Tag Archives: Tariq bin Ziyaad

Did Islam Spread by Sword??

[By brother Firas Alkhateeb]

It’s a common accusation made against Muslims and Islam in general: “The only reason Islam is a world religion is because it spread by the sword.” It’s a favorite remark of Islamophobes who parade as analysts and historians fear-mongering about the threat Islam supposedly poses to the Western World. With it being such a hot topic that causes so much debate, it is appropriate to analyze and study this topic to better understand whether it is valid or not.

Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Persia – The First Conquests

After the life of Prophet Muhammad (Sallallaahu alaihi wasallam), Islamic expansion truly began in the early 630s, AD. Campaigns against the Byzantine and Sassanid (Persian) Empires were initiated which pitted this new religion of Islam, with its desert Arabian warriors against the established and ancient empires centered in Constantinople and Ctesiphon.

Abu Bakr (radhiyallahu anhu), the first caliph of Islam, gave these armies rules which would seem very constricting by today’s standards of warfare:

“Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy’s flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.”¹

These rules were very unique and innovative for the time. Just before this Muslim expansion, the Persians and Byzantines had fought a decades-long war that left lands from Syria to Iraq in ruins. Abu Bakr (radhiyallahu anhu) made it clear that Muslim armies do not operate by the same principles and restrict their fights to the armies and governments of the enemy, not the general populace. Islamic Shari’ah law, based on the example of Abu Bakr (radhiyallahu anhu), clearly forbids the use of force against anyone except in legitimate cases of war against a clearly defined enemy.*

The purpose of this article is not to delve into the tactics and individual battles of this conquest of Egypt, Syria and Iraq. It is enough for our purposes here to state that Syria was under Muslim control by 638, Egypt by 642, and Iraq/Persia by 644. The Byzantine Empire, having lost its religious base in Syria, as well as its commercial base in Egypt was greatly weakened. The Sassanid Empire, on the other hand, completely ceased to exist after the Muslim conquest. Politically, it was a disaster for these two giant empires. But, going back to the main idea of this article, how did Islam as a religion spread in the conquered areas??

Unequivocally, the general populace was not forced or induced to convert to Islam. If anything, they were encouraged to continue living their lives as they had for centuries before. In the example of the conquest of Jerusalem , the caliph at the time, Umar ibn al-Khattab (radhiyallahu anhu), wrote in the surrender treaty with the patriarchs of city:

He [Umar] has given them an assurance of safety for themselves, for their property, their churches, their crosses, the sick and healthy of the city…Their churches will not be inhabited by Muslims and will not be destroyed… They will not be forcibly converted.²


The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which Umar promised to protect when the city came under Muslim control

No other empire or state at the time had such ideas about religious tolerance. Umar (radhiyallahu anhu), being a companion of the Prophet, sets a precedent in this treaty about the treatment of conquered peoples in Islamic law. The rest of the conquered lands, in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Persia had similar treaties. Whether the citizens of the conquered lands were Christian, Jew, Sabians, or Zoroastrians, they were allowed to keep their religious traditions. There exists not one example of forced conversion in these early conquests.

Proof of the lack of forced conversion in these areas is the remaining Christian communities in these countries. For the first few centuries after the Muslim conquest, the majority of the population of these areas remained Christian. Slowly, they began to take on Islam as their religion and Arabic as their language. Today, large percentages of Christians remain in Egypt (9%), Syria (10%), Lebanon (39%), and Iraq (3%). If those early Muslim conquests (or even later Muslim rulers) forced conversion on anyone, there would be no Christian communities in those countries. Their existence is proof of Islam not spreading by the sword in these areas.

North Africa and Spain

The soldiers and leaders of these early conquests in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Persia were from the first generation of Muslims. Many of them were even companions of the Prophet. What would happen as Muslim expansion continued in later generations, as Muslim armies fought the Byzantines further West, in North Africa and later, in Spain??

The majority of the population of the North African coast in the 600s were Berbers. While the Byzantine Empire controlled most of the coast from Egypt to Algeria, the people of those areas were generally not loyal to the Byzantines who had great trouble trying to subdue the region. Political and social upheaval in the century before Islam led to a devastated region, which was probably just a shell of its former glory as a Roman province.

