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What Is Shirk (Polytheism) And Who Is a Mushrik (Polytheist) In Islamic Scriptures, Quran And Hadith?

By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi, New Age Islam 

15 June 2020

The Arabic word ‘Shirk’ linguistically means ‘to share or append, not being single or one’. It is the opposite of oneness (Tauheed). Shirk particularly implies attributing a partner to Allah in worship or believing that the real source of power, harm or blessings is from others besides Allah. In Islamic terminology Shirk means ‘associating a partner with Allah in His Being (Zaat), attributes (Sifat), actions, commands or in names’. The one who commits shirk is known as Mushrik (polytheist). In accordance with the Quran and Hadith, Shirk is an unpardonable sin and the person who commits shirk is bound to be punished on the Day of Judgment, as it is complete violation of the rights of Allah.

The Quran repeatedly calls people to believe in the oneness of Allah and strictly prohibits them from committing Shirk i.e. associating partners with His Being or Attributes. Some verses of the Quran in this regard are as follows:

Prohibiting the people from the shirk, Allah says in the Quran, “And worship Allah and do not ascribe any partner to Him, and be good to parents, and to relatives, and orphans, and the needy, and the related neighbour and the unrelated neighbour, and the close companion and the traveller; and your bondwomen; indeed Allah does not like any boastful, proud person.” (4:36)

O Prophet “Say (to the Mushrikin, polytheists) “Shall I choose as a supporter someone other than Allah, Who is the Originator of the heavens and the earth and Who feeds and does not need to eat?” Say, “I have been ordered to be the first to submit myself (to Him), and O people, do not be of the Mushrikin.” (6:14)

O Prophet “Say (to the Mushrikin), "Indeed, He (Allah) is but one God, and indeed, I am free of what you associate [with Him]." (6:19)

Allah says, “…. Your God is only One God; so, whoever expects to meet his Lord must perform good deeds and not ascribe anyone as a partner in the worship of his Lord.” (18:110)

Allah says, “O mankind! Worship your Lord, who created you and those before you, that you may become righteous. (Allah is) The One Who has appointed the earth a base for you, and the sky a canopy – and caused water to pour down from the sky, thereby producing fruits as food for you. So do not attribute to Allah equals while you know [that there is nothing similar to Him].” (2:21-22)

Allah says, “They certainly disbelieve, those who say, “Truly God is the Messiah, son of Mary”. But the Messiah said, “O Children of Israel! Worship God, my Lord and your Lord.” Surely whosoever ascribes partners to God, God has forbidden him the Paradise, and his refuge shall be the Fire. And the wrongdoers shall have no helpers” (5:72)

In this verse, the specific belief that ‘God is the Messiah, son of Mary’ is criticized as “disbelief”. Other verses of the Quran where the divinity of Hazrat Jesus (peace be upon him) is directly or indirectly refuted are (3:59, 5:75, 4:171-172, 116-117, 9:31, 5:17). Hazrat Jesus’ statement that “God is my Lord and your Lord” is also found in other Quranic verses such as 3:51, 5:117, 19:36, and 43:64). The idea that God has sons or daughters is frequently refuted in the numerous Quranic verses (2:116, 6:100, 9:30, 10:68, 17:40, 18:4, 19:35, 88–93, 21:26, 25:2, 37:149, 153, 39:4, 43:16, 81–82, 52:39 and 72:3).  

Allah also says, “And [mention, O Muhammad], when Luqman said to his son while he was instructing him, "O my son, do not associate [anything] with Allah. Indeed, association [with him] is great injustice. And We ordained upon man concerning his parents; his mother bore him enduring weakness upon weakness, and his suckling is up to two years – therefore be thankful to Me and to your parents; finally, towards Me is the return. And if they force you, that you ascribe a partner to Me a thing concerning which you do not have knowledge – do not obey them but accompany them in [this] world with appropriate kindness and follow the path of those who turn back to Me [in repentance], then towards Me only is your return, and I shall tell you what you used to do.” (31:13-15)

Allah says in the Quran, “And We did not send any Noble Messenger before you (O Muhammad), but We divinely revealed to him that, “There is no God except Me, therefore worship Me alone.” (21:25)

Even though the previous messengers had some different commands with regard to what was forbidden and obligatory, they all, the verse clearly denotes, were sent by Allah with exactly the same message of oneness (Tauheed) and devotion to Allah. We thus understand that the commandment regarding the oneness of Allah and the prohibition about associating partners with Allah in worship is a matter which is a common doctrine of all the previous revealed religions.

