The brutal killing of a young girl, Nikita Tomar, by one Tauseef Ahmad in Haryana, has again brought into focus the oft-repeated issue of love-jihad and forcible conversions by Muslims. Just pore over two Quranic verses, 'La iqra fid-deen' (verse 256 of Al-Baqara: There's no compulsion in religion/Do not force anyone to become a Muslim) and 'Lakum deenakum wa liya deen ' (Surah Kafiroon: I'll not follow your religion and you'll not follow my religion/For you is your religion, for me is my religion).
These two verses of pristine Islam a little over 1,400 years ago, along with four unambiguous teachings of Muhammad in Hadis (not Hadith) constitute the quiddity of Islam: Even idolaters or polytheists have the right to follow their respective faiths/Rab or the Almighty is not confined only to Muslims as he's Rabbul-Alameen (the god of the universe) and not Rabbul-Muslameen (the god of only Muslims)/E'-ya-naa' Kafir ulnaz or there's no Kafir or infidel/One has the right to leave the fold of religion (read, Islam) and the person will not be called a murtad (Arabic for an apostate). Now juxtapose these lofty and universal scriptural sayings of Islam with the modern interpretation of it (Islam) as a religion on a conversion-spree.
One must read Joel L Kraemer's seminal work, Philosophy in the Renaissance of Islam. The erudite scholar opines that the concept of converting an 'infidel' to the fold of Islam by marrying her is not only a flawed one, it is also un-Islamic. It's a classic case of context deconstructed. When Islam spread to North-Africa in its early days of expansion, the tribal men and women of North African origin in today's Sudan, Morocco, Algeria and so on, were initiated into Islam as those primitive people had no faith worth-mentioning. The women of those tribes got married to Arab settlers and traders and naturally embraced Islam. So, it wasn't a conversion. It was acquiring a worthwhile religious identity mainly through matrimony. It must be mentioned that it was Hazrat Bilal of North African origin, who became Islam's first muazzin (a caller of azaan) when Muhammad was alive.
This earliest conversion/s through matrimony (nikah-un-zaf'daawat-e-deen) stayed with Islam and was distorted rampantly by its followers and interpreters after the 12th century when Islam went on to expand its territory with a missionary zeal.
How many Muslims are aware that Islam's greatest exegete Imam Ghazali or Al-Ghazali (1056-1111) had a Zoroastrian wife who never accepted Islam despite being the wife of the most pious Muslim of that era or arguably the entire length and breadth of Islam? (courtesy, Ahmad Ghazzali, Sawanih, Inspirations from the World of Pure Spirits, The Oldest Persian Sufi Treatise on Love). This is an outright erroneous belief, nay a silly insistence, that a marriage in Islam is valid only when the bride and bridegroom both are Muslims! Even the Fiqah (Islamic Jurisprudence) never questioned or asked a Muslim man to convert his non-Muslim wife to Islam. Conversion following a marriage is not de rigueur in Islam (Bernard Lewis, quoting Abul Kalam Azad from his Ghubar-e-Khatir and incomplete interpretation of Al-Furqan).
In fact, among all three Semitic faiths, viz Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the first two almost made it mandatory to spread god's word (a euphemism for conversion) but Islam didn't make it compulsory. Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti or Salim Chishti of Chishti order (Ajmer) had 113 women living outside the khaanqah (monastery) who provided milk and vegetables to the inmates, as all Sufis were strict vegetarians! Of those 113 women, only five women embraced Islam, that too without any temptation, force or persuasion.
The Wahabi and Salafists' strict and literal interpretation of Islam that came into practice nearly 200 years ago, ossified Islam and fossilised its exalted teachings by mutilating Quranic injunctions. With the passage of time, interpolations were incorporated, and meanings were distorted.
Yet another problem that arose regarding the proper understanding of Islam in the sub-continent was the inadequate knowledge of Arabic among the Muslims. Sub-continental Muslims are hardly knowledgeable about Arabic, in which the Quran and Muhammad's teachings are available. They have been taught by the clerics, who themselves cannot comprehend and cogently interpret Qur'anic verses in a holistic manner.
Nowhere in the Quran or Hadis does one find a single verse or teaching that states that if a Muslim converts a non-Muslim by force or flattery, he or she will go to heaven. This is preposterous! In sooth, conversion is not extolled or eulogised in Islam, though it's not condemned either. Moreover, Muhammad himself stated that the very concept of an infidel or a kafir doesn't exist in Islam. To quote Allama Iqbal, ' Kaafir ki ye pahchan ke aafaaq mein gum hai/Momin ki ye pahchaan ke gum usmein hai aafaaq ' (An infidel is one who's lost in the quotidian indulgences/ Whereas, all the mundane pleasures are lost in a Momin or a true Muslim). So, an infidel is not a vidharmi (belonging to some other faith.
It's time, we understood all religions (esp. Islam) in their totality or even better if we can leave all of them!
The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilisations and cultures.