Guest post: Funny thing about the ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’ verse

Originally a comment and another comment by Marwa Berro (who will be blogging here under her real name starting August 1!) of Between a Veil and a Dark Place on A Muslim woman is not allowed to marry a non-Muslim.

Funny thing about the ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’ verse. It is almost always (quite conveniently) quoted out of context. It actually means the exact opposite, that you can’t be internally compelled to see the one and only Truth, but you sure as hell can be punished for being evil enough to refuse to see it. The rest of the verse and the one following it:

[ 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 heareth and knoweth all things.

[ 2:257] Allah is the Protector of those who have faith: from the depths of darkness He will lead them forth into light. Of those who reject faith the patrons are the evil ones: from light they will lead them forth into the depths of darkness. They will be companions of the fire, to dwell therein (For ever).

The ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’ verse turns out to be literally a preamble to explaining how/why anyone who believes otherwise is wrong, evil, and doomed to utter damnation.

Cuz that’s not normative or exclusionary at all.

Also, re: intermarriage in Islam. I’ve wanted to write about this so many times, not least because I have so many friends suffering from this problem. Obviously most of what I have to say is in the context of Lebanon, but you would have no idea what a huge, pervasive problem the struggle for interfaith marriage is in Lebanon. You know that we don’t have civil services for marriage so people can only follow religious laws to get married, and they can’t have legitimate public relationships without getting married either, and even when it’s not literally illegal for them to get married in Lebanon without their families agreeing to some roundabout conversion thing–which almost never happens because of all the governmental bureaucracy involved in conversion and shitty sectarian social politics– the stigma makes it even worse than Islam technically dictates.

Examples: I have a couple of atheist friends from Sunni and Shia families who after being disowned by their parents and struggling for years before finally getting parental permission to get married (another shitty prerequisite can you fucking believe it), have now spent years trying to find a shiekh who will agree to marry them. Every cleric they’ve gone to, even the ‘progressive’ ones, refuse because of fear of upsetting each other’s communities, especially as the woman is Saudi and the man is Lebanese and you gotta know the Shia-Sunni enmity is great between Hezbollah and the Saudi gov’t, so obviously this young couple can’t be married.

I have another couple of atheist friends, an Iraqi man from a Shia family and a woman from an Armenian Orthodox Lebanese family who have had to hide their relationship for almost a decade now, down to having to have home-abortions when accidents have happened, despite the fact that it’s technically legal for him to marry her in both Lebanon and Iraq. The stigma is just too great, and it’s very often Christian families who resist interfaith marriages because the only legal ones are Christian women marrying Muslim men, which means in their thinking their daughters are going to basically be inducted into her husband’s family, faith, and customs, and basically they will lose an entire branch of family from their community. It’s literally thought of in terms of those things. Ironically, Christian families seldom have problems with their sons marrying Muslim girls who convert, not only because men are less scrutinized in general but also because they would be bringing somebody into the fold that way; instead of losing a daughter, one is gained.

And I have had friends who struggled for years through solid interfaith romances before having to break up because they couldn’t keep up the secrecy or their families just kept giving them grief, and more often than not these romances have been Christian women with Muslim or Druze men, and Druze friends of all genders with non-Druze partners, because the Druze are even bigger sticklers about no interfaith marriages than Muslims are–they don’t allow it under any circumstances whatsoever. Just last year there was an honor crime in Lebanon where the family of a Druze woman who had eloped lured her and her husband back under pretense of accepting their marriage and castrated him. In fact, a sizable chunk of the honor violence in Lebanon has to do with interfaith romances.

Last Wednesday one of my short stories came out, and it deals with a Muslim-Christian romance in Lebanon–I won’t give the ending away, but after reading it one of my friends back home from a Druze family who’s had to hide her boyfriend from a Muslim family for years messaged me saying that she’s often considered doing what the couple in my story did to end up together.

The story is here, btw. Sorry for the shameless plug, but it’s really relevant, not just to the stigma of interfaith marriage, but to more general feminist issues, especially how rape cases are treated and handled in Lebanon as well (Article 522 of the Lebanese penal code exonerates a rapist who marries his victim):


  1. quixote says

    Marwa, I tried to leave a comment on your site, but got lost somewhere in the authentication process. So I’ll say here what I was going to say there: That’s an amazingly well-written story. A window into different minds, as the best stories always are. You’re a very talented person!

  2. aziraphale says

    I didn’t know the problems with interfaith marriage were so bad. That was very informative. Thank you.

    I read the two verses differently. For me they say “Don’t compel anyone to become a Muslim. There is no need, their fate is in the hands of Allah.” That’s a relatively liberal message, and far different from what we see the Sunni forces doing in Mosul.

    Yes, it’s normative and exclusionary. So is Christianity at its origins – see Matthew 25:41, “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

  3. The very model of a modern armchair general says

    So you mean it’s like their equivalent of “the fool hath said in his heart…”?

  4. aziraphale says

    It’s hard to find exact equivalents. “The fool…” is from the Psalms and is not followed by any reference to Hell. In general the Qur’an is far more obsessed by Hell than the Bible.

  5. johnthedrunkard says

    Compulsion, in the sense of threatened divine punishment, is present in just about all religions.

    The quote from the second Sura is expanded and/or abrogated by the Ninth. The conquered victims of Arab imperialism have the ‘non compulsory’ choice of conversion, death, or the eternal payment of tribute (‘protection’) to their conquerors.

    In some zones, the tribute levied was so important to the economy that would be converts were refused.

  6. aziraphale says

    “Compulsion, in the sense of threatened divine punishment” is ineffective unless one already believes in the religion. I’m much more worried by compulsion applied by humans.


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