Shirk, or ascribing partners to God (الشرک), is the opposite of tawhid and one of the grave sins. Muslim scholars have divided shirk into shirk in God's essence, attributes, and actions, and shirk in worship. From another perspective, shirk is divided into two categories: "manifest" (jali) and "hidden" (khafi). Manifest shirk is usually discussed in theology and hidden shirk in ethics.
Following the desires, materialism, and ignorance are counted among the factors that have led to the development of shirk. The Qur'an counts the Ihbat (cancellation of the reward of obedience and good deeds), exclusion from God's forgiveness, deprivation of Paradise, and entering hell among the consequences of shirk.
Ibn Taymiyya and his Wahhabi followers accuse Shiites and other Muslims who do tawassul of shirk. However, Shiites emphasize that tawassul is shirk only if it is accompanied by worshipping and believing in the divinity of the one who is implored.
Shirk is defined as ascribing partners to God in what is exclusive to Him, such as necessity of existence, divinity, worship, and lordship. Shirk stands against tawhid, but some scholars maintain that shirk is the opposite of faith and that it may accompany faith, since shirk is applied in the Qur'an not only to idolaters but also to the People of the Book and sometimes to Muslims as well.
Mushrik is the one who ascribes partners to God—the one who believes that a being other than God has His exclusive attributes, that the control over a part of creation is delegated to someone other than God, or that someone other than God deserves to be worshipped or independently obeyed.
Types of Shirk
Similar to tawhid, shirk has the following types:
- Shirk in God's essence, which is to believe that there are several gods (polytheism) or that God's essence consists of two or more components.
- Shirk in God's attributes, or the belief that God's essence is ontologically distinct from His attributes.
- Shirk in God's actions, which stands against tawhid in action and is divided similarly to different types such as shirk in creation and shirk in lordship.
- Shirk in creation is the belief in two or more independent creators such that none of them is inferior to the other ones. The belief in a creator for good and a creator for evil in some faith traditions is an example of this type of shirk.
- Shirk in lordship has two types:
- Shirk in cosmological lordship: the belief that God created the world but delegated its regulation and management to other deities.
- Shirk in legislative lordship: the belief that someone other than God can independently legislate laws and regulations.
- Shirk in worship is to worship anyone or anything other than God.
Shirk is also divided into theoretical and practical shirk; theoretical shirk relates to beliefs such as shirk in God's essence or attributes and shirk in creation and lordship, and practical shirk relates to shirk in worship.
Shirk in the Qur'an and Hadith
A great number of Qur'anic verses address the issue of shirk and its prohibition. Some verses state that polytheists do not have any proofs for their belief but rely only on conjecture and desires. The Qur'an states that "Allah does not forgive that any partner should be ascribed to Him, but He forgives anything besides that to whomever He wishes" (Qur'an 4:48). Commentators have explained that the exclusion from God's forgiveness in this verse pertains to the case where a polytheist dies without repenting from his shirk; otherwise, all sins including shirk can be forgiven with repentance.
In a hadith attributed to Imam Ali (a), shirk is said to be of four types in the Qur'an: shirk of the tongue, shirk in actions, shirk of adultery, and shirk of hypocrisy. For the shirk of the tongue, reference is made to the verse "They are certainly faithless who say, 'Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary.' But the Messiah had said, 'O Children of Israel! Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord. Indeed whoever ascribes partners to Allah, Allah shall forbid him [entry into] paradise" (Qur'an 5:72); for the shirk in actions, the verse "And most of them do not believe in Allah without ascribing partners to Him" (Qur'an 12:106) is adduced; for the shirk of adultery, the verse "and share with them in wealth and children" (Qur'an 17:64) is quoted; and for the shirk of hypocrisy, the verse "So whoever expects to encounter his Lord let him act righteously, and not associate anyone with the worship of his Lord" (Qur'an 18:110) is cited.
Hidden and Manifest Shirk
Shirk is either majifest (jali) or hidden (khafi). Manifest shirk is to perform acts of worship such as bowing down, prostration, and offering sacrifices for someone or something other than God while believing the divinity of that person or thing. Hidden shirk includes such vices as materialism, following desires, and so forth. Expounding Qur'an 12:106, Imam al-Sadiq (a) is reported to have said that sayings such as "If it wasn't for so and so, I would be destroyed or afflicted" as an instance of hidden shirk. Also, a well-known hadith from the Prophet (s), according to which shirk is less noticeable than the motion of an ant on a black stone at a dark night, seems to refer to this type shirk. Hidden shirk is discussed mostly in ethics. Manifest shirk and hidden shirk are sometimes called greater shirk (al-shirk al-akbar) and lesser shirk (al-shirk al-asghar).
Causes and Roots of Shirk
The following causes and roots have been mentioned for shirk:
- Following conjectures; The Qur'an states, "And what do they pursue who invoke partners besides Allah? They merely follow conjectures and they just make surmises" (Qur'an 10:66).
- Materialism; Many people are deeply attached to sensory objects, and understand everything, including God and His attributes and actions, in a material framework.
- Ignorance; The Qur'an speaks of those who "without any knowledge" ascribe partners to God and maintain that He has sons and daughters (Qur'an 6:100).
Love for the material world, following the desires, forgetting God, exaggerating about religious figures, fanaticism, and corrupt rulers are counted in the Qur'an among the factors that have promoted shirk.
According to the Qur'an, the following are among the consequences of Shirk:
- Deprivation of Paradise; According to Qur'an 5:72, Paradise is forbidden for polytheists.
- Exclusion from God's forgiveness; Based on verses 48 and 116 of Qur'an 4, God's forgiveness does not include polytheists but may include other sinners.
- Hell; Qur'an 5:72 proclaims that hell will be the abode of polytheists.
- Annulment of the deeds; Shirk makes one's righteous deeds void and unacceptable.
In Islamic law, shirk is one of the grave sins. Based on the verse "The polytheists are indeed unclean: so let them not approach the Holy Mosque" (Qur'an 9:28), Muslim jurists have stated that polytheists are ritually impure and that they are not allowed to enter al-Masjid al-Haram.
Wahhabi Accusations against the Shi'a
Wahhabis consider tawassul to the dead, beseeching the Prophets or Friends of God, and seeking the blessings of the graves of religious figures among the instances of shirk in worship. Ibn Taymiyya believes that although asking the Prophet (s) or righteous people for prayer during their lifetimes is not shirk, it becomes shirk after their death. According to Ibn Taymiyya, whoever visits the grave of the Prophet (s) or a pious person and asks them for something is a polytheist; he must be required to repent, and if he refuses to repent, he has to face death penalty. Abd Allah b. Baz, a prominent contemporary Wahhabi mufti, also considers in his works asking the dead for healing, victory, and so forth an instance of the greater shirk. Wahhabis regard such practices as similar to the practices of the polytheists of the Age of Ignorance.
In response, other Muslim scholars state that the practices of the polytheists are not comparable to what Muslims do because polytheists believed in the divinity and lordship of their gods, but Muslims do not have such beliefs about the Prophet or the righteous figures to whom they do tawassul, and they never worship them. Rather, visiting the graves of the righteous people, honoring them, and asking for their prayers is an instance of venerating God and His sacraments and a means to get closer to Him.
According to the Qur'an, asking for someone's prayer or intercession is a form of shirk in lordship if the one who is entreated is regarded as acting independently and without God's permission.
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