In the following verses of the Quran, the Prophet is commanded to challenge the Mushrikin to call upon their gods in order to support them or relieve the misfortune from them.  

“Say, [O Muhammad], "Call upon those whom you claim [to be gods] besides Allah." They do not possess an atom's weight [of ability] in the heavens or on the earth, and they do not have therein any partnership [with Him], nor is there for Him from among them any assistant.” (34:22)

“Indeed, those whom you (the Mushrikin) worship besides Allah are slaves like you – so call them and they may answer you, if you are truthful! Do they have feet to walk with? Or have they hands to hold with? Or have they eyes to see with? Or have they ears to hear with? Say, “Call upon your ascribed partners and conspire against me, and do not give me respite.” (7:195)

O Prophet “Say (to the Mushrikin), “What is your opinion – regarding those whom you worship other than Allah – show me which part of the earth they have created, or do they own any portion of the heavens? Bring to me a Book preceding this (Qur’an), or some remnants of knowledge, if you are truthful.””. (35:40/46:4)

“Or do they say [about the Prophet], "He invented it?" Say, "Then bring forth a surah like it and call upon [for assistance] whomever you can besides Allah, if you should be truthful.” (10:38)

“Or do they say, "He invented it"? Say, "Then bring ten surahs like it that have been invented and call upon [for assistance] whomever you can besides Allah, if you should be truthful.” (11:13)

“Do they (the Mushrikin) ascribe (false deities) that which do not create anything, but are themselves created? And cannot provide any help to them, nor do they help themselves? (7:191-192)

“Say (to the Mushrikin), "Are there of your 'partners' any who begins creation and then repeats it?" Say, "Allah begins creation and then repeats it, so how are you deluded?" (10:34)

“Indeed, those you [polytheists] call upon besides Allah are servants like you. So call upon them and let them respond to you, if you are truthful.” (7:194)

“Proclaim, “Call upon those whom you assume (gods) besides Allah – so they do not have any power to relieve the misfortune from you nor to avert it.” (17:56)

“He causes the night to enter the day, and He causes the day to enter the night and has subjected the sun and the moon - each running [its course] for a specified term. That is Allah, your Lord; to Him belongs sovereignty. And those whom you worship instead of Him do not own even the husk of a date-seed” (35:13)

Then on the Day of Judgment, it will be said to the Mushrikin “Invoke your 'partners' " and they will invoke them; but they will not respond to them, and they will see the punishment. If only they had followed guidance!” (28:64)

“That is because Allah is the Truth, and that what they call upon other than Him is falsehood, and because Allah is the Most High, the Grand.” (31:30)

Allah also says, “Then on the Day of Resurrection He (Allah) will disgrace them and proclaim, “Where are My partners, concerning whom you disputed”; the people of knowledge will say, “All disgrace and evil is upon the disbelievers this day.” (16:27)

 In the aforementioned verse (34:22), the statement that “…nor is there for Him (God) from among them any assistant” is a response to the attitude of the Mushrikin who maintained that their idols and deities could work as intercessors. This could be understood with reference to the following verse;

“Unquestionably, for Allah is the pure religion (Deen). And those who take protectors besides Him [say], "We only worship them that they may bring us nearer to Allah in position." Indeed, Allah will judge between them concerning that over which they differ. Indeed, Allah does not guide he who is a liar and [confirmed] disbeliever”. (39:3)

“And your Lord creates what He wills and chooses; not for them was the choice. Exalted is Allah and high above what they associate with Him.” (28:68)

“Allah is the one who created you, then provided for you, then will cause you to die, and then will give you life. Are there any of your "partners" who does anything of that? Exalted is He and high above what they associate with Him.” (30:40)

With regard to challenging the Mushrikin to prove the existence and power of their gods besides Allah, the above-mentioned verses could be seen. Dealing with the same subject, the word ‘Nay!’ in the verse “Say, show me those whom you have joined with Him as partners. Nay! Rather, He is God, the Mighty, the Wise” (34:27) implies that there are no equals to Allah or that the Mushrikin could not prove their gods, since in reality they do not exist.

“They (the people who were given the scriptures) say, "Be Jews or Christians [so] you will be guided." Say, "Rather, [we follow] the religion of Abraham, inclining toward truth, and he was not of the polytheists." (2:135).

