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Islamic Ideology ( 6 Jun 2019, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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

By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam

06 June 2019

Allah says in the Quran in a number of verses that we should not associate any partners with Allah and Allah alone is entitled to our worship. The literal meaning of “shirk” is to associate or to include (other entities as partners in the godhead of Allah). 

(3:64) Say: "O People of the Book! come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons (Arbāban meaning as Rabb) other than Allah." If then they turn back, say ye: "Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to Allah´s Will).

The literal meaning of the word Rabb is Sustainer, Master and/or "Nourisher", and in that sense, a man is the "Rabb" of his house. The verb form Yurabbi, meaning "raise" may be used to describe raising a child. While Rabb may be used in other contexts, when it is used in a generalized way to cover all or to mean absolute power, it can only mean Allah and none other.

Allah had granted Isa (AS) powers of healing. So, if any sick person approached him for healing, would that have been “shirk”? Certainly not, especially if it was keeping in mind that the power to heal was given to Jesus by Allah.

(5:110) Then will Allah say: "O Jesus the son of Mary! Recount My favour to thee and to thy mother. Behold! I strengthened thee with the holy spirit, so that thou didst speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold! I taught thee the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel and behold! Thou makest out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My leave, and thou breathest into it and it becometh a bird by My leave, and thou healest those born blind, and the lepers, by My leave. And behold! Thou bringest forth the dead by My leave. And behold! I did restrain the Children of Israel from (violence to) thee when thou didst show them the clear Signs and the unbelievers among them said: ´This is nothing but evident magic.´

Allah has given certain chemicals, herbs, food and drinks medicinal properties (16:69) to heal and to believe in their healing power is not “shirk”. Food nourishes and to believe in the nourishing power of food is not “shirk” as long as one recognizes that these are the creations of Allah or from His creations.

What about believing in the healing and other powers of Quranic verses? Allah Himself ascribes such power to His verses. For example, its healing powers are mentioned in 17:82 , 41:44, 10:57. When in distress, Allah advises us to remember Him and recite His praises excessively.  To believe in the efficacy of Quranic verses and Surahs cannot therefore be “shirk”. Allah has given such power to His remembrance, prayer, excessive praises and recitation of His word in the Quran.

To believe in our efforts to deliver results is not “shirk”. Allah Himself advises us to put in required efforts to achieve results. See for example, verse 8:60. To blindly put faith in Allah without making required efforts is stupidity and to believe in miracles is also stupidity.

What about sovereignty of rulers and those in authority? Allah himself grants such sovereignty to whom He wills and therefore submitting to the rule of other men is not “shirk” as long as they do not command that which is forbidden by Allah.

Allah has decreed laws which we study in physics and describe these laws of Allah as the laws of physics which are essentially Allah’s laws for the physical world. Believing in these laws, laying store by them, using them in our design or even swearing by them is not “shirk”. Allah Himself swears by many of the glorious physical phenomena and properties of His creation. While answering a question in physics of how long it will take for an object dropped from a 100 storeyed building of height 325 meters to hit the ground, it is not necessary to say 8.14 seconds InshaAllah. Omitting to say InshaAllah does not mean that we do not consider Allah omnipotent, but that we recognize that Allah has said that He does not change His laws (Word) once decreed, and Allah Himself swears by His laws, and therefore to use InshaAllah with reference to His laws is to attribute to Allah whimsicality, which would be blameworthy. We are therefore certain based on the authority of Allah Himself that His laws will always behave in a predictable manner.

What about the prophets? Were they not partners of Allah in their prophetic mission? Yes, they were partners and helpers of Allah but not partners in Allah’s godhead. It is important to keep in mind the distinction. In several verses of the Quran, we find the prophets pray for the people and for their forgiveness (6:5 for example). The angels also pray for the forgiveness of people (4:5). The Wali Allah are also people of Allah who through their worship of Allah are deemed to be close to Allah and they are certainly Allah’s helpers in the matter of Allah’s religion but not in His godhead. Seeking their prayers is therefore not “shirk”. We must however keep in mind that even the prophets and the angels do not have any power to get anything on our behalf from Allah (60:4) and they can only pray for us. When even the prophets cannot grant favours but only pray for us, the question of the dead Wali Allah granting favours does not arise and to expect such favours is to ascribe to them powers that only Allah has and is “shirk”. The Sufi Qawwali “Bhardejholimeriya Muhammad, main najaoongakhali....” is also elevating the Prophet to the position of absolute Rabb and is “shirk”, when there is no evidence in the Quran, that Allah has granted such powers to the Prophet. The concept of patron saints who actively protect or grant favours is also “shirk” for the same reasons.

As it concerns intercession, Allah does not deny intercession but only says that none can intercede without Allah’s permission, but with His permission, anyone can intercede. This means that we cannot even take our Prophet’s intercession for granted. Even the Prophet can intercede only on behalf of those people alone for whom Allah decides to grant intercession.

The above discussion is as far as our beliefs are concerned over which we have control but what about other people who commit “shirk” in our opinion? That is a matter between the other people and Allah and not our concern except to guide those who are willing to listen to us. To those who reject what we say, our response can only be 109:6 “To you be your religion and to me mine”.

It is however necessary to remind, that while “shirk” is an unforgivable sin, what is unforgivable is deliberate and wilful “shirk”, and not “shirk” committed without knowledge of it being “shirk”. For example, although many Christians do worship Jesus and Mary, this may not necessarily be in derogation of Allah, but out of excessive and misplaced devotion to a Prophet and his holy mother, and even such Christians can hope for Allah’s forgiveness. Read my article: Is the Quran a Book of Contradictions? Likewise, the polytheists whose polytheism is without knowledge and without derogation of Allah, and who otherwise do good deeds and are truthful and just, may be forgiven by Allah.

It is therefore not for us to judge other people or force on them our beliefs, while we should certainly speak out for what we consider to be the truth.

Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent contributor to


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