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The Many Aspects of Shirk
By: Safiyyah Leeder
BA Islamic Studies Student

 Allah says in the Quraan:                                   

 “And most of them believe not in Allah without associating (other as partners) with Him!” (Surah Yusuf 12:106)

 In addition to this Allah tells us: 

“Verily, Allah forgives not that partners should be set up with Him in worship, but He forgives except that (anything else) to whom He pleases. And whoever sets up partners with Allah in worship, he has indeed invented a tremendous sin.” (Surah An-Nisaa’ 4:48)

 Tawheed, which is the fundamental basis of Islam, cannot be totally understood until we understand what we have to avoid in its opposite: shirk. ‘Shirk in the Arabic language literally means partnership, sharing or associating, but Islamically it refers to the act of assigning partners to Allah in whatever form it may take.’ (The Fundamentals of Tawheed, p 27) Shirk is the most dangerous of all sins. This is because Allah can choose to overlook and forgive any imperfection in His slave, but He will not overlook and forgive shirk.

Allah states in the Quraan: “Verily, Allah forgives not that partners should be set up with Him in worship, but He forgives except that (anything else) to whom He pleases. And whoever sets up partners with Allah in worship, he has indeed invented a tremendous sin.” (Surah An-Nisaa’ 4:48)

The study of Tawheed is generally broken up into three categories:

1. Tawheed Ar-Ruboobeeyah (Maintaining Oneness of Lordship)
2. Tawheed Al-Asmaa Was-Sifaat (Maintaining Oneness of Allah’s Names and Attributes)
3. Tawheed Al-‘Ibaadah (Maintaining the Oneness of Worship)

Hence, the study of the opposite of Tawheed, namely Shirk, is also broken up into three broad categories:

1. Shirk in Ruboobeeyah
2. Shirk in Al-Asmaa Was-Sifaat
3. Shirk in Al-‘Ibaadah

Shirk in Ruboobeeyah

Tawheed Ar-Ruboobeeyah is a concept which requires a Muslim to believe that Allah alone is the Creator, the Master and Owner, and that the Command is for none but Him. Allah tells us in the Quraan:

“Allah is the Creator of all things, and He is the Guardian and Disposer of all affairs.” (Surah Az-Zumar 39:62)

 Shirk in Ruboobeeyah refers to the belief that others share Allah’s Lordship as His equal or associate, or the belief that no God exists at all. This means that you can make shirk by negation or association. Most of the religions in the world today fall into the category of associating things with Allah rather than negating Allah. A good example is Christianity, whose followers believe that God is three in one; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. They raise ‘Isa (A.S) to the status of God, thereby making Shirk of association. Allah says in the Quraan regarding the Trinity:

 “O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an apostle of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His apostles. Say not "Trinity": desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah. Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs.” (Surah An-Nisaa’ 4:171)  

To make shirk by association one does not have to explicitly join partners with Allah, such as giving Him a son. The Jews associated others with Allah by taking their rabbis’ laws over the laws of Allah. Allah says regarding them:

“They (Jews and Christians) took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides Allah (by obeying them in things which 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 Maryam (Mary), while they (Jews and Christians) were commanded [in the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel) to worship none but One Ilah (God - Allah) La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He). Praise and glory be to Him, (far above is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him).” (Surah At-Tawbah 9:31)  

Once while Allah’s Messenger (S.A.W) was reciting this verse, ‘Adi bin Haatim said, “O Allah’s Messenger! They do not worship them (i.e. the rabbis and monks).” Allah’s Messenger (S.A.W) said: “They certainly do. [They (i.e. the rabbis and monks) made lawful things as unlawful, and unlawful things as lawful, and they (i.e. Jews and Christians) followed them; and by doing so, they really worshipped them].” (Narrated by Ahmad, At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Jarir).

Many people in the world today also fall into the category of negation, by choosing to call themselves atheists. The world today even has man-made theories to reinforce the belief that the world came about without the existence of God, such as Darwin’s theory that humans evolved from apes. Some people have even gone as far as to call themselves God.

Allah tells us about one of the greatest negators of all time, Fir’uan, in the time of the Prophet Musa (A.S):

Then he (Fir’uan) gathered his people and cried aloud, Saying: "I am your Lord, Most High".” (Surah An-Naazi’aat 79:23-24)

Shirk in Al-Asmaa Was-Sifaat

Tawheed Al-Asmaa Was-Sifaat signifies the uniqueness of Allah, with regard to His Names and His Attributes. It requires the believer to describe Allah only as He and His Prophet (S.A.W) have described Him, without changing the meanings of His names or adding to or taking away any of the names He has given Himself. This also means that Muslims must not give Allah the characteristics of any of His creation, nor may the creation be given the attributes of Allah. This is because Allah says in the Quraan:

“There is nothing whatever like unto Him, and He is the One that hears and sees (all things).” (Surah Ash-Shooraa 42:11)

Shirk in Al-Asmaa Was-Sifaat refers to the act of giving Allah the attributes of His creation or giving the creation the attributes or names of Allah. This means that we can make shirk by humanising Allah or venerating His creation. People humanise Allah by giving Him the characteristics of His creation. Since humans are the most advanced creation, God is usually humanised rather than animalised. Many paintings, idols and drawings have been made of God in the shape of man. Worse than this is the fact that the Christians believe that ‘Isa (A.S) was God in person. Thereby they do not only humanise Allah in making Him like His creation, they made Allah one of His own creation. Allah says regarding ‘Isa:

The Messiah ['Isa (Jesus)], son of Maryam (Mary), was no more than a Messenger; many were the Messengers that passed away before him. His mother [Maryam (Mary)] was a Siddiqah [i.e. she believed in the Words of Allah and His Books (See Verse 66:12)]. They both used to eat food (as any other human being, while Allah does not eat). Look how We make the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) clear to them, yet look how they are deluded away (from the truth).” (Surah Maaidah 5:75) 

