What is Shirk?

Islamic beliefs and information

What is Shirk? (Part 1)

Abu Salman Muhammad ‘Adnan Chishti Attari Madani

There have been certain acts in the Shari’ahs of the former Prophets عَـلَـيْهِمُ السَّلَام that were permissible in one Shari'ah while the same acts were forbidden in another Shari’ah, but shirk (polytheism) is such a heinous act that was unanimously forbidden in every Shari’ah and was not permissible even for a millionth of a moment. And how could it have been permitted as shirk is اَکْبَرُ الْکَبَائر (the greatest of major sins).

The Destructions Caused by Shirk

Shirk is the opposite of faith. Just as the light of day and the darkness of night cannot come together, similarly, shirk and faith can never ever come together under the umbrella of Islam. All the noble Prophets عَـلَـيْهِمُ السَّلَام condemned shirk. Sages and saints also preached about the evil of Shirk; for instance, when Sayyiduna Luqman رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه, the wise, advised his son as mentioned in the Quran:

یٰبُنَیَّ لَا تُشْرِكْ بِاللّٰهِﳳ-اِنَّ الشِّرْكَ لَظُلْمٌ عَظِیْمٌ(۱۳)

‘O my son! Never ascribe anything as a partner to Allah; indeed, ascribing partners to Him is a grave injustice.’

[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 21, Surah Luqmaan, Verse 13)

Shirk is an ill that shuts, for the committing it, all the doors to paradise forever and makes Hell his permanent abode, as Allah Almighty says:

اِنَّهٗ مَنْ یُّشْرِكْ بِاللّٰهِ فَقَدْ حَرَّمَ اللّٰهُ عَلَیْهِ الْجَنَّةَ وَ مَاْوٰىهُ النَّارُؕ-وَ مَا لِلظّٰلِمِیْنَ مِنْ اَنْصَارٍ(۷۲)

Undoubtedly, whoever ascribes partners with Allah, Allah has consequently made Paradise unlawful for him; and his abode is Hell, and there is no helper of the unjust.

[Kanz-ul-Iman (Translation of Quran)] (Part 6, Surah Al- Maa’idah, Verse 72)

The worst fate of a polytheist

The fate of a polytheist is illustrated in the Quran by an example of a person who falls on the ground from a high place, and then the birds tear up his flesh into small pieces or the wind separates his parts and throws them into a distant valley, and this is the most admonitory and worst form of death. In the same way, a person who associates partners with Allah عَزَّوَجَلَّ after believing in Him falls into the valley of disbelief from the height of faith. Then his lustful desires disperse his attention into different directions just like the birds that eat his flesh and fly away in different directions; and the satanic whispers blow him away like the wind and cast him into the valley of disbelief. That is how a polytheist leads himself into the worst destruction. Therefore, it is stated in the Holy Quran

وَ مَنْ یُّشْرِكْ بِاللّٰهِ فَكَاَنَّمَا خَرَّ مِنَ السَّمَآءِ فَتَخْطَفُهُ الطَّیْرُ اَوْ تَهْوِیْ بِهِ الرِّیْحُ فِیْ مَكَانٍ سَحِیْقٍ(۳۱)

and whoever ascribes partners to Allah is as if he has fallen from the sky; that the birds snatch him or the wind throws him away to a far-off place.

[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 17, Surah Al-Hajj, Verse 31)

‘Do not associate anything with Allah even if…’

Our beloved Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم advised Sayyiduna Mu’aaz Bin Jabal رَضِىَ الـلّٰـهُ عَـنْهُ as follows: لَا تُشْرِكْ بِاللهِ شَيْئًا وَاِنْ قُتِلْتَ وَحُرِّقْتَ: ‘Do not associate anything to Allah عَزَّوَجَلَّ even if you are killed or you are set ablaze.’ (Musnad Imam Ahmad, vol. 8, p. 249, Hadees: 22136)

Definition of Shirk

It is mentioned in the famous book, Lisan-ul-‘Arab:

