16 June 2019  Hijri Date: 13 شوال 1440
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8. Why peoples of all eras have embraced Islam?

During the tenth century, Islam was the predominant religion of an area covering more than half of the then-known world. Its adherents inhabited three continents: from the Pyrenees and Siberia up to China and New Guinea, and from Morocco to the southern tip of Africa.

The Muslims’ attitude toward the people they conquered is quite clear in the instructions given by the Rightly-Guided Caliphs:

Always keep fear of God in your mind; remember that you cannot afford to do anything without His grace. Do not forget that Islam is a mission of peace and love. Keep the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) before you as a model of bravery and piety. Do not destroy fruit trees or fertile fields in your paths. Be just, and spare the feelings of the vanquished. Respect all religious persons who live in hermitages or convents and spare their edifices. Do not kill civilians. Do not outrage the chastity of women and the honor of the conquered. Do not harm old people and children. Do not accept any gifts from the civil population of any place. Do not billet your soldiers or officers in the houses of civilians. Do not forget to perform your daily prayers. Fear God. Remember that death will inevitably come to everyone of you at some time or other, even if you are thousands of miles away from a battlefield; therefore be always ready to face death. [1]

An historical episode, recorded by the famous Muslim historian Baladhuri in his Futuh al-Buldan, tells how pleased the indigenous peoples were with their Muslim conquerors and is of great significance:

When Heraclius, Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire (610-41), massed his troops against the Muslims, and the Muslims heard that they were coming to meet them, they refunded the tribute they had taken from the inhabitants of Hims, saying: “We are too busy to support and protect you. Take care of yourselves.” But the people of Hims replied: “We like your rule and justice far better than our former state of oppression and tyranny. We shall indeed, with your help, repulse Heraclius’ army from the city.” The Jews rose and said: “We swear by the Torah, no governor of Heraclius shall enter Hims unless we are first vanquished and exhausted.” Saying this, they closed and guarded the city gates. The Christians and Jews of cities that had capitulated did the same. When, by God’s help, Heraclius’ army was defeated and the Muslims won, they opened the gates of their cities, went out with singers and musicians, and paid the tribute. [2] 

Along with many other reasons, Islam spread because of its followers’ exemplary lifestyle and unceasing efforts to transmit its message throughout the world. These lie at the root of Islam’s conquest of hearts. Islamic universalism is closely associated with the principle of amr bi al-ma‘ruf (enjoining the good), for this is how Muslims are to spread Islam. This principle seeks to convey Islam’s message to everyone, without exception, and to establish a model community that displays Islam to the world: Thus We have made of you an Ummah justly balanced, that you might be witnesses (models) for the peoples, and the Messenger has been a witness for you (2:143).

Muslims, both as individuals and as a community, therefore have certain goals to achieve: communicating Islam to others, conveying the truth to everyone, striving to prevent oppression and tyranny, and establishing justice. To do this, they must live an exemplary life. Thus Islam’s moral and ethical values usually have played an important part in its spread. [3]

This is not the only example of non-Muslims’ preference for Muslim rule over that of their own coreligionists. Byzantium’s Orthodox Christians openly expressed their preference for the Ottoman turban in Istanbul to the hats of the Catholic cardinals. Elisee Reclus, a Nineteenth-century French traveler, wrote that the Muslim Turks allowed all non-Muslims to observe their religious duties and rituals, and that the sultan’s Christian subjects were freer to live their own lives than those Christians whose lands were ruled by a member of a rival Christian sect [4]. Popescu Ciocanel pays tribute to the Muslim Turks by stating that the Romanians were lucky to have Turkish, instead of Russian and Austrian, rulers. Otherwise, he points out, “no trace of the Romanian nation would have remained.” [5] 

Brockelman, usually very unsympathetic and partial, also recognizes Islam’s religious values as the main factor for its spread [6]. Rosenthal writes: “The more important factor for the spread of Islam is religious law of Islam (Sharia which is an inclusive, all-embracing, all-comprehensive way of thinking and living) which was designed to cover all manifestations of life.” [7]

Islam also spread rapidly because of its tolerance. Toynbee praises the Muslims’ tolerance toward the Peoples of the Book after comparing it with the Christians’ attitude toward Muslims in their lands [8]. Link attributes Islam’s spread to its credible principles and tolerance, persuasion, and other attractions [9]. Makarios, a Seventeenth-century Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, compared the Poles’ harsh treatment of the Russian Orthodox to the Ottomans’ tolerant attitude toward Orthodox Christians and prayed for the sultans [10].

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