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What Are the Major Characteristics of the Mushrikun Mentioned in The Quran and How Do They Differ From The Mushrikun Living In The 21st Century?

By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi, New Age Islam

12 September 2019

Who are the Mushrikun mentioned in the Quran? What are their major characteristics? How does the Quran refute them? Do these Mushrikun differ from the Mushrikun living in the 21st century? Such are the questions to deal with which, we have gone through the Quran, its popular classical commentaries (Tafasir) and descriptions of scholars. Here we find that the Mushrikun refers to the pagans of Arab and that there are some characteristics which make them different from the Mushrikin living in this 21st century. 

In Islamic terminology, the word ‘shirk’ means ascribing or establishment of a partner or rival to Allah in His Being [Zaat], worship, lordship or in His attributes [Sifaat]. Mushrikun (pl. of Mushrik) are those who practice Shirk.

The Mushrikun of Makka committed ‘Shirk’ (polytheism), therefore they were called ‘Mushrikun’. There were some unique characteristics out of the five major ones, which make them, to some extent, different from the Mushrikun living in this 21st century. This difference can be understood through their major characteristics.

According to Shah Waliullah in his book “Al-Fauz al-Kabir”, the five major characteristics of Mushrikun of Arab mentioned in the Quran, are; 1) Polytheism (shirk), 2) Anthropomorphism (Tashbih), 3) Change/Alteration (Tahrif) 4) Considering the happening of Resurrection or Life After death (Istib’aad Hashr W Nashr) as impossible and far remote, and 5) Considering the Mission of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) (Istib’aad Risalat-e-Muhammadi) as unbelievable and something far remote.

Polytheism (Shirk) of Mushrikin

The holy Quran, according to Shah Waliullah, refuted the creeds of Mushrikin of Makkah in two ways; firstly the Quran clearly exposed the belief of the Mushrikun and its effects, secondly it listed the doubts of these Mushrikun and then removed them by way of demonstrativeness and oration. To answer the practised polytheism, the Quran first demanded from the Mushrikun of Arab the proof of their beliefs, doings and the reason why they deviated from the beliefs and practices of their fore-fathers. The Quran also proved the non-existence of equality between the Creator and the created things, and that God alone is the Lord of the entire universe.

The Quran told them that all the prophets unanimously agreed to this subject, as mentioned in the Quran,

“We have not sent before any messenger but had revealed to him ‘there is no god but I’, so worship Me alone” (21:25)

“But they have attributed to Allah partners - the jinn, while He has created them - and have fabricated for Him sons and daughters. Exalted is He and high above what they describe” (6:100)

“If there had been within the heavens and earth gods besides Allah, they both would have been ruined. So exalted is Allah, Lord of the Throne, above what they describe.” (21:22)

This argument (as in the verse 21:22) substantiates the oneness of God. If there had been two Gods, each independent and sovereign, then the commands of both the Gods would have prevailed on the earth and in the sky; which is completely impossible. It is unbelievable that both of them would have agreed on all matters. In cases of differences which inevitably occur where power and sovereignty is shared, conflict could take place in several matters and the world would confront with destruction and chaos. And if the two Gods had taken their decisions jointly, then neither of them would have been believed to be the Most sovereign or the Most Powerful, because a god with divided power is not a God.

The Quran invites all mankind to worship one God. It says,

“O mankind, worship your Lord, who created you and those before you, that you may become righteous - [He] who made for you the earth a bed [spread out] and the sky a ceiling and sent down from the sky, rain and brought forth thereby fruits as provision for you. So do not attribute to Allah equals while you know [that there is nothing similar to Him]” (2:21-22).

Besides, there are several verses which refute the practice of Shirk of the Mushrikun. For detailed reading, one can read these verses, 2:116, 2:165, 3:64, 3:67, 4:36, 4:48, 4:116-117, 5:72-73, 6:94, 6:151, 7:33, 7:189-198, 9:28-31, 13:33, 15:94-96, 16:1-3, 16:53-56, 17:39, 22:30-31, 23:91-92, 29:65-66, 31:13, 39:8, 41:6, 41:9, 48:6, 98:6.             

