Bismillah wassalathu wassalamu ala rasulillah
A word many of us have heard and yet not fully understand is Shirk. I find many Muslims getting confused over this in daily and practical life. Theoretically, it makes sense. During the dars, or the lesson with the usthad, it makes sense, but in day to day life the lines of shirk get blurry. Insha’Allah I have put together the five forms of shirk that were outlined by Ibn Taymiyyah rahimahumullah along with practical examples so you can easily follow insha’Allah.
Broadly there are 5 forms of shirk. Let me go over them with you one by one insha’Allah.
1. Shirk in worship
We only worship Allah, we only pray to Him, we only do sajda & ruku, to Him and we only say certain praises and glorifications to Allah subhanahu watha’ala and we cannot use them for anyone else. When someone is elevated the way Allah subhanahu watha’ala should be elevated, or if people praise someone or something in a way that Allah subhanahu watha’ala should be praised, then you will not accept it.
You can praise people, but there are certain kinds of praises that are only for Allah subhanahu watha’ala. For example, Allah subhanahu watha’ala says in Surah Jinn:
And the mosques are for Allah (Alone), so invoke not anyone along with Allah.
So inside the masjid, the only one you should call out to is Allah subhanahu watha’ala. If anyone else is being called out, then deep inside it shouldn’t sit right with you.
Sadly some Muslims hold the view that if they go to a specific masjid, a shrine or a gravesite of a saint or pious person and give sadaqa or recite Qur’an at that site then it’s going to count for more. Or that when you ask dua through them the chances of Allah subhanahu watha’ala answering the dua is greater. Know dear reader, that no one is going to come between us and Allah. Even habibina Muhammad sallallahu alaihiwassallam does not come “between” us and Allah. His sallallahu alaihiwassallam’s mission was to connect us to Allah directly, the sahaba radhiallahu anhum never sought Allah’s help “through” rasulullah sallallahu alaihiwassallam. They asked him sallallahu alaihiwassallam to make dua for them when he was alive, but never did they go to his blessed grave (sallAllahu alaihi wasallam) and ask him to ask forgiveness from Allah on their behalf.
The primary difference between us and Christians is that when they say they pray to God, what they actually mean is that they pray to God “through” Jesus. We as Muslims, when we pray to God, we pray to God “through” no one. We pray directly to Him subhanahu watha’ala.
So that’s the first thing, direct worship ONLY to Him and we DO NOT ascribe partners or people in any way to the level of divinity. This means we only do sajda, ruku, glorifications and praises to Him alone. I hope this is all clear?
2. Shirk in Obedience.
In this world, whom do we obey? Think.
We obey parents, we obey teachers in a classroom, we obey elders, we obey laws, the police (if the police ask you to pull over, you pull over), your boss at work, your coach on the playing field etc. so there are lots of different people we obey in life.
But to be a slave of Allah, we say we obey Allah. The question is we obey Allah and we obey others too! So is that a kind of shirk?
No it’s not a kind of shirk…. UNLESS you break ONE rule.
That rule is, if obeying someone else means that you’re going to disobey Allah, then it is shirk.
I’ll say that again: if you have to obey someone else. But obeying that someone else means that you disobey Allah, then it is shirk.
I’ll give you an example:
You’re supposed to pray. Whose command is that?
Your dad says “don’t pray” or he says “pray later… pray in an hour”. Now you have a conflict of obedience to parent or obedience to Allah.
Guess what you got to do?
No matter how much trouble you get in, you have to obey Allah subhanahu watha’ala.
I’ll give you another scenario just so I know you’re thinking in the correct lines.
You’re just about to bite into some delicious HALAL KFC. If you have lived in the west, you’d know how rare it is to find halal KFC.
Just when you try to bite into the chicken your dad says “come here! I need you to help me with the laundry right now”. Who do you obey in that case?
Your answer shouldn’t be “but daaaad! The chicken is halal!”
