What is Shirk?

What is Shirk?

by | Jun 2, 2020 | Aqīdah, For the non-Muslims | 0 comments

What is Shirk?

Shirk is of two types, major shirk which puts a person beyond the pale of Islaam, and lesser shirk.

The first type, major shirk, is, every type of shirk which the Lawgiver described as such and which puts a person beyond the pale of his religion – such as devoting any kind of act of worship which should be for Allaah to someone other than Allaah, such as praying to anyone other than Allaah, fasting for anyone other than Allaah or offering a sacrifice to anyone other than Allaah. It is also a form of major shirk to offer supplication (du’aa) to anyone other than Allaah, such as calling upon the occupant of a grave or calling upon one who is absent to help one in some way in which no one is able to help except Allaah.

The second type is minor shirk, which means every kind of speech or action that Islaam describes as shirk, but it does not put a person beyond the pale of Islaam – such as swearing an oath by something other than Allaah, because the Prophet (sal-Allaahu ‘alayhe wa sallam) said, “Whoever swears an oath by something other than Allaah is guilty of kufr or shirk.”

The one who swears an oath by something other than Allaah but does not believe that anyone other than Allaah has the same greatness as Allah, is a mushrik who is guilty of lesser shirk, regardless of whether the one by whom he swore is venerated by people or not. It is not permissible to swear by the Prophet (sal-Allaahu ‘alayhe wa sallam), or by the president, or by the Ka’bah, or by Jibreel, because this is shirk, but it is minor shirk which does not put a person beyond the pale of Islaam.

Another type of minor shirk is showing off, which means that a person does something so that people will see it, not for the sake of Allaah.

The ways in which showing off may cancel out acts of worship are either of the following,

The first is when it is applies to an act of worship from the outset, i.e., the person is not doing that action for any reason other than showing off. In this case, the action is invalid and is rejected, because of the hadeeth of Abu Hurayrah which was attributed to the Prophet (sal-Allaahu ‘alayhe wa sallam), which says that Allaah said,

“I am so self-sufficient that I am in no need of having an associate. Thus he who does an action for someone else’s sake as well as Mine will have that action renounced by Me to him whom he associated with Me.” [Muslim, Kitaab az-Zuhd, no. 2985]

The second is when the showing off happens later on during the act of worship, i.e., the action is originally for Allaah, then showing off creeps into it. This may be one of two cases,

The first is when the person resists it – this does not harm him.

For example, a man has prayed a rak’ah, then some people come along during his second rak’ah and it occurs to him to make the rukoo’ or sujood longer, or makes himself weep, and so on. If he resists that, it does not harm him, because he is striving against this idea. But if he goes along with that, then every action which stemmed from showing off is invalid, such as if he made his standing or prostration long, or he made himself weep – all of those actions will be cancelled out. But does this invalidation extend to the entire act of worship or not?

We say that either of the following must apply; Either the end of his act of worship was connected to the beginning (with no pause); so if the end of it is invalidated then all of it is invalidated.

This is the case with the prayer – the last part of it cannot be invalidated without the first part also being invalidated, so the whole prayer is invalid. Or if the beginning of the action is separate from the end of it, then the first part is valid but the latter part is not. Whatever came before the showing off is valid, and what came after it is not valid.

An example of that is a man who has a hundred riyals, and gives fifty of them in charity for the sake of Allaah with a sound intention, then he gives fifty in charity for the purpose of showing off. The first fifty are accepted, and the second fifty are not accepted, because the latter is separate from the former.

Imaam Muhammad Ibn Saalih al-Uthaymeen                                                                                            

Majmoo Fataawa wa Rasaa’il Ibn Uthaymeen, and al-Qawl ul-Mufeed Sharh Kitaab at-Tawheed


Shirk –The Ultimate Crime

Murder, rape, child molesting and genocide. These are all some of the appalling crimes which occur in our world today. Many would think that these are the worst possible offenses which could be committed. But there is something which outweighs all of these crimes put together: It is the crime of shirk.

Some people may question this notion. But when viewed in a proper context, the fact that there is no crime worse then shirk, will become evident to every sincere person.

There is no doubt that the above crimes are indeed terrible, but their comparison with shirk shows that they do not hold much significance in relation to this travesty. When a man murders, rapes or steals, the injustice which is done is directed primarily at other humans. But when a man commits shirk, the injustice is directed towards the Creator of the heavens and the earth; Allah. When a person is murdered, all sorts of reasons and explanations are given. But one thing that the murderer cannot claim, is that the murdered was someone who provided him with food, shelter, clothing and all the other things which keep humans aloft in this life.

But when a person commits shirk, they attempt to, willingly or unwillingly, direct an injustice towards the one who has provided them with all these necessary things – and often a whole lot more. This Being who provides us with all our needs and wants is of course Allah, the Lord of this universe. So is it right for us to commit this offense against the one who has provided us with all that we could possibly need? This is the ultimate form of ingratitude which humans display, and will eventually cause many people eternal pain. The severity of this crime has been established in shaa Allah, but until now you may have been wondering ‘what exactly is shirk?’