The phrase “Be Jews or Christians” does not mean that the People of the Book were proposing a choice between two; rather each group was making this claim on behalf of its own religion. The creed of Abraham in this verse is identified with Islam and also with the term ‘hanif’ which frequently describes Abraham (peace be upon him) in the Quran (4:125, 6:161, 16:120,123). The word ‘hanif’ implies virtuous and submissive before Allah (4:125), straight (6:161), upright (30:30), devoutly obedient (16:120) and in almost all the Quranic verses describes one who is not Mushrik and one who has a state of pure Tauheed or monotheistic faith. The specific use of ‘hanif’ for Hazrat Abraham in the Quran indicates that he was the leading personality of monotheism and he would be an example for monotheists who came after him. 

In a verse of the Quran, Allah says, “Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian; but he was a Muslim, free from all falsehood; and was not of the Mushrikin”. (3:64)

The Mushrikin of Makkah wished to link themselves with Abraham and wrongly considered themselves to be following the creed of Abraham, their forefather. In the books of tafsir, it is also explained that the divine statement that Abraham (peace be upon him) “was not of the Mushrikin” was a divine refutation of the claim of the MakkanMushrikin. 

The verses of the Quran that describe shirk or polytheism as an act of misguidance and promise the divine punishment are as follows;

“Indeed, Allah does not forgive shirk (association) with Him, but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills. And he who associates others with Allah has certainly gone far astray” (4:48/4:116)

“…. Indeed, he who associates others (i.e. who commits shirk) with Allah - Allah has forbidden him Paradise, and his refuge is the Fire. And there are not for the wrongdoers any helpers” (5:72)

“Soon We shall cast awe in the hearts of disbelievers because they have appointed partners to Allah, for which He has not sent any proof; their destination is hell; and what a wretched abode for the unjust!” (3:151)

“And on the day (of Judgment) when We will resurrect everyone together, then say to the Mushrikin, “Where are those partners (your false deities) whom you professed?” (6:22) “Then they had no fabrication except that they said, “By Allah, our Lord, we were never polytheists!” (6:23) “Observe how they lied against themselves, and how they lost the things they fabricated!” (6:24)

“And He (Allah) will punish the hypocrite men and hypocrite women, and the polytheist men and polytheist women - those who assume about Allah an assumption of evil nature. Upon them is a misfortune of evil nature; and Allah has become angry with them and has cursed them and prepared for them Hell, and evil it is as a destination.” (48:6)

“Indeed, they who disbelieved among the People of the Scripture and the polytheists will be in the fire of Hell, abiding eternally therein. Those are the worst of creatures.” (98:6)

Shirk is such a grave sin that one’s good deeds are spiritually meaningless when accompanied by an act of shirk i.e. associating partners with Allah. In this regard the Quran says, “…And had they ascribed partners (to Allah), their deeds would have been wasted” (6:88).

Allah Almighty says, “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 substantiates the oneness of God and refutes acts of shirk. 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 Allah and avoid committing polytheism. 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 Mushrikin. 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. 

Shirk and Mushrik in the Ahadith

It is reported by Hazrat Abu Hurairah that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “Allah has said, “I am most dispensed with the action of joining others in worship with Me. Whoever does an act in which he joins others in worship with Me, I shun him and his partners and become disgusted with him”.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) is reported to have said, “And he who met Allah, associating with Him entered the Hell-fire” (Muslim)

The Prophet said, “Allah says, ‘I have no need of partners, whoever does any need in which they associate partners with Me, I reject them and their partners as well” (Hadith-e-Qudsi, reported by Muslim)

It was narrated by Hazrat Anas from the Apostle (peace be upon him) about the major sins. He (the Holy Prophet) observed: “Associating anyone with Allah, disobedience to parents, killing a person and false utterance.” (Sahih Muslim, Book 1, Hadith 166)

The Prophet (peace be upon him) is reported to have said, “Avoid the seven destructive things." It was asked: (by those present): "What are they, O Messenger of Allah?" He replied, "Associating anyone or anything with Allah in worship; practising sorcery, killing of someone without a just cause whom Allah has forbidden, devouring the property of an orphan, eating of usury, fleeing from the battlefield (fought for a just cause) and slandering chaste women who never even think of anything touching chastity and are good believers." (Al-Bukhari and Muslim/ RiyadusSalihin Book 18, Hadith 283)

Ibn 'Abbas said, The Quranic verse, “Those who invoke not with Allah.” applied to polytheists. He said, “Another verse "Say: O my servants who have transgressed against their souls" was also revealed.” (Sunan Abu Dawud).

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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