2 Islamic articles on: shirk (associating partners with God)

Table of contents for the topic shirk (associating partners with God)
  1. What is shirk (idolatry) in Islam?
  2. Can one unknowingly associate partners with God?

IslamQA: What is shirk (idolatry) in Islam?

What is shirk and how do you know that you have committed shirk?

Shirk is the sin of associating partners with God. It is often translated as paganism or polytheism, but the meaning is actually much wider. The Quran says:

And do not eat from that over which the Name of God was not pronounced, for it is abomination. The devils inspire their followers to argue with you; but if you obey them, you would be committers of shirk.

The Quran, verse 6:121.

According to this verse, whenever someone prefers Satan’s inspirations and opinions to God’s, that is shirk.

Shirk is any instance of the rejection of God’s authority in favor of another authority. If God tells you to do something and you refuse, preferring your own opinions and desires (which may have been inspired by Satan), then that is shirk.

All sins can be considered shirk because when committing sins we reject God’s authority. But there is minor shirk and major shirk. Minor shirk is the committing of any sin. We have all committed this whenever we have sinned, but God’s repentance and forgiveness are always open to us, so whenever we repent and God accepts our repentance, then our guilt for our shirk is erased.

Major shirk is to believe in an authority other than God and act according to it when you know that this is in contradiction to God’s authority. For example it is major shirk to believe that there are other deities beside God, or to believe that God is powerless over Satan, or that any of God’s attributes are false. For example if a person believes that God is powerless to help them, then that is major shirk, because they are preferring their own opinion (or Satan’s inspiration) over God’s clear statements.

The door of repentance is also open to majir shirk, so a person who has committed it is always welcome to repent and seek to submit to God again.

IslamQA: Can one unknowingly associate partners with God?

Salam, I asked about the false idols. Sorry if you already explained this in the first answer, but I was reading commentary of Surah Baqarah v22 which mentions false idols. It says "Will you still resist and go after your false gods, the creation of your own fancy? The false gods may be idols, superstistions, self or even glorious things like Poetry, Art or Science. When set up as rivals to Allah" Does this mean as long as it doesnt interfere with religious duties you can still love such things?—and just to add on to the false idols questions how can you be sure you’re not setting up rivals to Allah swt unknowingly? Jazak Allah Khairun.

—and just to add on to the false idols questions how can you be sure you’re not setting up rivals to Allah swt unknowingly? Jazak Allah Khairun.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

The Quran says:

Be pious according to the best of your ability. (The Quran, verse 64:16)

The Quran never asks us to be super-human. It acknowledges our humanity while always asking us aim for a higher ideal.

Thinking in terms of whether you are setting up rivals to God or not, as if it is an either/or situation, is an incorrect way of thinking. You should think of the matters in terms of how close to God you are or how faraway you are from Him. It is not a black and white issue, it is a spectrum. The closer you are to God, the less important worldly concerns become, while the more distant you are from God, the more important the worldly life becomes until, at some point, one can honestly say that you are setting up rivals to God, for example by worshiping fame or money.

It is also important to keep in mind that God guides those who sincerely seek Him. Some people mistakenly think that since there are a million ways one could go wrong and only one “truth”, this must mean that being rightly guided is extremely difficult and unlikely. The reality is quite the opposite. God exists, He is present in our lives, and every day He presents us with dozens of opportunities to come closer to Him. At the beginning of every book of Quran we see this verse:

This is the Book in which there is no doubt, a guide for the righteous. (The Quran, verse 2:2)

This verse makes it sound like you need to be righteous first before you can be guided by the Quran. Many verses make similar statements, for example:

and He guides to Himself whoever repents. (The Quran, verse 13:27)

The truth is that the more you try to be good, the more God increases you in guidance by causing you to run into exactly the right circumstances or individuals to help you come even closer to Him.

Setting up rivals to God is not like a well that you can fall into when you are not looking. If you are always trying to stay close to God and seek Him with all your heart, then you can be assured that He will not let you unknowingly fall into a gross error like worshiping something besides Him without realizing it. Every effort you make toward Him will by rewarded by Him with an increase in your knowledge and guidance. God is like a mentor who constantly teaches us and correct us, every hour of every day.

Best wishes.