The Reality of Shirk

In the previous issue we talked about Tawheed (the Oneness of Allah). Shirk is its exact opposite. Linguistically, shirk means a partnership or to share or associate. However, Islamicly it is to give to other than Allah, that which belongs solely to Allah. This means that parts of Allah’s creation are given powers and attributes which belong to Allah, thus, ultimately sending worship to other then Allah alone. These parts of the creation therefore become partners with Allah.

The purpose of our creation is outlined in the Qur’an when Allah says: “I did not create the Jinn[1] and mankind except to worship Me” (Surah Ad-Dhariyat 51:56)

Our very existence on this earth is to worship Allah alone. By committing shirk, a person ends up denying this very purpose of our creation. To Allah, this is the gravest of sins and thus unforgivable.

Allah says: “Surely Allah will not forgive the association of partners (shirk) with Him, but He forgives (sins) less then that to whomever He wishes” (Surah An-Nisa 4:48)

This means that everything can be forgiven except shirk. However we should not misunderstand this into thinking that those who commit shirk are totally doomed. Allah calls himself by al-Ghafoor (The Most Forgiving), and truly he is the Most Forgiving. If a person commits shirk and then wishes to make repentance, Allah accepts his repentance and wipes the slate clean. But if the person does not make repentance during his lifetime, then Allah will not forgive this person on the Day of judgment. Hellfire will be made eternal and he/she will never come out. It must also be remembered that Allah through his justice, has not discriminated in the punishment of this crime. If a Muslim commits shirk during his lifetime, and does not make repentance, he too will face the eternal fury of the Hellfire. It is this thought which helps Muslims from becoming too complacent and arrogant like some of the previous nations.[2]

Some people say that eternal Hellfire is unjust. But indeed Allah is the Most Just. While some will go to Hell forever for committing shirk, there will be others who will go to Paradise forever for upholding Tawheed. Those who say that Allah is unjust for sending some to Hell forever, should therefore also say that Allah is unjust for sending others to Paradise forever! But we know that those who claim this, would never themselves refuse an everlasting reward such as Paradise, thus showing the weak human understanding of this argument.

By committing shirk we should not fool ourselves into thinking that we harm Allah in anyway. Rather we harm ourselves with the threat of Allah’s punishment. It is as if humans stick two fingers up at Allah after He has favored them with so much. Thus a crime is committed against Allah, yet it does not harm him – Such is the magnitude and greatness of our Creator. In order to understand how shirk manifests itself in our world, we need to look at how it relates to the categories of Tawheed (mentioned in the last issue).

Shirk in Allah’s Lordship (Ruboobeeya)

This category of shirk has two aspects:

(i)- Shirk by Association – As Muslims we believe that it is Allah alone who Controls and Sustains the universe. Those who commit shirk by association believe that Allah is the Creator, but other parts of the creation also play a role in the running of the world. A classic example of this is the Christian concept of Trinity. Christians believe that God (Allah) alone does not regulate the affairs of mankind. They believe that the other two parts of the Trinity, Jesus (as) and the Holy spirit, also play a part in worldly affairs e.g. Jesus pronounces judgment on the world and the holy spirit helps Christians through their daily lives. Qualities such as these should only belong to Allah. The Hindus also commit this kind of shirk, with them having hundreds of different Gods for different aspects of their lives.

Unfortunately some Muslims have also fallen prey to this shirk. There are many from the Indian subcontinent who often call out for help upon saints and holy men who have passed away. One of the main saints whom they invoke is ‘Abdul-Qadir al-Jeelanee'[3] whom they call ‘Al-Ghawth-e-Azam’ (the greatest source of help).

(ii)-Shirk by Negation – Over the centuries many philosophies and ways of life have denied the existence of God. Buddhism and Jainism are amongst the major world religions which assert this belief. During the 18th and 19th centuries the advancement of scientific knowledge led many philosophers and scientists to claim that God was a figment of mans imagination. By canceling the role of a supreme legislator, those who claim that God does not exist, ultimately attempt to make themselves masters of their own destinies. Some atheists also give Allah’s attributes to his creation. By denying Allah, they say the world is eternal with no beginning and no end. And we know that this is only for Allah.

Shirk in Allah’s Names and Attributes (Asma wa Sifaat)

This category of shirk has two aspects:

(i) -Shirk by Humanization – The Tawheed of Allah’s names and attributes demands that we believe Allah to be free from any human likeness. Those who commit shirk by humanization give attributes to God which are more appropriate for human beings than an all-powerful Creator. Christianity is again guilty of this shirk. In the Bible we find countless examples of God being given human attributes. In the book of Genesis, God is said to have created the world in six days and then rested on the seventh!! In other places God is said to have repented for his bad thoughts and felt sorry because of his actions!

