2 – The Different Forms of Shirk


Obtaining knowledge about something by its opposite means

The opposite of ‘Tawheed'(monotheism) is ‘shirk'(the sin of idolatry or polytheism) and ‘shirk’ is derived from the Arabic root word Sh-R-K which translates or conveys the idea or notion of ‘partnership’ or ‘sharing’ or ‘associating’. Therefore, this word ‘shirk’ does not simply mean associating idols with Allaah, but its meaning is much broader and vast.

In the holy Qur’an Allaah says: ‘do not associate anything with Allaah.’ (Surah 2 al-Baqara, verse 22)

To be able to know anything completely it is important to know its opposite first. If we want to learn and know the importance of ‘Tawheed’, it is imperative that we learn its opposite i.e. ‘shirk’. Once we have learnt what ‘shirk’ and its dangers are, we would be able to steer away from it. Not only that, but we would be in a position to understand Tawheed much more profoundly.

There are people who find it quite annoying when the details of ‘shirk’ are explained to them. They say that such talks would create disagreement among the Muslims and divide them.

But they cannot be more intelligent or more knowledgeable than Allaah. That is because the first thing that has explained to mankind is: ‘LA ILAH IL LAL LAAH’ which means that ‘There is no other gods but only Allaah who is worthy of worship’. In other words, Allaah is saying to us that we should not commit ‘shirk’. From this we find that when Allaah explains ‘Tawheed’ to us, He also explains its opposite (i.e. ‘shirk’) to us. He has explained both ‘Tawheed’ and ‘Shirk’ in detail to us in the holy Qur’an.

So, to get a good knowledge of what ‘Tawheed’ is we must imperatively have a good knowledge of ‘Shirk’.

It is a must that we should have a very good knowledge of the different forms of ‘shirk’.

It is a must that we should have a very good knowledge of the realities of ‘shirk’.

It is a must that we should have a very good knowledge about the consequences of ‘shirk’.

It is imperative that we should have a very good knowledge of ‘Ilaha.’

It is obligatory for us to know about the various forms of ‘ilaha’ that Allaah Ta’alah has explained in detail to us in the holy Qur’an.

The Subject of Tawheed

It is impossible to understand ‘Tawheed’ without a detailed explanation of ‘shirk.’ Nowadays we hear people talking in religious congregations and gatherings and saying: ‘O people stay away from ‘shirk’, you must stay away from ‘kufr’ and ‘bidah’; you must be steadfast on Tawheed and Sunnah.’

In spite of such talks and the continuous warnings about the dangers and grave consequences of ‘shirk’ and ‘kufr’, people are still committing ‘shirk’ and ‘kufr’ which are becoming more and more popular among them. So, why is it that ‘shirk’ and ‘kufr’ is so popular amongst people nowadays? The answer to that question is that for as long as ‘shirk’ and ‘kufr’ is not explained in great detail and with clear examples, talks won’t have any effect. This is because talks are about such things as ‘shirk’ and ‘kufr’ are conducted in an abstract, gloomy and general way without any details.

People do not really know what the ‘subject of Tawheed’ is all about. They do not know its implication, importance and role in our day to day life. The Subject of Tawheed is not something that we can learn overnight. Think about it this way, Wudhu and Ghusl are simple to do and yet we take so much time to learn them. In fact, if we think that we have understood the Subject of Tawheed, then we must know that we have understood nothing. This is because it took our Prophet Muhammad (sal lal laahu alaihi wa sal lam) 13 years of full time teaching to explain it to the Makkans and an additional 10 years of teaching to explain it in Medinah. Now there are people who,after having vaguely heard about ‘the Subject of Tawheed’, say that they have already understood it and that there is no need to talk any further about this subject of tawheed. They say, ‘let’s talk about something else in the religion of Islam.’ This does not make sense!!! This is because Nabi (sal lal laahu alaihi wa sal lam) spent days and nights and years to teach the his companions about it. So, how is it possible that we can suddenly claim that we have learnt tawheed and already understood it?

The different forms of ‘shirk’

One of the first and foremost moves of Satan is to lead humans to ‘shirk’ and ‘kufr’. Once he has achieved this, he is not worried anymore. This is because he knows that however many good deeds that a person does after he has committed ‘shirk’ and ‘kufr’, all of it will be vain and he will come in front of Allaah Ta’alah with a zero balance in his book of good deeds on the Day of Judgment.

Every time a person is deluded away he is bound to fall in ‘shirk’ which takes different forms and colours. That is why it is important to know and recognise all its disguising forms, so that we absolutely stay away from it.

‘Shirk’ is a kind of sin which can be committed with the heart, tongue, intention – it can also be committed in our supplication or even in our day to day life. That’s why we need to be extremely cautious and be on our guard to avoid it.

