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Qur’anic Teachings – 7: Who Is A Mushrik (Polytheist)?


By Ziaur Rahman, New Age Islam

16 Feb 2015

According to the Quran, a mushrik (polytheist) is one who sets up partner or partners with God. All the divine religions opposed polytheism and preached the worship of one God who is the sole creator of the Universe and all that is present in it. God says that since he is the creator, destroyer and sustainer of all existence on earth and heavens, only He should be worshipped.

In the Quran, God reminds man umpteenth time of his favours, his blessings, his bounties and his love and care for him and asks him to worship Him and be grateful to Him every waking moment. Calling someone else instead of him in times of distress or need and praying before false gods makes him highly resentful and wrathful. He says:

“Who has made the earth your couch, and the heavens your canopy; and sent down rain from the heavens; and brought forth therewith Fruits for your sustenance; then set not up rivals unto Allah when ye know (the truth).”(Al Baqarah: 22)

Generally, those who worship idols assuming them to be the incarnations of the supreme God are called mushriks or polytheists. The people of Makkah were largely idolaters or polytheists and the Kaaba housed 360 idols. There are many examples in the Quran where even the followers of monotheistic religions like Christianity are also called Mushriks or polytheists. Christians are also called mushriks in some verses because they believe in Trinity of God, Jesus and Holy Spirit.

There are a number of verses in which God chastises the followers of Jesus for worshipping Jesus as God and for having belief in Trinity. 

“O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not "Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah: Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs.”(Al Nisa: 171)

“They have certainly disbelieved who say that Allah is Christ, the son of Mary. Say, "Then who could prevent Allah at all if He had intended to destroy Christ, the son of Mary, or his mother or everyone on the earth?" And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth and whatever is between them. He creates what He wills, and Allah is over all things competent.”(Al Maidah: 17)

“They do blaspheme who say: "Allah is Christ the son of Mary." But said Christ: "O Children of Israel! worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord." Whoever joins other gods with Allah,- Allah will forbid him the garden, and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrong-doers be no one to help.”(Al Maidah: 72)

“They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords in derogation of Allah, and (they take as their Lord) Christ the son of Mary; yet they were commanded to worship but One Allah: there is no god but He. Praise and glory to Him: (Far is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him).”(At Taubah: 31)

“Allah has said: "Take not (for worship) two gods: for He is just One Allah: then fear Me (and Me alone)."(Al Nahl:51)

“They have certainly disbelieved who say, " Allah is the third of three." And there is no god except one God. And if they do not desist from what they are saying, there will surely afflict the disbelievers among them a painful punishment.”(Al Maidah: 73)

The verses quoted above clearly show Gods disapproval of the belief of the majority of the Christians in the lordship of Jesus and in the Trinity. God declares this belief as disbelief (kufr).

Thus kufr and shirk are not separate categories of disbelief. Kufr is the denial of the oneness or the Supreme Authority of God. When someone sets up partners with God, he commits kufr as he denies Him as the supreme Being.

Thus one who commits shirk, commits kufr too. From this point of view, the Quran declares those who worship idols as well as those who believe in Trinity kafirs or disbelievers.

The verses that brand the idolaters as kafirs or unbelievers or disbelievers are as follows:

“Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority: their abode will be the Fire: And evil is the home of the wrong-doers!”(Al-e-Imran: (151)

“Allah forgiveth not that partners should be set up with Him; but He forgiveth anything else, to whom He pleaseth; to set up partners with Allah is to devise a sin Most heinous indeed.”(Al Nisa: 48)

“Say "It is Allah that delivereth you from these and all (other) distresses: and yet ye worship false gods!"(Al An’’am: 64)

“Yet they make the Jinns equals with Allah, though Allah did create the Jinns; and they falsely, having no knowledge, attribute to Him sons and daughters. Praise and glory be to Him! (for He is) above what they attribute to Him!”. (Al An’am: 100)

“They call on such deities, besides Allah, as can neither hurt nor profit them: that is straying far indeed (from the Way)!”(Al Haj: 12)

“Being true in faith to Allah, and never assigning partners to Him: if anyone assigns partners to Allah, is as if he had fallen from heaven and been snatched up by birds, or the wind had swooped (like a bird on its prey) and thrown him into a far-distant place.”(Al Haj:31)

“will they then believe in vain things, and be ungrateful for Allah's favours?- And worship others than Allah,- such as have no power of providing them, for sustenance, with anything in heavens or earth, and cannot possibly have such power?”(Al Nahl:72-73)

“Who set up another god beside Allah: Throw him into a severe penalty.”(Qaf:26)

“So call not on any other god with Allah, or thou wilt be among those under the Penalty.”(Ash-Shuaraa: 213)

