The verse in Chapter 2 verse256 says
There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.
 Read the word by word translation of this verse
Tafsir of the verse from Ibn Kathir's UNABRIDGED version:

1. Allah says: (meaning) do not force anyone to embrace Islam because it is clear, and its proofs and evidences are manifest. Whoever Allah guides and opens his heart to Islam has indeed embraced it with clear evidence. Whoever Allah misguides, blinds his heart and has set a seal on his hearing and a covering on his eyes cannot embrace Islam by force.

2. The reason for the revelation of this verse was that the women of Ansar used to make a vow to convert their sons to Judaism if the latter lived. And when the tribe of Bani an-Nadhir was expelled from Madinah, some children of Ansar were among them, so their parents could not abandon them; hence Allah revealed: , narrated by Ibn Jarir, on the authority of Ibn Abbas, Abu Dawud and an-Nasa’i, on the authority of Bandar, Abu Hatim, and Ibn Hiban from the Hadith of Shu’bah, Mujahid and others.

3. However Muhammad Ibn Ishaq narrated that Ibn Abbas said: it was revealed with regard to a man from the tribe of Bani Salim Ibn Awf called al-Husayni whose two sons converted to Christianity but he was himself a Muslim. He told the Prophet: "Shall I force them to embrace Islam, they insist on Christianity", hence Allah revealed this verse.

O Prophet, fight against the disbelievers and the hypocrites and be harsh upon them. And their refuge is Hell, and wretched is the destination. (At-Tauba 9:73), and He says: O you who have believed, fight those adjacent to you of the disbelievers and let them find in you harshness. And know that Allah is with the righteous. (9:123).

5.Therefore, all people of the world should be called to Islam. If anyone of them refuses to do so, or refuses to pay the Jizya they should be fought till they are killed. This is the meaning of compulsion. In the Sahih, the Prophet said: "Allah wonders at those people who will enter Paradise in chains", meaning prisoners brought in chains to the Islamic state, then they embrace Islam sincerely and become righteous, and are entered among the people of Paradise.

(Tafsir of Ibn Kathir, Surah Al-Baqarah, ayat 253 to 286, Surah Al-Imran, ayat 1 to 92, abridged by Sheikh Muhammad Nasib Ar-Rafa‘i [Al-Firdous Ltd., London, 1999: First Edition], Part 3, pp. 37-38; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours)

From the internet edition of tafsir ibn kathir abridged version we can see the difference. Also included this following part:

6. As for the Hadith that Imam Ahmad recorded, in which Anas said that the Messenger of Allah said to a man,("Embrace Islam.'' The man said, "I dislike it.'' The Prophet said, "Even if you dislike it.'')First, this is an authentic Hadith, with only three narrators between Imam Ahmad and the Prophet .However, it is not relevant to the subject under discussion, for the Prophet did not force that man to become Muslim. The Prophet merely invited this man to become Muslim, and he replied that he does not find himself eager to become Muslim. The Prophet said to the man that even though he dislikes embracing Islam, he should still embrace it, `for Allah will grant you sincerity and true intent.'
(numbers emphasis mine)

From number 4 we can clearly see that this verse has been abrogated by the verse of fighting. No further discussion is necessary. In Asbab Al-Nuzul the Context of revelations by Al-Wahidi:
"This was before the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, was commanded to fight the people of the Book. But then Allah's saying (There is no compulsion in religion…) was abrogated and the Prophet was commanded to fight the people of the Book in Surah Repentance"
 However, not all scholars agree that verse 256 is abrogated. Now lets discuss the historical context given in Ibn Kathir's tafsir in number 2

Hadith Book 14, Number 2676: Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas: When the children of a woman (in pre-Islamic days) did not survive, she took a vow on herself that if her child survives, she would convert it a Jew. When Banu an-Nadir were expelled (from Arabia), there were some children of the Ansar (Helpers) among them. They said: We shall not leave our children. So Allah the Exalted revealed; "Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error."

It is reported here that Muhammad revealed this verse to counter the conversion of children to Judaism. In those times, when there was no formalised religion among some of the tribes of Arabia, should a contagious illnesses strike, the women would pray that if their children survived such epidemics they would convert them to Judaism. Also when Muhammad arrived in Medina many of the new converts were concerned about the religion of their children as in that time they respected the right for an individual to choose their religion.To this end Muhammad revealed the verse giving Allah's guidance that people were not compelled to convert their children to Judaism should they survive an illness, nor are their children compelled to stay in their Pagan believe because they were born in it. It was permissible to convert their children to Islam.

