The word shirk comes from an Arabic word generally meaning, ‘to share’. In the context of Religion, it means giving Rights of Allah to someone other than Allah (God). Shirk is the act of ascribing a partner or rival to Allah in Lordship (Ruboobiyyah).
Only God has the right to be worshipped or venerated. One who believes that he was created by anyone other than Allah or believes there is an entity worthy of worship besides Allah (God), is committing the very serious sin of shirk. Shirk is often translated to mean the practice of polytheism. The act of Shirk includes failing to worship God, denying His Existence, and sharing or associating a partner with Him; whether the partner is a prophet, an idol, the sun, the moon, or any other being or thing.
Shirk is considered the most serious sin in Islam. Shirk is considered the cardinal sin in Islam. Shirk nullifies all of one’s good deeds and denies one the rewards of the hereafter.
“And it was already revealed to you and to those before you that if you should associate [anything] with Allah, your work would surely become worthless, and you would surely be among the losers” (Quran 39:65)
Shirk is the only sin that God will not forgive of an individual, if not sincerely repented for before his or her death.
“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” (Quran 4:48)
If one repents and ceases from engaging in shirk, then he or she would be forgiven; as repentance wipes out every sin, without exception, as long as one repents before death.
The very reason for our creation was to solely worship the One God, and not anyone or anything else. Shirk denies the very purpose of man’s creation. Shirk is a deviation from the natural state of man, which is the belief in the One God and the worship of Him Alone. It was not until much later that shirk started to spread in mankind–after the existence of Tawheed (monotheism- the worship of the One God).
Worshipping and praising deities other than Allah, who have no power to benefit or harm, is an act of injustice to Allah–who created this whole Universe and gave life to you and me. Shirk is also an act of ingratitude. Shirk is the root of evil and causes the greatest downfall of human dignity and status.
Islam strictly states that all types of prayers should only be directed to God the Almighty, and to no one or nothing else. God is in total control of every man’s destiny and is the only One that can benefit a person, grant one’s needs and desires, and that can remove one’s harm and distress.
In the Qur’an, one that engages in shirk is referred to as a ‘mushrik’ or ‘mushrikeen’ (in its plural form) — one that engages in shirk and plots against Islam. The Quran refers to them as the enemies of Islam.
The mainstream Christian belief of the Trinity is considered a type of shirk, even though it is not the worst kind of shirk, such as worshipping, bowing down, or sacrificing for an idol or an image. Any type of shared divinity is considered shirk.
“They have certainly disbelieved who say, ” Allah is the third of three.” And there is no god except one God. And if they do not desist from what they are saying, there will surely afflict the disbelievers among them a painful punishment” (Quran 5:73)
The opposite of shirk is Tawheed (Monotheism), which is the maintaining and observing of the worship of the One and True Creator while acknowledging his Uniqueness and Attributes.
The Christian belief that Jesus is the son of God, or God himself, is the direct opposite of Tawheed.
The idea of Trinity–father, son, holy spirit–and the concept that Jesus died for our sins is firmly rejected in Islam.
“O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So, believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, “Three”; desist – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs” (Quran 4:171)
God makes it clear in the Quran that the act of ascribing a son to Him, angers him. Ascribing a son to God is beneath the Almighty. God states:
“And they say: “The Most Beneficent (Allah) has begotten a son (or offspring or children) Indeed you have brought forth (said) a terrible evil thing. Whereby the heavens are almost torn, and the earth is split asunder, and the mountains fall in ruins. That they ascribe a son (or offspring or children) to the Most Beneficent (Allah). But it is not suitable for (the Majesty of) the Most Beneficent that He should beget a son” (Quran 88-92)
The idea of having multiple gods is illogical. According to the Quran, there can only be One God; if there were multiple gods, they would have been competing with each other to establish superior strength. The Heavens and the Earth would have also been destroyed by the aggressive presence of two gods.