“And of His signs are the night and day and the sun and moon. Do not prostrate to the sun or to the moon, but prostate to Allah, who created them, if it should be Him that you worship.” (Fussilat: 37)

“Say: "Do ye see what it is ye invoke besides Allah? Show me what it is they have created on earth, or have they a share in the heavens bring me a book (revealed) before this, or any remnant of knowledge (ye may have), if ye are telling the truth!. And who is more astray than one who invokes besides Allah, such as will not answer him to the Day of Judgment, and who (in fact) are unconscious of their call (to them)?” (Al Ahqaf: 4-5)

“Yet do they worship, besides Allah, things that can neither profit them nor harm them: and the Misbeliever is a helper (of Evil), against his own Lord!”(Al Furqan:55)

“Then shall it be said to them: "Where are the (deities) to which ye gave part-worship”(Al Mumin: 73)

“For ye do worship idols besides Allah, and ye invent falsehood. The things that ye worship besides Allah have no power to give you sustenance: then seek ye sustenance from Allah, serve Him, and be grateful to Him: to Him will be your return.” (Al Ankabut: 17)

The verses quoted above do not specifically address any particular religious community but from their content, it is evident that they are addressed to the idolators of Makkah or of Arab as a whole, and the worshippers of the Sun and the Moon. They have also been called mushriks (polytheists) because they worshipped their deities besides Allah.

From some verses, it becomes evident that some of the idolaters and polytheists of Makkah believed in Allah (the Supreme God) but also believed in the power of their deities. One verse that makes it clear is as follows:

“If indeed thou ask them who has created the heavens and the earth and subjected the sun and the moon (to his Law), they will certainly reply, "Allah". How are they then deluded away (from the truth)?”(Al Ankabut:61)

Another verse also testifies to this:

“And thus (it is) that We have sent down the Book to thee. So the People of the Book believe therein, as also do some of these (pagan Arabs): and none but Unbelievers reject our signs.” (Al Ankabut: 47)

According to the Quran, attributing God with human attributes and likening him to anything created by God is also kufr. Thus taking Jesus as the son of God or the claim of the Jews that they are the sons of God is also kufr, disbelief. Similarly, the polytheists of Arab would imagine the jinns to be the daughters of God. That was also a form of disbelief or kufr.

Therefore, shirk also falls under the category of kufr as it challenges the oneness or sovereignty of God.

However, God does not resurrect the whole community for the sins of a section of it. Quran says that among the Jews many have gone astray but there are Jews that are on the right path. Similarly, the Quran says that among the Christians, many have gone astray because of their belief in Trinity and other beliefs that are in violation of the teachings of the Bible, there are some Christians who are on the right path: they have belief in one God, the Day of Judgment and all the scriptures revealed by Him. The Quran testifies to their faith in the following verse:

“They are not [all] the same; among the People of the Scripture is a community standing [in obedience], reciting the verses of Allah during periods of the night and prostrating [in prayer].”(Al-e-Imran: 113-114)

“If only the People of the Scripture had believed, it would have been better for them. Among them are believers, but most of them are defiantly disobedient.”(Al-e-Imran: 110)

“And indeed, among the People of the Scripture are those who believe in Allah and what was revealed to you and what was revealed to them, [being] humbly submissive to Allah.(Al-e-Imran: 199)

The verses quoted above do not point to the belief of individuals among the Christian fold but to the non-trinitarianism or anti-trinitarianism that rejected the belief in Trinity. Trinity as a belief only was recognised by the ecumenical council as a Christian doctrine in as late as 4th century. Thus it is a modern innovation in the Deen of Jesus.

Nontrinitarianism came about as a result of efforts of reviving Christianity and purging the Deen of impurities. In other words, nontrinitarianism is part of the efforts of Tajdeed-e-Deen in much the same way as efforts for reviving Islam have been made in every century by Mujaddids or revivers. One such mujaddid of Christianity was Dr John Thomas (1805-1871) who embarked on the path to purge Christianity of the impurities and founded his sect called Christadelphian. He studied Bible minutely and questioned the doctrine of Trinity. Apart from his group, there are other Christian sects, though minority, in England, the US and more than 100 countries of the world who do not believe in Trinity and believe in one God. Apart from Christadelphian, there are other groups that reject Trinity are Christian Scientists, Iglesia ni Cristo, The Church of God International, Living Church of God etc.

Thus when Quran pointed out that there are some upright Christians, it did not mean sundry individuals who believed in one God but upright sects and groups among Christians who rejected the polytheistic belief of Trinity.

In short, the Quran strongly warns people, particularly the people of the holy Scriptures against polytheistic practices like Trinity and declares it shirk (setting up partners with God) and does not distinguish between an idolater or a Christian or a Muslim in terms of shirk. Anyone who invokes false gods, deities or lords is a mushrik irrespective of his proclaimed religious affiliations.