Allah didn’t command you to eat the halal KFC.
The only time you get to disobey your dad (or anyone else for that matter) is when obeying him means that you are clearly disobeying Allah.
Similarly the obedience to a king, a country, a government, a boss, a friend, all of it is fine, unless it means disobedience to Allah.
So that’s what we mean by disobedience to Allah.
Now the third….
Third element of being slaves of Allah is trust. Do I trust my parents? Yes! Do I trust my teachers? Most of them yes. Do I trust my employer? In many cases, yes. Do I trust my friends? Sure! Do I trust my wife? Of course!
So we are saying you have to trust Allah. But is it true that we can ONLY trust Allah? In some things yes….
When it comes to the unseen…
And when it comes to really defining what is best for you, or the future, when it comes to defining what is right and what is wrong, what is priority and what is not priority, then you have to trust whose decision? Allah’s decision is the best decision. You have to trust it.
You also have to trust Him in that whatever you’re going through right now is better for you.
You have to trust Him that no matter what, you must be grateful.
That takes a lot of trust. That type of trust may not be possible with other people. It may be that your boss fired you and then said to you “this is good for you, trust me”, you will have a tough time trusting him on that.
Also with everyone else, trust is earned. Everybody else, trust isn’t free. I don’t trust anyone. I trust my mother with my life. Because at one point, my life was in her hands. She literally had my life in her hands. Worst case, she could have dropped me. I could not have survived without her. So I absolutely trust my mother.
I trust my father, he raised me; he has worked tirelessly all his life to put a roof over my head and food on the table and give me the tools I need to succeed in my life. So I have to trust him.
Trust with a wife or husband doesn’t come naturally. You don’t know this person, and all of a sudden they are now half your life. It takes time to build trust.
If the husband says I’ll be home at 8pm and he comes back at 11pm and the second time he does the same thing, then the third time will the wife be able to trust the husband about it?
Trust with friends. Is it natural or is it earned?
Most relationships, trust is earned. You can’t just have it, it’s earned over time.
Business partners can build trust over time. At first they will have strong contracts and they will ‘lawyer-up’ to protect themselves, but after 10 years of doing business together and after going through a lot of difficulty together, they become friends and they realise that they can trust each other.
Thing is we don’t have to have a back and forth with Allah so we can build a trust with Him subhanau wa tha’ala. It is already supposed to be there, because if you think your life was in the hands of your mother, you didn’t realise, your mother’s life and yours has always been in the hands of Allah.
We have left our entire life to Him anyway, the heart beats in my chest are actually left to Him. I forget to recharge my phone batteries; but without my own doing, Allah controls my heartbeat, it never goes out of charge, my digestive system, my cognitive abilities etc. none of them are in yours or my hands. They are entrusted to Him already.
So Allah subhanahu watha’ala does not need to earn your trust. He should be trusted. In Arabic, it’s called thawakkul. We must have thawakkul or reliance and trust in Allah and His decisions.
Also, on a side note. Every other person whom you trust today, will disappoint you or hurt you in some way. Even though you trust them. It’s possible that they will not be able to come through for you. Maybe someone you look up to or your own parents.
But the only one you can always rely on no matter what is Allah subhanahu watha’ala.
Now we come to the fourth:
We have to love Allah. And the love for Allah needs to be intense.
This one is a hard one to explain, so I need your full attention.
Allah subhanahu watha’ala says:
“And of mankind are some who take (for worship) others besides Allah as rivals (to Allah). They love them as they love Allah. But those who believe, love Allah more (than anything else). If only, those who do wrong could see, when they will see the torment, that all power belongs to Allah and that Allah is Severe in punishment.”
Love is to do with who or what occupies your heart and your thoughts throughout the day. If you love someone, you love thinking about them, you want to be with them, if you love something, you want to have it, you want to consume it, that’s what love is, practically speaking.
The question is though, what do we spend most of our time doing?
