"No compulsion in religion" is one of the Qur’ānic verses that have created a lot of controversy among Muslim scholars due to the different means of interpreting it.
Dr. ‘Abd al-Mu‘tī Bayyūmī uses this verse, which is mentioned in the Chapter of al-Baqarah [The Cow] [2:256], as the base for his discussion about the regulations of Muslim and non-Muslim relations as articulated in the Qur’ān.
Bayyūmī believes that there are a number of other important Qur’ānic verses that sometimes create confusion among people as they might seem contradictory with the previously mentioned one.
These verses are; "Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush," and "And wage war on all of the idolaters as they are waging war on all of you. And know that Allāh is with those who keep their duty (unto Him)." [9:5 and 36 respectively, ‘Meanings of the Glorious Qur’ān,’ by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall]
Bayyūmī sums up the different interpretations of the verse of "No compulsion in religion" into two main schools. The first school believes that the verse is not abrogated and it refers to the freedom of belief granted by Islam to Ahl al-Kitāb [Jews and Christians] only. On the other hand, the second school goes for the opinion that the verse is abrogated by the previously mentioned verses from the chapter of al-Tawbah [Repentance], which urges Muslims to fight disbelievers.
As for Dr. ‘Abd al-Mu‘ṭī Bayyūmī’s personal opinion concerning the prohibition of compulsion in religion, he believes that this command is absolute and not limited, adding that it includes all aspects of religious compulsion whether they be embracing or deserting the religion. Moreover, he does not accept the opinion that the command is limited to Ahl al-Kitāb, but it is general for all people.
Bayyūmī believes that there are many Qur’ānic verses justifying his explanation, among which is the verse in the chapter of al-Kahf [The Cave] that reads: "Then whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve," as well as the verse in the chapter of Yūnus [Jonah] "And if thy Lord willed, all who are in the earth would have believed together. Wouldst thou (Muhammad) compel men until they are believers?" [18:29 and 10:99 respectively, ‘Meanings of the Glorious Qur’ān,’ by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall]
In addition, he rejects that notion of naskh in the Qur’ān, that some verses have abrogated other verses, arguing that Naskh is a false accusation against the preserved Qur’ān.
Finally, he considers the verses in the chapter of Tawbah [Repentance], which urge for fighting, were delivered for special purposes in specific time and cannot be considered general command to Muslims to fight non-Muslims.