Forced conversion

Forced conversion

A forced conversion is the religious conversion or acceptance of a philosophy against the will of the subject, often with the threatened consequence of earthly penalties or harm. These consequences range from job loss and social isolation to incarceration, torture or death. Typically, such a conversion entails the repudiation of former religious or philosophical convictions.[citation needed]



Forced conversion was a key factor in the Christianization of the Roman Empire. In 392 A.D. the emperor Theodosius I instituted a law making Christianity the only legal religion of the empire, and forbidding Pagan practices by law:

It is Our will that all the peoples who are ruled by the administration of Our Clemency shall practice that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans....The rest, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative" (Codex Theodosianus XVI 1.2.).[1]

This law led to the destruction of most pagan temples in the empire, and contributed largely to the demise of Paganism.

During the Saxon Wars, Charlemagne, King of the Franks, forcibly Christianized the Saxons from their native Germanic paganism by way of warfare and law upon conquest. Examples include the Massacre of Verden in 782, during which Charlemagne reportedly had 4,500 captive Saxons massacred upon rebelling against conversion, and the Capitulatio de partibus Saxoniae, a law imposed on conquered Saxons in 785 which prescribes death to those that refuse to convert to Christianity.[2]

Pope Innocent III pronounced in 1201 that even if torture and intimidation had been employed in receiving the sacrament, one nevertheless:

...does receive the impress of Christianity and may be forced to observe the Christian Faith as one who expressed a conditional willingness though, absolutely speaking, he was unwilling. ... [For] the grace of Baptism had been received, and they had been anointed with the sacred oil, and had participated in the body of the Lord, they might properly be forced to hold to the faith which they had accepted perforce, lest the name of the Lord be blasphemed, and lest they hold in contempt and consider vile the faith they had joined.[3]

The "New Christians" were inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula (Sephardic Jews or Mudéjar Muslims) during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Era who were baptized under coercion, becoming Conversos or Moriscos. In spite of their new faith, they were suspected by the "Old Christians" of being Crypto-Jews or Crypto-Muslims. Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497.[4]

Religious persecution took place by the Portuguese in Goa, India from 16th to the 17th century. The natives of Goa, most of them Hindus were subjected to severe torture and oppression by the zealous Portuguese rulers and missionaries and forcibly converted to Christianity.[5][6][7][8][9][10]


Forced conversions are rare, but are reported to have happened under the Hasmonean Empire. The Gentile Galileans, Samaritans and Idumaens were forced to convert to Judaism, (either by threats of exile, or threats of death, depending on the source.) For the forced conversion of the Idumaeans under John Hyrcanus, see Flavius Josephus Antiquities 13.257-258. For the forced conversion of the Ituraeans under Aristobulus, see Flavius Josephus Antiquities 13.319. In Eusebíus, Christianity, and Judaism Harold W. Attridge says that “there is reason to think that Josephus’ account of their conversion is substantially accurate.” He also writes, “That these were not isolated instances but that forced conversion was a national policy is clear from the fact that Alexander Jannaeus (ca 80 BCE) demolished the city of Pella in Moab, “because the inhabitants would not agree to adopt the national custom of the Jews.” Josephus, Antiquities. 13.15.4, 397 [11]

Maurice Sartre has written of the "policy of forced Judaization adopted by Hyrcanos, Aristobulus I and Jannaeus”, who offered "the conquered peoples a choice between expulsion or conversion,” [12]

And in 'The early Roman period, Volume 2', William David Davies has written that. “The evidence is best explained by postulating that an existing small Jewish population in Lower Galilee was massively expanded by the forced conversion in c.104 BCE of their Gentile neighbours in the north.” [13]


Early Islamic scripture and law forbids forced conversion.[14] In opposition to forced Islamization, verse of the Qur'an (2:256) is frequently cited, reading "let there be no compulsion in religion".[15][16][17][18][19]

However, in practice, forced conversions have been very common throughout all Islamic history, although it was but rarely official government policy.[14][20] Noted cases include the conversion of Samaritans to Islam at the hands of the rebel Ibn Firāsa,[21][22] conversions in the 12th century under the Almohad dynasty of North Africa and Andalusia, as well as in Persia under the Safavid dynasty where Sunnis were converted to Shi'ism[20] and Jews were converted to Islam.[23] A form of forced conversion became institutionalized during the Ottoman Empire in the practice of devşirme, a human levy in which Christian boys were seized and collected from their families (usually in the Balkans), enslaved, converted to Islam, and then trained for high ranking service to the sultan.[24]

There is dispute amongst scholars as to whether the famous Jewish philosopher Maimonides converted to Islam in order to freely escape from Almohad territory, and then reconverted back to Judaism in either the Levant or in Egypt.[25] Maimonides wrote a book on apostasy wherein he advocated accepting forced conversion rather than suffer martydom, and to then seek refuge afterward at a place where it was safe. Sabbatai Zevi, an Ottoman Jew from Smyrna, was forced to convert to Islam, and had no opportunity to return to Judaism. Sabbatai, a charismatic figure, had many followers,and ultimately claimed to be the messiah. He went to Constantinople where the Sultan placed him in a prison in Abydos. He gained his freedom by accepting Islam, along with his wife, and was then further forced to take a second wife to verify his true conversion.

