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Religious Tolerance in the Koran

The common stereotype that people have regarding Muslims is that they force people to accept Islam by threatening to behead them if they do not. However, there are many passages in the Koran that teach tolerance for other religions. In this blog, I intend to quote some of them.

The most often quoted verse from the Koran regarding religious tolerance is Koran 2:256.

There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejecteth false deities and believeth in Allah hath grasped a firm handhold which will never break. Allah is Hearer, Knower. (Koran 2:256, Pickthall)

What this verse says is that no one should be compelled to accept Islam. According to this verse, if someone sees the truths presented by Islam then he will convert to Islam out of his own free will.

There are many other verses, however, that teach the idea of no compulsion in addition to this one. These next two verses from the same chapter say that no one can believe in the existence of only one God unless God Himself helps him to believe.

As for the Disbelievers, Whether thou warn them or thou warn them not it is all one for them; they believe not. Allah hath sealed their hearing and their hearts, and on their eyes there is a covering. Theirs will be an awful doom. (Koran 2:6,7, Pickthall)

The “disbelievers” in this verse are the polytheistic idolaters, not the Jews and Christians. The sealing of the hearts by God in unbelief can be found in the Bible, too. (See Romans 1:18-32; II Corinthians 3:14,15; II Thessalonians 2:11,12.) Only God can unseal their hearts. In several places in the Koran it says that Jews and Christians worship Allah, like the Muslims do. For example:

Say (unto the People of the Scripture): Dispute ye with us concerning Allah when He is our Lord and your Lord? Ours are our works and yours your works. We look to Him alone. (Koran 2:139, Pickthall)


And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender. (Koran 29:46, Pickthall)


Unto this, then, summon (O Muhammad). And be thou upright as thou art commanded, and follow not their lusts, but say: I believe in whatever Scripture Allah hath sent down, and I am commanded to be just among you. Allah is our Lord and your Lord. Unto us our works and unto you your works; no argument between us and you. Allah will bring us together, and unto Him is the journeying. (Koran 42:15, Pickthall)

The People of the Scripture are the Jews and the Christians. I have already cited in a previous blog, “Who is Allah?,”  Koran 5:44-48 which says that Jews, Christians, and Muslims each have their own traced out way.

Another passage which teaches that conversion comes from God is this one in the Sixth Surah.

They who are idolaters will say: Had Allah willed, we had not ascribed (unto Him) partners neither had our fathers, nor had we forbidden aught. Thus did those who were before them give the lie (to Allah’s messengers) till they tasted of the fear of Us. Say: Have ye any knowledge that ye can adduce for Us? Lo! ye follow naught but an opinion, Lo! ye do but guess. Say – For Allah’s is the final argument – Had He willed He could indeed have guided all of you. (Koran 6:149,150, Pickthall)

These verses were addressed to idolaters, not to Christians and Jews. The lie in this passage is that it is God’s fault that they are idolaters. Free will is also implied in the text.

This verse comes after the infamous “Sword Verse” (Koran 9:5). The Sword Verse often gets quoted by those who want to vilify Muslims as being intolerant of people of other faiths, but the verse after that one is never quoted by them.

And if anyone of the idolaters seeketh thy protection (O Muhammad), then protect him so that he may hear the Word of Allah, and afterward convey him to his place of safety. That is because they are a folk who know not. (Koran 9:6, Pickthall)

Notice that the idolater who seeks Muhammad’s protection is not required to convert. He is only required to hear the “Word of Allah.” Afterwards, he is supposed to be conveyed to his place of safety. The ones who are being slain in verse 5 of this chapter of the Koran are those idolaters with whom the Muslims were at war. The reason for being at war with them is because of religious persecution. Some idolaters were persecuting the Muslims and turning them out of their homes. Read verse 4 of the same chapter. Also, read verses 9-13. In Koran 9:13, it says that the idolaters attacked the Muslims first. So, the Muslims were actually fighting the war in self-defense. However, some of the idolaters might become Muslims of their own free will. If that happens, then the Muslims are not supposed to fight against them. I will deal with this passage in more detail in a future blog.

