Was Islam Spread by the Sword?
By Hugh Kennedy
Paper given at The Yale Conference on Religion and Violence (February 2008)
Introduction: The idea that Islam was spread by the sword has had wide currency at many diffrenet times and the impression is still widespread among the less reflective sections of the media and the wider public that people converted to Islam because they were forced to do so. This is, of course, a very useful argument in all sorts of ways. It allows non-Muslims to explain the otherwise problematic fact that so many people converted to Islam when it was, clearly, an inferior or even completely wicked religion. Claiming that people were forced to convert meant avoiding the difficult idea that people might have converted because of inadequacies or failings among the Christian clergy or worse, the intolerable thought that Islam was the true religion and that God was on the side of the Muslims. So much easier, then, to say that people were converted because they had no choice or rather that the choice was between conversion and death.
In this paper I want to consider the role that violence and armed might played in the spread of Islam in the central Middle East between the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 and about the year 1000. By the central Middle East I mean the lands between Egypt in the west and Iran in the east. All these lands, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Iran were conquered in the years between 632 and 650. It was an astonishing series of campaigns and victories, campaigns and victories which have affected the history of the area ever since.