Fiddling with our phones, playing mind numbing games, listening to music, watching movie after movie or TV series after TV series, isn’t that what’s taking most of our time?
Think of a little boy who loves a girl. He took a picture of her when she wasn’t even looking and he stares at it all day. He thinks of her all the time. He thinks about her, even when he’s praying.
He made wudhoo, he’s doing sajda, and he‘s doing sajda in the direction of the ka’aba; allegedly he’s doing sajda to Allah, but his heart is doing sajda in a different direction.
Do you understand this problem? The heart is for someone else.
And this is a kind of shirk that you can do even when you’re at the ka’aba. You could be standing in front of the ka’aba in the first row doing sajda to Allah and still be doing this Shirk. That’s the shirk of love.
Trust me when I say that this is a scary shirk. To me personally, it’s the scariest of all the types of shirks.
Allah subhanahu watha’ala says:
Say: If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your extended families, the money that you have worked so hard to save, the businesses that you keep worrying about that they’ll go down, and the homes that you love decorating; if you love any of these stuff more than you love Allah and His Messenger, and striving hard and fighting in His Cause, then wait until Allah brings about His Decision (torment). And Allah guides not the people who are Al-Fasiqun (the corrupt people).
So Allah subhanahu watha’ala in the strongest terms warns us about loving anything more than Loving Him and His messenger sallAllahu alaihi wasallam and His cause.
My dear brothers and sisters, this love thing is a tough one. Because if we don’t figure this thing out, then we are falling under shirk.
So what is the shirk of love? It is committed when my love for my parents, my children, or my wife, or my job, or my car or my house is not based on the love I have for Allah. I’ll say that again:
You can love your friends, you can love your wife, the husband, the children, you can love the parents….
So what does that mean practically? How do you understand that concept?
Out of love for them, you do things Allah doesn’t like, or you do things Allah hates, then that is shirk in love. That love is making you turn away from Allah and from what He loves.
Let me elaborate.
It’s OK in Islam to love money. It’s not haram. Allah actually says among the things that man loves is money. So it comes naturally to us to love money. Also, do you know why people love money? Not just because you can buy lots of stuff. But because you have to give up a part of your life to earn it. You have to slave away at an office or a farm or a truck, you have to do work to earn money. To give up a part of your life to earn it. So that money you have in your hands is actually a part of your life that you gave up. It’s hard to let go of it. Have you ever heard people say “this is my life’s savings”? Sounds familiar? So you have to have a love of it, it’s natural.
But when that money takes you away from what Allah loves then you’ve got yourself a problem. Then you’re committing the shirk of love. Allah doesn’t deny you love.
Allah doesn’t say you can’t have love for anything else. It’s part of being insan human is to love people, pets, money, things etc. But Allah is saying that if that love takes you away from Me, then that’s unacceptable.
There are people who LOVE their house, they can’t even think of leaving it, they’ve spent so much time building it, cleaning it and decorating it. They can’t imagine losing the house.
What they don’t realise it is that whether they like it or not, one day, very soon, they will be leaving that house and someone else is going to occupy that house and they won’t be anywhere near it.
As much as you love that house today, one day you’re going to look back and regret that love that you had. You’ve got your love placed in the wrong place.
Is it Okay to love a house? Of course! I actually love my tiny little apartment I live in. But it becomes a problem if I love my apartment so much that I forget that there’s another house awaiting for me in the hereafter created by Allah. Instead I say.. “nooo I don’t want that house, I just want to stay here forever”. Nauzhubillah!
Some of you may even take haram loans in order to finance your homes upon your wife’s request. She keeps pestering you for a home and you can’t afford it; but she keeps saying, “don’t you love me enough? Don’t you want to see me happy?” So you go on a mortgage to pay for it. Completely disregarding that Allah says you will be waging war against Allah and His Rasul sallAllahu alaihi wasallam by taking interest.
Isn’t that a problem? That’s shirk in love.
