Was Islam Spread at the Point of Sword?

Dr. `Abdel Fattah Idrees, professor of Comparative Jurisprudence at al-Azhar University, states the following: “As for claiming that Islam was forced on people or propagated at the point of a sword, this claim is totally groundless and has nothing to do with reality.

To make this matter crystal clear, we would like to cite for you the words of the late Dr. Hammudah `Abdul-`Aati in his famous book Islam in Focus. He writes:
“Was Islam spread at the point of a sword? Was the Muslim emblem “The Qur’an or the sword?” Were the Muslims imperialist and after mundane power or loot? Some people like to think about that in affirmative terms; some others in the negative, and some are undecided, perplexed and reluctant. But where does the Qur’an stand? What does the history of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) reveal in this connection? It is certainly imperative on every honest person who has respect for truth and human dignity to find out for himself, and to reveal his findings to others.
The Qur’an makes it clear that, whether we want it or not, war is a necessity of existence, a fact of life, so long as there exist in the world injustice, oppression, capricious ambitions, and arbitrary claims. This may sound strange. But is it not a matter of historical record that humanity from the early dawn of history up till now has suffered from local, civil and global wars? And is it not also a fact that, more often than not, victorious allies settle their disputes over their gains and the status of their vanquished enemies through wars and threats of war?
Even today humanity lives under constant fear and buzzes of war over many hot spots in the world. Could Allah overlook these facts of life? Or could the Qur’an fail to deal with the matter in a realistic and effective manner? Certainly not! And that is why Islam has recognized war as a lawful and justifiable course for self-defense and restoration of
justice, freedom and peace. The Qur’an says: “Fighting is prescribed for you, and you dislike it. But it is possible that you dislike a thing which is good for you, and that you love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows, and you know not” (Al-Baqarah: 216)
Although realistic in its approach, Islam never tolerates aggression from its own side or from any other side, nor does it entertain aggressive wars or the initiation of aggressive wars. Muslims are commanded by Allah not to begin hostilities, or embark on any act of aggression, or violate any rights of others. Some particular verses of the Qur’an are of significant bearing. Allah says:“Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, and do not transgress limits (begin not hostility): For Allah loves not transgressors. And slay them wherever you catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith. But if they cease, God is Forgiving, Most Merciful. And fight them on until there is no more persecution or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression”(Al-Baqarah:190-193)
So, it’s clear that war is not an objective of Islam nor is it the normal course of Muslims. It is only the last resort and is used under the most extra ordinary circumstances when all other measures fail. This is the actual status of war in Islam. Islam is the religion of peace: its meaning is peace; one of Allah’s Names is Peace; the daily greetings of Muslims and angels are peace; Paradise is the abode of peace, the adjective “Muslim” means Peaceful. Peace is the nature, the meaning, the emblem and the objective of Islam. Every being is entitled to enjoy the peace of Islam and the kindness of the peaceful Muslims, regardless of religious or geographical or racial considerations, so long as there is no aggression against Islam or the Muslims. If non-Muslims are peaceful with the Muslims or even indifferent to Islam, there can be no ground or justification to declare war on them. There is no such thing as religious war to force Islam on non-Muslims, because if Islam does not emerge from deep convictions, from within, it is not acceptable to Allah, nor can it help its professor.
If there is any religion or constitution that guarantees peaceful freedom of religion and forbid compulsion in religion, it is Islam, and Islam alone. To this point the Qur’an refers as follows: “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error; Whoever rejects Evil and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy handhold, that never breaks. And God hears and knows all things.” (Al-Baqarah: 256)”