The first Umayyad caliph, Muawiya (radhiyallahu anhu), appointed a general, Uqba bin Nafi (radhiyallahu anhu), to conquer the North African coast from the Byzantines in the 660s.

Again, without getting into the details of the tactics and battles, within the course of a few decades, Muslim control over North Africa was solidified.

The same pattern we saw in Southwest Asia continued in North Africa. Conversions were not forced on any of the local populations. No accounts, by either Muslim or non-Muslim sources, mention forced conversion of the Berbers. Indeed, many Berbers did convert to Islam quite quickly. That strengthened the Muslim armies, as huge numbers of newly-converted Berbers would join the armies sweeping across the continent. Had these Berbers been forced to convert, they certainly would not have had the zeal and enthusiasm for Islam that would cause them to join the armies and spread Islamic political control even further against the Byzantines.

After the Muslim conquest of North Africa, came a proposal that would prove to change world history forever. In the early 700s, the Iberian Peninsula (present-day Spain and Portugal) was under the control of the Visigothic King Roderic. A nobleman from Iberia sent to the Muslim governor of North Africa, complaining about the oppressive and tyranical rule of Roderic. The nobleman promised to support a Muslim invasion against Roderic with his own troops if they intervened.

The Rock of Gibraltar, where Tariq ibn Ziyad’s army landed in their pursuit of Roderic, with a modern mosque in the foreground

After a few preliminary raids to gauge the local populations’ support for such an intervention, the Muslim general Tariq ibn Ziyad (rahimahullah) (who may possibly have been Berber himself), ferried an army across from Morocco to Iberia in 711. Within months, Tariq’s army had defeated King Roderic and opened up the country to Muslim control. Within 3 years, the entire Iberian Peninsula was under Muslim control. Many cities, hearing of the justice of Muslim rule, voluntarily opened their doors and welcomed Muslim armies, who ended what they saw as the oppressive rule of the Visigoths.

More documentary evidence survives from this conquest proving that the conquest did not mean forced conversion. In April 713, a Muslim governor in the region negotiated a treaty with a Visigothic noble, which included the provision that the local people “will not be killed or taken prisoner. Nor will they be separated from their women and children. They will not be coerced in matters of religion, their churches will not be burned.”³

We see again in the example of Muslim Spain (which would later be called al-Andalus) that the locals (mostly Christians, although a sizable Jewish population also existed) were not forced to convert to Islam. In fact, in later centuries, an almost utopian society of religious tolerance existed in al-Andalus, in which Muslims, Jews, and Christians all experienced a golden age of knowledge, culture, and philosophy. This enlightened land of religious tolerance would end centuries later with the Christian Reconquista which effectively ethnically cleansed Muslims and Jews from the entire peninsula.

The Indian Subcontinent

Today, two of the most populous Muslim countries in the world, Pakistan (2rd most Muslims), and India (3rd most Muslims), occupy the Indian subcontinent. Islam has had an incredible and lasting impact on the region in all aspects of life. However, even through centuries of Muslim rule by different empires and dynasties, Hinduism and other religions remain as important aspects of the subcontinent.

The reasons for Muslim invasion into the subcontinent were justified by the time period’s rules of warfare. A ship filled with daughters of Muslim traders who were trading in Sri Lanka was attacked by pirates from Sindh (what is now Pakistan) who captured and enslaved the women. Seeking to liberate the women and punish the pirates, an expedition was sent out in 710, led by Muhammad bin Qasim, an Arab from the city of Ta’if.

Bin Qasim’s military expedition into this distant and remote land was made successful by very important social issues in India.

The caste system, which originated from Hindu belief, divided society up into very strictly controlled social classes. Those on top led wealthy, comfortable lives, while those on the bottom (particularly untouchables) were seen as the scourge of society. Added to this were the Buddhists, who were generally oppressed by the Hindu princes throughout the country.

With the entrance of Muslim armies, which carried with them the promise of an equal society, many Buddhists and lower castes welcomed the Muslim armies. In fact, the first Muslims of Indian origin were probably from the lower castes, as Islam offered them an escape from the oppressive social system they were accustomed to.

With the conquest of Sindh, Muhammad bin Qasim showed that Islamic law’s protection of religious minorities was not just for Christians and Jews.

