Meaning of Shirk: literally and technically
Shirk is an Arabic word which literally means to make someone involved in an event, activity etc. However, in the technical usage of Islam, shirk means associating partners with Allaah. If a person gives a right of Allah to anyone or anything else besides Allah, such a person is said to have committed shirk. It is the opposite of Tawheed..
Shirk is the greatest injustice
Allaah created us without seeking assistance from anyone, He provides for us all without seeking assistance from anyone, He sustains us and directs our affairs without seeking assistance from anyone. So why should we give all or some of His rights to any deity besides Him? This is why the wise one; Luqman admonished his son as Allaah informs us in the Holy Qur’an:
And (remember) when Luqmân said to his son when he was advising him: “O my son! Join not in worship others with Allaah. Verily! Joining others in worship with Allaah is a great Zûlm (wrong) indeed.
Types of Shirk
The scholars of Islam explored the texts of the Quran and sunnah then discovered that Shirk can be divided into two broad categories:
- Major shirk
- Minor shirk
Some add a third category:
- Hidden shirk
Major Shirk is the most dangerous misdeed, it is (supposed to be) the worst nightmare of a believer. Major Shirk destroys all the deeds of a Muslim, makes him an apostate and if he does not repent before death he will be in hell forever and ever; he won’t have any means to save himself nor any helper to plead for him. Therefore if a person dies upon major shirk he has lost all hope of mercy in the hereafter, his death is the beginning of everything horrible. We seek refuge with Allaah from such.
The implications of being an apostate include:
Disbelievers and apostates shouldn’t be washed, shrouded or observed salat upon after their death,
Allaah (the Absolute and Sublime) says:
And never (O Muhammad) pray (funeral prayer) for any of them (hypocrites) who dies, nor stand at his grave. Certainly they disbelieved in Allaah and His Messenger, and died while they were Fâsiqûn (rebellious, — disobedient to Allaah and His Messenger).
Disbelivers and apostates shouldn’t be allowed into Makkah and Medinah as Allaah the exalted says:
O you who believe (in Allaah’s Oneness and in His Messenger (Muhammad)! Verily, the Mushrikûn (polytheists, pagans, idolaters, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allaah, and in the Message of Muhammad) are Najasun (impure). So let them not come near Al-Masjid-al-Harâm (at Makkah) after this year, and if you fear poverty, Allaah will enrich you if He will, out of His Bounty. Surely, Allaah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.
Apostates and disbelievers should neither be married nor be given one’s child or ward in marriage
And do not marry Al-Mushrikât (idolatresses, etc.) till they believe (worship Allaah Alone). And indeed a slave woman who believes is better than a (free) Mushrikah (idolatress, etc.), even though she pleases you. And give not (your daughters) in marriage to Al-Mushrikûn till they believe (in Allaah Alone) and verily, a believing slave is better than a (free) Mushrik (idolater, etc.), even though he pleases you. Those (Al-Mushrikûn) invite you to the Fire, but Allaah invites (you) to Paradise and Forgiveness by His Leave, and makes His Ayât (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) clear to mankind that they may remember.
Greatest of All
The greatest implication of shirk is that the one who commits shirk and dies on it will abide in the fire of Jahannam (hell) forever, all his deeds are nullified, he will have no helper to intercede on his behalf and he will have no hope of mercy from Allaah.
Allaah the exalted says:
And We shall turn to whatever deeds they (disbelievers, polytheists, sinners, etc.) did, and We shall make such deeds as scattered floating particles of dust.
And He says:
Verily, whosoever sets up partners in worship with Allãh, then Allãh has forbidden Paradise for him, and the Fire will be his abode. And for the Zâlimûn (polytheists and wrong-doers) there are no helpers.
Examples of Major Shirk
Some examples of major shirk are:
Calling on other than Allaah:
As we all know that many people call on saints, heroes, Sheikhs, spirits etc. A drowning person may say Sheikh Fulaan save me or say O Mother Nature make rain fall. All these are forms of Shirk.
Calling on anything besides Allaah is major shirk irrespective of whether the called is an angel, prophet or saint let alone criminals and polytheists. Also irrespective of whether the caller believes that the called can grant him his request by himself or claims that the called is only an intermediary between him and Allaah, it’s all major shirk which takes one out of the fold of Islam. Allaah the exalted says:
Surely, the religion (i.e. the worship and the obedience) is for Allaah only. And those who take Auliyâ’ (protectors and helpers) besides Him (say): “We worship them only that they may bring us near to Allãh.” Verily, Allãh will judge between them concerning that wherein they differ. Truly, Allãh guides not him who is a liar, and a disbeliever.
Giving offering to other than Allaah
Another form of major Shirk is offering sacrifice or slaughtering for anything other than Allaah. It must be noted that not all slaughtering fall under shirk. A person may slaughter to eat meat or to honour a visitor, the ruling of these are based on his intention and the type of animal slaughtered, these two types of slaughtering are discussed in books of fiqh.
But the slaughtering referred to in books of creed is the slaughtering of honour, appeasement and gratitude. This belongs to Allaah alone and should not be given to any person, thing or phenomenon besides Allaah. It must also be noted that the above described slaughtering is shirk irrespective of the size and type of animal being slaughtered even if it’s a housefly rather even if it’s a maggot! Allaah the exalted says:
Say (O Muhammad): “Verily, my Salât (prayer), my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allãh, the Lord of the ‘Alamîn (mankind, jinns and all that exists).
