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Halal & Haram

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Meaning of Shirk Polytheism and its categories

The opposite of Tawheed is Shirk which means in Islamic terminology – the act of associating a partner with Allah.

One of the most important obligations is to know the meaning of shirk, its seriousness and its different types, so that our Tawheed and our Islam may be complete, and our faith may be sound. We say – And Allah is the Source of strength and true guidance comes from Him.

the word shirk in Arabic means taking a partner, i.e., regarding someone as the partner of another. It is said he joined them together when he regarded them as two of equal status; or he introduced another into his affair when he made two people involved in it.

Allah Says
Then do not set up rivals unto Allah (in worship) while you know (that He Alone has the right to be worshiped)” [al-Baqarah 2:22]
And they set up rivals to Allah, to mislead (men) from His path! Say: ‘Enjoy (your brief life)! But certainly, your destination is the (Hell) Fire!.[Ibraaheem 14:30]

In the Hadeth it is narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: Whoever dies claiming that Allah has a rival, will enter Hell. Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 4497; Muslim, 92. 


The texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah indicate that shirk and the ascribing of rivals to Allah sometimes puts a person beyond the pale of Islam and sometimes does not. Hence the scholars divided shirk into two types which they call shirk Akbar (major shirk) and shirk Asghar (minor shirk). There follows a brief description of each type:
  • Ash-Shirk Al-Akbar - Major Polytheism
  • Ash-Shirk Al-Asghar - Minor polytheism
  • Ash-Shirk Al-Khafi - Invisible polytheism
Major Shirk
Major polytheism is to devote any form of worship to anyone other than Allah. Allah will never forgive it, nor will He accept with it any good deeds as Allah the Almighty said in [Qur'an – 4:116]: ''Verily, Allah forgives not (the sin of) setting up partners (in worship) with Him, but He forgives whom He wills sins other than that. And whoever sets up partners in worship with Allah, has indeed strayed far away.''

The Almighty also said in [Qur'an – 5:72]: ''And the Messiah (Jesus) said: 'O Children of Israel! Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.' Verily, whosoever sets up partners (in worship) with Allah, then Allah has forbidden Paradise to him and the Fire will be his abode. And for the Zalimun (wrongdoers and polytheists) there are no helpers.''

He, the Almighty, further said in [Qur'an – 25:23]: ''And We shall turn to whatever deed they (disbelievers, polytheists, sinners etc) did, and We shall make such deeds as scattered floating particles of dust.''

The Almighty further said in [Qur'an – 39:65]: ''If you join others in worship with Allah, (then) surely, (all) your deeds will be in vain, and you will certainly be among the losers.''

He, the Almighty, also said in [Qur'an – 6:88]:''And if they had joined in worship others with Allah, all that they used to do would have been of no benefit to them.'' 
The major polytheism (Shirk Al-Akbar) has four sub categories Polytheism in invocation (i.e. supplicating to other than Allah), as He the Almighty said in [Qur'an – 29:65]: ''And when they embark on a ship, they invoke Allah, making their Faith pure for Him only; but when He brings them safely to land, behold, they give a share of their worship to others.''

Polytheism in intention, will and purpose, as it states in [Qur'an – 11:15, 16]:''Whosoever desires the life of the world and its glitter, to them We shall pay in full (the wages of) their deeds therein and they will have no diminution therein. They are those for whom there is nothing in the Hereafter but the Fire, and vain are the deeds they did therein. And of no effect is that which they used to do.''

Polytheism in obedience (i.e. showing readiness to comply with the orders of others in disobedience to Allah): Evidence is Allah's Statement in [Qur'an – 9:31]: ''They (Jews and Christians) took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides Allah, (by obeying them in things that they made lawful or unlawful according to their own desires without being ordered by Allah), and (they also took as their Lord) Messiah, son of Mary, while they (Jews and Christians) were commanded (in the Torah and the Gospel) to worship none but One Ilah (God – Allah), none has the right to be worshipped but He. Glorified is He (far above is He) from having the partners they associate.''Its interpretation undoubtedly refers to the obedience of religious scholars (Ulama) and other people of knowledge in disobedience to Allah, and not supplicating to them. As the Prophet (Sall Allahu Alayhi Wasalam) explained to Adi Ibn Hatim (R.A) that worship here meant obedience to them in their sinful acts.

Polytheism in love (i.e. showing love to others which is due to Allah alone), as Allah said in [Qur'an – 2:165]: ''And of mankind are some who take (for worship) others besides Allah as rivals (to Allah); they love them as they love Allah.''

Minor
Shirk
This includes everything that may lead to major shirk, or which is described in the texts as being shirk, but does not reach the extent of being major shirk.

This is usually of two types: 
1 – Being emotionally attached to some means which have no basis and  for which Allaah has not given permission, such as hanging up “hands”, turquoise beads etc on the grounds that they offer protection or that they ward off the evil eye. But Allaah has not made them the means of such protection, either according to sharee’ah or according to the laws of the universe. 

