I enjoyed your response to the issue of declaring someone “kafir”1. There was one clarification or piece that I wished to discuss. This particular verse (Al-Taubah 9:5) is interesting because it seems to stray from the general mercy that the Qur’an expresses throughout its pages. It seems as though the punishment is rather harsh and that there is an element of forced conversion.
Now how does one interpret this in the light of the verse speaking towards no “compulsion in religion”. Surely, a person who is threatened to be killed or convert is under some sort of compulsion?
Could you explain?
The general principle according to which human beings are being tested in the life of this world is that “there is no compulsion in the choice of one’s religion”. However, it should be kept in mind that the essence of the test, which we – as human beings – are faced with in the life of this world is whether we – without any external compulsion – choose to live our lives as the seekers of truth and as the seekers of the mercy of the Almighty or as the rejecters of the truth and the seekers of the wrath of the Merciful. The result of our behavior shall either be everlasting bliss of Paradise or the unending torture of Hellfire. Man, generally, is allowed to live till the time that he has either proven himself to be deserving of the life of Paradise or till the time that he is left with no excuse of his rejection of the truth and has thereby proved himself deserving of the eternal tortures of hellfire. Whatever the case maybe, the final decision regarding the success or the failure of an individual shall be announced on the Day of Judgment. This is the general principle according to which the Almighty governs life in this world.
If we closely look at the mentioned principle, we shall see that the phrase “there is no compulsion in religion” only implies that man is generally not forced into submission of the truth, if he opts against it. However, if he is rebellious to the truth, he shall then have to face the dire consequences of his rebellion in the hereafter. Obviously, the dire consequences that he shall have to face do not in any case refute the principle of “No compulsion in religion”.
Summarizing this principle, we may say that the attribute of justice, which is a basic attribute of the Almighty, is generally kept dormant in the life of this world. It was essential, for the purposes of carrying out the test of the life of this world, to keep this attribute dormant. Obviously, if evil was instantly punished and good was immediately rewarded, there would actually have been no freedom. No one, in such a life, would have had the courage or even the desire to do evil. Thus, God kept His justice dormant and promised us that soon there shall be a day in which good and evil shall meet separate ends. That day shall be the Day of Judgment.
The above, as I have stated earlier, is the general principle governing our lives in this world. One exception to this principle is the time when a messenger (Rasu’l) of the Almighty is sent in a people. The Qur’an tells us that when a messenger of the Almighty is sent in a people, the decision of their ultimate success or failure is not deferred until the Day of Judgment. If they submit to the truth, the administration of their reward is initiated in the life of this world. On the contrary, if they persist in their rejection of the truth, the administration of their punishment is also initiated in the life of this world. For polytheists, the punishment of rejecting the messengers of the Almighty has always been death. Examples of this punishment may be seen in human history, in the shape of the destruction of the people of Noah, Lot, Hu’d, Sho`aib, Moses (pbut) etc. The same punishment was administered on the rejecters of Mohammad (pbuh).
Thus, if we see the referred verse in this perspective, it should be obvious that it does not refute the principle of “There is no compulsion in religion”. On the contrary, it tells us that when a people reject the messenger (Rasu’l) of God, there punishment is not deferred until the Day of Judgment, as is generally the case in the test of the life of this world. The rejecters of a messenger of God are punished in this world as well as the hereafter. In other words, the referred verse is not an exception to the principle of “No compulsion in Religion”, but rather a case of exception in the administration of God’s justice, which, otherwise, is deferred till the Day of Judgment.
27th November 1999