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The issue of freedom of belief has been a recurrent topic of debate in Islam. For example,

Qur'an 10:99 states:

And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed - all of them entirely. Then, [O Muhammad], would you compel the people in order that they become believers?

Which clearly shows the futility of coercing people to believe. Meanwhile a Hadith reported by Bukhari and Muslim (Bukhari 8:387 and Muslim 1:33) provides a very different view:

I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah's Apostle,..., then they save their lives and property from me except for Islamic laws and then their reckoning (accounts) will be done by Allah.

Of course there are other verses, but let's concentrate on these two. Context is important in understanding the Hadith and the verses of the Qur'an of course but both these cases appear to be general, and there appears to be no context attached. How do you reconcile these two seemingly 'contradictory' views?

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People have choice to believe in whatever they like, they are not free to do so but have the choice:

لَا إِكْرَ‌اهَ فِي الدِّينِ ۖ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ الرُّ‌شْدُ مِنَ الْغَيِّ ...

Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error ... [2:256]

إِنَّا هَدَيْنَاهُ السَّبِيلَ إِمَّا شَاكِرً‌ا وَإِمَّا كَفُورً‌ا

We showed him the Way: whether he be grateful or ungrateful (rests on his will). [76:3]

If we were free then there would have been no punishment even in the Hereafter which is not the case.

However, although Dunya (world) is not the place for Justice and people are allowed to do many wrong things in stealth, but anything that one does and it has social effect is ruled by social rulings introduced by Islam. Even every small social effect has its own respond back, advertising for wrong beliefs is just one of those wrong actions which have social effects. Having a special wrong belief is not a Dunyaish crime (it is crime but will be treated in the Hereafter), but advertising for it and hindering the others from the path of Allah and seeking in it something crooked, then we are ordered to withstand them and forbid them from what is wrong. However, according to Islam (I know only the Shia part) this forbidding from what is wrong has many different levels:

First the person who identifies the wrong social action by others should hate that action and at the same time should not feel like he is better than those wrongdoers, everyone may go wrong even ourselves, so encountering them should be like a father is to encounter his child, with kindness.

Second, the one who is to forbid the wrong action should avoid direct apposing, but should instead change in his relationship with those people so that maybe they would understand he is sad for what they have done, or himself do the right deed so that they understand what they have done was wrong. If this didn't work, then he should say their deed was wrong, if it didn't stop them there are higher levels of forbidding the wrong deeds.

When it comes to the level of Islamic government, then forbidding from what is wrong can come into social punishments and even fighting against wrongdoers, like those who advertise worshiping idols.

All these stages of forbidding from what is wrong has their own rulings and are not arbitrary, and none happen to really change the mind of the wrongdoers, but to stop their social effects, defending the social freedom, no one is allowed to pass the limits of him/herself in a society and overtake the rights of the others.

We have yet something about mentioning people what they personally think and believe, but that's not like commanding or forbidding, but only as a sincere advisor.

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First let's assume that this Hadith is Sahih

Secondly: There is no contradiction between fighting against disbelievers to make them believers AND avoiding to compel people because:

1) Compulsion is philosophically impossible in beliefs. Imagine that your eyes are closed while standing in front of something, then you open your eyes and find a white wall before you, therefore you can undoubtedly say this sentence: "There is a white wall in front of me". Who on earth can make you think otherwise? Is it possible for you to be compelled to BELIEVE that there is NOT a white wall in front of you?!

2)Prophet Mohammad was ordered to fight against people(by any means including reasoning) in order to convince them to believe and testify that none has the right to be worshiped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah's Apostle, NOT to compel them to believe so because it is impossible as mentioned in passing.

As a result. Fighting is completely different from compelling

  • Well, that's the point. If it is impossible for the Prophet to compel mankind to believe anyway (even if he tried), why then will God tell him not to do so? The verse seems to indicate that this is possible but urges the Prophet not to do so which will only imply that the verse is referring to 'physical compulsion'. Don't forget other verses that say Muhammad was sent only as a warner to mankind. – Seeker May 16 '14 at 20:54
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    No problem. Even if we accept that the verse is talking about Physical force, (not Physical compulsion) there is no contradiction between them because as I said before fighting which has a general meaning, is different from forcing. Additionally it is highly probable that the Hadith is talking about Jihad which is in complete harmony with Freedom of choice. – Amin May 17 '14 at 9:55
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"Until they testify that none has the right to be worshiped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah's Apostle" may be interpreted this way: Do not stop from fighting, regarding rules, never stop, even after many-many (thousands, millions) years, stop only if there is no person who disbelieve, so fighting is not needed.

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