Anthropomorphism (Tashbih)

The Mushrikin of Makkah made the creed of Tashbih (anthropomorphism) and committed change/alteration (Tahrif). They would say that angels were God’s daughters and claimed the presence of human attributes in God. When they could not comprehend the true attributes of God such as Knowledge (‘Ilm) and power of hearing and seeing, they started judging these attributes in the context of their own knowledge and capability of hearing and seeing. This is how they went astray, taking God as corporal and bound-able. The story of change (tahrif), in the words of Shah Waliullah, is that “the children of Prophet of Ismail followed their grandfather Abraham’s Sharia or Religion of Abraham (Millat-e-Ibrahimi) till ‘Amr bin Lauhaay appeared. He carved idols and made their worship compulsory for them. He also instituted superstitions, such as ‘Bahira’, Sai’ba’, ‘Wasila’ and ‘Ham’, ‘Al-Iqtisam lil Azlam’ and many others! This change took place three hundred years before the birth of the Holy Prophet. In addition to these evil practices, they adhered to the traditions of their forefathers and considered it as a decisive argument in their favour. The Prophets who had gone before had spoken about the Resurrection and the Gathering, but they had given no details, nor stated it as distinctly with all particulars as given in the Quran (though rather very summarily). Since the Arab Mushrikin were not given detailed account of life after death, they considered the happening of Resurrection as impossible and far remote. Even though these Mushrikin acknowledged the prophethood of Prophets Abraham, Ismail and also that of Prophet Moses, they felt confused about the existence of human qualities in these prophets, which constitute a veil on their perfect beauty and thus entertained doubts about them.... They considered prophets in human forms something very remote and unbelievable, and to support their contention, they talked of doubts, weak and not worth listening. For example, they asked how a man who needed food and drink could be a Prophet. Why did not God send an angel for this purpose? Why did he not send revelation to every person individually?” (Shah Waliullah, Al-Fauz al-Kabir, trans. by G. N. Jalbani)

The Quran rebutted their anthropomorphism [Tashbih] in two ways. Firstly the Quran demanded from the Arab’s Mushrikun the proof of anthropomorphism and asked them why they deviated from their forefathers. Secondly, the Quran told them that Tashbih is possible only when the father and the son are of the one and the same species but this sameness does not exist in what they claim for God Almighty. The Quran also disclosed their ugliness that they tried to attribute to God what they did not like to themselves, as it says,

“Therefore ask them (O prophet), whether the daughters are for your Lord and the sons for them! Or did We create the angels female, while they were witnesses? Behold! It is of their own perversion that they say, “God has begotten”, while truly they are liars” (37:149-152)

“Has He chosen daughters for Himself from His creation, and selected only sons for you?” (43:16)

“Or has He daughters while you have sons?” (52:39)

“They say, "Allah has taken a son." Exalted is He! Rather, to Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and the earth. All are devoutly obedient to Him,” (2:116)

These verses, similar to 6:100, 9:30, 10:68, 17:40, 111; 18:4; 19:35, 88–93; 21:26; 25:2; 39:4; 43:16, 81–82; 52:39; 72:3, refute the belief of the Mushrikun of Arab that God has daughters or sons. They are initially asked how they can attribute daughters to God, when they themselves prefer sons and dislike daughters, as the Quran says,

“And they attribute to Allah daughters - exalted is He - and for them is what they desire. And when one of them is informed of [the birth of] a female, his face becomes dark, and he suppresses grief.” (16:57-58).

In these verses, the Quran not only refutes their belief but also describes their lack of internal logic.

The Belief of Arab’s Mushrikun Concerning Resurrection and Gathering (Hashr w Nashr)

The Arab’s Mushrikun considered the Resurrection/life after death and Gathering (Hashr w Nashar) as unbelievable.

The Quran describes this belief of theirs,

“And he invents an example for Us, while forgetting his own creation, saying, “Who is such that can revive the bones when they have completely rotted away” (37:78)

With regard to the Shane Nuzul of this verse, it is reported that a man by the name of Ubayy Ibn Khalaf brought some decayed bones to the Prophet and crushed them into pieces saying “Do you think that God can revive these (bones) after they have decayed and completely rotted away”, it was then that this verse (37:38) was revealed.

The Mushrikun of Arab, according to the Quran, used to say, “There is nothing except our life of this world, we die and we live, and we are not to be resurrected.” (23:37)

This verse, similar to verses (13:5; 17:49, 98; 23:35, 82–83; 27:67; 37:16–17, 53; 50:3; 56:47–48; 79:11), makes a common objection to the Quranic understanding of bodily resurrection.

