Friday, 30 September 2011

What is the true meaning of shirk and what are its types?


I often read that “this action is major shirk” and “this is minor shirk”. Could you explain to me the difference between the two?.

Praise be to Allaah.


One of the most important obligations is to know the meaning
of shirk, its seriousness and its different types, so that our Tawheed
(belief in the Oneness of Allaah) and our Islam may be complete, and our
faith may be sound. We say – And Allaah is the Source of strength and true
guidance comes from Him: 

Know – may Allaah guide you – that the word shirk in Arabic
means taking a partner, i.e., regarding someone as the partner of another.
It is said [in Arabic]: ashraka baynahuma (he joined them together)
when he regarded them as two of equal status; or ashraka fi amrihi
ghayrahu (he introduced another into his affair) when he made two people
involved in it.

In terms of sharee’ah or Islamic terminology, shirk means
ascribing a partner or rival to Allaah in Lordship (ruboobiyyah), worship or
in His names and attributes. 

A rival is a peer or counterpart. Hence Allaah forbids
setting up rivals with Him and he condemns those who take them (rivals) as
gods instead of  or besides Allaah in many verses of the Qur’aan. Allaah
says (interpretation of the meaning): 

“Then do not set up
rivals unto Allaah (in worship) while you know (that He Alone has the right
to be worshipped)”

[al-Baqarah 2:222] 

“And they set up rivals to Allaah, to mislead (men) from
His path! Say: ‘Enjoy (your brief life)! But certainly, your destination is
the (Hell) Fire!’”

[Ibraaheem 14:30] 

In the hadeeth it is narrated that the Prophet (peace
and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Whoever dies claiming that
Allaah has a rival, will enter Hell.” 

Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 4497; Muslim, 92. 

The types of shirk: 

The texts of the Qur’aan and Sunnah indicate that shirk and
the ascribing of rivals to Allaah sometimes puts a person beyond the pale of
Islam and sometimes does not. Hence the scholars divided shirk into two
types which they call shirk akbar (major shirk) and shirk asghar (minor
shirk). There follows a brief description of each type: 

1 – Major shirk 

This means ascribing to someone other than Allaah something
that belongs only to Allaah, such as Lordship (ruboobiyyah), divinity
(uloohiyyah) and the divine names and attributes (al-asma’ wa’l-sifaat). 

This kind of shirk may sometimes be outward, such as the
shirk of those who worship idols and graves, or the dead or absent. 

Or it may sometimes be hidden, such as those who put their
trust in other gods besides Allaah, or the shirk and kufr of the hypocrites.
For even though  their (hypocrites’) shirk puts them beyond the pale of
Islam and means that they will abide  forever in Hell, it is a hidden shirk,
because they make an outward display of Islam and conceal their kufr and
shirk, so they are inwardly mushriks but not outwardly. 

Shirk may sometimes take the form of beliefs: 

Such as the belief that there is someone else who creates,
gives life and death, reigns or controls the affairs of the universe along
with Allaah. 

Or the belief that there is someone else who must be obeyed
absolutely besides Allaah, so they follow him in regarding as permissible or
forbidden whatever he wants, even if that goes against the religion of the

Or they may associate others with Allaah in love and
veneration, by loving a created being as they love Allaah. This is the kind
of shirk that Allaah does not forgive, and it is the shirk of which Allaah
says (interpretation of the meaning): 

“And of mankind are some who take (for worship) others
besides Allaah as rivals (to Allaah). They love them as
they love Allaah”

[al-Baqarah 2:165] 

Or the belief that there are those who know the Unseen as
well as Allaah. This is very common among some of the deviant sects such as
the Raafidis (Shi’ah), extreme Sufis, and Baatinis (esoteric sects) in
general. The Raafidis believe that their imams have knowledge of the unseen,
and the Baatinis and Sufis believe similar things about their awliya’
(“saints”), and so on. It is also shirk to believe that there is someone who
bestows mercy in a manner that is befitting only for Allaah, so he shows
mercy as Allaah does and forgives sins and overlooks the bad deeds of his

Shirk may sometimes take the form of words: 

Such as those who make du’aa’ or pray to someone other than
Allaah, or seek his help or seek refuge with him with regard to matters over
which no one has control except Allaah, whether the person called upon is a
Prophet, a wali (“saint”), an angel or a jinn, or some other created being.
This is a kind of major shirk which puts one beyond the pale of Islam. 

Or such as those who make fun of religion or who liken Allaah
to His creation, or say that there is another creator, provider or
controller besides Allaah. All of these are major shirk and a grave sin that
is not forgiven. 

