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Shirk (Polytheism)

Shirk (Polytheism)

Polytheism is a belief in and worship of many deities. Islam considers shirk illogical and totally unacceptable when referring to deity.
If there were in the heavens and the earth other gods beside Allah, there would be confusions in both (heaven and earth) but glory be to Allah, the Lord of ,the throne; high is He above what they attribute to Him. (Al Anbiya:22)
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As the verse above makes very clear, the order of the universe, the ecological balance and the oneness of the Creator is more logical than many gods and indeed several wills and authorities.

In Islam, shirk is the greatest sin. It is the only sin that cannot be forgiven by Allah (s.w.t.) on the Day of Judgment. As said in the Qur’an:
Verily, Allah forgives not that rivals should be set up in the worship with Him. He forgives save that (anything else) to whom He pleases and whoever set up rivals with Allah he has indeed done a tremendous sin. (Al Nisa:48)

Why does shirk occupy such a serious position in Islam?

Several of the main reasons are:

1. Shirk causes the greatest downfall of human status and dignity

Man is the best creation of Allah (s.w.t.), created in ‘the highest of forms’ (Al Tin:4). He is the khalifatul fir ardh [the vicegerent of Allah (s.w.t.)]. He falls ‘to the lowest of the low’ (Al Tin:5) when he takes any other creation of Allah (s.w.t.) as deities or gods.
Turn unto Allah (only), not ascribing partners unto Him, for whoso ascribes partners unto Allah, it is as if he had fallen from the sky and the birds had snatched him or the wind had blown him to a far off place. (Al Hajj:31)

2. Shirk is the root of evil and superstition

It is because of shirk that man can believe in the powers of jinn, spirits and particular human beings. Some believe that they can predict future events or cause an event to occur or not to occur. All these can give rise to various forms of evil or ignorant practices.

3. Shirk is tyranny and injustice

An injustice is to withhold someone’s rights or treat someone in an unfair manner. In praising and worshipping deities that have no power whatsoever to control his life, man forgets Allah’s (s.w.t.) sole right to be worshipped. He ignores his Creator, Who had given him his life and thus is ungrateful and unjust to Allah (s.w.t.).
When Luqman said to his son while advising him “Oh my son! Do not ascribe partners to Allah. Indeed shirk is a great injustice.” (Luqman:13)

4. Shirk is the cause of anxiety and fear

Because the mushrik believes in the powers of his various deities, he is always living in constant fear, whereas the only one to be feared is Allah (s.w.t.), as all other things are dependent upon Him.
We shall cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve because they ascribe partners unto Allah for which no warrant has been revealed. (Al Nisa:151)

5. Shirk denies rewards in the hereafter

For those who associate partners with Allah (s.w.t.), heaven has been made haram for them.
Indeed they do blaspheme those who say that Allah is Jesus, the son of Mary, but Jesus said “O children of Israel! Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord”. Whoever joins other gods with Allah, Allah will forbid him heaven and the fire will be his abode. (Al Maidah:72)


There are two forms of shirk. One is known as shirk akbar and another as shirk asghar.

Shirk akbar is a ‘major’ act of shirk that cannot be forgiven by Allah (s.w.t.) and whoever dies while committing it will not be able to enter Jannah.

Shirk asghar are ‘minor’, more unnoticeable acts of shirk that, if done continuously, might take one ‘out of’ iman.


There are two kinds of shirk akbar –

1. Shirk akbar jali (clear)

This type of shirk akbar is to worship a god or several gods besides Allah (s.w.t.). These ‘gods’ can be in any kind of form, whether cosmic objects, animals, spirits, jinn or human beings such as priests, kings or rulers.

2. Shirk akbar khafi (subtle)

These types of major shirk include:

* when one prays or supplicates to something other than Allah (s.w.t.)

For example: pious ancestors, dead persons, saints etc. Some say that praying or supplicating to them does not necessarily mean worshipping them. However, Islam stresses that praying or supplicating to something or someone is actually worshipping. (Refer to Tafsir Al Mu’minum:60)

* when one takes a lawgiver or lawmaker other than Allah

This includes all kinds of laws governing human life. The right to make something halal or haram, or to judge in human affairs belongs solely to Allah (s.w.t.). This pertains to both ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ in life in Islam. According to Islam, obeying someone while disobeying Allah (s.w.t.), even in the realm of mundane life, is like worshipping it.


There are many forms of shirk asghar or minor shirk. The term ‘minor’ here does not mean that they are not as grave or serious. Rather it means that these forms of shirk are more inconspicuous and unnoticeable compared to the others.

This form of shirk has been described by the Prophet (s.a.w.s.):
Shirk in the Muslim nation is more inconspicuous than the creeping of the black ant on a black rock in the pitch darkness of the night.

Hence, Muslims should shun and guard themselves very carefully from these kinds of shirk because the most ‘minor’ shirk may incur a heavier penalty than the most serious sin in Islam. Committing or practicing any act of shirk, whether major or minor, can make one’s deeds unacceptable by Allah (s.w.t.).