K. S. Lal, alleged in his book Growth of Muslim Population in Medieval India that between the years 1000 and 1500 the population of Hindus decreased by 80 million in the Indian Subcontinent due to forced conversion to Islam and widespread slaughter of Hindus who resisted conversion.[26]

Muhammad Ghori committed genocide against Hindus at Kol (modern Aligarh), Kalinjar and Varanasi. According to Hasan Nizami's Taj-ul-Maasir, 20000 Hindu prisoners were slaughtered and their heads offered to crows.[27][28] Hasan Nizami's Taj-ul-Maasir records that in Kol (Modern Aligarh), "those of the horizon who were wise and acute were converted to Islam, but those who stood by their ancestoral faith were slain with the sword.[28][27]

Mughal ruler Aurangzeb cherished the ambition of converting India into a land of Islam. For this, he encouraged forced religious conversions and destroyed thousands of Hindu temples during his reign.[29][30]

During Tipu Sultan's invasion of Malabar in the late 18th century, he forcefully converted over 400,000 Hindus to Islam.[31][32][33] During the Moplah Riots of 1921 in Kerala, Muslim Mappilas forcibly converted thousands of Hindus to Islam[34] and killed all those who refused to apostatise.[35]

Twenty-first century allegations


Forced conversion is not permitted in Buddhism and is rarely if ever attempted for religious reasons. However, in Burma in recent years the military dictatorship has strongly encouraged the conversion of ethnic minorities, often by force, as part of its campaign of assimilation.[36][37]


The Baptist Church of Tripura is alleged to have supplied the NLFT with arms and financial support and to have encouraged the murder of Hindus, particularly infants, as a means to depopulate the region of all Hindus.[38] In 2009, the Assam Times reported that about fifteen armed Hmar militants, members of Manmasi National Christian Army, tried to force Hindu residents of Bhuvan Pahar, Assam to convert to Christianity.[39] Few Christian evangelists in India have been accused forced conversion of Hindus.[40][41] Archbishop Moras, refuting these allegation of forced conversions and the charges of conversions against the Christian missionaries, said "We do not believe in forced conversions" "It is easy to charge people with wrong allegations but difficult to stop evil powers that are working against Christians".[42]


Indian Christians have alleged that "radical Hindu groups" in Orissa, India have forced Christian converts from Hinduism to "revert"[43] to Hinduism. These "religious riots" were largely between two tribal groups in Orissa, one of which was predominantly Hindu and another predominantly Christian, over the assassination of a Hindu leader named Swami Lakshmanananda by Christian Maoists operating as terrorist groups in India (see Naxalite).[44] In the aftermath of the violence, American Christian evangelical groups have claimed that Hindu groups are "forcibly reverting" Christians converts from Hinduism back to Hinduism.[43] However, some local Christian groups have dismissed these allegations.[45]



In 2001 the Indonesian army evacuated hundreds of Christian refugees from the remote Kesui and Teor islands in Maluku (province) after the refugees stated that they had been forced to convert to Islam. According to reports, some of the men had been circumcised against their will, and a paramilitary group involved in the incident confirmed that circumcisions had taken place while denying any element of coercion. [46]


In 2004 Coptic Christians in Egypt occupied the main Coptic cathedral in Cairo for several days, angry at the disappearance of a priest's wife in a village in the Nile delta, who, they alleged, had been forced to convert to Islam. The BBC reported that allegations of forced conversions of Copts to Islam surface every year in Egypt.[47]

Other notables among these have been the cases of Iraq's Mandaeans,[48] Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Christians, Christians of Pakistan [49] and Assyrian Christians of Iraq[50][51][52] who have faced coercion to convert to Islam.[53][54]

In 2006 two journalists of the Fox News Network had been kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint. After conversion they were made to read statements on videotape proclaiming that they had converted, after which they were released by their captors.[55]

There have been numerous reports of Islamic attempts to forcibly convert religious minorities in Iraq. In Baghdad, Christians have been told to convert to Islam, pay the jizya or die.[56][57][58] In March 2007 the BBC reported that people in the Mandaean religious minority in Iraq alleged that they were being targeted by Islamist insurgents, who offered them the choice of conversion or death.[59]