How can you say you love Allah when your heart truly doesn’t love Allah?
My brothers and sisters, this is a warning to myself first and foremost, this is something that we need to seriously watch out for.
I cannot test this one for you, nor can you check this for me. Because it is deep down inside and you have to watch out for it yourself.
Here’s a good litmus test to figure out if you’re committing this type of shirk. Think of what you love the absolute most; maybe it’s a toy, maybe it’s a device, maybe it’s the house, it’s the car, maybe it’s the person…. The object of what you love in this world, which is more than anything else in this world to you, once you’ve got that thing in your head, now in your imagination deprive yourself of it. Imagine it’s no longer there.
That person is no longer there, the money, the house, or whatever that thing is, is no longer there……., and you’re still totally fine, you’re completely OKAY. It’s not a problem to you…., why? Because you still have Allah. Then you’re fine. Alhamdulillah
But if that thing that you love is taken away, and you’ve just lost it mentally and emotionally… and you don’t know what to do with yourself, you don’t want to live anymore, or you’re in serious depression, then you have a shirk problem.
You know, the love of Allah above all else, having this love will save your life. Wallahi.. I will say this again… IT WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE. There are people who love their career, there are people who love their appearance, they work out 10-12 hours a day, they love seeing themselves in the mirror, they post shirtless pictures of themselves on facebook and twitter, and if those same people get sick, if those same people get hospitalised, and they lose their physique; or the people who love their money and love their job, lose their job and lose all their savings, and they no longer have the status that they used to enjoy, they no longer have the car they used to drive, the house they used to have, the school their children used to go to, if they no longer have those things, you know what a lot of those people do when they lose it?
They lose Iman. They cannot take it anymore. Or worse, they commit suicide.
In other words, our love of all things, actually makes us weak. The only one love that you can survive no matter what happens to you in this life and you’ll still survive, you’ll still be fine, is the love of Allah, because:
Everything will perish and is meant to perish except the face of Allah (it’s an expression to mean Allah subhanahu wa’tha’ala Himself – Note. I have only translated the words highlighted in yellow).
Your parents are not going to be here forever and neither are you. We don’t know which one Allah will take first. We don’t know. We are grateful that our parents are alive and that our children are alive, but life is not in my hands and it is not in your hands.
But the idea that everything we have around us and everyone we have around us is temporary, so love it, but love it to an extent, but the love we have for Allah is beyond limit. The house He has built for us in Jannah in His company, is beyond limit. If you can internalise this truly, then life will become easy for you. And when you do internalise that, I can tell you from personal experience, if you internalise that even a little bit, Allah will open the doors of this world for you.
You’re not obsessed with this world and Allah will give you and will give you and will give you. He will give you because He knows you want something far bigger. Not a stupid car, or a mortgage or a million dollars, all these things in this world to you means nothing except earning the love of Allah subhanahu watha’ala.
So love is a big one.
Finally we come to the last form of shirk.
So there are four types so far that we discussed. Can you jog your memory?
What was number one? Number two? Number three? And number four?
If you can’t remember, scroll up and gloss over very quickly.
Done? OK let’s move on.
Here’s the fifth and final one.
Instead of giving you the word for it, I want to explain the concept first and then I’ll give you the name for it.
Pretend you got a job, you got a new job. On this job, you have to do five tasks. They give you your contract, and the contract says, here are the five things you need to do. a, b, c, d and e. these are the five things I need you to do every single day. Spend an hour each on a, b, c, d and e. you have a 5 hour job. Fine.
At the end of the day you go to your manager, and he asks you “how was your first day”? So you say, “it was pretty good”. So the manager asks, “how was your work? Did you do, a, b, c, d and e”? So you say, “yeah it was pretty good, I did e, f, t, w, z”.
The manager is a little confused, because he didn’t ask you to do e, f, t, w, and z. he asked you to do a, b, c, d and e. the manager asks “why didn’t you do what I told you to do?”
