A common Hadith that critics often bring up is the following one:
Bukhari Volume 1, Book 2, Number 24:
Narrated Ibn ‘Umar:
Allah’s Apostle said: “I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle, and offer the prayers perfectly and give the obligatory charity, so if they perform a that, then they save their lives an property from me except for Islamic laws and then their reckoning (accounts) will be done by Allah.”
So from the above Hadith, they conclude that Muslims are obligated to fight the non-Muslims, until they convert to Islam, and this proves that Islam is not a peaceful religion but a religion that does seek to impose itself on everyone.
Now as with most things, especially when we’re dealing with a piece of a text, is that we analyze the text in it’s context, rather than simply isolating it all on it’s own, and then deriving a supposed interpretation and conclusion. Anyone who studies about Islam will find that the Holy Quran teaches for religious freedom:
Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things. (2:256)
So if they dispute with thee, say: “I have submitted My whole self to Allah and so have those who follow me.” And say to the People of the Book and to those who are unlearned: “Do ye (also) submit yourselves?” If they do, they are in right guidance, but if they turn back, Thy duty is to convey the Message; and in Allah’s sight are (all) His servants. (3:20)
And an entire chapter devoted to religious freedom:
Say: O ye that reject Faith! I worship not that which ye worship, Nor will ye worship that which I worship. And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship, Nor will ye worship that which I worship. To you be your Way, and to me mine. (Surah 109)
So it is quite clear that Islam teaches religious tolerance, nobody is compelled to follow Islam, they can keep their way and religion, and the same for the Muslims. So in light of this one must therefore apply the Hadith to this context, one cannot simply ignore all these verses and then go on to conclude that Islam teaches forced conversions to Islam.
Now we move to the second part, and we go back to the Quran, because the above Hadith is very familiar to a Quranic passage, and the passage reads as follows:
And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily Allah doth see all that they do. (8:39)
In the above passage Muslims are commanded to fight until there is no more oppression, till justice prevails, and when faith is for Allah. This is essentially the same message as the Hadith in a slight different wording, but the content is similar. Now off course if we applied the same narrow minded methodology as many Islamophobes do, then we too would have to conclude that 8:39 commands Muslims to fight until people have faith in Allah, meaning convert to Islam and submit to Allah. In fact the Islamophobic bigot Geert Wilders brought this verse up in his Fitna documentary.
If anyone studies the context of 8:39 one will see that this verse was aimed at the Pagans, not only was this verse revealed against the Pagans, but the very same Pagans the Muslims were at war with. Basically this verse was revealed during a time of war between the Muslims and the Pagans, the very same Pagans who initiated the war as the verse itself mentions, the Muslims are to fight them until there is no more OPPRESSION, and these Pagans were oppressing the Muslims. The Pagans were the ones who began the conflict, and the reason behind this conflict was simply down to the faith of Muslims, the Muslims were being persecuted by the Pagans precisely because of their Muslim faith. Muslims were beaten, tortured, and killed at the hands of the Pagans.
So how does this all relate to the Hadith in question? The reason why it relates to the Hadith is because the Quranic verse is very similar to what the prophet said, and when one analyzes the Quran one will find that when it gave this specific ruling, it was revealed during a time of war, and revealed against the Pagan combatants. Hence we must apply the same standard to the Hadith in question. After all, the best interpretation to the Quran and Hadith is the Quran and Hadith itself.
If one were to also study what Islamic scholarship had to say about this, then they would further see that the Islamophobic interpretation is unfounded. For example the well known and major scholar, Imam Nawawi, explained the Hadith as referring to the Pagan Arabs, and as we have mentioned, these were the same Pagan Arabs who initiated the conflict with the Muslims. And finally, Ibn Taymiyyah, another major Islamic scholar who is often labeled as an extremist had this to say about the hadith in question:
“It refers to fighting those who are waging war, whom Allah has permitted us to fight. It does not refer to those who have a covenant with us with whom Allah commands us to fulfill our covenant.” [Majmû` al-Fatâwâ (19/20)]