! The largest Muslim country in the world today is Indonesia --- and there were never any battles fought there! So where was the sword? How could someone be forced to adhere to a spiritually rewarding and demanding religion like Islam?

So which is true during the time of Muslim conquest? Was Islam spread by sword?

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    It was spread by the sword in those areas where Islam conquered, and wasn't in other areas where it didn't.
    – Semaphore
    Oct 16, 2015 at 8:27
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    I'm uncomfortable about the sources; both have very obvious bias. For nearly every question in the universe you can find two sources with opposing bias. I would begin my research by seeking a more neutral set of sources and then by defining what is meant by "spread by the sword". as Semaphore points out , the term is a little like asking whether it is nighttime on planet earth. It is night in some places, day in other places and there is a wide area of twilight where it is difficult to tell.
    – MCW
    Oct 16, 2015 at 8:34
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    @Graviton Islam didn't force convert but non-muslims in a muslim state had to pay special taxes for being protected by muslims (muslim forces) they where called Dhimis. So now comes the human part if a local Muslim leader oppressed the dhimis with high taxes you could say he forced them either to leave, to pay or to become muslims, but this isn't fully supported by Islamic teaching!
    – Medi1Saif
    Oct 16, 2015 at 9:45
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    Whited's law, "It's a little more complicated than that..." Is it force if the Imam is accompanied by 200 warrirors? If the next village over was put to the sword for resisting conversion? If failure to convert leads to unbearably heavily levels of taxation? If trade networks are only available to believers? there are many levels of "force".
    – MCW
    Oct 16, 2015 at 16:49
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    This is subjective, almost baiting question. First of all, the flag of Saudi Arabia has a freakin sword right on it, so I don't know what you are getting at it. Just trying to bash Islam or point out its history of violence? This is not an objective historical question. Oct 16, 2015 at 17:23

1 Answer 1


I'll not answer the question of whether Islam spread by sword or not fully, as I think a clear yes or no -as it seems to me- is a bit hard to proof. Instead, I'll focus on whether rules of Islam could have been used to force non-Muslims to become Muslims

The Islamic theology includes a special jurisprudence for non-Muslims who live within a Muslim territory. Muslims call those non-Muslims Dhimmi's ذمي‎ or ahl-a-Dhimma أهل الذمة. (The linked Wikipedia article says a lot more than I will explain here.)

According to this, a Dhimmi is a citizen of an Islamic State who is protected by the State. Those Dhimmi's could even have their own court.

The Dhimmi status was originally applied to Jews, Christians and Sabians. Later, it was expanded to cover most other non-Muslim religions.

In some cases, those Dhimmi's have been living separate from Muslims, or were required to wear special clothes, in order to distinguish them from Muslims. (It was also the case for slaves AFAIK; for example, slave women were not allowed to cover their heads, as was usual for free Muslim women.) For example, in Morocco, when you hear a district called "Mellah", you can safely conclude that it was a former district where only Jews used to live.

Dhimmi's used to sign a contract which would fix the rules of their protection by the Muslim authorities and for this, they would have to pay special taxes. A benefit, would be that they would never have to fight for the Muslim State in case of war!

Nevertheless, local authorities (Governors, Sovereigns, Leaders) could have oppressed their non-Muslim citizens using these taxes and in this way force them to chose between:

  • Leaving the country/region
  • Paying the taxes and staying as Dhimmi's
  • Become Muslims (and not have to pay the special taxes)

As you might find in the linked article, the Quran doesn't fully support this. As additional evidence, I could add this Verse, which was quoted by the contemporary scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi when he tried to explain that the name Dhimmi isn't up to date, and that Muslims should cancel it and replace it by calling them citizens and not to make differences between Muslim citizens and non-Muslim citizens (according to the Arabic wikipedia-Article).

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