Buddhists and Hindus in the subcontinent were given religious freedom and were not forced to convert. In one case, a Buddhist community complained to bin Qasim of their fear that the Muslim armies would force Islam upon them and they would have to leave the practices of their ancestors. Bin Qasim held a meeting with the Buddhist and Hindu leaders of the town, and promised them religious freedom and asked them to continue leading their lives as they had previously.


We now come back to the question posed at the beginning of the article: did Islam spread by the sword? While numerous people with political and religious agendas make their case otherwise, it is seen as a clear and indisputable fact that the religion of Islam was not spread through violence, coercion, fear, or bloodshed. There exist no accounts of people being forced to convert to Islam under any circumstances. While the political and military control of Muslim leaders did in fact spread through defensive warfare, Muslim leaders and generals in fact went out of their way to protect the rights of other religious groups. The warfare was always carried out only against the governments and armies that the Muslims were at war with. The local citizens were left alone. Although this article only gives specific examples of a few regions, this trend continued throughout Islamic history, following the precedent of the early Muslims.

It is important to note that these are some of the first examples in history of religious tolerance. While religious tolerance and freedom are first seen in “Western” civilization in the Enlightenment of the 1600s and 1700s, Muslims have practiced religious freedom since the 600s AD. The arguments made by some political and historical “pundits” about Islamic belief spreading violently and through warfare clearly have no historical basis. In fact, Muslim religious toleration has influenced the historical tradition of such ideas in lands as diverse as Europe, the Americans and India.


* By extension, modern day terrorism clearly goes against Islamic law.

1-  Aboul-Enein, H. Yousuf and Zuhur, Sherifa, Islamic Rulings on Warfare , p. 22, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, Diane Publishing Co., Darby PA

2- Kennedy, H. (2007). The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In. Philadelphia: Da Capo Press. pg.91

3- Kennedy, H. (2007). The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In.  Philadelphia: Da Capo Press. pg.315


Aboul-Enein, H. Yousuf and Zuhur, Sherifa, Islamic Rulings on Warfare , p. 22, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, Diane Publishing Co., Darby PA

CIA World Factbook

Kennedy, H. (2007). The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In.  Philadelphia: Da Capo Press.

Ochsenwald, W., & Fisher, S. (2003). The Middle East: A History . (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.


“With the royal banners and the cross of Pagan Christians plainly visible on the red walls of the Alhambra: …the Moorish king with about eighty or a hundred on horseback very well dressed went forth to kiss the hand of their Highnesses. Whom they received with much love and courtesy and there they handed over to him his son, who had been a hostage from the time of his capture, and as they stood there, there came about four hundred captives, of this who were in the enclosure, with the cross and a solemn procession singing the Te Deum Laudamus [a devotional hymn], and their highnesses dismounted to adore the Cross to the accompaniment of the tears and reverential devotion of the crowd…and the Moorish King and the Moors who were with him for their part could not disguise the sadness and pain they felt for the joy of the Christians, and certainly with much reason on account of their loss, for Granada is the most distinguished and chief thing in the world…”[1]

The date was the second of January, 1492, and the occasion was the procession of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella into the Al Hamra,’ something which was not even imaginable by Spanish Monarchs up till one hundred years prior. When Tariq Ibn Ziyaad(Rahimahullah)marched across Jabal Tariq and into Andalus to liberate it from the Visigoths, he would have shuddered to think that within eight hundred years, Muslims would not only be defeated in Andalus, where the pure blood of thousands of mujahideen under his command flowed and shahada was attained, but that Islam itself would be expelled from it within in a further hundred years. Coincidentally, the same year Tariq (rahimahullah) invaded Andalus was also the same year, at the tender age of 17, Muhammad bin Qasim Al-Thaqafi (rahimahullah), The noble Ummayad Qa’id and Mujahid, under order of the Khalifa Walid I, raided Sindh in retaliation to Hindu Pirate raids launched from there and established Ummayad control over Sind, (and later Punjab). Would Tariq (rahimahullah)have imagined Andalus’s fate when he landed upon those shores and made his famous speech as recounted by Imam Maqri in Al Nafh Al Tib :

