Delineating the parameters of Shirk (Polytheism)
Muhammad Adnan Chishti
In the Glorious Quran, we find in many instances that a word which Allah Almighty has used as an attribute for Himself has also been used for His honourable prophets, the noble saints, those who are truthful and the pious. In actual fact, these words have also been used to refer to the common people. For example, in one instance, Allah Almighty has referred to Himself with two attributes: ‘رَءُوْف’ (Gracious) and ‘رحیم’ (Merciful). In another part of the Quran, these same two attributes have also been used to refer to the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم.
Allah is ‘سمیع’ and ‘بصیر’ and so are people
Allah Almighty has mentioned two of His attributes:
اِنَّهٗ هُوَ السَّمِیْعُ الْبَصِیْرُ(۱)
He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing.
[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 15, Surah Bani Israa`eel, Verse 1)
These same two attributes, ‘سمیع’ and ‘بصیر’, have also been used to refer to man. The Quran states:
فَجَعَلْنٰهُ سَمِیْعًۢا بَصِیْرًا
We henceforth made him hearing, seeing.
[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 29, Surah Al-Dahr, Verse 2)
It is clearly evident from these two verses that Allah Almighty is ‘سمیع’ and ‘بصیر’, and so too is man ‘سمیع’ and ‘بصیر’.
The Word ‘شہید’ has been used for both, Allah and the Prophet
Allah Almighty mentions one of His attributes in the following way:
اِنَّ اللّٰهَ عَلٰى كُلِّ شَیْءٍ شَهِیْدٌ
(Part. 17, Surah Al-Hajj, Verse 17)
‘شہید’ is an attribute of Allah, which He has also used for His Beloved Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم in the following verse:
فَكَیْفَ اِذَا جِئْنَا مِنْ كُلِّ اُمَّةٍۭ بِشَهِیْدٍ وَّ جِئْنَا بِكَ عَلٰى هٰۤؤُلَآءِ شَهِیْدًاﳳ(۴۱)
So, how will it be when We bring a witness from each Ummah (nation), and We shall bring you, O Beloved, as a witness and observer over all of them?
[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 5, Surah Al-Nisa, Verse 41)
Allah is ‘مولیٰ’, and Jibraeel is also ‘مولیٰ’
The Quran states that Allah is the ‘مولیٰ’ of the Muslims, as mentioned in the verse,
ذٰلِكَ بِاَنَّ اللّٰهَ مَوْلَى الَّذِیْنَ اٰمَنُوْا
This is because Allah is the Supporter of the believers.
[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 26, Surah Muhammad, Verse 11)
In another part, it states,
فَاِنَّ اللّٰهَ هُوَ مَوْلٰىهُ وَ جِبْرِیْلُ وَ صَالِحُ الْمُؤْمِنِیْنَۚ-وَ الْمَلٰٓىٕكَةُ بَعْدَ ذٰلِكَ ظَهِیْرٌ(۴)
So indeed Allah is his Helper, and Jibra’eel and the virtuous believers, and after that, the angels are also (his) supporters.
[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 28, Surah Al-Tahreem, Verse 4)
Likewise, the Quran mentions:
You are our Master.
[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 3, Surah Al-Baqarah, Verse 286)
It is the way of the believers that they proclaim, ‘اَنْتَ مَوْلٰىنَا’ ‘You are our Lord.’ This is in spite of it being the norm amongst the Muslims to refer to the ‘Ulama as Maulana. Nobody has ever conceived it to be the case that only Allah is Maula and so calling a scholar Maulana will result in polytheism (shirk). Similarly, even children know that the Leader of the Believers, Sayyiduna Ali Al-Murtada رَضِىَ الـلّٰـهُ عَـنْهُ is the ‘مولیٰ’ of the believers. Similarly, Sayyiduna Abu Bakr رَضِىَ الـلّٰـهُ عَـنْهُ is referred to as Siddeeq-e-Akbar despite everyone knowing that Allah is Akbar—the very commencement of Salah is with the utterance of الله اکبر. Also, Sayyiduna Usman is referred to as ‘غنی’ (Ghani), whereas the Quran has referred to ‘غنی’ (Ghani) as being an attribute of Allah [as is evident from the subsequent verse:]
اِنَّ اللّٰهَ هُوَ الْغَنِیُّ الْحَمِیْدُ(۲۶)
Indeed, only Allah is the Independent, the Most Praiseworthy.
[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 21, Surah Luqmaan, Verse 26)
The shared usage of these terms in the aforementioned manner is common amongst all Muslims, and yet no Muslim deems this to be disbelief (Kufr) or polytheism (shirk), because it is not so.
Honour is for Allah and also for the Messenger and the believers
Allah Almighty states in the Quran:
اِنَّ الْعِزَّةَ لِلّٰهِ جَمِیْعًاؕ-
All honour is for Allah.