The Quran refuted this view of the Mushrikun of Arab in several verses, for instance, it says,

“And of His signs is that you see the earth stilled, but when We send down upon it rain, it quivers and grows. Indeed, He who has given it life is the Giver of Life to the dead. Indeed, He is over all things competent”. (41:39)

Through this verse and others (such as 7:57, 16:65, 22:5, 25:48-89, 29:63; 30:19, 24, 50; 35:9; 36:33; 43:11; 45:5; 50:9–11), the Quran first asks the Mushrikun of Arab to judge reanimation of the dead on the basis of bringing the dead land back to life (when we send down upon it rain, it quivers and  grows) and then realise that God has all ability to resurrect human beings.

The Belief of Arab’s Mushrikun About The holy Prophet’s Mission

The Mushrikun of Arab considered the mission of the holy Prophet as unbelievable and something far remote. The Quran tells us why they had such views,

“And they (the Mushrikun) say, "What is this messenger that eats food and walks in the markets? Why was there not sent down to him an angel so he would be with him a warner?” (25:7)

Sometimes they used to say, why did not Allah send any angel as a Prophet?, as the Quran says,

“And those who do not expect the meeting with Us say, "Why were not angels sent down to us, or [why] do we [not] see our Lord?" They have certainly become arrogant within themselves and [become] insolent with great insolence. “ (25:21)

This way, the Mushrikun of Arab used to create doubts and did not try to understand the divine wisdom behind sending the Prophets from among them. The Quran refuted their objection by telling them that such a mission, as has been revealed in the Quran, did exist with the previous prophets too.

“And those who have disbelieved say, “You are not a messenger." Say, [O Prophet], "Sufficient is Allah as Witness between me and you, and [the witness of] whoever has knowledge of the Scripture.” (13:43) 

“Proclaim, “Physically I am a human like you – my Lord sends divine revelations to me – that your God is only One God; so whoever expects to the meet his Lord must perform good deeds and not ascribe anyone as a partner in the worship of his Lord.” (18:110)

It was the human nature of the prophets that the Mushrikun of Arab and some others started doubting them, (6:91; 11:27; 14:10; 21:3; 23:24; 23:47; 26:154, 186; 36:15; 54:24; 64:6; 74:25).

“And it is not for any human that Allah may speak to him except as a divine revelation or while the human is on this side of the veil of greatness, or that He sends an angel to reveal by His permission, whatever He wills; indeed He is Supreme, Wise.” (42:51)

Alteration (Tahrif) of Arab’s Mushrikun

Among other differentiating things between the Mushrikin of Makkah and the Mushrikin living in the present century are that the “Polytheists (of Arab) described themselves as “Ahnaf” (seekers of truth), claiming to follow the religion of Abraham (Millat-e-Ibrahim). In fact Hanafi (not to be confused with the Hanafi who follows Imam Abu Hanifa) is one who follows the creed of Abraham and observes the rituals prescribed by him. These rituals include pilgrimage to Ka’aba, keeping one’s face towards it while saying prayers, bath after ceremonious uncleanliness, circumcision etc”.....The Mushrikun of Arab abandoned creeds of Abraham and “indulged in evil practices such as unlawful murder, theft, adultery, usury and usurpation.” In matters of the creeds of Abraham (peace be upon him), these Mushrikin “had in general created doubts, describing them improbable and showing no interest in comprehending them. Polytheism, belief in anthropomorphism, modification of Abraham’s scroll, denial of the Hereafter, and terming the Holy Prophet’s mission unbelievable constituted main features of their deviation from the true Religion of Abraham. In addition, they performed shameful deeds, indulged in injustice, wrong doing and corrupt practices and wiped out every semblance of God’s worship” (Shah Waliullah, Al-Fauz al-Kabir, trans. by G. N. Jalbani, p.3-4)

Related Articles:

What Is ‘Shirk’ and What Isn’t ‘Shirk’

Who Is A Kafir In The Quran? (Part 1): 'Kafir,' 'Mushrik' And 'Idolater' Are Not Synonyms

A regular Columnist with, Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi Dehlvi is an Alim and Fazil (Classical Islamic scholar), with a Sufi-Sunni background and English-Arabic-Urdu Translator. He has also done B.A (Hons.) in Arabic, M.A. in Arabic and M.A in English from JMI, New Delhi. He is Interested in Islamic Sciences; Theology, Jurisprudence, Tafsir, Hadith and Islamic mysticism (Tasawwuf).


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