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In Islam, shirk (Arabic: شرك širk) is the sin of idolatry or polytheism, i.e. the deification or worship of anyone or anything other than the singular God (Allah), or more literally the establishment of "partners" placed beside God. It is the vice that is opposed to the virtue of Tawheed (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 Qur'an, the particular sense of "sharing as an equal partner" is usually understood, so that polytheism is "attributing a partner to Allah". In the Qur'an, širk and the related word (plural Stem IV active participle) mušrikūn (مشركون), "those who commit shirk and plot against Islam", often clearly refers to the enemies of Islam (as in verse 9.1–15), but sometimes it also refers to erring Muslims.
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".
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. Yet another form is to treat a prophet, such as Jesus, as God.
Theological interpretation 
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 
Shirk is defined in various ways. Some argue that there is only one type of shirk.
- Greater shirk (Shirk-al-Akbar): open and apparent
- Lesser shirk (Shirk-al-Asghar): concealed or hidden
Greater shirk 
Greater shirk or Shirke-al-Akbar means open polytheism.
Muhammad describes major shirk in two forms:
- To associate anyone with Allah Taala as His part (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.
In Rubūbīyah (Lordship) 
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).
In al-Asma was-Sifat (the 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 in al-Asma was-Sifat, 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 in al-Asma was Sifat 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 al-'Ibadah (worship) 
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 
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.
- Muhammad said:
"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."
- Other accounts:
Mahmud ibn Lubayd reported, "God's messenger said: 'The thing I fear for you the most is ash-Shirk al-Asghar.'"
- The companions asked, "Oh! 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."
See also 
- 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".
- 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.