“Oh my warriors, whither would you flee? Behind you is the sea, before you, the enemy. By Allāh! there is no salvation for you but in your courage and perseverance. Consider your situation;-here you are on this island like so many orphans cast upon the world; you will soon be met by a powerful enemy, surrounding you on all sides like the infuriated billows of a tempestuous seas, and sending against you countless warriors, drowned in steel, and provided with every store and description of arms. What can you oppose them [with]? You have no other weapons than your swords, no provisions but those that you may snatch from the hands of your enemies…Banish all fear from your hearts, trust that victory shall be ours, and that the barbarian king will not be able to withstand the shock of our arms. Here he comes to make us the masters of his cities and castles, and to deliver into our hands his countless treasures; and if you only seize the opportunity now presented, it may perhaps be the means of your becoming the owners of them [2] , besides saving yourself from certain death. Do not think that I impose upon you a task from which I shrink myself, or that I try to conceal from you the dangers attending this expedition. No: you have certainly a great deal to encounter, but know that if you only suffer for a while, you will reap in the end an abundant harvest of pleasures and enjoyments. And do not imagine that while I speak to you I mean not to act as I speak, for as my interest in this is greater, so will my behavior on this occasion surpass yours [3] . You know well that the khalifa Abdu-l-Malik Ibnu-l-Waleed has chosen you, like so many heroes from among the brave; you know that the great lords of this island are willing to make you their sons and brethren in marriage, if you only rush on like so many brave men to the fight, and behave like true champions and valiant knights; you know that the recompenses of Allāh await you if you are prepared to uphold His word, and proclaim his deen in this peninsula…Bear in mind that Allāh (ﺗﻌﻠﻰ ) will select, according to this promise, those that distinguish themselves most among you, and grant them due reward both in this world and the hereafter and know likewise that I shall be the first to set you the example, and to put in practice what I recommend you to do [4] ; for it is my intention, on the meeting of the two hosts, to attack the Christian tyrant Roderic and kill him with my own hand, Insha’Allāh . When you see me bearing against him, charge along with me; if I kill him, the victory is ours; if I am killed before I reach him, do not trouble yourselves about me, but fight as if I were still alive and among you, and follow up my purpose…If, however, I should be killed, after inflicting death upon their king, appoint a man from among you who unites both courage and experience, and may command you in this emergency, and follow up the success. If you follow my instructions, we are sure of victory, (Makkari, The History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain, Vol. 1, 310-311) [5] “
Tariq’s (rahimahullah) troops replied resoundingly thus:

ﻗﺪ ﻗﻄﻌﻨﺎ ﺍﻵﻣﺎﻝ ﻣﻤﺎ ﻳﺨﺎﻟﻒ ﻣﺎ ﻋﺰﻣﺖ ﻋﻠﻴﻪ، ﻓﺎﺣﻀﺮ ﺇﻟﻴﻪ ﻓﺈﻧﻨﺎ ﻣﻌﻚ ﻭﺑﻴﻦ ﻳﺪﻳﻚ

“We are ready to follow you, O Tariq! We shall all, to the last man, stand by you, and fight for you; nor could we avoid it were we otherwise disposed… (ibid, 311). [6] “

The sacrifices and victories that laid the foundation of the western frontier of Islam, (or as Arabs referred to it as one of the Maghribain , or the ‘west’s’ in reference to North Western Africa and Andalus), seemingly had gone to waste and many Muslims of today see it as a period of nostalgia and of glory lost. We remember it as a time where Muslims excelled in the science, Fiqh, Philosophy and numerous other fields. Unfortunately, confusion is our lot due to not only our military defeats and conquest at the hands of the
Kuffaar over the previous five hundred years in every part of the world and at the hand of every kafir nation, but also the mental colonization that has taken place in the minds of not only the previous generations, but the youth as well. We have been led to believe Andalus was a land of Convivencia , (Coexistence), between Islam, Christianity and Judaism and Western or Western influenced Muslim Scholars reiterate the examples of the translation schools in Tulaytulah, (Toledo), where apparently Muslims and Jews worked together to translate books of Plato and Aristotle, or of the ‘ Zambra [7] ‘ and the musical styles of Andalus, since these worldly and Batil (Falsehood), things are what the West is interested in studying.

