Shirk (Islam)

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Shirk (Arabic: شِركْ; širk, lit. "association") in Islam is the sin of idolatry or polytheism (i.e., the deification or worship of anyone or anything besides God).[1][2] Islam teaches that God does not share his divine attributes with anyone.[3] Associating partners with God is disallowed according to the Islamic doctrine of Tawhid[4] (oneness). Mušrikūn مشركون (pl. of mušrik مشرك) are those who practice shirk, which literally means "association" and refers to accepting other gods and divinities alongside God (as God’s "associates").[5][6] The Qur'an considers shirk as a sin that will not be forgiven if a person dies without repenting of it.[7][4][8]


The word širk comes from the Arabic root Š-R-K (ش ر ك), with the general meaning of "to share".[9] 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 Quran, shirk and the related word mušrikūn (مشركون)—those who commit shirk and plot against Islam—often refer to the enemies of Islam (as in At-Tawbah verses 9:1–15).[10]: 9:1–15 


Worship of anything but God[edit]

According to the Encyclopedia of Islam, the Quran states "twice", in surah an-Nisa, verses 48 and 116, "that God can pardon all sins save one", that of shirk ("associationism").[11]

Indeed, Allah does not forgive associating others with Him ˹in worship˺, but forgives anything else of whoever He wills. And whoever associates others with Allah has indeed committed a grave sin. —4:48[12]

Islamic commentators on the Quran have emphasized that pre-Islamic Arabic idolatry invented a number of deities, most notable the three goddesses Manāt, Al-Lāt and Al-‘Uzzá, equal associates of God (as the Quran discusses in the 53rd surat) and the word mushrikūn (singular: mushrik) is often translated into English as "polytheists".

Entities worshipped besides God are called shuraka.[13]: 41 .[14]: 77  After Judgement Day, they will be cast into hell along with shayatin (satans) and evil jinn,[13]: 41  to whom the pagans are also said to sacrifice in order to gain protection.

Obey or heed people rather than God[edit]

Another form of shirk mentioned in the Quran At-Tawbah is to take rabbis, monks, prophets, priests, theologians, scholars of religion, religious lawyers, or shayatin 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: [15][16]

They have taken their rabbis and monks as well as the Messiah, son of Mary, as lords besides Allah, even though they were commanded to worship none but One God. There is no god ˹worthy of worship˺ except Him. Glorified is He above what they associate ˹with Him˺! ---9:31[17]

Theological interpretation[edit]

Medieval Muslim and Jewish philosophers identified belief in the Trinity with the heresy of shirk in Arabic (shituf in Hebrew), meaning "associationism", in limiting the infinity of God by associating his divinity with physical existence.[18]

In a theological context, one commits shirk by associating some lesser being with Allah. The sin is committed if one imagines that there is a partner with Allah whom it is suitable to worship. It is stated in the Quran: "Allah forgives not that partners should be set up with Him, but He forgives anything else, to whom He pleases, to set up partners with Allah is to devise a sin most heinous indeed" (Quran An-Nisa 4:48).[19]: 4:48 

Some followers of a Sufistic interpretation of Islam tend to regard the belief in any power other than God as a type of polytheism (shirk). That includes false gods but also the belief in other sources of existence. Beliefs usually accepted by monotheism, such as a devil as a source of evil or free will as source for God's creation's own responsibilities, are equated with beliefs in other powers than God[20] and therefore denounced.

Charles Adams writes that the Quran reproaches the People of the Book with kufr for rejecting Muhammad's message when they should have been the first to accept it as possessors of earlier revelations, and he singles out Christians for disregarding the evidence of God's unity.[21] The Quranic verse Al-Ma'idah 5:73[22]: 5:73  ("Certainly they disbelieve [kafara] who say: God is the third of three"), among other verses, has been traditionally understood in Islam as rejection of the Christian Trinity doctrine,[23] but modern scholarship has suggested alternative interpretations.[note 1] Other Quranic verses strongly deny the deity of Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, and reproach the people who treat Jesus as equal with God as disbelievers, who will be doomed to eternal punishment in Hell.[24][25] The Quran also does not recognise the attribute of Jesus as the Son of God or God himself but respects Jesus as a prophet and messenger of God, who was sent to children of Israel.[26] Some Muslim thinkers such as Mohamed Talbi have viewed the most extreme Qur'anic presentations of the dogmas of the Trinity and divinity of Jesus (Al-Ma'idah 5:19, 5:75-76, 5:119)[22] as non-Christian formulas, which were rejected by the Church.[27]

