Shirk (associating others with Allah in His Divinity or worship) is the opposite of Tawhid (belief in the Oneness of Allah/monotheism). Shirk is of three kinds, but actually it is of two kinds: Major Shirk and Minor Shirk.
Major Shirk: It involves the devotion of all or some acts of ‘Ibadah (worship) to anyone or anything other than Allah. It also involves abstinence from performing some of the Ma‘lum minad-din biddarurah (necessarily known religious principles) ordained by Allah, such as offering Salah (Prayer) and observing Sawm (Fast) in Ramadan, or denial of some matters prohibited by Allah, which fall under the Ma‘lum minad-din biddarurah, such as Zina (premarital sexual intercourse and/or adultery), drinking Khamr (intoxicant) and the like. It may involve obedience to a human in violating the Commands of the Creator and deeming this violation as Halal (lawful), or obeying any man or woman, whether a president, a minister, a scientist or others, in opposing the Religion of Allah (may He be Glorified and Exalted). Certainly, everything that involves devoting any part of worship to anyone other than Allah, such as supplicating to Awliya’ (pious people), seeking their assistance or making vows to them, or involves deeming lawful what Allah has prohibited or annulling what Allah has ordained such as believing that Salah, Sawm, Hajj in spite of capability to perform it, or Zakah (obligatory charity) are not obligatory or absolutely impermissible, all this constitutes Major Kufr (disbelief) and Major Shirk, because this is a sort of contradicting Allah and His Messenger (sallallahu alayhi wassallam).
Consequently, whoever deems lawful what Allah has prohibited from the Ma‘lum minad-din biddarurah such as Zina, Khamr and undutifulness to parents or believes in the permissibility of banditry, sodomy, Riba (usury/interest) or the like of the acts that are well-known to be prohibited by authority of the Nas (Islamic text from the Qur’an or the Sunnah) and Ijma‘ (consensus of scholars) is unanimously a Kafir (disbeliever)
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- may Allah safeguard us - and will come under the same ruling as those who commit acts of Major Shirk.
The same ruling applies to anyone who mocks and ridicules religion, they will be guilty of major Kufr (disbelief), as Allah (may He be Glorified and Exalted) says: Surah At-Tawbah, 9: v65 Say: "Was it at Allâh (عز وجل), and His Ayât (proofs, evidence, verses, lessons, signs, revelations) and His Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) that you were mocking?" Surah At-Tawbah, 9: v66 Make no excuse; you disbelieved after you had believed. The same applies to making little of any matter glorified by Allah out of contempt and disdain, such as irreverence to the Mus-haf (Qur’aan-book), urinating over it, stepping on it, sitting on it or the like; the doer of this is a Kafir (disbeliever) by Ijma‘, because by doing so they belittle and disdain Allah Himself (may He be Glorified). The Qur’aan is the Word of Allah (may He be Exalted). Anyone who belittles the Qur’aan is belittling Allah (may He be Glorified and Exalted). Scholars have explained such issues under the chapter of "The Ruling on the Murtad (apostate from Islam)". In each of the Four Madh-habs (Hanafy, Maliky, Shafi‘y, and Hanbaly) they conducted a chapter called "Chapter of the Ruling on the Murtad", in which they explained all types of Kufr (disbelief) and Dalal (deviation from what is right). It is actually a noteworthy chapter, especially in this time where many types of Riddah (apostasy) have spread out and many people are confused about such matters. Therefore, if someone pays due attention to this chapter, they will know the nullifiers of Islam, acts leading to Riddah and types of Kufr and Dalal.
The other type: Minor Shirk are the acts established by the Islamic texts of Qur’aan and Sunnah as falling under the term "Shirk", but still they do not tantamount to major Shirk. They are called minor Shirk, such as Riya’ (doing good deeds for show) and seeking reputation, as when reciting the Qur’aan, offering Salah or calling to the Path of Allah and the like for the sake of showing off. It is authentically reported that the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wassallam) said, “The thing that I fear most for you is minor Shirk.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah! What is minor Shirk?” He said, “Riya’. Truly, Allah (may He be Blessed and Exalted) shall say on the Day the servants shall be recompensed for their deeds, ‘Go to those for whom you were showing off with your deeds in worldly life and see if you can find with them recompense.’” (Related by Imam Ahmad with authentic Isnad [chain of narrators] on the authority of Mahmud Ibn Labid Al-Ashhaly Al-Ansary [may Allah be pleased with him]). It was also narrated by At-Tabarany, Al-Baihaqy and some other narrators as Hadith Mursal (a Hadith with no Companion of the Prophet in the chain of narration) on the authority of Mahmud, who was previously mentioned. This narrator, Mahmud, was a young Sahabi (Companion of the Prophet) who did not hear any Hadith from the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wassallam). But the Hadith Mursal narrated by the Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet) are Sahih (authentic) and used as evidence by the scholars and some scholars reported this as a consensus.