Magic and fortune telling
Another form of major Shirk is claiming knowledge of the unseen. Soothsaying and fortune telling are both forms of major shirk. Many movies today propagate these acts. The social media also play their role in propagating soothsaying through horoscope and astronomy.
Allaah the exalted says:
Verily, Allãh! With Him (Alone) is the knowledge of the Hour, He sends down the rain, and knows that which is in the wombs. No person knows what he will earn tomorrow, and no person knows in what land he will die. Verily, Allãh is All-Knower, All-Aware (of things).
The messenger of Allaah (commendations and peace of Allaah be upon him) also says:
Whoever visits a fortuneteller or diviner and believes what he says has indeed disbelieved in what was sent down on Muhammad (commendations and peace of Allaah be upon him)
Minor shirk refers to statements or actions that are called shirk in the Quran or sunnah but we also find some verses of the Holy Quran or authentic Sunnah stating that they do not take one out of Islam. Therefore, these acts nullify Islam but not totally, those who perpetrate it are liable to punishment but they will not abide in hell forever.
Minor Shirk is of two types:
Minor Shirk of Statement:
Examples of this include swearing by other than Allaah: the messenger of Allaah said: whoever swears by other than Allaah has either committed shirk or disbelief. Swearing is done to emphasize a statement. It also means that what we are swearing with has great might in the heart of the one swearing and the one whom one is swearing to. All greatness and exaltation belong to Allaah alone, therefore we should swear by nothing else but Him.
Many fatai and Nuuru and hadija, kabira etc. of our time will rather swear by Allaah than swear by iron because they have great fear for Ogun (the fabricated god of iron). SubhanaLLaah!!! If a Muslim of our time steals or lies and is asked to come and swear with the Quran that he is innocent, he will quickly grab it and swear but if he is asked to swear by just a piece of metal (even if its rusted) you will see him shivering, sweating, trembling and beginning to confess immediately. We ask Allaah for safety and protection.
Minor shirk of statement also includes saying: “if not for Allaah and you I would have drowned” or saying “what Allaah and you wish will happen”. The messenger of Allaah said:
Don’t say what Allaah wills and so-and-so wills rather say What Allaah wills then so-and-so wills. (Ahmad).
So also we should say: if not for Allaah then you he would have drowned. The point is that we should not use an expressions that depicts equality between Allaah and any of His creatures including the prophet.
Minor Shirk of Action
This includes all actions which imply that a person believes that some people, things, or phenomena are responsible for occurrences. It must be noted that if such person believes that the people, things or phenomena can make things occur by themselves without the will of Allaah then such a person has committed major shirk but if he believes that they are only a means he has committed minor shirk.
Hopefully the following examples will make it clearer:
Wearing amulets and talisman for protection from diseases is a form of minor shirk. This is because Allaah has not made them a means of curing ailments and there is no correlation between tying a rope around one’s neck and being protected from a car accident. If the person believes that the rope talisman can proptect him even if Allaah does not wish then he has committed major shirk but if he believes that it is only a means and Allaah is the real protector it is a minor shirk.
To bring the picture closer to you,
Some people will return home even after several kilometres into their travel, why? He forgot his amulet. No doubt such a person’s case is most likely major shirk. Another person gets to his doorstep and remembers that he has forgotten his amulet but continues on his journey with the belief that only what Allaah wills will happen. No doubt this person’s case is minor shirk. Allaah knows best.
This refers to acts of shirk which are hidden in the heart and only Allaah actually knows those who commit it. We ask Allaah for safety. The most common form of hidden shirk is show-off which is the opposite of Ikhlaas (sincerity). Other forms of hidden shirk include, doing good deeds solely for worldly benefits, being proud of one’s good deeds etc.
Hidden Shirk is actually either major shirk or minor shirk but scholars usually discuss it separately because of its danger. We ask Allaah for safety.
Major hidden Shirk:
Shirk of the Munafiqoon (hypocrites), they have absolutely no iota of faith in their heart. All their deeds are just to make the people think they are Muslims. Their Shahaadah (testimony that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allaah) is only to make the people think they are believers, they know in their hearts that they are not believers. Their prayers, fasting, hajj, zakat is for nothing except show-off, praise, popularity etc. Allaah the exalted says about the Munafiqoon:
Verily, the hypocrites seek to deceive Allãh, but it is He Who deceives them. And when they stand up for As-Salât (the prayer), they stand with laziness and to be seen of men, and they do not remember Allãh but little
We ask Allaah for safety.
Minor Hidden Shirk
This is the show-off that comes from a believer. He believes that his deeds should be done for Allãh alone but is overcome by his desires for worldly possessions. This is also dangerous and the believer should strive his utmost to avoid it. It is very difficult to detect and avoid.
O Allãh we seek refuge with you from associating partners with you while we know and we seek forgiveness for what we do not know.
Notes and References
 Surat Luqman: 13
 Surat Tawbah: 84
 Surah Tawbah: 28
 Surah Baqarah: 221
 Surah Furqan: 23
 Surah Maedah: 72
 Surah Zumar:3
 Surah An’aam: 162
 Surah Luqman: 34
 Soheehul Jaami’: 5939
 Surah Nisaa: 142