The Spread of Islam by the Sword
Question/Criticism: Al-Islam is a religion of war. Throughout history it was spread by the sword and it forced people to convert. Your Qur’an teaches Muslims that those they conquer must convert or die.
First of all I will gladly offer all the riches I possess to anyone who can show where the verse "convert or die" is located in the Qur’an. There is no such verse in the Qur’an! This is a terrible distortion that has no basis in truth. Instead of "convert or die" you would find verses such as the following:
Let there be no compulsion in religion; Truth stands out clear from error; whoever rejects evil and believes in G-d hath grasped the most trustworthy hand hold, that never breaks. And G-d heareth and knoweth all things." (Verse 2:216)
"Say, 'The truth is from your Lord': Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject (it):…( Verse 18:29)
"If it had been thy Lord's will, they would all have believed,- all who are on earth! Wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe!" (Verse 10:99)
The above verses and many more in the Qur’an, shows that Al-Islam is against forcing people to become Muslims. Al-Islam believes in freedom of expression where we all can choose of our own free will to follow the religion of our choice. Only Allah can touch the hearts of human beings and as Muslims we cannot force anyone to accept Al-Islam. Those who force others to accept Al-Islam are not following what Al-Islam teaches and are not true Muslims.
The history of Al-Islam has not been one where people were forced at the point of a sword to convert. In Indonesia where the largest number of Muslims in the world live, there were never forced conversions. This is true of Malaysia, India, Africa, Europe, America and wherever Muslims are found. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. After 9/11, Muslims experienced one of the highest rates of conversion here in the US despite the enormous negative portrayal of Muslims as terrorists. What sword did American Muslims use to make that happen?
When Muslims ruled Spain it became the marvel of the Middle Ages, and when all of Europe was plunged in barbaric ignorance and strife, it alone held the torch of learning and civilization bright and shining before the Western world. The reasons for the rapid advance and conquest of Spain are numerous but one stands out more than others: The generous terms the Moors offered which contrasted markedly with the harsh rule of the Visigoth rulers before them. Approaching Toledo in 711 C.E, the Muslim ruler, Tariq ibn Ziyad offered that anyone who wished to leave could do so while those who stayed could retain property, practice their religion freely and be governed by their own rules and laws. This was all in line with what the Qur’an taught and the example demonstrated in the life of Prophet Muhammad.
It is interesting to note that in 1602, after the Christians recaptured Spain, one of the great charges they brought against the Muslims was that Muslims were too tolerant in religion. The Archbishop of Valencia, in recommending the expulsion of Muslims from Spain stated, "that they (the Muslims) highly praised nothing as much as liberty of conscience in all matters of religion, which the Turks, and all other Mohammedans, allow their subjects to enjoy". Although brought up as a negative charge against Muslims, this was indeed a great compliment paid unwittingly showing the tolerance practiced by Spanish Muslims.
The idea that Al-Islam was spread by the sword and forced people to become Muslims is not sanctioned by the Qur’an or from real evidences in Islamic history. There are many historians and distinguished people from all over the world who are non-Muslims who also say the same thing. Here is a listing of just a few:
1. From a Christian, De Lacy O'Leary, Historian from his book "the sword of Al-Islam".
"History makes it clear however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Al-Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated" (Al-Islam at the Crossroads, London, 1923 p. 8).
2. From an Israeli Jew, Uri Avnery, Journalist, humanitarian and former Knesset member:
"Muslim Spain was a paradise for the Jews, and there has never been a Jewish Holocaust in the Muslim world. Even pogroms were extremely rare. Muhammad decreed that the "Peoples of the Book" (Jews and Christians) be treated tolerantly, subject to conditions that were incomparably more liberal than those in contemporary Europe.
"The Muslims never imposed their religion by force on Jews and Christians, as shown by the fact that almost all the Jews expelled from Catholic Spain settled in the Muslim countries and flourished there.
"After centuries of Muslim rule, Greeks and Serbs remained thoroughly Christian. When peace is established between Israel and the Arab world, the poisonous fruits of anti-Semitism will most probably disappear from the Arab world (as will the poisonous fruits of Arab-hating in our society.)"
3. From a Hindu, Mahatma Ghandi liberator of India from British colonial rule:
'I become more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Al-Islam in those days in the scheme for life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet, the scrupulous regard for his pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in G-d and his own mission. These and not the sword, carried everything before them and surmounted every trouble.' (M.K. Gandhi, Young India, 1924).
4. From an Atheist, Mathematician and Philosopher Bertrand Russell:
I have always been told throughout my youth of the fanaticism of the Mohammedans, and especially that story of the destruction of the library at Alexandria. Well, I believed all these stories, but when I came to look into the history of the times concerned, I had a great many shocks. In the first place, I discovered that the library of Alexandria was destroyed a great many times, and the first time was by Julius Caesar. But the last time was supposed to have been by the Mohammedans, and for this I found no justification whatsoever. Nor did I find that the Mohammedans were fanatical. The contests between Catholics, Nestorians, and Monophysites were bitter and persecuting to the last degree. But the Mohammedans, when they conquered Christian countries, allowed the Christians to be perfectly free, provided they pay a tribute. The only penalty for being a Christian was that you had to pay a tribute that Mohammedans did not have to pay. This proved completely successful, and the immense majority of the population became Mohammedans, but not through any fanaticism on the part of the Mohammedans. On the contrary they, in the earlier centuries of their power, represented free thought and tolerance to a degree that the Christians did not emulate until quite recent times.
Bertrand Russell (Eng. philosopher, mathematician, 1872-1970): "Reading History As It Is Never Written" 
5. From a Christian, Sir George Bernard Shaw, Writer:
'I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that assimilating capacity to the changing phase of existence which can make itself appeal to every age. I have studied him - that wonderful man - and in my opinion far from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the saviour of humanity. I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world, he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness: I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today. (G.B. Shaw, The Genuine Islam)