What is Shirk?

Committing the act of Shirk involves attributing partners to Allah. The word Shirk derives from the Arabic verb 'Sharaka', which means 'to share'. It is the greatest sin in Islam. This sin can make a Muslim withdraw from the religion.

The act takes two forms, namely minor Shirk and major Shirk. The minor form does not take a Muslim out of the religion, but the major form does. In this article you will come to know everything about Shirk.

  1. Categories of Shirk
  2. Commiting Shirk, its dangers
  3. Excuses of Shirk

Categories of Shirk

Just as Tawheed has categories, Shirk also contains has categories. Shirk consists of two categories: minor Shirk and major Shirk. Thus, not every person becomes an idol worshiper when committing minor Shirk. It is also a minor form which leads to the large variant of Shirk.

Then when a Muslim commits major Shirk, he should return to Islam by performing Tawbah and by pronouncing the declaration of faith.

1. Minor Shirk (Shirk Asghar)

This minor category of Shirk in Islam, also known as Shirk Asghar, often remains somewhat in the background when discussing the subject of Shirk. This is because this category deals less damage than the major form. Moreover, a person who commits this has committed a greater crime than murder and drinking alcohol.

So it is a matter that should be dealt with where people are aware of the damage involved in committing this sin. But what acts are minor Shirk?

Examples of minor Shirk

The most well known examples are Ar-Riyaa and swearing on others besides Allah. Committing Ar-Riyaa involves a person performing worship in order to be seen and praised. So the intention is for Allah but also for others to see.

The Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“Verily, my greater fear for you is the lesser idolatry.” They said, “What is the lesser idolatry, O Messenger of Allah?” The Prophet said, “It is ostentation. Allah Almighty will say to them on the Day of Resurrection, when people are being recompensed for their deeds: Go to those for whom you made a show in the world and look, do you find any reward with them?”
(Musnad Ahmad hadith 23119)

We often see today that people swear on others besides Allah. Whether it's the mother or a prophet they take an oath by, it's worse than the act of murder. That is why this is quite a bad thing to do.

2. Major Shirk (Shirk Akbar)

The major form of idolatry involves assigning partners to Allah. Rights of Allah are then assigned or shared with the creation.

In pronouncing the Shahada we learn that it is essential to know who Allah is and what His Attributes are. We should not share these Attributes with anyone to avoid major Shirk.

Allah has emphasised in the Quran about idolatry and why it is the greatest crime in Islam. Moreover, it is so great that a person is not forgiven if he comes to die with it without asking forgiveness.

Indeed, Allah does not forgive association with Him, but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills. And he who associates others with Allah has certainly fabricated a tremendous sin.
[Soera Nisaa, 48]

What acts are major Shirk?

We can think of different scenarios when it comes to assigning partners to Allah. These scenarios are divided into three forms. Since Shirk is the opposite of Tawheed, we get to see that the three scenarios go against the forms of Tawheed.

Shirk in Asmaa wa Sifaat (Namen and Attributes)

Thus, we can remember that the great Shirk is when a person shares Allah's Names with others. For example: Claiming that a person is Ar-Rahmaan besides Allah. That will then mean that another person is equal to Allah in being the Most Merciful. And of course that is not possible.

Shirk in Uluhiyyah (Worship)

To worship a person or object in love, obedience, fear, or deeds. That would be major Shirk in the worship of Allah, for no one has the right to be worshiped besides Allah.

Shirk in Rububiyyah (Dominion)

Also when a person, for example, claims that someone or an object is able to have power over the creation. No one has those powers except Allah. It would be major Shirk to claim someone has the power to give life or death. Or to rise the Sun from the east.

What if someone commits Shirk?

When committing this heinous act, a person can fall into two scenarios. Depending on the category of Shirk that a person then commits, there are regulations in punishment both in the Dunya and in the Akhirah.

1. Commiting minor Shirk

When performing deeds that fall within the minor variant of idolatry, a person is not immediately held accountable for the deed. This is because the minor Shirk is somewhat hidden and only really becomes known with the Ahadith sources.

When praying, we learn that it must be done solely for Allah, so when a person brags to be seen by others, the deed is negated in value and reward.

The Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“Verily, my greater fear for you is the lesser idolatry.” They said, “What is the lesser idolatry, O Messenger of Allah?” The Prophet said, “It is ostentation. Allah Almighty will say to them on the Day of Resurrection, when people are being recompensed for their deeds: Go to those for whom you made a show in the world and look, do you find any reward with them?”
(Musnad Ahmad hadith 23119)

The minor variant of Shirk will be forgiven if Allah wills. This may mean that a person is forgiven immediately or at a later time and thus first punished in hellfire.

So it is up to Allah when a person is forgiven, because Shirk Asghar is the form that is forgiven and does not make a person leave the religion of Islam.

2. Commiting major Shirk

This category carries more weight and results in a Muslim leaving the religion. A person then becomes disbelieving and is classified as 'Mushrik': someone who commits major Shirk. Because of this, it is the greatest sin in Islam and a person will remain in Hellfire forever.

It is therefore certainly an issue that we should consider. This sin is greater than all other sins because of the damage it brings. And we never know when we are going to die, that's why committing big shirk is such a scary thing to think about.

Indeed, those who disbelieved and died while they were disbelievers, upon them is the curse of Allah, and of angels, and of all human beings together, in a way that they will remain in it forever. Neither the punishment will be lightened for them, nor will they be given respite.
[Surah Baqarah, 161-162]

Excuses of Shirk

Within the concept of Shirk Allah has indicated that there are some excuses for the perpetrator. These excuses are given to bring justice to the perpetrators. What are the excuses?

1. Unawareness

A person that is unaware of an act will be not held accountable for it. This applies not only to Shirk, but also to the other evil deeds. Thus, it is not just to punish a person who is mentally handicapped because he is not aware of his actions.

The Prophet (ﷺ) said:
"The pen has been lifted from three: From the sleeper until he wakes up, from the minor until he grows up, and from the insane until he comes back to his senses or recovers."
(Sunan An-Nasa'i Book 27, Hadith 44)

Then when a person is in a drunken state and makes statements of Shirk, then this person is excused. Also when you say a sentence in a language you don't know of and it consists words or sayings of Shirk, then that would be excused.

Allah only punishes deeds that are committed which a person intended to do. For example, it is important that a person is aware of the deed and its meaning.

There is no sin on you in the mistake you make, but in that which you do with intention of your heart; and Allah is Most-Forgiving, Very-Merciful.
(Surah Al-Ahzab, 5)

2. Being threatened

A Muslim who is threatened to perform an act of major Shirk is excused. This is a favor from Allah to the Muslims when they fall into this situation.

Thus the excuse cannot be mistaken as light coercion where life is not at risk. For example, it is not an excuse to commit major Shirk when a person forces a Muslim to worship a cow without endangering the Muslim.

There is another condition for this excuse, which is that the heart of the Muslim should not be opened to disbelief. That is, the heart must maintain faith while committing major Shirk in the situation of threat.

Whoever rejects his faith in Allah after having believed in Him - not the one who is compelled (to utter a word of disbelief) under duress while his heart is at peace with Faith, but the one who has laid his breast wide open for disbelief - upon such people is the wrath of Allah, and for them there is a heavy punishment.
(Surah An-Nahl, 106)

Abu Athari writes about basic principles within Islam. He uses his critical and well-researched way to spread knowledge of the first three Muslim generations.

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