Subsequently they disseminate these views through scholarly work, wherein they then work their way down to the masses, (Muslim and non-Muslim alike). However, Muslims that read these books seem to forget that Andalus was the land of jihad, where continuous Ghazwa ‘s took place on the frontier, ( Thagr ) against the Kuffaar in the lands beyond the Pyrenees up to Tours in France, (which is merely a few hundred kilometres from Paris). It was a place where talented
Fuquha , (almost all Maliki), vigorously carried out their duty of guiding the masses and enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, (Amr Bil Ma’aroof wa Nahya A’nil Munkar).

On the other hand, those of us that can read Arabic and took the time and trouble to read Muslim sources on the history of Andalus in Arabic, then the picture is certainly clearer with the glaring and the almost inexplicable abrupt end to the account of Islam in Spain. As I explained earlier, for reasons that I will touch upon in the conclusion of this work, Muslim historians’ account of Islamic Spain ends in 1492 with the capitulation treaty being signed between Abu AbdAllāh Muhammad Ithna Ashr (The 12 ), which surrendered the Emirate of Garnata (Granada) to the Spanish, but at the same time allowed the Muslims that remained in the Emirate, full freedom of worship and protected their rights, (going as far as even promising to punish anyone who peers into a Muslim household).

The agreement seemed to be made binding upon the Spanish Crown of Castille but as we shall see, it was broken within ten years after the agreement was put into effect, (I have included terms of the capitulation from Carvajal’s account in Appendix G and Imam Maqri’s in I). Great insight is offered on the issue of the Moriscos and Muslims in Spain after 1492, and the ambivlance shown by Muslims towards the issue by Prof. L.P. Harvey of the University of Chicago:

It is surprising that there has been so little debate within the Islamic world about this final aspect of the experience of Spains Muslims. In 1991, when the Islamic peoples are in the midst of a great debate on where they stand in relation to the modern western world, the experience of the Moriscos is not without relevance. Rather than focus on the Moriscos, however, modern Muslims seem to prefer to direct their attention towards other aspects of the experience of Andalus, on the philosophers of the 5 /11 -7 /13 centuries, or on the heroic conquerors of earlier periods, (Manuela, ‘Handbuch Der Orientalistik,’ 303).”

Undoubtedly, a clear understanding of this most complicated, (but nonetheless, important), of histories can not be attempted until we briefly recap Andalus’s history to bring the issue at hand, (Muslims in Andalus post-1492), in perspective.


[1] From a Letter of an eyewitness to the surrender of the Al Hamra’ to the Bishop of Leon

[2] SubhanAllah! Even though they are heavily outnumbered and are facing what most military strategists would have said was definite defeat and death, here Tariq is saying that Roderic has come to the battlefield to make the Muslims masters of the land of Andalus! He epitomized fearlessness and tawakkul on the battlefield.

[3] Unlike our rulers of today, Tariq says that not only will he give the orders and be on the field with his men, but he will surpass them in taking risks, courage and bravery!

[4] He practiced what he preached, once again, unlike our rulers and military commanders today.

[5] In the Arabic edition, this quotation is located in Vol. 1, on page(s) 240-241

[6] The translator did a sloppy job of this quote. I would have translated it like this: “We have already cut off any hope of what differs from your plan upon him [Roderic], So [lets] go to [fight] him [Roderic]. Verily we are with you and under your command!” And Allah knows best.

[7] In Maghrebi Arabic spoken in Morocco, ‘ zambra ‘, (in Arabic Zamra’ ), means party. Originally this Arabic term was used to describe the noises made by the sounds of lively crowds and certain musical instruments, such as in a party or celebration. The term was applied during the 15th century in Spain when the Muslims continuted their famous and traditional celebrations of song, dance, music, joke and story telling or ‘ Zamr.’ Documents dated to the 1600’s describe the Zamra’ as festivities with the music of wind instruments such as the sounds of pipes and flutes. These were banned by the Kingdom of Spain in the 16 century as sign of Muslim culture, (as were other things such as hijab and salat among many others). ‘Zambra’ could also mean a band of musicians and may have derived from the Arabic word “Samra’” that meant an ‘evening party that went on all night’ or ‘zamara’ meaning ‘musicians.’ The word was also been used to describe an ‘uproar’ or ‘sound of certain instruments and muffled voices with merry-making. If any one was curious, the custom of shouting ‘ole’ in Spain, (generally and in the dance called Flamenco), is derived from the Arabic expression Wa’Allah (‘By Allah’) that was presumably used during the Zamra’ dances.