You say “well, I felt more comfortable with e, f, t, w, and z. and a lot of the others in the office were doing e, f, t, w, and z. I really enjoyed the work. Thank you for the job”.
If you keep doing this, are you going to be keeping that job for long?
You better get your act together. Because when you get a job, what you have to do at that job is not determined by you.
What you have to do is determined by your employer.
When you take a class at school, your professor says you have to do two mid term exams and two assignments on a topic specified by him and they need to be handed in on time. If none of the above criteria is met, then you will fail the class.
So if you want to survive his class, do you say, “no I feel like doing one assignment and I really hate exams”? Or do you have to follow by his terms?
My teacher and I have a relationship. What the terms of that relationship are, are defined by the teacher, not me.
I hope you are following me so far?
At my job, I have a relationship with my employer, but the terms of those relationship are primarily defined not by me but my employer.
BUT in all of these cases, there is still room for some negotiations. Isn’t that true?
For example in a marriage where there are two people, that relationship is actually almost entirely made up of negotiations. You have to figure out who picks up the kids from school, who is going to drop them off, who’s doing the groceries, who’s doing the laundry, who’s doing the cooking and then who is doing the dishes? You divide the responsibilities. That’s what you have to do. At least in a normal relationship.
Now we have a relationship with Allah. He is Rabb (master) and we are His abd (slaves). Who gets to decide what my responsibilities are as a slave? Do I have any say in this? Actually none. I have no say in what this relationship will look like.
So this last item is “the terms of the relationship”. In other words, I don’t get to decide what worship means, what obedience means or what trust means or what love means. I don’t get to decide what any of it means. He will decide that for me.
I don’t come up with my own definition.
Now this is very important.
Are there people who believe in God? Sure. But they say “to me worshipping God means to be a good person, I don’t have to pray to show it”. Are there people who when they talk about their relationship with God, they start with “well, to me….”
So we have a relationship with Allah, but the terms of the relationship will not come from whom? YOU.
Your can’t say “to me this is what this relationship means”. It’s NOT up to you.
He’s the Master (Rabb), He gets to decide. You are a slave, which mean you have NO say in it whatsoever.
So you can’t say “to me one prayer is enough” or “to me, I worship God through dance”. “Hajj is interesting, but to me Hajj should be more about going to New Zealand because there are mountains and breath-taking landscapes and I will appreciate Allah’s creation more if I went to New Zealand instead of Makkah”.
Well that’s nice you feel that way, but it’s not up to you. The terms of what is expected of you will not come from you, it will come from Allah subhanahu watha’ala. And I can tell you with a huge amount of confidence that there are a vast number of Muslims in the world who do not understand this concept. Who feel that their relationship with Allah is based on what they feel it should be.
Some of them go “I am willing to give Him Friday prayer, I am going to give Him that much, but what I do during the rest of the week is my business”. Or “I will recite Qur’an everyday but I will still earn my living by working at the bar”. So some people decide when they listen to Allah and when they won’t listen to Allah subhanahu watha’ala.
Some think “I am willing to give Allah a long beard, but I am not willing to give my sisters their share of the inheritance” even though that’s in the Quran. But a beard I’ll give Him.
What are people doing? They are taking things that they feel like taking and rejecting things that they feel like rejecting. Well, this accepting and rejecting isn’t up to us once you have accepted Allah’s slavery.
So if you start defining the terms of the relationship, then this is also a form of shirk.
So let’s recap, there is shirk in worship, obedience, trust, love and there is shirk in who gets to define slavery to Allah. The definition of it, the expectations of it have to come from Allah. If you put yourself on the negotiation table with Allah, then that means you have put yourself at the same level as Allah. So that is Shirk.
Bi’iznillah, I hope this is all clear to you now and I pray that Allah guides us and keeps us guided on His path and we pray that Allah azzawajal grants us clarity and the courage to be His slaves at all times and that Allah protects us from falling into any form of Shirk.