Can authorities force citizens to practice the religion?

Verse 2:256 makes it clear that there shall be no compulsion in religion. Notice that God says “in religion”, not just “upon” it. One has to conclude that no matter in religion can be forced.

What the Muslim authority is obligated to do though, is protect citizens from immorality in the same way any society protects its citizens from crime. If a woman, for example, goes out in improper attire, it is the duty of the Muslim authorities to prevent her, not because they can force her to be decent but to protect others from fitna (temptation to sin). That’s the key difference that many advocates of personal freedom overlook. We cannot drive our own cars on the highway faster than the speed limit because if we do we may cause fatal harm to others, not just ourselves.

So, why did Abu-Bakr, may God have been pleased with him, fight the people who refused to pay the Zakah? Because they remained Muslim! As Muslims, they have committed to pay it. By refusing to pay, they violated the law of the land, just like in America, the Federal government may send U.S. marshals to bust the home of a citizen who refuses to pay taxes.

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