The details of different forms of ‘shirk’

a) ‘Shirk Akbar’ (these are big acts of shirk that are very grave) and they are divided in four categories as follows:

  • (i) Shirk in knowledge of the unseen (i.e. associating others with Allaah in His knowledge of the unseen)
  • (ii) Shirk in power (attributing powers to others other than Allaah Ta’alah)
  • (iii) Shirk in one’s supplication (worshipping and supplicating other divinities instead of Allaah Ta’alah)
  • (iv) Shirk in one’s ibaadah (associate others with Allaah in one’s prayers)

(b) Minor Shirk

(c) Hidden (or secret) Shirk

a) ‘Shirk Akbar’ (Greater shirk):

    • (1) ‘Shirk’ in associating others with Allaah in his knowledge of the unseen.

It is only Allaah who has the knowledge of all the secrets of this Universe. He alone knows what is in the earth, what is in its deepest depthsand obscurity and knows everything that is in the space and beyond.He alone knows everything that is in the heart and mind of each and every being in this whole world. He has knowledge of the past and the future, of that which is near and that which is far, and of that which is clear and that which is hidden. His power and knowledge has no limits.

Whoever believes that such knowledge of the unseen as described above is possessed by any jinn, prophets, awliyas (alive or passed away), statues, idols, soul, tomb etc. has committed shirk. This is because in doing so, he has associated others with Allaah Ta’alah.

      “And with Him are the keys of the unseen; none knows them except Him. And He knows what is on the land and in the sea. Not a leaf falls but that He knows it. And no grain is there within the darknesses of the earth and no moist or dry [thing] but that it is [written] in a clear record.” (Surah 6 al-Anaam, verse 59)

    • (2) ‘Shirk’ in attributing powers to others other than Allaah

There are people who believe others have powers just as Allaah. Those who turn to these creatures, believing that they can cause harm or good, have committed ‘shirk’.

“And those you call upon besides Him are unable to help you, nor can they help themselves.” (Surah 7 al-Araaf, verse 197)

In the holy Qur’an Allaah Ta’alah mentions about those people who pray to, supplicate, worship and seek help from others instead of Him. In fact, these creatures or lifeless things cannot even help themselves. For example, these idols or tombs which are worshipped cannot even help themselves when an animal cause any mess to them or when anyone damage them. So, how can they help people or anyone?

    • (3) ‘Shirk’ in duah (worshipping and supplicating others than Allaah)

This type of ‘shirk’ is committed with the tongue and in the holy Qur’an Allaah says:

“And do not invoke besides Allaah that which neither benefits you nor harms you, for if you did, then indeed you will of the wrongdoers.” (Surah 10 Yunus, verse 106)

An Example: ‘Shirk’ in reading ‘qasidah and poems’

A Muslim declares 5 times per day in his daily ‘swalaats’ the oneness of Allaah. In doing so, he proclaims 5 times every day that Allaah alone is worthy of worship and adoration, He alone must be supplicated, He alone is omnipotent (has all the powers) and that He alone can touch anyone or anything with something good or something bad.

However, it also happens that such a Muslim reads ‘qasidah’ and poems in which he praises pious people with such exaggeration as attributing powers and other divine qualities to them. So, when reading ‘qasidah’ and poems he invokes and supplicates these pious people as if they were gods. But what does the holy Qur’an tell us about this? Here it goes:

“And [yet], among the people are those who take other than Allaah as equals [to Him]. They love them as they [should] love Allaah. But those who believe are stronger in love for Allaah…” (Surah 2 al-Baqarah, verse 165)

In other words, there are people who take pious people, Allaah’s awliyas, tombs, idols and other deities above Allaah. They do this in all circumstances of their life, in all good and bad moments of their life – they address and ask help of these idols, tombs, awliyas and false gods first in everything they do. The above verse from the holy Qur’an is clear about this.

  • (4) ‘Shirk’ in one’s ibaadah (worship and prayers)

There are certain acts that we do for Allaah Ta’alah only. For examples, ‘sajdah’, ‘ruku’, ‘qiyaam’ (standing in prayer), hajj, taking oath, giving ‘sadaqah’ (alms), fasting, etc. All these acts are acts of veneration that are meant for Allaah only. So, if a person does any of these acts to any other than Allaah Ta’alah, like for instance to a tree, a stone, a tomb and so on, then he or she has committed an act of ‘shirk’ in his or her ‘ibaadah.’

b) Lesser ‘shirk’:

Hazrat Muhammad (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said: “What I fear for you the most is minor (or lesser)shirk.” The sahabas then asked him what was it and he said: “Riya”.

He (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) also said, “he who swears by anything other than Allaah commits minor shirk.