Shirk may sometimes take the form of actions: 

Such as one who sacrifices, prays or prostrates to something
other than Allaah, or who promulgates laws to replace the rulings of Allaah
and makes that the law to which people are obliged to refer for judgement;
or one who supports the kaafirs and helps them against the believers, and
other acts that go against the basic meaning of faith and put the one who
does them beyond the pale of Islam. We ask Allaah to keep us safe and

2 – Minor shirk 

This includes everything that may lead to major shirk, or
which is described in the texts as being shirk, but does not reach the
extent of being major shirk. 

This is usually of two types: 

1 – Being emotionally attached to some means which have no
basis and  for which Allaah has not given permission, such as hanging up
“hands”, turquoise beads etc on the grounds that they offer protection or
that they ward off the evil eye. But Allaah has not made them the means of
such protection, either according to sharee’ah or according to the laws of
the universe.

[Translator’s note: the
“hands” referred to are objects made of metal, pottery etc, usually blue or
turquoise in colour, that some people hang up to ward off the evil eye,
according to their mistaken belief] 

2 – Venerating some people or things in a way that does not
go so far as ascribing lordship to them, such as swearing by something other
than Allaah, or saying, “Were it not for Allaah and So and so,” etc. 

The scholars have stipulated guidelines to distinguish major
shirk from minor shirk when shirk is mentioned in the texts of sharee’ah.
These guidelines include the following: 

(i) – When the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be
upon him) states clearly that this action is minor shirk, such as in
al-Musnad (27742) where it is narrated that Mahmoud ibn Labeed said: The
Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said:
“The thing that I fear most for you is minor shirk.” They said: “O Messenger
of Allaah, what is minor shirk?” He said: “Showing off, for Allaah will say
on the Day when people are recompensed for their actions: ‘Go to those for
whom you were showing off with your deeds in the world, and see what reward
you find with them.’” Classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in al-Silsilah
al-Saheehah, 951. 

(ii) – When the word shirk is used in the texts of the
Qur’aan and Sunnah in the indefinite form [without the definite article
al-]. This usually refers to minor shirk, and there are many examples of
this, such as when the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon
him) said: “Incantations, amulets and love spells are shirk.” 

Narrated by Abu Dawood, 3883; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani
in al-Silsilah al-Saheehah, 331. 

What is meant by shirk here is minor shirk, not major shirk. 

Amulets are things that are hung on children such as
turquoise beads and the like, which they claim will protect them from the
evil eye. 

Love spells are something that they do, claiming that it will
make a woman beloved to her husband and a man beloved to his wife. 

(iii) – If the Sahaabah understood from the texts of
sharee’ah that what was meant by shirk here was minor shirk, not major.
Undoubtedly the understanding of the Sahaabah carries weight, because they
are the most knowledgeable of the people concerning the religion of Allaah,
and the most knowledgeable as to the intent of the Lawgiver. For example,
Abu Dawood (3910) narrated from Ibn Mas’ood (may Allaah be pleased with him)
that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said:
“Tiyarah (superstitious belief in omens) is shirk, tiyarah is shirk,” three
times, and there is no one among us but (will have some of that) but Allaah
will rid him of it by means of tawakkul (putting his trust in Allaah). The
words “there is no one among us…” are the words of Ibn Mas’ood, as was
explained by the prominent scholars of hadeeth. This indicates that Ibn
Mas’ood (may Allaah be pleased with him) understood that this was minor
shirk, because he could not have said, “There is no one among us…” referring
to major shirk. Moreover, major shirk cannot be eliminated by means of
tawakkul, rather it is essential to repent therefrom. 

(iv) – If the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be
upon him) interpreted the words shirk or kufr in a manner which indicates
that what is meant is a minor form thereof and not the major form. For
example al-Bukhaari (1038) and Muslim (74) narrated from Zayd ibn Khaalid
al-Juhani that he said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of
Allaah be upon him) led the morning prayer for us at al-Hudaybiyah following
rainfall during the night. When the Prophet (peace and blessings of
Allaah be upon him) finished, he turned to face the people and said to them:
“Do you know what your Lord has said?” They said: “Allaah and his Messenger
know best.” He said: “This morning one of My slaves became a believer in Me
and one a disbeliever. As for him who said: ‘We have been given rain by the
grace of Allaah and His mercy,’ that one is a believer in Me, a disbeliever
in the stars; and as for him who said: ‘We have been given rain by
such-and-such a star, that one is a disbeliever in Me, a believer in the

The interpretation of the word kufr here is given in another
report narrated from Abu Hurayrah who said: The Messenger of Allaah
(peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Do you not know what your
Lord said? ‘I do not send any blessing upon My slaves but a group among them
become kaafirs thereby because they refer to the stars and attribute things
to the stars. This explains that if a person attributes rainfall to the
stars by believing that they caused it to fall – when in fact Allaah has not
made the stars a means of causing rainfall – his kufr is a kind of
ingratitude for the blessing of Allaah. It is well known that ingratitude
for the blessing of Allaah is minor kufr. But if a person believes that the
stars are controlling the universe and they are the ones that cause the rain
to fall, then this is major shirk. 