In October 2009 it was reported that Muslim groups in the Indian state of Kerala have been engaging in a "Love Jihad", whereby Muslim men were trained to seduce college-going Hindu and Christian girls to marry them and forcibly convert to Islam.[60] Both Hindu and Catholic Christian groups in the state expressed alarm at this trend and have been working together to protest this trend. The High Court in the state has resolved to probe the matter. The primary Islamic group currently being held responsible for this is the Islamic extremist front Popular Front of India, a conglomeration of radical Islamist groups disguised as civil rights groups that are dedicated to implementing Islamic Sharia law in Hindu majority India.[61] The Catholic Church in Kerala has joined up with Hindu groups in order to combat this trend.[62] Such cases of "Love Jihad" have reportedly started to occur in the neighboring state of Karnataka as well.[62]

In 2007, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, a right-wing Hindu leader in India, received a letter from Jaish-e-Mohammed, threatening him with death if he did not convert to Islam.[63]

Jammu & Kashmir- The Ladakh Buddhist Association has said: "There is a deliberate and organised design to convert Kargil's Buddhists to Islam. In the last four years, about 50 girls and married women with children were taken and converted from village Wakha alone. If this continues unchecked, we fear that Buddhists will be wiped out from Kargil in the next two decades or so. Anyone objecting to such allurement and conversions is harassed."[64][65]

In 1998 Prankote massacre, 26 Kashmiri Hindus were beheaded by Islamist militants after their denial of converting into Islam. The militants struck when the villagers refused demands from the gunmen to convert to Islam and prove their conversion by eating beef. [66]


Around 25 Hindu girls are abducted every month and converted to Islam forcibly in Pakistan, as reported by Pakistani media.[67]

In May 2007, members of the Christian community of Charsadda in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, close to the border of Afghanistan, reported that they had received letters threatening bombings if they did not convert to Islam, and that the police were not taking their fears seriously.[68] Although eventually no actual action was taken on that threat by the terrorists.

In June 2009, International Christian Concern (ICC) reported the rape and killing of a Christian man in Pakistan, for refusing to convert to Islam.[69] In August 2009, ICC reported that four Christians working to help orphans in Somalia were beheaded by Islamist extremists when they refused to convert to Islam.[70]

