In Islam, shirk (Arabic: شرك širk) refers to the sin of practising idolatry or polytheism, i.e. the deification or worship of anyone or anything other than the singular God i.e. Allah. Literally, it means the establishment of "partners" placed beside God. It is the vice that is opposed to the virtue of Tawhid (monotheism).
The word šhirk comes from the Arabic root Š-R-K (ش ر ك), with the general meaning of "to share". In the context of the Quran, the particular sense of "sharing as an equal partner" is usually understood, so that polytheism means "attributing a partner to Allah". In the Qur'an, shirk and the related word mušrikūn (مشركون), — those who commit shirk and plot against Islam — often refer to the enemies of Islam (as in verse 9.1–15).
Islamic commentators on the Qur'an have emphasized that pre-Islamic Arabic idolatry made a number of godlings (most memorably the three goddesses al-Manāt, al-Lāt and ʻUzzā) equal associates of Allah (as the Qur'an discusses in the 53rd surat) and the word mushrikūn (singular: mushrik) is often translated into English as "polytheists".
Allah mentions the names of some of the idols in the Qu'ran and what the people of Prophet Nuh's community would say in an effort by the idolaters to ignore and mock Prophet Nuh. "They (idolaters) have said: "You shall not leave your gods nor shall you leave Wadd, nor Suwa', nor Yaghuth, nor Ya'uq nor Nasr." (Qur'an 71:23)
Other forms of shirk include the worship of wealth and other material objects. This is pointed out in the Qur'an in one of the stories of the Children of Israel, when they took a calf made of gold for worship, and for which Moses ordered them to repent.
Another form of shirk mentioned in the Qur'an is to take scholars of religion, monks, divines, or religious lawyers as Lord(s) in practice by following their doctrines, and/or by following their rulings on what is lawful when it is at variance to the law or doctrines prescribed by God's revelation.
History of Idolatry
Islamic literature narrates that Prophet Idris had lived during a time when people had begun to worship fire. There is no evidence of idol-worship taking place during his time. Scholars such as Ibn Abbas, Ibn Hibban and a few others narrated that the Prophet Muhammad said: "The period between Adam and Noah was ten centuries." Sahih al-Bukhari states that Noah was born 1056 years after Adam's creation (or after he was expelled from Paradise to live on Earth). Idolatry and polytheism began gradually during these ten centuries, at first in the form of paintings, then statues then finally idols.
The Qu'ran states that by the time of Noah's birth, idolatry was rampant. Noah, known in Islam as Prophet Nuh had people among his community who had been worshipping statues that they called gods. They believed that these gods would bring them good, protect them from evil and provide all their needs. They gave their idols names such as Waddan, Suwa'an, Yaghutha, Ya'auga, and Nasran. These idols represented, respectively, manly power; mutability, beauty, brute strength, swiftness, sharp sight and insight, according to the power the people thought these gods possessed.
Originally these were the names of good people who had lived among them. After their deaths, statues of them were erected to keep their memories alive. Those who built statues of them still continued to worship Allah. However, the later generations did not even know why they had been erected; they were convinced or assumed that their great-grandparents and ancestors had prayed to them. After sometime, however, people began to worship these statues. That is how idolatry had developed.
Ibn Abbas explained: "Following upon the death of those righteous men, Shaytan inspired their people to erect statues in the places where they used to sit. They did this, but these statues were not worshiped until the coming generations deviated from the right way of life. Then they started worshipping them as their idols."
Ibn Jarir narrated, in his version of events, "There were righteous people who lived in the period between Adam and Noah and who had followers who held them as models. After their death, their friends who used to emulate them said, "If we make statues of them, it will be more pleasing to us in our worship and will remind us of them." So they built statues of them, and, after they had died and others came after them, Shaytan crept into their minds saying, "Your forefathers used to worship them, and through that worship they got rain." So they worshipped them.
Ibn Abi Hatim also related this story, "Waddan was a righteous man who was loved by his people. When he died, they went to his grave in the land of Babylonia and were overwhelmed by sadness. When Shaytan saw their sorrow caused by his death, he disguised himself in the form of a man saying, "I have seen your sorrow because of this man's death; can I make a statue like him which could be put in your meeting place to make you remember him?" They said, "Yes" as that would be "a good idea." So he made the statue like him. They put it in their meeting place in order to be reminded of him. When Shaytan saw their interest in remembering him, he said: "Can I build a statue of him in the home of each one of you so that he would be in everyone's house and you could remember him?" They agreed. Their children learned about and saw what they were doing. They also learned about their remembrance of him instead of Allah. So the first to be worshipped instead of Allah was Waddan, the idol which they named thus."
The essence of this point is that every idol from those earlier mentioned was worshipped by a certain group of people. It was mentioned that people at first made paintings of those individuals. As time passed, they made these pictures into statues, so that their forms could be fully recognized; afterwards they were worshipped instead of Allah. This was also confirmed by Prophet Muhammad. It was narrated that Umm Salama and Umm Habibah told Prophet Muhammad about a church called "Maria" which they had seen in Abyssinia. They described its beauty and the pictures therein. Prophet Muhammad replied, "Those are the people who build places of worship on the grave of every dead man who was righteous and then make therein those pictures. Those are the worst of creation unto Allah." (Sahih al-Bukhari).
Medieval Muslim (as well as Jewish) philosophers identified belief in the Trinity with the heresy of shirk, in Arabic, (or shituf in Hebrew), meaning "associationism", in limiting the infinity of God by associating his divinity with physical existence.
