Here is the most important message in the Quran which stand as the main principle of the religion of Islam. Surah 2:256 – 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 hears and knows all things.
The above verse S2:256 clearly say there is no compulsion in religion. There were claims that on the contrary there are other verses in the Quran suggesting there is compulsion, see the following verses below:-
“And an announcement from Allah and His Messenger, to the people (assembled) on the day of the Great Pilgrimage, that Allah and His Messenger dissolve (treaty) obligations with the Pagans. If then, ye repent it will be best for you; but if ye turn away, know ye that ye cannot frustrate Allah. And proclaim a grievous penalty to those who reject Faith,” (Surah 9:3).
“But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful,” (Surah 9:5).
Fight those who believe not in Allah or the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued,” (Surah 9:29).
It can therefore be concluded from the above verses the pagans were compel to repent and forced to become Muslims when the forbidden months is past which is four months and if they do not repent then war can be declared on them. Furthermore there is command to fight the disbelievers and the people of the book if they do not pay the ‘jizyah” with willing submission as described at Surah 9:29 above which lead down to compulsion in religion.
The claim that there is compulsion in religion in the Quran in contradiction to the Surah 2:256 must first be understood whether Islam as a belief system is enforced on the other non-Muslim communities. The pagan or the People of the Book were not being forced because of their belief but they were being forced to settle their income tax (Jizyah) which has become due to the Islamic authority in which they refused to pay.
The description of the pagan or the idolaters according to the Quran were not only those who put partners to Allah but it also includes a believer who is a Muslim if he did not pay the alms (zakat) were also defined and classified as a pagan or idolater. The following verses will show the two categories of pagan as stated:- Surah 6:137 Even so, in the eyes of most of the pagans (mushrikin), their “partners” made alluring the slaughter of their children, in order to lead them to their own destruction, and cause confusion in their religion. If Allah had willed, they would not have done so: But leave alone them and their inventions. While the other kind of description of a pagan is stated in the verse below as one who is a Muslim but refused to pay the alms (zakat) is also classified as a pagan in the Quran as stated:- Surah 41:6-7 Say thou: “I am but a man like you: It is revealed to me by Inspiration, that your Allah is one Allah: so stand true to Him, and ask for His Forgiveness.” And woes to those idolaters (mushrikin).those who practice not regular charity (zakat), and who even deny the Hereafter.
In such a situation those Muslims who refused to pay the alms or zakat as stated in Surah 41:6-7 quoted above is also classified under the same category as the pagan. Unless and until they pay the zakat war was declared upon them unless they repent by paying the zakat and establish regular prayers. There is therefore no compulsion in belief but there is compulsion to contribute to the state’s coffer. Similarly the People of the Book and the disbelievers they were not forced to become Muslim as stated in Surah 9:29 but it is the tax the Jizya which is the equivalent of the zakat paid by the Muslims that they have to pay. The taxable amount for all citizens is at a standard rate of one fifth or twenty percent of their income as stated in Surah 8:41: And know that out of all the booty that ye may acquire, a fifth share is assigned to Allah, and to the Messenger, and to near relatives, orphans, the needy, and the wayfarer, if ye do believe in Allah and in the revelation We sent down to Our servant on the Day of Testing, the Day of the meeting of the two forces. For Allah hath power over all things.
It can be seen that actually there is no difference in the amount to be paid to the state whether it involves the Muslims of non-Muslims It is only the name of the word used of the tax or alms paid by the Muslims is called the “zakat” while the word alms to be paid by the people of the book and the disbelievers is called the “jizyah” but the percentage of the taxable income is common to all citizens irrespective of their belief. The only reason different word of the alms is used is because when a Muslim pays the zakat apart from performing his duty to the state he is also purifying his soul to Allah as explained in Surah 92:18-20:- [He] who gives [from] his wealth to purify himself. And not [giving] for anyone who has [done him] a favor to be rewarded, But only seeking the countenance of his Lord, Most High. And in another example when a Muslim pays the alms he is discharging his duty for Allah as stated in Surah 9:103 “Of their goods, take alms, that so thou might purify and sanctify them; and pray on their behalf.” Thus it is compulsory for the Muslims to pay the zakat or they will be forced to pay. Nevertheless disbelievers including the People of the Book did not believe in Allah so they make payment as a duty they owe to the State and not as an action to purify himself. Therefore that is the main reason of the description for using the two different words “zakat’ and the word “jizyah”. It is to pay what is overdue in taxable income for all citizens to contribute to maintain the state’s administration and not a compulsion in belief so as to be converted to Islam.
Thus this payment of taxable income the “zakat” and the “jizyah” has nothing to do with freedom of religion or belief but it is regarding the payment which is enforced on the whole community irrespective whether one is a Muslim or a non-Muslim. The Muslim who refused to pay the zakat being branded as a pagan can therefore repent and settled the zakat amount but the disbeliever including the people of the book has nothing to repent but to pay the alms or the “jizyah” they owed to the authority. Those were the differences to explain the gist of what had been claimed to be a contradiction but the truth prevails that there is no compulsion in religion as propagated in the meaning of the Quran at S2:256.