Friday 31 July 2009

There shall be no compulsion in religion

(Quran 2:256) "There shall be no compulsion in religion: Truth has become distinct from error, and whoever rejects false deities and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold, which never dbreaks. And Allah is Hearing, Knowing."

The placement of this verse in the Quran remarkable. It immediately follows Ayatul Kursi, which is the most read, most widely memorized, and most prolifically displayed verse in the Quran. So, this statement regarding compulsion is imbedded within potent statements on creed. It may be the only verse of its kind, but clearly Allah intended it to be well known... and therefore well understood. The only published explanations of this verse that I can find are concerned entirely with prohibiting forced conversion. This is a reaction formation to attacks against Islam regarding how it spread historically. It is not an actionable interpretation by Muslims for Muslims. They do not discuss the implications of prohibiting coercion in other matters. So, I've done a little processing and I'd like to decompress the issue as I see it.

Allah is not careless with words. This sentence is only four words. La Ikrah fi deen. "No compulsion in religion." Every scholar I've ever heard discuss the word deen says that "religion" is a poor translation, and that deen is a complete and comprehensive way of life. Why would Allah use a word that means a complete way of life to describe a truth that only applies to a very specific instance? Could He not have said, "No compulsion in dawah?Ó"

The verse is a logical syllogism. Statements of evidence that support a premise. The Quran is often constructed in this format, and this appeal to reason is what makes it distinct from other scriptures. Over and over Allah tells us, "Will you not use reason?" and that He despises those who don't. "The worst of creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use their intellect to understand." (Quran 8:22) So, let's break down the syllogism. Given that Allah is omniscient, that tawhid is virtuous, and that Truth is distinct from error, therefore religion must be free from coercion.

Reason dictates that any instance where the evidence is true the conclusion must also be true, and the evidence presented is true in all instances, therefore the premise MUST be true in all instances. It cannot be true for conversion and false for other matters. How can the premise be abrogated when the supporting evidence remains? This is the principle of nonaggression. "Surely, Allah loves not the aggressors" (Quran 2:190) i.e. the initiators of coercion.

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