Al-Baqarah (The Cow) Sura 2: Verse 256
"There is no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy handhold, that never breaks, for God is All-hearing, All-knowing. "
This verse is the most profound declarative statement in the Quran. It is not the business of any human being to coerce another in matters of faith or religion. The all-powerful gives us complete freedom to believe or not believe, to follow whatever religion we choose. The ability to attain to faith is innate in human nature, and the means to attain faith is provided by revelation. Only our willing, informed convincement is the true measure of God consciousness. By implication, for individuals or society to coerce people is to interfere with and arrogate to themselves authority over a relationship which can exist only between God and each individual soul.
What is being made clear is that God is beyond any need or requirement. God does not need worshippers; it is human beings who need consciousness of God. Faith and religion, we are told, are based on recognising the distinction between truth and error; they are an exercise of reason and intellect, a work of knowledge as well as of spirit. Willing, informed and reasoned belief is laying hold of 'the most secure handhold that never breaks', the most liberating, empowering and comforting phrase in the Quran.
"Reading the Qur'an: The Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of Islam" - Ziauddin Sardar, pp. 180, 181