Leader of the world's Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, disturbed the hornets' nest when he touched on Islam when he addressed a meeting with representatives of science at the University of Regensburg, on Tuesday, 12 September 2006.
In his lecture on "faith, reason and university memories and reflections" he quoted the opinion of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, in a dialogue with an educated Persian, on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both, according to the edition of Prof. Theodore Khoury.
The emperor was quoted by the pope as saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
Before I go any further, let me refresh your memories that the pope was once known as Joseph Ratzinger and in 1941 he joined Nazi Germany's Hitler Youth. He participated in and watched thousands of Jews being rounded up for death camps. That was indeed evil and inhumane.
Now, let me address the question of was Islam spread by the sword?
Islam comes from the root word "salam" which means peace. It also means submitting one's will to Allah. Islam is a religion of peace, acquired by submitting one's will to the will of the Supreme Creator, Allah.
The best reply to the misconception that Islam was spread by the sword is given by the noted historian De Lacy O'Leary in the book "Islam at the cross road" (page 8) "History makes it clear however, that the legend of the fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myth that historians have ever repeated."
When Muslims ruled Spain for 800 years, they never used the sword to force the people to convert. Later the Christian Crusaders came to Spain and wiped out the Muslims.
In the Arab world, Muslims were the lords of the land for more than 1400 years. For a few years the British ruled and for a few years the French ruled. Yet today, there are 14 million Arabs who are Coptic Christians i.e. Christians since generations. If the Muslims had used the sword there would not have been a single Arab who would have remained a Christian.
The Muslims ruled India for about a thousand years. If they wanted, they had the power of converting each and every non-Muslim of India to Islam, today more than 80 per cent of the population of India are non-Muslims. All these non-Muslims Indians are bearing witness today that Islam was not spread by the sword.
The famous historian, Thomas Carlyle, in his book "Heroes and Hero worship" refers to this misconception about the spread of Islam: "The sword indeed, but where will you get your sword? Every new opinion, at its starting is precisely in a minority one. In one man's head alone. There it dwells as yet. One man alone of the whole world believes it, there is one man against all men. That he takes a sword and try to propagate with that, will do little for him. You must get your sword! On the whole, a thing will propagate itself as it can."
With which sword was Islam spread? Even if Muslims had it they could not use it to spread Islam because the Qur'an says in the following verse: " Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error" (Baqarah 2:256)
It is the sword of intellect. The sword that conquers the hearts and minds of people. The Qur'an says in Surah Nahl, chapter 16 verse 125: " Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious."
Benedict XVI and the West knew that Islam is the fastest growing religion in America and Europe. Which sword is forcing people in the West and America to accept Islam in such large numbers?
"People who worry that nuclear weaponry will one day fall in the hands of the Arabs, fail to realise that the Islamic bomb has been dropped already. It fell the day Muhammad (pbuh) was born." (Dr Joseph Adam Pearson)
(Thank you Datuk Syed Abdillah Alhabshee and Saba Islamic Media for the inputs i.e. 20 Most Common Questions About Islam by Dr Zakir Naik)