And if thy Lord willed, all who are in the earth would have believed together. Wouldst thou (Muhammad) compel men until they are believers? It is not for any soul to believe save by the permission of Allah. He hath set uncleanness upon those who have no sense. Say: Behold what is in the heavens and the earth! But revelations and warnings avail not folk who will not believe. (Koran 10:100-102, Pickthall)

Like 6:149, 150, this passage teaches that conversion comes from God, but free will is also implied on the part of the one hearing the preaching of Muhammad. We Orthodox Christians call this synergy. God working with man and man working with God. According to the Bible, God grants us repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18) and faith (Philippians 1:29). However, we still have a free will. (Revelation 22:17) The concept of synergy is best expressed in this passage in Philippians.

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12,13, KJV)

The passage cited from the Tenth Surah of the Koran expresses a similar notion. One cannot believe in the existence of only one God without the permission of God, but one still needs to use his own mind (i.e., “have sense”) and free will. “Revelations and warnings avail not folk who WILL NOT believe.”

Another passage that teaches that Muslims should not force people to accept Islam is in the Fifteenth Surah.

It may be that those who disbelieve wish ardently that they were Muslims. Let them eat and enjoy life, and let (false) hope beguile them. They will come to know! (Koran 15:2,3)

In this verse, it does not say to threaten to cut off people’s heads until they convert. It says basically to just leave them alone. This passage from the 23rd Surah expresses the same idea.

But they (mankind) have broken their religion among them into sects, each group rejoicing in its tenets. So leave them in their error till a time. (Koran 23:53,54, Pickthall)

Another verse that teaches that one has free will to accept Islam or reject it is in the eighteenth Surah.

Say: (It is) the truth from the Lord of you (all). Then whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve. (Koran 18:30, Pickthall)

According to the Koran, God did not send Muhammad to be a warlord. He sent him to be a proclaimer of good news and a warner to people. The good news is that people who worship and obey the one true God and do not worship other gods in addition to Him will enjoy the rewards and pleasures of Paradise. To those who do not obey and worship the true God, he warned them that they will suffer in Hell forever.

Your Lord is Best Aware of you. If He will, He will have mercy on you, or if He will, He will punish you. We have not sent thee (O Muhammad) as a warden over them. (Koran 17:54, Pickthall)

With truth have We sent it down, and with truth hath it descended. And We have sent thee as naught else save a bearer of good tidings and a warner. (Koran 17:105, Pickthall)

We send not the messengers save as bearers of good news and warners. Those who disbelieve contend with falsehood in order to refute the Truth thereby. And they take Our revelations and that wherewith they are threatened as a jest. (Koran 18:57, Pickthall)

Say: O mankind! I am only a plain warner unto you. (Koran 22:49, Pickthall)

We are Best Aware of what they say, and thou (O Muhammad) art in no wise a compeller over them. But warn by the Qur’an him who feareth My threat. (Koran 50:45, Pickthall)

 The Koran says that God will decide the fate of those who have a religion other than Islam as well as that of those who accept the Koran.

Lo! those who believe (this revelation), and those who are Jews, and the Sabaeans and the Christians and the Magians and the idolaters – Lo! Allah will decide between them on the Day of Resurrection. Lo! Allah is Witness over all things. (Koran 22:17, Pickthall)

There is no need for any Muslim to take God’s justice in his own hands. God will judge them for their faith, lack of faith, and obedience or the lack thereof. Muhammad could not force someone to sincerely believe according to this passage in the Koran.

For verily thou (Muhammad) canst not make the dead to hear, nor canst thou make the deaf to hear the call when they have turned to flee. Nor canst thou guide the blind out of their error. Thou canst make none to hear save those who believe in Our revelations so that they surrender (unto Him). (Koran 30:52,53, Pickthall)

Finally, the 109th Surah expresses the sentiment of Muhammad toward unbelievers, that is, idolaters.

Say: O disbelievers! I worship not that which ye worship; nor worship ye that which I worship. And I shall not worship that which ye worship. Nor will ye worship that which I worship. Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion. (Koran 109, Pickthall)

Muslims are supposed to follow Muhammad’s example and only be bearers of good news and warners. They are not supposed to pass judgment on another person’s  religious faith. They are supposed to leave that to God. They are not supposed to force people to accept Islam because only God can grant someone permission to believe in the existence of only one God and people have a free will. Even when Muslims are at war against idolaters and an idolater asks for their protection, they are only required to proclaim the “Word of Allah” to them, but they still are not supposed to force him to accept Islam. Afterwards, that person is supposed to be taken to a place of safety. So, the Koran actually does teach religious tolerance and Muslims are not supposed to force other people to become Muslims. Those who have done so in the past or are doing that today are not practicing the teachings of the Koran.

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