Cyril Glasse criticises the use of kafirun [pl. of kafir] to describe Christians as a "loose usage".[28] According to the Encyclopaedia of Islam, traditional Islamic jurisprudence has ahl al-kitab being "usually regarded more leniently than other kuffar [pl. of kafir]," and "in theory," a Muslim commits a punishable offense if he says to a Jew or a Christian, "Thou unbeliever."[29]

Historically, People of the Book permanently residing under Islamic rule were entitled to a special status known as dhimmi, and those who were visiting Muslim lands received a different status known as musta'min.[29]

Greater and lesser shirk[edit]

The term shirk is used in two senses: to mean both polytheism and something that is not polytheism but a certain form of sin.[citation needed] Shirk has been classified into two categories[4] according to Islam:

  • Greater shirk (Shirk-al-Akbar): open and apparent
  • Lesser shirk (Shirk-al-Asghar): concealed or hidden

Greater shirk[edit]

Greater shirk or Shirk-al-Akbar means open polytheism and has been described in two forms:[4]

  • To associate anyone with Allah as his partner (to believe in more than one god)
  • To associate Allah's attributes with someone else (to believe anything or anyone other than God has divine attributes)

Ibn Taymiyyh and Salafis[edit]

Other interpretations divide greater shirk into three main categories. According to Salafis Shirk can be committed by acting against the three different categories.[citation needed] Ibn Taymiyyah seems to have been the first to introduce this distinction.[18][30]

Rubūbīyah (Lordship)[edit]

This category of shirk refers to either the belief that others share Allah's lordship over creation as his equal or near equal or to the belief that there is no lord over creation at all.

  • Shirk by association: the shirk concerned with associating "others" with Allah
  • Shirk by negation: shirk in rubūbīyah (lordship)

Al-Asma wa's-Sifat (names and attributes)[edit]

This category of shirk includes both the non-believer practices of giving Allah the attributes of his creation and the act of giving Allah's names and attributes to created beings.

  • Shirk by humanization: in this aspect of shirk, Allah is given the form and qualities of human beings and animals. Man's superiority over animals causes the human form to be more commonly used by idolaters to represent Allah in creation. Consequently, the image of the creator is often painted, molded, 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 of created beings or things being given or claiming Allah's names or his attributes. For example, the ancient Arabs had the practice of worshiping idols whose names were derived from the names of Allah. The three main deities were Al-lāt (taken from Allah'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 Allah.

Al-'Ibadah (worship)[edit]

In this category of shirk, acts of worship are directed to others besides 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-'Ibadah has two main aspects.

This form of shirk occurs when any act of worship is directed to someone else besides Allah. It represents the most obvious form of idolatry against which the prophets were specifically sent by Allah and called the masses of mankind to give it up. Examples of this shirk are asking for forgiveness and admittance to paradise, which only Allah can provide, from others besides Allah.

Lesser shirk[edit]

Lesser shirk, or Shirke-e-Asghar. A person commits it by professing tawhid (there is no god except Allah) but having thoughts and actions that do not reflect that belief:[4]

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.

— Sayyed Qasim Mujtaba Moosavi Kamoonpuri [4]

Mahmud ibn Lubayd reported,

Allah's messenger said: "The thing I fear for you the most is ash-Shirk al-Asghar."

The companions asked, "O messenger of Allah, what is that?"

He replied, "Ar-Riya (showing off), for verily Allah 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 Allah, 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."

Umar ibn al-Khattab narrated that the Messenger of Allah said: "Whoever swears by other than Allah has committed an act of kufr or shirk." (graded hasan by Al-Tirmidhi and saheeh by Al-Hakim)

According to Ibn Mas’ood, one of Muhammad's companions said: "That I should swear by Allah upon a lie is more preferable to me than that I should swear by another upon the truth."[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ That this verse criticizes a deviant form of Trinitarian belief which overstressed distinctiveness of the three persons at the expense of their unity. Modern scholars have also interpreted it as a reference to Jesus, who was often called "the third of three" in Syriac literature and as an intentional over-simplification of Christian doctrine intended to highlight its weakness from a strictly monotheistic perspective.[23]


