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Hugh Fitzgerald: “No Compulsion in Religion”? What About the Mass Conversion of Hindus?

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Islamic apologists have two favorite Qur’anic verses. One is 5:32, of which they usually quote an excerpted version, so that it appears to condemn killing (in a verse lifted from the Jewish Mishnah) and, as a consequence, has been a favorite of such misunderstanders of Islam as George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The version apologists like to quote reads: “if any one slew a person it would be as if he slew the whole people, and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the whole people.”
This is presented as a denunciation of killing.
The full text, however, gives quite a different meaning:
5:32: “We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.”
First, this is meant to apply only to the Children of Israel, that is, the Jews, not  to everyone. Second, far from denouncing killing, 5:32 sets out when such punishment is appropriate — in the case of someone who is guilty of murder or of “spreading mischief in the land.” Third, the Jews are being chastised (“many of them continued to commit excesses in the land”).
But we still need to understand what the punishment will be for “excesses in the land,” which is defined only in the next verse, 5:33, which reads:
“The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement.”
Who are those who “wage war against Allah and His messenger,” if not the Jews? As both Robert Spencer and Ibn Warraq have said, 5:32 and 5:33 constitute a “warning to the Jews.” For those who cause “mischief in the land” are deserving of execution, or crucifixion, or having their hands and feet cut off. 5:33 is the gloss that gives 5:32 its real meaning, which is not peace but a sword, and quite different from what both Barack Obama and George Bush apparently think it means.
The other  Qur’anic verse favored by apologists for Islam is 2:256: “there is no compulsion in religion.” That sounds straightforward, and unwary non-Muslims will  take it at face value. But a little thought about the matter should lead to quite a different conclusion. Non-Muslims are not strictly “compelled” — this is the Muslim view –to give up their religions and convert to Islam. They have a “choice” — so supposedly no “compulsion” — either to convert to Islam, to be killed, or to live as dhimmis under Muslim rule. As chimes, they must pay the Jizyah (a capitation tax on non-Muslims) to the Muslim state, and will also be subject to a host of lesser disabilities: displaying identifying marks on both their dress and dwelling; riding donkeys rather than horses; stepping aside on footpaths so as always to yield the right of way to Muslims. Isn’t this seeming “choice” really a form of “compulsion”? In order to avoid either death, or being forced to pay the Jizyah and submit to other requirements made on dhimmis, all of which are daily reminders of their well-deserved humiliation and permanently lesser status, the only way out was to convert to Islam. While some non-Muslims paid the Jizyah, over the centuries, in order to free themselves of this onerous tax, many converted to Islam. Any fair-minded person would describe that as “compulsion.”
It is useful to remind people that over the past 1400 years many, perhaps most, of those who converted to Islam did so not because they were convinced of the truth of Islam, but in order to stay alive and avoid the humiliating status of dhimmi. The Hindus of India perhaps were responsible for more converts to Islam than any other people, simply because there were so many more of them to begin with. Most of the 520 million Muslims in the subcontinent today — 172 million in India, 195 million in Pakistan, 153 million in Bangladesh — are descendants of Hindus (and to a much lesser extent, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains) who converted to Islam long ago to escape the humiliating status of dhimmi.
Many of us read about how these mass conversions happened long ago, but they remain abstract to modern minds, something from the dark past, still not quite understood as real phenomena occurring today. We read of the persecution and murder of Coptic Christians in Egypt, of Catholics in Syria, of Assyrians and Chaldeans in Iraq, but do not then think of how many Christians (Jews, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.) over the centuries avoided such a fate only by converting to Islam.
That’s why a news item from Pakistan this March is worth paying attention to, as it offers us an example of these mass conversions still taking place today, just as they have for 1400 years.
At Partition in 1947, the Hindus in Pakistan (then West Pakistan), constituted 15% of the population; now they are 2%. Over the past 71 years, some Hindus continued to flee to India, while still others remained, and among them were those who converted to Islam. And that is how Hindus who were 15% of the population in 1947 became 2% of it today.
The news was about a few hundred Hindus who, suffering mistreatment in Pakistan, had come to India over the last few years, hoping to be allowed to stay. But the Indian authorities ruled that most of the did not have their papers in order, and they were recently deported back to Pakistan. There, aggressive Muslims were waiting for them — waiting, that is, not to discuss fine theological points with these Hindus, but rather, to forcibly convert them, as has been done for centuries. And that is what these Hindus did: more than 500 of them, having been deported by India, and unwilling to yet again endure what they would have to as Hindus in Pakistan, converted to Islam.
The Times of India tells the tale in its awkward, repetitive, but touching English:
Over 500 minority Hindus, who were recently deported from India to Pakistan, have been allegedly converted to Islam, according to relatives of the deported Hindus in Jodhpur and nearby areas.
The mass conversion allegedly took place in Matali town of Hyderabad district in Sindh state of Pakistan on March 25, according to the relatives.
According to them, a large number of those who were converted include people from the Bhil community. Many Bhils had come to Jodhpur from Pakistan hoping to get Indian citizenship. But after waiting for 3-4 years, they were deported to Pakistan after the government refused to grant them citizenship.
Many had left for Pakistan by Thar Express on March 23. The relatives of these Hindus, residing in Jodhpur and nearby areas, have alleged that they were forcefully converted to Islam. In Lohawat town in Jodhpur district, Dalit [untouchables] and Hindu organizations held a protest against Pakistan and gave a memorandum to the district collector on Wednesday.
Those Hindus who returned to Pakistan on March 23 were deported [from India]as they didn’t have proper documents.”
 The next time you are told by apologists for Islam that “there is no compulsion in religion,” then ask them how they would describe what happened to 500 Hindus on March 25, in the town of Matali, in the district of Hyderabad, in the state of Sindh, in endlessly wretched Pakistan.

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