This form of shirk has even taken some people beyond the limits of sanity. In India there are many Hindus who worship the Shiva Lingam Deity. This is an idol which is shaped and sized to represent the male genitals. For the Hindus it represents the reproductive powers of God, and they display their affection by massaging the deity with milk, water and butter!

These examples of humanization are indeed an injustice to the almighty, who responds clearly by saying in the Qu’raan:

“There is nothing like Him and He sees and hears all things” (Surah Ash-Shoora 42:11)

(ii) – Shirk by Deification – This form of shirk occurs when created beings are given the names or attributes of Allah and thus become deities. This form of shirk is especially popular with humans, with many people being given a Godlike status by ignorant followers. Jesus, Buddha, Rama, Zoroaster and many other famous religious figures of the past have been held to be incarnations of the all mighty. The twentieth Century has also seen many cults emerge, from which many leaders have claimed divinity. Sai Baba [4], David Koresh [5], Guru Rajnishi [6] and many more have all claimed this attribute which only belongs to Allah.

Shirk in the Worship of Allah (Eebaadah)

This category of shirk has two aspects:

  • – Major Shirk (Shirk-al-Akbar)– As Muslims we believe that all forms of worship should be for Allah alone. Those people who physically direct their worship at other then Allah, commit this major shirk. By doing this action, mankind commits the greatest act of rebellion and places himself at the doors of eternal hellfire.


  • Worship in Christianity is usually devoid of God’s name, and Christians often bow down in front of statues of Christ, Mary and many other saints of Christendom. The Muslims have also fallen foul to this evil. Thousands, if not millions, of ignorant Muslims make pilgrimages to the graves of saints and holy men. At the graves they perform acts which clearly violate the principles of Tawheed. They perform prayers (literally!) at the graveside, they sacrifice in the name of the dead saint and they make tawwaaf (circumambulation) of the grave. Many of them even ask the dead saints to grant them children and to forgive them of their sins! All this contradicts the statement of Allah when he commands us to:

“Say; Truly my prayer, my sacrifice, my life and my death are all for Allah, Lord of the worlds” (Surah Al-An’aam 6:162)

Major shirk is rampant amongst the world’s population and is ultimately the obstacle to our salvation.

(ii)- Minor Shirk (Shirk-e-Asghar) – “Mahmood bin Lubayd reported that Allah’s Messenger (saws) said: ‘The thing that I fear for you the most is minor shirk’. The companions asked: ‘O’ Messenger of Allah, what is minor shirk?’ He replied: ‘Showing off (ar-riya), for verily Allah will say on the day of resurrection when people are receiving their rewards, ‘Go to those whom you were showing off too in the world and see if you can find any reward from them'” [7].

When doing righteous deeds our intentions should be to please the one who sustains and keeps us alive. It should not be to please those who have done nothing in comparison to what the Creator has done. Showing off has become a disease amongst humans, and tears away at any sincerity which may be present inside a person. Thus Islam is probably the only way of life which regulates this minor action, and places its danger in a proper context.

To know of the dangers of shirk should be of primary importance. Whether we are Muslim or not, we should realize that it is the crime of shirk which has led to the destruction of our world. By taking man away from the worship of Allah, it has led him to the worship of other men, leading to oppression and tyranny. By confining man to the narrowness of this world, it will deny him the vastness of the hereafter, which leads to justice and success. Therefore surely . . . . shirk is the ultimate crime.

1 Jinn’s are another part of Allah’s creation. They were created from smokeless fire and are (like man) required to worship Allah.
2 The Jewish people were granted many favors by Allah. But this favoritism resulted in them becoming arrogant, and the favors of Allah were taken away from them.
3 Abdul-Qadir AI-Jeelanee was born in Jeelan (Iran) in the year 1077 CE. He was a jurist of the Hanbalite school of Islamic law. Many miracles have been falsely attributed to him, elevating him up to a Godlike status. He himself was very harsh against those who opposed Tawheed. The Qaadiree Sufi order is named after him. He died in the year 1166 CE.
4 Sai Baba is an Indian Holy man who claims the loyalty of millions worldwide through his multi-faith cult. He is deified to such an extent that his followers wake up at dawn every day to pray to him.
5 David Koresh was the leader of the Branch Davidian sect based in Waco, Texas, USA Koresh reinterpreted the teachings of the Bible to proclaim himself as the son of God. The cult was ended in 1993, when a fire killed most of Koresh’s followers after a shoot-out with FBI officers.
6 Guru Rajnishi was the leader of a major American commune during the eighties. The cult lost momentum after it was accused of the attempted murder of an American politician.
7 Authentic-Narrated by Ahmed, Baihaqee and Tabaranee

from the ‘Invitation to Islam’ Newsletter, Issue 2, July 1997





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