This no compulsion in religion is strictly a one way affair however. You are not compelled to stay in any non-Islamic religion, hence allowing the conversion to Islam. However once you are a Muslim you are compelled to remain in Islam.

At this time Muhammad was still relatively weak in numbers and power. He could not use force to bring non-believers to Islam. This verse sought to give God's sanction that it was acceptable to leave a religion and come to Islam, 'the right direction' as he puts it. However not too long after this we find Muhammad as a warlord commanding armies that would bring terror to those who did not accept his message.This is evident from reading the Qur’an as a complete doctrine where Muhammad plainly declares, 'kill the unbelievers wherever you find them', 'Fight against those who believe not in Allah until they pay the Jizya with willing submission', 'fight them until disbelieve is no more, and religion is for Allah.'.Or if we read from the Hadiths we find Muhammad declaring: “I have been ordered to fight with the people till they say, none has the right to be worshipped but Allah”, “Whoever changes his Islamic religion, kill him.”In Islamic nations, it is a criminal offence for a Muslim to convert to another religion. If Islamic countries understood the 'no compulsion in religion' verse to mean that a Muslim had the right to adopt another religion of his/her choice, then Sharia laws preventing apostasy would not exist.

It should also be noted that within this verse, although the first sentence says ‘there is no compulsion…’, it continues with, ‘condemn those who do not accept Allah for they are in error and accept false deities.’Even the very next verse denounces non-Muslims as being patrons of false deities who lead them into darkness and ultimately to be residents of hell.2:257 Allah is the Protecting Guardian of those who believe. He bringeth them out of darkness into light. As for those who disbelieve, their patrons are false deities. They bring them out of light into darkness. Such are rightful owners of the Fire. They will abide therein.And after all the apologies that attempt to bring some impression of tolerance in Islam are exhausted, one can always quote Qur’an 3:85: If anyone desires a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who are losers. Never can a religion, other than Islam, be acceptable in society. So where is the concept of no compulsion unless it is only in the direction of moving into Islam?

Another historical context is described in NUMBER 3. We can get more some details regarding the incidents in number 2 and 3 in Asbab Al-Nuzul by Al-Wahidi:

"Al-Suddi said: “This verse was revealed about a man from the Helpers called Abu'l-Husayn. This man had two sons. It happened that some traders from Syria came to Medina to sell oil. When the traders were about to leave Medina, the two sons of Abu'l-Husayn called them to embrace Christianity. These traders converted to Christianity and then left Medina. Abu'l-Husayn informed the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, of what had happened. He asked him to summon his two sons. But then Allah, exalted is He, revealed (There is no compulsion in religion…). The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said: 'May Allah banish both of them. They are the first to disbelieve."

Ibn Abbas said: it was revealed with regard to a man from the tribe of Bani Salim whose two sons converted to Christianity but he was himself a Muslim. He told the Prophet: "Shall I force them to embrace Islam they insist on Christianity", hence Allah revealed this verse. But, it is abrogated by the verses of "fighting"… Surah 48 verse 16, Surah 9 verse 73 and Surah 9 verse 123.(Ibn Ishaq)

Number 5 describes the extent of compulsion. Here, the meaning of "no compulsion" is clearly understandable. There are three options provided to the non-muslim:
  • Convert to islam
  • Pay humiliating Jizya and become a dhimmi
  • Fight to save your life
It's like you are living your life. Suddenly the Mafia leader of the other town trying to spread his control over your town. Mafia leader says, Join my gang OR pay me some of your monthly income and have less rights than my gang members OR fight me!!

You are not compelled to convert to islam. You know. Islam gives you two other options(!). However, Islamic scholars said, This applies unless they are People of the Book, i.e., Jews and Christians, or Magians, because Islam says that these three groups may be given the choice: they may enter Islam or they may pay the jizyah and feel themselves subdued.
So if you are a Hindu or Buddhist or Sikh or Atheist, you have one less option. you either have to convert or die.