Sikhs in Pakistan, concentrated in the Lahore area, have been constantly under a threat to convert to Islam.[71] As jizya was legalized by the Government of Pakistan in 2009, the Taliban have been kidnapping minority communities to claim this tax;[72] while officials use a significantly pro-Islam constitution to encourage conversions without direct participation.[73]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ For the Massacre of Verden, see Barbero, Alessandro (2004). Charlemagne: Father of a Continent, page 46. University of California Press. For the Capitulatio de partibus Saxoniae, see Riché, Pierre (1993). The Carolingians. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 9780812213423.
  3. ^ Grayzel, Solomon, The Church and the Jews in the Thirteenth Century, rev. ed., New York: Hermon, 1966, p. 103
  5. ^ Of umbrellas, goddesses, and dreams: essays on Goan culture and society‎ Robert Samuel Newman, 2001
  6. ^ The Goa Inquisition, Being a Quatercentenary Commemoration Study of the Inquisition in India by Anant Priolkar, Bombay University Press
  7. ^ Everyday Nationalism: Women of the Hindu Right in India‎ Kalyani Devaki Menon, 2009
  8. ^ Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay 1967
  9. ^ M. D. David (ed.), Western Colonialism in Asia and Christianity, Bombay, 1988, p.17
  10. ^ Between ethnography and fiction: Verrier Elwin and the tribal question in India‎ Tanka Bahadur Subba, Sujit Som, K. C. Baral, North Eastern Hill University. Dept. of Anthropology - Social Science
  11. ^ ,, retrieved 2011-20-06 
  12. ^ ,, retrieved 2011-20-06 
  13. ^ , accessdate=2011-20-06 
  14. ^ a b Waines (2003) "An Introduction to Islam" Cambridge University Press. p. 53
  15. ^ Sir Thomas W. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam
  16. ^ Marshall G. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam
  17. ^ Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples
  18. ^ Ira Lapidus, History of Islamic Societies
  19. ^ L.S. Starorianos, A Global History, the Human Heritage
  20. ^ a b Lewis (1984), p. 17, 18, 94, 95.
  21. ^ M. Levy-Rubin, "New evidence relating to the process of Islamization in Palestine in the Early Muslim Period - The Case of Samaria", in: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 43 (3), p. 257-276, 2000, Springer
  22. ^ Fattal, A.(1958) Le statut légal des non-Musulman en pays d'Islam, Beyrouth: Imprimerie Catholique, p. 72-73.
  23. ^
  24. ^ Conversion, Tijana Krstić, Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, Ed. Gábor Ágoston and Bruce Alan Masters, (InfoBase Publishing, 2009), 145-146;"As a part of their education, devşirme children underwent compulsory conversion to Islam, which is the only documented forced form of conversion organized by the Ottoman state.".
  25. ^
  26. ^ [1]KS Lal
  27. ^ a b Rashid, A. (1969). Society and Culture in Medieval India, 1206-1556 A.D. (Excerpt from Taj-ul-Maasir). Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay. 
  28. ^ a b [2] Muhammad of Ghor
  29. ^ [3]Intolerant ruler: Aurangzeb (
  30. ^ [4]Guru Tegh Bahadur (BBC.CO.UK)
  31. ^ Goel, Sita (1993). Tipu Sultan: villain or hero? : an anthology. Voice of India. p. 38. ISBN 9788185990088. 
  32. ^ Sharma, Hari (1991). The real Tipu: a brief history of Tipu Sultan. Rishi publications. p. 112. 
  33. ^ Purushottam. Must India go Islamic?. P.S. Yog. 
  34. ^ Hindu culture during and after Muslim rule: survival and subsequent challenges. M.D. Publications Pvt. Ltd.. 1994. p. 103. ISBN 9788185880266. 
  35. ^ Besant, Annie. The Future Of Indian Politics: A Contribution To The Understanding Of Present-Day Problems P252. Kessinger Publishing, LLC. ISBN 1428626050. 
  36. ^ Burma at the turn of the twenty-first century p.120 Monique Skidmore
  37. ^ [5]
  38. ^ Bhaumik, Subhir (April 18, 2000). "'Church backing Tripura rebels'". BBC News. Retrieved 2006-08-26. 
  39. ^ Christianity threat looms over Bhuvan Pahar Assam Times - June 23, 2009
  40. ^ India Pastor Jailed For Converting Hindus, Corpse Exhumed
  41. ^ Indian couple detained on forced conversion charges
  42. ^ Satisfied with govt action- Archbishop Moras
  43. ^ a b the word revert is used in this context; not convert; see Older than the Church: Christianity and Caste in The God of Small Things India by A sekhar;Washington post article
  44. ^ [6]
  45. ^ "Orissa: Christian leaders disagree with US panel's report". Rediff News. 2009-08-14. 
  46. ^ Maluku refugees allege forced circumcision, BBC News Online, Wednesday, 31 January 2001 [7]
  47. ^ Heba Saleh (BBC News, Cairo), 'Conversion' sparks Copt protest. BBC News Online 9 December 2004. [8]
  48. ^ Iraq's Mandaeans 'face extinction'
  49. ^ Taliban Tells Pakistani Christians: Convert or Die
  50. ^ Christian Minorities in the Islamic Middle East : Rosie Malek-Yonan on the Assyrians
  51. ^ The assault on Assyrian Christians
  52. ^ Told to Convert or Die, 21 Assyrian Families Seek Shelter in Baghdad Churches
  53. ^ "Maluku refugees allege forced circumcision". BBC News. 2001-01-31. Retrieved 2010-05-02. 
  54. ^ 'Conversion' sparks Copt protest
  55. ^ Kidnapped Fox journalists released
  56. ^ Told to Convert or Die, 21 Assyrian Families Seek Shelter in Baghdad Churches
  57. ^ The assault on Assyrian Christians - International Herald Tribune
  58. ^ The Religion Report - 30 May 2007 - Christian Minorities in the Islamic Middle East : Rosie Malek-Yonan on the Assyrians
  59. ^ BBC News on-line 7 March 2007
  60. ^ "'Love Jihad' racket: VHP, Christian groups find common cause". The Times Of India. 13 October 2009. 
  61. ^ [9]
  62. ^ a b [10]
  63. ^ "Ram Janambhumi trust chief threatened". Times of India. PTI. 22 Nov 2007. 
  64. ^ Tundup Tsering and Tsewang Nurboo, in: Ladakh visited, Pioneer, 4/12/1995.
  65. ^ The Tribune, Chandigarh, India - Jammu & Kashmir
  66. ^ [11]26 Hindus beheeaded by Islamist militants in Kashmir
  67. ^ [12]25 Hindu girls abducted every month, claims HRCP official] The News, Tuesday, March 30, 2010
  68. ^ Report on Fox News, from AP
  69. ^ Nora Zimmett (June 13, 2009). "Christian Man Raped, Murdered for Refusing to Convert to Islam, Family Says". FOX News.,2933,526126,00.html. Retrieved June 11, 2011. 
  70. ^ "Al Shabaab Reportedly Beheads 4 Christians, Rips Gold Teeth From Locals' Mouths". FOX News. August 12, 2009.,2933,539129,00.html. Retrieved June 11, 2011. 
  71. ^ Father pleads for help after kidnapping
  72. ^ US Religious Freedom Commission to Pakistan: Protect Your Sikhs
  73. ^ Persecuted by all

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