Common forms of shirk asghar:

* to swear with names other than Allah

This was a common practice of the Arabs during the Prophet’s (s.a.w.s.) time. They used to swear with the Ka’aba’s name, with a pious ancestor’s name, or more commonly, with the names of the idols they worshipped, e.g. Al-Latta, Az-Uzza etc. This is shirk because indirectly it gives some recognition of power or glorification to the being named. Says the Prophet (s.a.w.s.):
Whoever swears with other than Allah, he has committed an act of shirk and kufr.

* to adorn something that is believed to be a form of ‘protection from misfortune’

Again, this was a common practice of the early Arabs and is to some extent still prevalent today. Wearing certain bangles, necklaces and amulets was believed to be able to weaken jinn or evil spirits or protect oneself from ‘al-ain’, misfortune etc. From Imam Ahmad, narrated by Umran bin Hussain:
Once the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) saw a man wearing a yellow bangle and asked him, “What is this?” The man answered, “It is al-wahinah (that which weakens).” The Prophet (s.a.w.s.) said, “Take it off! Verily it will not increase you in anything, except sickness and if you die adorning it, no happiness will come to you forever.”

This emphasis and serious attention given by the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) shows the need to shun all forms of shirk and close all doors that might lead to it.
to practice, involve or believe in any form of sihir (sorcery) including charms, incantations, astrology etc.

This is stated in a Hadith:
There are three kinds of people that will not enter paradise: the drinker, the one who acknowledges sorcery and the one who breaks silaturahim (kinship). (Ahmad and Ibn Habban)

Astrology is said to be part of this because of the Hadith:
Whoever partakes in one part of astrology (the art of the stars), verily he has partaken in sorcery. (Abu Dawood)

This, however, does not include using the stars in navigation, traveling, etc.

* to believe in ‘fortune-telling’

From a Hadith by Muslim, the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) once said:
Whoever approaches a fortune-teller, inquires him/her and acknowledges him/her, his prayers will not be accepted for forty days.

A Hadith by Abu Dawood relates:
Whoever approaches a fortune-teller and acknowledges him/her that person has committed kufr to revelation from Allah.

* to believe in evil omens

This happens when a person intends to do something, but decides not to do it because of experiencing or ‘seeing’ certain evil signs or omens. Says the Prophet (s.a.w.s.):
“Whoever cancels one’s intention to do something because of attiyarah (an evil omen), that one has committed shirk”. The companions asked, “What is its kafarah (penalty for repentance)?” The Prophet (s.a.w.s.) answered, saying, “O Allah, there is no good except from You and there is no misfortune except from You. Indeed, there is no god but You”. (Imam Ahmad)

* to have riya

This means to perform acts or to show off in order to gain praise or fame, or for worldly purposes.

* to have no redha

This implies being inwardly dissatisfied with an inevitable condition that has been ordained for one by Allah (s.w.t.); to continuously lament that if one had not done such and such a thing, one would have had a better result.

* to be excessive in one’s reverence, respect and ‘glorification’ of prophets, pious leaders, sheikhs or imams

This has brought to the practice of rituals and ceremonies in glorification of these people and the act of beautifying, building upon, lighting up and even worshipping their graves.

* to use ambiguous words that might involve shirk

This includes phrases like ‘In the name of Allah and the name of so and so’ (e.g. a leader), or ‘if it was not for so and so’, or to use a name that is exclusively Allah’s (s.w.t.) in naming something or even to curse Allah’s creation.

Belief in monotheism and purification of one’s servitude to Allah (s.w.t.) can be achieved by:

* not worshipping anything or anyone other than Allah (s.w.t.) nor glorifying something or someone as one glorifies Allah (s.w.t.)

All that is worshipped and glorified other than Allah (s.w.t.) should be ‘dethroned’. From the Qur’an:
That we do not worship other than Allah and we do not associate Him with any other and we do not make others as gods beside Allah. (Al Imraan:64)

* not taking anything besides Allah (s.w.t.) as one’s protector and benefactor and loving it as one should love Allah (s.w.t.)

And amongst man there are those who worship others beside Allah and they love them as they should love Allah. (Al Baqara:165)

The early Arabs, for example, had loved and revered their idols and their leaders and had felt both fear and awe towards them. This kind of love and glorification should be given only to Allah (s.w.t.).

* not taking a lawgiver besides Allah (s.w.t.) nor giving obedience to any other as one obeys Allah (s.w.t.)

Verily, the decider for all human affairs should be Allah (s.w.t.). he alone has the best knowledge about His creation; has the deepest love for them and has full knowledge of what is right and wrong, good and evil.

The Qur’an has stated that whoever judges with other than Allah (s.w.t.) and His Prophet (s.a.w.s.) has actually fallen out of Iman into obedience to shaytan. (See Al Nisa:60-61)

We must think and realize that there are many traps in our society which could lead us to all forms of shirk.

As Muslims, we must also be careful not to follow the ways of the non-believers.

We must lead our lives as true Muslims, following Islam as correctly as we can, being conscious of these traps of shirk that the world invites us to.


Yusof Qardawi The Meaning of Tawheed (Malay translation by Pustaka Salam) 1987