[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 11, Surah Yunus, Verse 65)
It seems to be understood from this verse that honour is only for Allah Almighty, but it is stated in another verse:
وَ لِلّٰهِ الْعِزَّةُ وَ لِرَسُوْلِهٖ وَ لِلْمُؤْمِنِیْنَ وَ لٰكِنَّ الْمُنٰفِقِیْنَ لَا یَعْلَمُوْنَ۠(۸)
Whereas, the honour (truly) belongs to Allah and to His Messenger and to the Muslims, but the hypocrites know not.
[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 28, Surah Al-Munaafiqoon, Verse 8)
Allah is ‘حلیم’, and Sayyiduna Ibraheem and Isma’eel are also ‘حلیم’
‘حلیم’ is an attribute of Allah, as the Quran mentions:
وَ اللّٰهُ غَفُوْرٌ حَلِیْمٌ(۲۲۵)
And Allah is Most Forgiving, Most Forbearing.
[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 01, Surah Al-Baqarah, Verse 225)
The very same attribute of being ‘حلیم’ has also been used by Allah Almighty to refer to Sayyiduna Ibraheem and Sayyiduna Isma’eel عَـلَيْـهِما الـسَّـلَام. It is stated in the verse:
اِنَّ اِبْرٰهِیْمَ لَحَلِیْمٌ
(Part. 11, Surah Hood, Verse 75)
And for Sayyiduna Isma’eel عَـلَيْـهِ الـسَّـلَام, it is stated:
فَبَشَّرْنٰهُ بِغُلٰمٍ حَلِیْمٍ(۱۰۱)
(Part. 23, Surah Al-Saffaat, Verse 101)
Who is it that grants children?
It is known that Allah Almighty grants children, as the Quran states:
یَهَبُ لِمَنْ یَّشَآءُ اِنَاثًا وَّ یَهَبُ لِمَنْ یَّشَآءُ الذُّكُوْرَۙ(۴۹) اَوْ یُزَوِّجُهُمْ ذُكْرَانًا وَّ اِنَاثًاۚ-وَ یَجْعَلُ مَنْ یَّشَآءُ عَقِیْمًاؕ-
He may bestow daughters to whomsoever He wills, and sons to whomsoever He wills. Or may mix them; the sons and daughters, and may make infertile whomever He wills.
[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 25, Surah Al-Shoora, Verses 49-50)
At another place, Sayyiduna Jibraeel عَـلَيْـهِ الـسَّـلَام has ascribed the act of granting of a child to himself:
قَالَ اِنَّمَاۤ اَنَا رَسُوْلُ رَبِّكِ ﳓ لِاَهَبَ لَكِ غُلٰمًا زَكِیًّا(۱۹)
He said, ‘I have been sent by your Lord, so that I may give you a pure son.’
[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 16, Surah Maryam, Verse 19)
Who is it that gives death?
The young and the old know that life and death, their giving and taking away, is in the control of Allah Almighty. This is mentioned in the Quran:
اَللّٰهُ یَتَوَفَّى الْاَنْفُسَ حِیْنَ مَوْتِهَا
Allah takes away the souls at the time of their death
[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 24, Surah Al-Zumar, Verse 42)
In another part of the Quran, giving death has been ascribed to an angel:
قُلْ یَتَوَفّٰىكُمْ مَّلَكُ الْمَوْتِ الَّذِیْ وُكِّلَ بِكُمْ
The angel of death, who is appointed over you, causes you to die.
[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 21, Surah Al-Sajdah, Verse 11)
In summary, apart from the few examples presented, there are considerably many more verses in which the exact word that has been used for Allah Almighty has also been used for the prophets, saints and the pious. Never has this brought a Muslim into doubt in thinking whether or not this engenders polytheism (shirk). This is because everyone knows that although one word may have been ascribed to Allah Almighty and the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم or someone else, the meaning will differ between their usage respectively. For instance, Allah Almighty knows the unseen and so does the Prophet; Allah Almighty is the Helper and so are the saints; the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم has been given absolute authority by the bestowal of Allah Almighty; the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم is the owner of Paradise; the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم holds the keys to Allah Almighty’s treasures. Believing in all of the aforementioned does not entail polytheism (Shirk) as there are many differences between the attributes of Allah Almighty and the creation. Some of these are presented below:
Allah Almighty’s Attributes
Ephemeral (have a start/end)
Infinite (have no start/end)
Do not increase/decrease
Dependent upon Allah
Dear Islamic brothers, in light of the above differences, will one still consider it to be polytheism (Shirk) to ascribe one attribute both for Allah and creation? Most certainly not! Just the one difference of Allah Almighty being the Creator and prophets, saints and the pious being the creation is sufficient [in marking a clear distinction]. There is no parallelism between the Creator and creation. For this reason, it is essential to remember that the ostensible oneness and similarity found in words most certainly do not constitute polytheism (Shirk).