In a theological context one commits shirk by associating some lesser being with Allah. This sin is committed if one imagines that there is some other spirit than Allah whom it is suitable to worship. Many Islamic theologians[who?] extend the sense of worship to include praying to some other being to intercede with Allah on one's behalf, rather than taking one's case to God Himself. The limits of the concept of worship are quite elastic and theologians often describe excessive veneration of some artifact here on earth as shirk.
Atheism is described as shirk because it denies the position of Allah as the unique creator and sustainer of the universe (tawhid ar-rububiyya, the Unity of Lordship). In the same way, the act of shirk is extended to include such things as the notion that God possesses human-like anthropomorphic qualities as well as acts of worship or piety whose inward goal is pride, caprice, or a desire for public admiration, although public prayer is a core Islamic aspect of faith, encouraged and supported in the Quran.
Greater and lesser shirk
- Greater shirk (Shirk-al-Akbar): open and apparent
- Lesser shirk (Shirk-al-Asghar): concealed or hidden
Greater shirk or Shirke-al-Akbar means open polytheism. Muhammad describes major shirk in two forms:
- To associate anyone with Allah Taala as His partner (to believe in more than one god).
- To associate Allah's attributes with someone else. (Attributing, considering, or portraying God's knowledge or might to being those of anyone else)
Other interpretations also derived from the Qur'an and the prophetic tradition (Sunnah) divide shirk into three main categories. Shirk can be committed by acting against the three different categories.
This category of shirk refers to either the belief that others share God's Lordship over creation as His equal or near equal, or to the belief that there exists no Lord over creation at all.
- Shirk by association: This is the shirk concerned with associating "others" with Allah.
- Shirk by negation: This is shirk in Rubūbīyah (Lordship).
al-Asma was-Sifat (names and attributes)
Shirk in this category includes both the non-believer practices of giving God the attributes of his creation as well as the act of giving created beings God's names and attributes.
- Shirk by humanization: In this aspect of shirk, God is given the form and qualities of human beings and animals. Due to man's superiority over animals, the human form is more commonly used by idolaters to represent God in creation. Consequently, the image of the Creator is often painted, moulded or carved in the shape of human beings possessing the physical features of those who worship them.
- Shirk by deification: This form of shirk relates to cases where created beings or things are given or claim God's names or his attributes. For example, it was the practice of the ancient Arabs to worship idols whose names were derived from the names of God. Their main three idols were; al-Lat (taken from God's name al-Elah), al-'Uzza (taken from al-'Aziz), and al-Manat (taken from al-Mannan). During the era of Muhammad there was also a man in a region of Arabia called Yamamah, who claimed to be a prophet and took the name Rahman which, in Islam, belongs only to God.
In this category of shirk, acts of worship are directed to others and not to Allah and the reward for worship is sought from the creation instead of the Creator. As in the case of the previous categories, shirk in al-'Ebadah has two main aspects.
This form of shirk occurs when any act of worship is directed to someone else and not to Allah. It represents the most obvious form of idolatry, against which the prophets were specifically sent by God, calling the masses of mankind to give it up. Examples of this shirk are asking for forgiveness, admittance to paradise, etc. that only Allah can provide, from others and not from Allah.
Lesser shirk or Shirke-e-Asghar means hidden polytheism. A person commits hidden polytheism when he says tawhid (there is no god except Allah) but his thoughts and actions do not reflect his belief. Lesser shirk fundamentally stems from an underestimation of God. This intellectual defect leads to pride, arrogance, and self-delusion.
"One who offers the ritual prayers in an ostentatious way is a polytheist. One who keeps the fast, or gives alms, or performs the Hajj to show the public his righteousness or to earn good name is a polytheist."—Muhammad
Mahmud ibn Lubayd reported, "God's messenger said: 'The thing I fear for you the most is ash-Shirk al-Asghar.'"
- The companions asked, "O messenger of God, what is that?"
- He replied, "Ar-Riya (showing off), for verily God will say on the Day of Resurrection when people are receiving their rewards, 'Go to those for whom you were showing off in the material world and see if you can find any reward from them.'"
Mahmud ibn Lubayd also said, "The Prophet came out and announced, 'O people, beware of secret Shirk!'"
- The people asked, "O messenger of God, what is secret Shirk?"
- He replied, "When a man gets up to pray and strives to beautify his prayer because people are looking at him; that is secret Shirk."
- Kamoonpuri, S: "Basic Beliefs of Islam" pages 42–58. Tanzania Printers Limited, 2001.
- "Qur'an 4:48".
- see e.g. A. A. Nadwi, "Vocabulary of the Qur'an"
- "Qur'an 7:148–150".
- "Qur'an 9:31".
- "Yusuf Ali translation of 9:31, footnote 1266".
- Lives of the Prophets, Leila Azzam
- Learning from other faiths Hermann Häring, Janet Martin Soskice, Felix Wilfred - 2003 - 141 "Medieval Jewish (as well as Muslim) philosophers identified belief in the Trinity with the heresy of shituf (Hebrew) or shirk (Arabic): 'associationism', or limiting the infinity of God by associating his divinity with creaturely being"
- Shah-Kazemi, R: "The Sacred Foundations of Justice in Islam: The Teachings of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib", A Sacred Conception of Justice: Imam 'Ali's Letter to Malik al-Ashtar pages 75–76.
- "Kitab At-Tawheed" by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, chapter 40
- "Relations Between Muslims and Non-Muslims in the Thought of Western-Educated Muslim Intellectuals – Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations". www.informaworld.com. Retrieved 2008-05-23.