Mujahid said, "This was before the Apostle of God was commanded to fight against the People of the Book. God’s saying, ‘There is no compulsion in religion’ was abrogated and he was commanded to fight against the People of the Book in Surat Bara‘ah" (Q. 9:29). (Wahidi, pp. 77-78) … According to other traditions, the verse was revealed in reference to the People of the Book, who should not be compelled to enter Islam so long as they pay jizyah (poll tax). The verse is, therefore, not abrogated. Tabari relates on the authority of Qatadah, "Arab society was compelled to enter Islam because they were an unlettered community [ummah ummiyah], having no book which they knew. Thus nothing other than Islam was accepted from them. The people of the Book are not to be compelled to enter Islam if they submit to paying the jizyah or kharaj [land tax]." The same view is related on the authority of al-Dahhak, Mujahid, and Ibn ‘Abbas (Tabari, V. pp. 413-414). Tabari agrees with this view and asserts that the verse applies to the people of the two Books (Jews and Christians) and the Zoroastrians (Majus)… Qurtubi relates yet another view which asserts, "It was in reference to captives who, if they are of the People of the Book, are not to be compelled if they are adults; but if they are Zoroastrians or idolators, be they old or young, they shall be forced to accept Islam. This is because their master could not benefit from them if they were idolators." Qurtubi adds, "Do you not see that animals slaughtered by them would be unlawful to eat and their women could be married [to Muslims]? They practise the eating of carrion and other such unclean things. Thus their master would find them unclean and therefore it would be difficult to benefit from them as his slaves. Hence, it becomes lawfull for him to compel them" (Qurtubi, II, p. 280; see also Shawkani, I, p. 275)
Now regarding NUMBER 6, although Ibn Kathir said, it is not relevant to the subject under discussion, I have found this very interesting article which analyses the contextgiven here. According to it the correct translation is "There is no difficulty in judgment". So no compulsion in religion may not be the aim of this verse.

There may be raised some questions regarding naskh. From scholarly consensus, Naskh (abrogation of verses) is only applicable for a ruling in the case of methods of worship and social conduct. For example ruling regarding alcohol drinking, facing Qiblah for prayer, inheritance of deceased person. But, ruling regarding intoxicants and inheritance can also be takhsees and not necessarily mansukh abrogation. Besides no compulsion and rules of Jihad and Qital in sharia are rulings or commands too. Peaceful and violent verses can be mansukh type. These are commands too. In order to say that those verses only are takhsees and not mansukh, there need to be specifically stated as takhsees. But we see it is otherwise. Kathir, Abbas, Suyuti refer them as abrogated by other verses and no longer applicable. Hanafees maintain the view that specific verse revealed later abrogates general verse. Scholars differ on this. One can not say a specific verse is 100% takhsees type unless it is mentioned clearly in islamic text or Hadith or by the early scholars. Modern classification of nask and takhsees are opinion based and therefore we can see disagreement between scholars.

if "no compulsion in religion" is not abrogated but if I accept the verse as Takhsees.

Takhsees means specification or particularization. Takhsees occurs when a general ruling of the verse gets specified by later verse of Quran or authentic Hadith. If we take no compulsion in religion as a general ruling, this verse gets specified by later verses. If you see my note, i stated tafsir Ibn Kathir. According to tafsir no compulsion is specified ONLY FOR PEOPLE OF THE BOOK. meaning the jews, christians and magians. There is no compulsion in religion applies for jews and christians as they are free to practice their faith. Instead of converting to islam they are offered another option which is jizya. If they give Jizya, agree to abide by islamic govt and do not preach their religion (see pact of Umar) they are not forced to convert in islam.

However there is no compulsion does not extend to those people who are not people of the book, namely polytheists, hindu, Sikh etc. They are either forced to convert or expelled from their homeland if that land comes under islamic ruling. They are also killed if they refuse to acknowledge islam and its authority. See link and the passage from Wahidi, Tabari and Qurubi in my note. Muhammad accepted Jizya tax from the people of the book. But there is not a single incident when muhammad accepted Jizya from polytheists and idol worshippers and let them practice their idol worshipping. Instead muhammad broke idols and prohibited those practises. It is also said by Qurtubi that captured slaves who are polytheists must be forced to convert to islam to get benefit from them. (animals slaughtered by slaves who are not people of the book is not halal)

So no compulsion in religion is applied only for jews and christians if they agree to pay humiliating Jizya and not for the other non-muslims. Other non muslims either have to convert to islam or fight. Also the two incidents described by kathir as reason for the revelation of this verse were regarding judaism and christianity
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14 Responses to this post

    Skeptic Mind said...

    Islamic legal fatwa from Abd al-Aziz ibn Abd Allah ibn Baaz where he states No compulsion in religion verse has been abrogated.

    Ex Moslem said...

    There is a Wikipedia article on this:

    Al- Baqara 256

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    Anonymous said...

    If there had to be any verse abrogated... Holy Prophet (s.a.w.w) would have told us... The knowledge of abrogation is just opinion of individual. You can take it or leave it but what has been revealed in Quran is what is eminent. Every word and every verse is in there for a reason.

    dar alharb said...

    this verse, 2:256, whether abrogated or not, is much misused. Always only the first sentence is quoted, as if that is the entirety of the verse, and of the context. That certainly is not the case.


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