  1. ^ Nonbelief: An Islamic Perspective
  2. ^ "Surah Luqman Verse 13 | 31:13 لقمان - Quran O". Retrieved 2021-05-03.
  3. ^ "Shirk". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Kamoonpuri, S: "Basic Beliefs of Islam" pages 42–58. Tanzania Printers Limited, 2001.
  5. ^ Gimaret, D. (2012). "S̲h̲irk". In Bearman, P.; Bianquis, Th.; Bosworth, C. E.; van Donzel, E.; Heinrichs, W. P. (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam (2nd ed.). Brill. doi:10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_6965.
  6. ^ Glassé, Cyril; Smith, Huston (2003-01-01). "shirk". The New Encyclopedia of Islam. Rowman Altamira. p. 429. ISBN 9780759101906.
  7. ^ "Forgiveness for Shirk". The meaning of the verse is that whoever dies while a Mushrik (polytheist) Allah will not forgive him and he will surely be punished for this sin, i.e. he will remain in Hell-fire forever. As for the person who repents, Allah forgives his previous Shirk.
  8. ^ Cenap Çakmak. Islam: A Worldwide Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO 2017. ISBN 978-1-610-69217-5 p. 1450.
  9. ^ A. A. Nadwi, "Vocabulary of the Quran"
  10. ^ Ibn Kathir. "Tafsir Ibn Kathir (English): Surah Al Tawbah". Quran 4 U. Tafsir. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  11. ^ Encyclopedia of Islam, volume 9, 2nd edition, s.v. shirk
  12. ^ "Surah An-Nisa - 1-176".
  13. ^ a b Magic and Divination in Early Islam. (2021). Vereinigtes Königreich: Taylor & Francis.
  14. ^ Eichler, Paul Arno, 1889-Publication date 1928 Topics Koran Publisher Leipzig : Klein Collection microfilm; additional_collections Digitizing sponsor Internet Archive Contributor Internet Archive Language German
  15. ^ "Quran 9:31". Archived from the original on 2020-02-04. Retrieved 2010-12-10.
  16. ^ contributors, Iman Mohammad Kashi, Uwe Hideki Matzen, and Online Quran Project. "The Quran". The Quran. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  17. ^ "Surah At-Tawbah - 31".
  18. ^ a b 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 Allah by associating his divinity with creaturely being"
  19. ^ Ibn Kathir. "Tafsir Ibn Kathir (English): Surah Al Nisa". Quran 4 U. Tafsir. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  20. ^ Awn, Peter J. (1983). Satan's Tragedy and Redemption: Iblīs in Sufi Psychology. Leiden: Brill Publishers. p. 104. ISBN 978-9004069060
  21. ^ Charles Adams; Kevin Reinhart (2009). "Kufr". In John L. Esposito (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195305135.
  22. ^ a b Ibn Kathir. "Surah Al Ma'ida". Quran 4 U. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  23. ^ a b Thomas, David (2006). "Trinity". In Jane Dammen McAuliffe (ed.). Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. Brill.
  24. ^ Joseph, Jojo, Qur’an-Gospel Convergence: The Qur’an’s Message To Christians, Journal of Dharma, 1 (January–March 2010), pp. 55-76
  25. ^ Mazuz, Haggai (2012) Christians in the Qurʾān: Some Insights Derived from the Classical Exegetic Approach, Journal of Dharma 35, 1 (January–March 2010), 55-76
  26. ^ Schirrmacher, Christine, The Islamic view of Christians: Qur’an and Hadith,
  27. ^ Carré, Olivier (2003). Mysticism and Politics: A Critical Reading of Fī Ẓilāl Al-Qurʼān by Sayyid Quṭb. Boston: Brill. pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-9004125902.
  28. ^ Glasse, Cyril (1989). The New Encyclopedia of Islam (Revised 2001 ed.). NY: Altamira Press. p. 247. ISBN 978-0759101890.
  29. ^ a b Björkman, W. (2012). "Kāfir". In P. Bearman; Th. Bianquis; C.E. Bosworth; E. van Donzel; W.P. Heinrichs (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam (2nd ed.). Brill. doi:10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_3775.
  30. ^ Ibrahim (2006, p. 106)
  31. ^ Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, Kitab At-Tawheed, chapter 40

External links[edit]

  • Zebiri, Kate (1995). "Relations Between Muslims and Non-Muslims in the Thought of Western-Educated Muslim Intellectuals – Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations". Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations. 6 (2): 255–277. doi:10.1080/09596419508721055.
  • Shirk in legislation