Shirk while venerating the creation occurs when any of the creation claims that they possess even one of Allah’s characteristics. This may involve taking one of His names, such as calling someone “Ar-Rahmaan” (The Most Merciful). People make shirk when they claim that anything besides Allah has always existed or that anything besides Allah will never be destroyed. Allah tells us in the Quraan:

 “Allah is the Creator of all things, and He is the Wakil (Trustee, Disposer of affairs, Guardian) over all things.” (Surah Az-Zumar 39:62)

He further tells us:  

Whatsoever is on it (the earth) will perish.” (Surah Ar-Rahmaan 55:26)

Shirk in Al-‘Ibaadah

Tawheed Al-‘Ibaadah calls for us to direct all worship to Allah alone, and not to worship anything along with Him, whether it be an angel, a prophet, a pious person, a tree, the moon, or anything else. The first two categories are not enough to fulfil the requirements of Tawheed. This is made plain to us when we read about the Mushrikoon in the Prophet (S.A.W)’s time. They believed in Allah as the creator and the one who gave them sustenance, but they worshipped others along with Him. Allah informs us in the Quraan about the Idolaters of the Prophet (S.A.W)’s time:

“Say: "Who is it that sustains you (in life) from the sky and from the earth? Or who is it that has power over hearing and sight? And who is it that brings out the living from the dead and the dead from the living? And who is it that rules and regulates all affairs?" They will soon say, "(Allah)".” (Surah Yunus 10:31)

 Allah further informed us that this did not make them Muslims when He declared:

 “And most of them believe not in Allah without associating (other as partners) with Him!” (Surah Yusuf 12:106)

 Shirk in Al-‘Ibaadah occurs when people worship anything besides Allah, or people seek reward from the creation for their acts of worship. This category is broken into two sub-categories: major shirk (Ash-Shirk Al-Akbar) and minor shirk (Ash-Shirk Al-Asghar).

 Major shirk occurs when people worship others besides Allah. This is the most obvious type of shirk, which most Muslims know about. The prophets of Allah were all sent to abolish this ideology:  

And verily, We have sent among every Ummah (commOneness, nation) a Messenger (proclaiming): "Worship Allah (Alone), and avoid (or keep away from) Taghut (all false deities, etc. i.e. do not worship Taghut besides Allah)."” (Surah An-Nahl 16:36)

If a person worshipped anything besides Allah it would mean that they had opposed the very reason for which they were created. Allah proclaims:

“And I (Allah) created not the jinn and mankind except that they should worship Me (Alone).” (Surah Adh-Dhaariyaat 51:56)

Minor shirk occurs when people seek reward or admiration for their worship from the creation. The Prophet (S.A.W) warned us against this.

Mahmood ibn Lubayd reported, “Allah’s messenger (S.A.W) said: The thing I fear for you the most is Ash-Shirk Al-Asghar (Minor Shirk). The companions asked: Oh! Messenger of Allah, what is minor shirk? He replied: Ar-Riyaa (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.'” (Reported by Ahmad, At-Tabaraanee and Al-Bayhaqee)

This shirk is so dangerous because it comes from a man’s inner nature. All people like to be praised by others, but if the act of worship is done for the praise of others then it becomes nothing to Allah. This is because it is a prerequisite of a deed being accepted that it be for Allah alone and in accordance with the Sunnah of Muhammad (S.A.W). These people will come as losers on the Day of Resurrection because they will not be able to claim any rewards.  

“Say (O Muhammad SAW): “Shall We tell you the greatest losers in respect of (their) deeds?” “Those whose efforts have been wasted in this life while they thought that they were acquiring good by their deeds!” (Surah Al-Kahf 18:103-104)

One very intelligent Sahaabah, Ibn Abbaas, summed up the danger of Ar-Riyaa when he said, “Shirk is more hidden than a black ant creeping on a black stone in the middle of a moonless night.” This is a reminder to us to always check our intention, because we do not want to stand in front of Allah and find that all of our deeds have been in vain.


Shirk is a topic that is very worthy of our attention because Tawheed is the fundamental basis of Islam and we can not purify our Tawheed from shirk unless we understand exactly what shirk is. Shirk is an unforgivable sin and to die without having made Tawbah (Repentance) from it would mean that one’s abode would be the Hellfire. Allah declares:

“Verily, Allah forgives not that partners should be set up with Him in worship, but He forgives except that (anything else) to whom He pleases. And whoever sets up partners with Allah in worship, he has indeed invented a tremendous sin.” (Surah An-Nisaa’ 4:48)

In studying shirk we find that it is not only the act of worshipping others besides Allah, it includes humanising Allah, venerating the creation, denying Allah’s existence, associating others with Allah and doing things to gain reward or praise from anyone besides Allah. Allah sets us a goal in the Quraan: 

“And who can be better in religion than one who submits his face (himself) to Allah (i.e. follows Allah's Religion of Islamic Monotheism); and he is a Muhsin (a good-doer). And follows the religion of Ibraheem (Abraham) Hanifa (Islamic Monotheism - to worship none but Allah Alone). And Allah did take Ibraheem (Abraham) as a Khalil (an intimate friend).” (Surah An-Nisaa’ 4:125)


1.Yusuf Ali Translation of the Holy Quraan http://www.muslimaccess.com/quraan/translations/yusufali/yusuf_ali.htm
2. Philips, B., (2000). The Fundamentals of Tawheed (Islamic Monotheism). IIPH, Saudi Arabia.
3. Dr Muhsin Khan and Dr Al-Hilali’s Translation of the Noble Quraan http://www.quran4theworld.com/Translations/Hilali/hilali.htm


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