[Translator’s note: the “hands” referred to are objects made of metal, pottery etc, usually blue or turquoise in color, that some people hang up to ward off the evil eye, according to their mistaken belief] 

2 – Venerating some people or things in a way that does not go so far as ascribing lordship to them, such as swearing by something other than Allah, or saying, “Were it not for Allah and So and so,” etc. 

Minor shirk may sometimes take the form of outward actions, such as wearing talismans, strings, amulets and the like, and other words and deeds. And sometimes it may be hidden, like a little bit of showing off. 

It may also take the form of beliefs: 
Such as the belief that something may be a cause of bringing benefit or warding off harm, when Allaah has not made it so; or believing that there is barakah (blessing) in a thing, when Allaah has not made it so. 

It sometimes takes the form of words: 
Such as when they said, “We have been given rain by such and such a star,” without believing that that the stars could independently cause rain to fall; or swearing by something other than Allaah, without believing in venerating the thing sworn by or regarding it as equal with Allaah; or saying, “Whatever Allaah wills and you will,” and so on. 

It sometimes takes the form of actions: 
Such as hanging up amulets or wearing a talisman or string to dispel or ward off calamity, because everyone who attribute powers to a thing when Allaah has not made it so either according to sharee’ah or according to the laws of the universe, has associated something with Allaah. This also applies to one who touches a thing seeking its barakah (blessing), when Allaah has not created any barakah in it, such as kissing the doors of the mosques, touching their thresholds, seeking healing from their dust, and other such actions. 
The minor polytheism is Riya' (showing off), as Allah says in [Qur'an – 18:110]: ''So whoever hopes for the meeting with his Lord, let him work righteousness and associate none as a partner in the worship of his Lord.''

Invisible Shirk
The invisible polytheism was explained by the Prophet (Sall Allahu Alayhi Wasalam): ''The invisible polytheism in this Ummah is more hidden than the track of a black ant on a black stone in a dark night.''
 
This is a brief look at the division of shirk .We cannot go into great detail in this short article.

What the Muslim must do is to avoid shirk in both its minor and major forms. The greatest sin is shirk and transgression against the unique rights of Allaah, which are to be worshipped and obeyed alone, with no partner or associate. 

Hence Allah has decreed that the mushrikeen will abide forever in Hell and has told us that He will not forgive them, and He has forbidden Paradise to them, as He says (interpretation of the meaning): 

“Verily, Allah forgives not that partners should be set up with Him (in worship), but He forgives except that (anything else) to whom He wills; and whoever sets up partners with Allaah in worship, he has indeed invented a tremendous sin” [al-Nisa’ 4:48] 
 
“Verily, whosoever sets up partners (in worship) with Allaah, then Allaah has forbidden Paradise to him, and the Fire will be his abode. And for the Zaalimoon (polytheists and wrongdoers) there are no helpers”[al-Maa'idah 5:72] 
 
Every wise and religiously-committed person should fear shirk for himself and should turn to his Lord, asking Him to help him avoid shirk, as al-Khaleel [Ibraaheem – peace be upon him] said:  
“and keep me and my sons away from worshipping idols”
[Ibraaheem 14:35 – interpretation of the meaning] 
One of the salaf said: “Who can claim to be safe from this after Ibraaheem?” 

So the sincere believer’s fear of shirk should increase as should his desire for his for his Lord to keep him away from it, and he should say the great du’aa’ which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) taught to his companions when he said to them: “Shirk among you will be more subtle than the footsteps of an ant, but I will teach you something which, if you do it, both minor and major shirk will be kept away from you. Say: Allaahumma inni a’oodhu bika an ushrika bika wa ana a’lam wa astaghfiruka lima la a’lam (O Allaah, I seek refuge with You from associating anything with You knowingly, and I seek Your forgiveness for that of which I am unaware).” Classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Jaami’, 3731 

The above refers to the difference between major and minor shirk, defining each and describing its types. with regard to the difference between them as far as the ruling is concerned: 

Major shirk puts a person beyond the pale of Islam, so the one who does that is judged to be out of Islam and to have apostatized therefrom, so he is a kaafir and an apostate. 

Minor shirk does not put a person beyond the pale of Islam, rather it may be done by a Muslim but he still remains in Islam; but the one who does that is in great danger because minor shirk is a major sin. Ibn Mas’ood (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: “If I were to swear by Allaah falsely, that is better for me than if I were to swear by something other than Him sincerely.” So he regarded swearing by something other than Allaah (which is minor shirk) as being worse than swearing by Allaah falsely, and it is well known that swearing by Allaah falsely is a major sin. 

We ask Allaah to make our hearts steadfast in adhering to His religion until we meet Him, and we seek refuge in His Might – may He be glorified – from going astray, for He is the Ever-Living Who never dies, but the jinn and mankind will die. And Allaah knows best and is most wise, and to Him is the final return of all.

Its expiation according to the Prophet's saying is: ''O Allah! Verily I seek refuge with You against ascribing partners to You knowingly; and I beg Your forgiveness for the sin which I do not know.''

May Allah the Almighty protect us all from associating partners with Him.

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