واَشْرَکَ بِاللّٰهِ: جَعَلَ لهُ شَرِيکاً فی مُلْکهِ، تَعَالی اللهُ عَنْ ذالِک۔۔، والشرک ان تجعل لله شريکا فی ربوبيته، تعالی الله عَنِ الشرکاءِ والاندادِ۔۔، لان الله وَحْدَهُ لا شَرِيْکَ له وَلَا نِدّ لهُ ولا نَدِيْد

Translation: ‘He associated partners with Allah عَزَّوَجَلَّ‘means he has associated someone else with Allah عَزَّوَجَلَّ in His kingdom while Allah عَزَّوَجَلَّ is Exalted beyond that. The meaning of shirk is to consider someone as a lord other than Allah عَزَّوَجَلَّ, and Allah Almighty is pure from partners and peers, because Allah Almighty is One., He has no partners, there is no one like Him, and He has no similitude to anything. (Lisan-ul-‘Arab, vol. 1, p. 2023, summarised)

In the famous book that is taught in Islamic seminaries, ‘Sharh ‘Aqaaid Nasafiyah’, ‘Allamah Sa‘d-ul-Deen Taftazani رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه writes: اَلْاِشْراک هُوَ اِثبَاتُ الشَّريکِ فِی الاُلُوهِية،بِمَعنَی وجوِبِ الْوُجُودِ کما للمجوس اَو بِمعنی استحقاق العبادة کما لعبدة الاصنام. Translation: ‘Shirk is defined as affirming a partner in the divinity of Allah Almighty, i.e. in the meaning of being Wajib-ul-Wujood[1] like the Magians[2] do or considering someone worthy of worship like the idolaters do.’ (Sharh ‘Aqaaid Nasafiyah, p. 203)

Reflecting upon the words of Imam Sa‘d-ud-Deen Taftazani رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه, it is clear that for shirk, it is necessary to find one of the these three things:

1.   To consider other than Allah as Wajib-ul-Wujood (i.e. whose existence is necessary and non-existence is logically impossible), even if that other is not considered worthy of worship.

2.   To consider other than Allah Almighty worthy of worship, even if that other is not considered as Wajib-ul-Wujood.

3.   To consider other than Allah Almighty both Wajib-ul-Wujood and worthy of worship.

 If any one of these three cases is found, it will be considered shirk. If any one of these cases is not found, then it could be anything but Shirk.

Were the disbelievers of Makkah polytheists?

Beware! It should never occur to anyone that since the disbelievers of Makkah did not consider their false gods as Wajib-ul-Wujood, then how could they be polytheists? Remember, shirk is not only to believe other than Allah as Wajib-ul-Wujood, but it is also to consider other than Allah Almighty as worthy of worship, as it is clear from the words of ‘Sharh Aqaaid’. The disbelievers of Makkah used to worship their false gods considering them worthy of worship, as it is mentioned in the Holy Quran:

وَ یَعْبُدُوْنَ مِنْ دُوْنِ اللّٰهِ مَا لَا یَضُرُّهُمْ وَ لَا یَنْفَعُهُمْ وَ یَقُوْلُوْنَ هٰۤؤُلَآءِ شُفَعَآؤُنَا عِنْدَ اللّٰهِؕ-

And they (the polytheists) worship other than Allah that which can neither harm them nor benefit them and say, ‘These are our intercessors before Allah.

[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 11, Surah Yunus, Verse 18)

The polytheists used to worship the idols and also considered them their intercessors in the court of Allah Almighty. Thus, clearly, they had two crimes:

1.   Considering other than Allah as worthy of worship and

2.   Atributing closeness to those who have no proximity to Allah Almighty at all.

Therefore, the disbelievers of Makkah were undoubtedly polytheists.

(For more information on the types of shirk and other useful information, read Part 2 in the next issue, entitled ‘This is not Shirk’)



[1] Necessarily existent

[2] Those who worship fire

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