Minor shirk may sometimes take the form of outward actions,
such as wearing talismans, strings, amulets and the like, and other words
and deeds. And sometimes it may be hidden, like a little bit of showing

It may also take the form of beliefs: 

Such as the belief that something may be a cause of bringing
benefit or warding off harm, when Allaah has not made it so; or believing
that there is barakah (blessing) in a thing, when Allaah has not made it

It sometimes takes the form of words: 

Such as when they said, “We have been given rain by such and
such a star,” without believing that that the stars could independently
cause rain to fall; or swearing by something other than Allaah, without
believing in venerating the thing sworn by or regarding it as equal with
Allaah; or saying, “Whatever Allaah wills and you will,” and so on. 

It sometimes takes the form of actions: 

Such as hanging up amulets or wearing a talisman or string to
dispel or ward off calamity, because everyone who attribute powers to a
thing when Allaah has not made it so either according to sharee’ah or
according to the laws of the universe, has associated something with Allaah.
This also applies to one who touches a thing seeking its barakah (blessing),
when Allaah has not created any barakah in it, such as kissing the doors of
the mosques, touching their thresholds, seeking healing from their dust, and
other such actions. 

This is a brief look at the division of shirk into major and
minor. We cannot go into great detail in this short answer. 


What the Muslim must do is to avoid shirk in both its minor
and major forms. The greatest sin is shirk and transgression against the
unique rights of Allaah, which are to be worshipped and obeyed alone, with
no partner or associate. 

Hence Allaah has decreed that the mushrikeen will abide
forever in Hell and has told us that He will not forgive them, and He has
forbidden Paradise to them, as He says (interpretation of the meaning): 

“Verily, Allaah forgives
not that partners should be set up with Him (in worship), but He forgives
except that (anything else) to whom He wills; and whoever sets up partners
with Allaah in worship, he has indeed invented a tremendous sin”

[al-Nisa’ 4:48] 

“Verily, whosoever sets up partners (in worship) with
Allaah, then Allaah has forbidden Paradise to him, and the Fire will be his
abode. And for the Zaalimoon (polytheists and wrongdoers) there are no

[al-Maa'idah 5:72] 

Every wise and religiously-committed person should fear shirk
for himself and should turn to his Lord, asking Him to help him avoid shirk,
as al-Khaleel [Ibraaheem – peace be upon him] said:  

“and keep me and my sons away from worshipping idols”

[Ibraaheem 14:35 – interpretation of the meaning] 

One of the salaf said: “Who can claim to be safe from this
after Ibraaheem?” 

So the sincere believer’s fear of shirk should increase as
should his desire for his for his Lord to keep him away from it, and he
should say the great du’aa’ which the Prophet (peace and blessings of
Allaah be upon him) taught to his companions when he said to them: “Shirk
among you will be more subtle than the footsteps of an ant, but I will teach
you something which, if you do it, both minor and major shirk will be kept
away from you. Say: Allaahumma inni a’oodhu bika an ushrika bika wa ana
a’lam wa astaghfiruka lima la a’lam (O Allaah, I seek refuge with You
from associating anything with You knowingly, and I seek Your forgiveness
for that of which I am unaware).” 

Classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Jaami’,

The above refers to the difference between major and minor
shirk, defining each and describing its types. 

With regard to the difference between them as far as the
ruling is concerned: 

Major shirk puts a person beyond the pale of Islam, so the
one who does that is judged to be out of Islam and to have apostatized
therefrom, so he is a kaafir and an apostate. 

Minor shirk does not put a person beyond the pale of Islam,
rather it may be done by a Muslim but he still remains in Islam; but the one
who does that is in great danger because minor shirk is a major sin. Ibn
Mas’ood (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: “If I were to swear by Allaah
falsely, that is better for me than if I were to swear by something other
than Him sincerely.” So he regarded swearing by something other than Allaah
(which is minor shirk) as being worse than swearing by Allaah falsely, and
it is well known that swearing by Allaah falsely is a major sin. 

We ask Allaah to make our hearts steadfast in adhering to His religion until we meet Him, and we seek refuge in His Might – may He be glorified – from going astray, for He is the Ever-Living Who never dies, but the jinn and mankind will die. And Allaah knows best and is most wise, and to Him is the final return of all.


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