“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” (Quran 21:22)
Shirk is a very serious matter in religion, as it makes something scared that God has not made sacred—an act of obscuring the truth. The Quran and Sunnah indicate that the act of shirk sometimes expels a person from the religion of Islam, and sometimes it does not. Therefore, Islamic scholars divided Shirk into the categories of Major shirk (Shirk Al-Akbar) and minor shirk (shirk Al-Asghar).
Major shirk (Shirk Al-Akbar):
Major shirk (Shirk Al-Akbar) is very serious and takes one out of the folds of Islam. Major shirk is ascribing to someone other than God (Allah in Arabic) something that belongs Only to God, such as Lordship (ruboobiyyah), divinity (uloohiyyah), and the divine names and attributes of God (Al-Asma’ Wa’l-sifaat). These ‘gods’ can be in the form of priests, kings, objects, animals, spirits, or anyone or anything other than Allah.
Major Shirk can come in the form of beliefs, words, or actions. Major shirk can be seen outwardly, such as when one worships idols or graves; and can be hidden, such as when one who relies upon gods other than Allah.
Major shirk occurs when one prays or supplicates to one other than Allah. Major shirk includes believing someone or something other than Allah, who creates and gives life and death and is in full control of everything. Major shirk also includes the belief that someone other than Allah must be obeyed. Major shirk also includes the belief that others apart from Allah have knowledge of the unseen. Major shirk also includes the act of loving something that is a created being, equally or more than Allah. For example, this occurs when one is so emotionally attached to wealth that they make its attainment their goal in life. Wealth becomes everything to them. Those individuals took money as their God.
Major Shirk also includes loving to obey one’s own desires more than Allah. Consequently, one would follow their desires even if leads to disobeying Allah. Such one takes their desires as their God as they act according to their whims. God states:
“Have you seen he who has taken as his god his [own] desire, and Allah has sent him astray due to knowledge and has set a seal upon his hearing and his heart and put over his vision a veil? So who will guide him after Allah? Then will you not be reminded?” (Quran 45:23)
Minor shirk (Shirk Al-Asghar):
Minor shirk (shirk Al-Asghar) does not make the doer a disbeliever or remove one from the folds of Islam. However, minor shirk is still a major sin. Minor shirk includes everything that may lead to major shirk. Minor Shirk includes any action which is done in order to gain praise, fame or any other worldly purpose. This is considered shirk because the individual is doing an action for other people, instead of for the sake of God. Examples of this can take the form of praying to God in front of others, with the intention to gain praise from people, or the example of one donating to a charity with the intention to show off, to gain fame, or for any worldly purpose. When one commits such action, the good action gets nullified and the doer receives no reward for it. Our Prophet stated: ‘The thing that I fear most for you is minor Shirk.’ They (the Companions) said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, what is minor Shirk?’ He (peace be upon him) said, ‘Riya’. Truly, Allah (Blessed and Exalted be He) shall say on the Day of Resurrection to the people who used to do good deeds for show: Go to those for whom you were showing off with your deeds in worldly life and see if you can find with them recompense.’
Minor shirk also includes swearing oaths made by those other than Allah; for example, saying, ‘I swear by such as such…” It can be major shirk depending on certain situations. Minor shirk also includes the belief in evil omens or superstitions.
When the act of minor shirk becomes a habit in all of one’s deeds, it becomes Major Shirk.
One should be cautious of shirk, as this evil can be inconspicuous and not as noticeable. Our Prophet stated: “Ash-Shirk-al-Khafi (The inconspicuous Shirk) in the Muslim nation is more inconspicuous than the creeping of black ant on black rock in the pitch-darkness of the night.” Therefore, one should take extra precaution to avoid the commission of this sin.
According to the Quran, one who commits shirk and belies in a deity other than Allah– will live a life of constant fear and anxiety.
“We will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve for what they have associated with Allah of which He had not sent down [any] authority. And their refuge will be the Fire, and wretched is the residence of the wrongdoers” (Quran 3:151)