The Prophet Muhammad (sal lal laahu alaihi wa sal lam) replied that ‘riya’ is to do a good action with the intention of showing off, of showing others instead of pleasing Allaah Ta’alah.

Our intention and action must always be for seeking the pleasure of Allaah Ta’alah. However, if we pray or do good actions to show to others so that we could be praised or honoured for such acts, then we have committed minor shirk.

When a person commits minor shirk he destroys the purpose for which he was created (the purpose of worshipping Allaah Ta’alah only). Seeking admiration, praise and honour from others in worshipping Allaah Ta’alah is in fact a pretension that one is praying, because in doing so a person’s intention is to please others instead of Allaah.

c) Hidden or Secret ‘shirk’:

Another form of shirk is when we are not satisfied with our situation, our fate which has been decreed by Allaah Ta’alah. It is when we lament and regret that nothing is good in our life.

It is when we say things such as ‘only if we have done that, the result would have been better.’

It is when a person is always complaining about his condition, when he is never satisfied with anything that Allaah Ta’alah has decreed for him. Such attitudes are examples of ‘shirk’.

Prophet Muhammad (sal lal laahu alaihi wa sal lam) said: ‘Shirk in my ummah is more imperceptible than a black ant on a black fabric in the dark of the night.’

The way leading to ‘shirk’

The two main things that lead to ‘shirk’ and ‘kufr’ are:

  • (1) Exaggeration
  • (2) Tradition (or customs)
  • (1) Exaggeration

To exaggerate in elevating the honour, rank or status of prophets and ‘awliyas’ that Allaah Ta’alah has attributed to them. An example of this is with the Christians who have equalled Hazrat Issa (alaihi salaam) with Allaah.

(2) Tradition

And when it said to them, “Follow what Allaah has revealed,” they say, “Rather, we will follow that upon which we found our fathers,” Even if Satan was inviting to the punishment of the Blaze.’ (Surah 31 Luqman, verse 21)

A Muslim must love all the prophets, the ‘awliyas’ (friends of Allaah) and all the pious people. But such love has a limit. Any exaggeration will cross this limit.

A first example when such Exaggeration and Custom that leads to ‘shirk’ :

In the time of Hazrat Nuh (alaihis salaam) there were people who had started to exaggerate in their love and admiration for pious people and ‘awliyas’ of Allaah Ta’alah. So, they started to revere (or venerate) the dead and this practice led them, step by step, to worship, supplicate, invoke and seek help from those ‘awliyas’ and pious people that have passed away.

All this time, Satan has been using different tricks and schemes which have taken years to make people prostrate to dead pious people and ‘awliyas’ until finally the door of ‘shirk’ has opened. Generations that have come after have followed the customs and traditions that their forefathers have established and practised.

The holy Qur’an makes mention of 5 divinities that people used to worship and invoke in the time of Hazrat Nuh (alaihis salaam) – their exaggeration have finally led them to associate those false divinities to Allaah Ta’alah.

In the holy Qur’an Laat, who was a person who used to offer food and drinks to the pilgrims doing their ‘hajj’. So, when Laat died people started to gather at his tomb and began to worship and invoke him. (Ibn Kathir)

A second example:

Hazrat Ummé Habiba and Ummé Salmah said that they have seen pictures in a church in Ethiopia. To this, Hazrat Muhammad (sal lal laahu alaihi wa sal lam) answered that it is a custom in Ethiopia that monuments are constructed and raised on the tombs of dead pious people with their pictures fixed upon them. Living people then pray to, worship and invoke these dead pious people at their tombs as gods.

Hazrat Muhammad (sal lal laahu alaihi wa sal lam) further said that these people (tomb-worshippers) are the worst people.

A third example

Prophets, ‘peers’ and ‘awliyas’

Some Muslims have a tendency to say that act of ‘shirk’ is limited to idol worship only. So, they commit all kinds of other ‘shirk’ and pretend that they have not wronged at all because they have not worshipped any statues or idols.

When a person associates any prophets or any pious people with Allaah Ta’alah he becomes a ‘mushrik’. The following example is from the holy Qur’an:

Hazrat Issa and his mother were not idols but people made them as such and worshipped them as divinities.

Many people believe that there are pious people who are so close to Allaah Ta’alah as such that they take them as family members of Allaah Ta’alah.

Therefore, they believe that these pious people have a great influence on Allaah Ta’alah and that they possess great powers. So, they ignorantly address these pious personalities as gods and worship and invoke them until they no longer worship Allaah Ta’alah at all.

