What is Shirk

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Understanding Shirk According To Classical Scholars 

What is shirk?

One of the most important obligations is to know the meaning of shirk, its seriousness and its different types, so that our Tawheed (belief in the Oneness of Allah) 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: 

Lexical meaning of shirk

The word shirk in Arabic means taking a partner, i.e., regarding someone as the partner of another. It is said [in Arabic]: ashraka baynahuma (he joined them together) when he regarded them as two of equal status; or ashraka fi amrihi ghayrahu (he introduced another into his affair) when he made two people involved in it.

Meaning of shirk in Shari`ah teminology 

In terms of shari’ah or Islamic terminology, shirk means ascribing a partner or rival to Allah in His Essence (Dhat)), Attributes and Actions.. 

A rival is a peer or counterpart. Hence Allah forbids setting up rivals with Him and He condemns those who take them (rivals) as gods instead of or besides Allah in many verses of the Quran. Allah says (interpretation of the meaning): 

“Then do not set up rivals unto Allah (in worship) while you know (that He Alone has the right to be worshipped)” [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!’” [Ibrahim 14:30] 

In the hadith, 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-Bukhari, 4497; Muslim, 92. 

Defining Shirk: Imam al-Qurtubi’s Definition

The Quranic Scholar Allama al-Qurtubi (d.673 AH) offers a detailed definition of Shirk Types in his famous Tafsir “al-jami li Ahkam al-Quran, He states that there are three different types forms of Shirk:

FIRST TYPE OF SHIRK: To consider a Being other than Allah ( Tree, Idol, Person, Jinn etc..) worthy of worship. This is the Major form of Shirk, and the type of Shirk committed by the people of the Jahilliyya period.

2ND TYPE OF SHIRK: To consider another Being other than Allah can perform and create certain actions INDEPENDENTLY (without Allah), even if the person does not believe that person/being is a God.

3RD TYPE OF SHIRK: Shirk in Worship, and this is Riya (showing off). This too is a form of Shirk.

From this we can understand that Shirk is when someone commits the following:

  1. Ascribes a partner equal to Allah in His Essence (Dhat) or Attributes.
  2. Ascribes a partner equal to Allah in His Actions.
  3. Believing any being/object other than Allah is worthy of such accolade and that it can be done INDEPENDENTLY of Allah

Imam Sanuusiy (895 AH) On The Types Of Shirk

“There are six types of shirk:

(1) Shirk Of Independence (al-Istiqlal) which is to believe that there are two independent gods, like the shirk of the Majuus (the religion of ancient Persia.)

(2) Shirk Of Dividing: (Tab’idh) which is to compose a deity from several deities, like the shirk of the christians.

(3) Shirk Of Making Near: (Taqrib)  which is to worship other than Aļļaah to (according to those who do it) get closer to Aļļaah’s acceptance, such as the shirk of the early Arabs of the Jaahiliyyah period. “We only worship them so that they may bring us closer to God” (QURAN, 39;3)

(4) Shirk Of Immitation: (Taqlid) which is to worship other than Aļļaah because others are doing it, like the later generations of  Arabs in the Jaahiliyyah period. “We found our fathers following a religion, and by their footsteps shall we be led” (QURAN, 43;22)

(5) Shirk Of Causes: (al-asbab) which is to believe that ordinary causes have effect in reality, like the shirk of the philosophers and naturalists, and those who follow them in this.

(6) Shirk Of Purpose: (al-aghrad) which is to do something (prescribed by Aļļaah) for the sake of other than Aļļaah (i.e. only for the purpose of being rewarded or praised by other than Aļļaah).

(Sħarĥu-l-Muqaddimaat, P. 46)”

The First FOUR are Shirk by consensus.

The sixth is a sin but does not constitute disbelief. 

As for the fifth, a distinction has to be made between, first, those who say that secondary causes [in themselves] produce effects by virtue of their intrinsic properties [as, for example, fire leading to burning, water to irrigating, and food to satiety]: such people are disbelievers; second, those who believe that they are effective through a power that God the Exalted has put in them: they are guilty of innovation [bid’a].

(Sharh al-Muqaddamat Pg. 33 and 40)


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