The following Quranic verse is about this:

“Unquestionably, for Allaah is the pure religion. And those who take protectors besides Him [say], ‘We only worship them that they may bring us closer to Allaah in position’….”(Surah 3 az-Zumar, verse 39)

Allaah Ta’alah does not need any Mediator

Some people believe that Allaah Ta’alah has a government system just like people has a government system on earth. So, they believe that just like people need officials, police, counsellors and so on to run their government, in the same manner Allaah Ta’alah needs intermediates to run this Universe. Such a comparison is offensive to Allaah Ta’alah and detrimental to our conviction. This is because in believing as such they bring Allaah’s power low and as low as that of human beings. Humans are so ignorant that everything that enters their head they just associate it with Allaah Ta’alah or even make it equal to Allaah.

Let us have a look at some examples of some false gods :

1) Natural things: people worship and pray to rocks, animals, trees, mountains, rivers, the sun and the stars etc.

“I found her and her people prostrating to the sun instead of Allaah, and Satan has made their deeds pleasing to them and averted them from [His] way, so they are not guided.” (Surah 27 an-Naml, verse 24)

2) Prophets: for instance, Hazrat Uzair (alaihis salaam) and Hazrat Isa (alaihis salaam)

‘The Jews say, “Uzair is the son of Allaah”; and the Christians say, “The Messiah is the son of Allaah.” That is their statement from their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before [them]. May Allaah destroy them; how are they deluded?’ (Surah 9 at-Tawbah, verse 30)

3) Worshipping jinn:

‘They will say, “Exalted are You! You, [O Allaah], are our benefactor excluding [i.e. not] them. Rather, they used to worship the jinn; most of them were believers in them.” (Surah 34 Saba, verse 41)

4) There are those who worship pious people, ‘awliyas’ and others. One such example is that of the prophet Nuh (alaihis salaam) mentioned above.

Further details on ways of how a person might commit shirk

1) ‘Shirk’ in Allaah’s Self (shirk in Tawheed al-Asmaa)

This means giving others (a person or a thing) the same rank or status as Allaah Ta’alah. One example here is the Christian belief in the Trinity and the belief of the Arab during the period of ignorance that Allaah’s daughters were the angels.

2) ‘Shirk’ in the attributes of Allaah (shirk in Tawheed as-Sifaat) .

This means giving others (a person or a thing) the same attributes and qualities of Allaah Ta’alah. One example here is to believe that someone else can give protection or blessings exactly the same as Allaah does.Another example is that believing that a red ribbon attached in one’s car,can protect it from damaged ,accident etc…

‘Say, “Who is Lord of the heavens and earth?” Say, “Allaah.”
Say, “Have you taken besides Him allies not possessing [even] for themselves any benefit or any harm?…” (Surah 13 ar-Raad, verse 16)

3) ‘Shirk’ in Allaah’s Power (‘shirk’ in Tawheed ar-Rububiyah).

Allaah alone can do certain things that He alone has the power or capacity to do because He is the Master of this Universe. To think that someone else has the same power as Him is ‘shirk’. An example of this is when someone says that besides Allaah Ta’alah there are others who can create and provide for creatures, bless them with success or punish them with a loss – saying or believing such a thing is ‘shirk’.

4) ‘Shirk in Allaah’s right (shirk in Tawheed al-Uluhiyya)

As Master and Creator of this Universe Allaah Ta’alah the Omnipotent (The All-Powerful) has certain unique right for Himself alone. It is Allaah’s right that He alone deserves all worship. This worship can be with one’s mouth, with one’s body or with one’s material possession spent in Allaah’s way as a form of worship. But all worship should be directed to Allaah Ta’alah alone.

If we worship or invoke others besides Allaah, then we have not respected that right of Allaah, thus have committed ‘shirk’.

Example of ‘shirk’ where people have associated ‘awliyas’ and ‘peers’ to Allaah Ta’alah

“They have taken their scholars and monks as lords besides Allaah, and [also] the Messiah, the son of Mary. And they were not commanded except to worship one God; there is no deity except Him. Exalted is He above whatever they associate with Him. (Surah 9 at-Tawbah, verse 31)

It is clear from the above Quranic verse that people took their priests, ‘awliyas’, prophets as Allaah and thus committed ‘shirk’.

About this verse :

Hazrat Adi Bin Hatim (radhi Allaahu anhu) who was a Christian before said to the Hazrat Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wa sal lam): ‘We have never worshipped our priests, buzrug, ‘awliyas’, so how is it that the Quran tells that we did so?’

So, Hazrat Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wa sal lam) explained this to him:

“Have you not accepted what your priests, buzrug and ‘awliyas’ declared permissible and forbidden?’ To this, Hazrat Adi Bin Hatim replied: “Yes, we have believed in what they have declared permissible and forbidden.”

Therefore Hazrat Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) replied to him: “So, this your ibaadah (worship or prayer).”

This ‘sahaba’ asked for a detailed explanation about ‘shirk’ to understand in what way ‘shirk’ was implicated in their life.

But we never ask and we never even conduct any research to find out the truth!