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An example for that kind of Shirk is when a Servant (of Allah) says, "What Allah wills and so-and-so wills", "Were it not for Allah and so-and-so", or "This is from Allah and so-and-so".
All this is considered minor Shirk according to the Hadith narrated by Abu Dawud, with an authentic Isnad, from Hudhayfah (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wassallam) said, “Do not say, ‘What Allah wills and so-and-so wills,’ but say, ‘What Allah wills, then afterwards what so-and-so wills.’”
This includes also the Hadith narrated by An-Nasa’i from Qutailah that “A Jew came to the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wassallam) and said, ‘You commit Shirk, as you say, ‘What Allah wills and what you will.’ You also say, ‘By the Ka‘bah (when you swear).’ Therefore, the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wassallam) ordered them, whenever they needed to swear, to say, ‘By the Lord of the Ka‘bah’ and to say, ‘What Allah wills, then afterwards what you will.’” According to another report by An-Nasa’i on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them both) that A man once said to the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wassallam), “O Messenger of Allah! Whatever Allah wills and you will.” He (sallallahu alayhi wassallam) said, “Have you made me an equal to Allah! It is whatever Allah alone wills.” Included also is the authentically reported interpretation of Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them both) for the Saying of Allah (may He be Exalted), Surah Al-Baqarah, 2: v22 Then do not set up rivals unto Allâh (in worship) while you know (that He Alone has the right to be worshipped). in which he (Ibn ‘Abbas) said: “Shirk in this Ummah (nation based on one creed) is more subtle than the creeping of ants on a black rock in the darkness of night. One falls into it by saying, ‘By Allah and by your life, O so-and-so, and by my life.’ Also, when one says, ‘Had it not been for the dog, the thieves would have attacked us,’ or when one says, ‘Had it not been for ducks in the house, the thieves would have entered.’ Moreover, when one says, ‘What Allah wills and you will’ and ‘Had it not been for the Help of Allah and the help of so-and-so.’ So do not mention so-and-so with Allah, because all these sayings include Shirk.” (Related by Ibn Abu Hatim with an authentic Isnad)
Such sayings and the like fall under minor Shirk, which also includes swearing by anyone or anything other than Allah such as swearing by the Ka‘bah, the Prophets, Amanah (honesty), the life of so-and-so, the honor of so-and-so and others. All these are acts of minor Shirk, based on the Hadith authentically reported in the Musnad (Hadith compilation) with an authentic Isnad on the authority of ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wassallam) said, “Anyone who swears by other than Allah has committed Shirk (associated others with Allah in His Divinity or in worship).” It was narrated by Imam Ahmad, Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi (may Allah be merciful to them) with an authentic Isnad from Ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with them both) that the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wassallam) said, “Anyone who swears by other than Allah has committed Kufr (disbelief) or Shirk (associated others with Allah in His Divinity or in worship).”
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The narrator might be doubtful about the exact letter, whether it was "or" or "and"; it might be also that "or" is with the meaning of "and", so the meaning will be "has committed Kufr and Shirk". In this respect, we mention the Hadith narrated by the Two Shaykhs (i.e. Al-Bukhari and Muslim) from ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wassallam) said, “Anyone who has to take an oath should swear by Allah or else remain silent.” There are many Hadiths in this respect.
These are some types of minor Shirk, but they may involve major Shirk depending on the intention of the one who swears. If the one who swears by the Prophet, Al-Badawy or shaykh so-and-so, intends to equates him with Allah, invokes him besides Allah, believes that he has any power in this universe as Allah or the like, then such acts and ‘Aqidah (creed) of theirs are major Shirk. If someone swears by anything other than Allah and does not have such intentions and beliefs, but they say it out of habit, with no such intentions, this will be considered minor Shirk.
There is another kind of Skirk called Shirk Khafi (hidden Shirk). Some scholars classed it as the third type of Shirk giving evidence to support it from the Hadith narrated by Abu Sa‘id Al-Khudri that the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wassallam) said, “Should I not inform you of what I fear more for you than Al-Masih-ul-Dajjal (the Antichrist)?” The people said, “Yes, O Messenger of Allah.” He (sallallahu alayhi wassallam) said, “It is the hidden Shirk; a person stands up in Salah (Prayer) and tries to make it perfect when he realizes that others are looking at him.” (Related by Imam Ahmad)
As a matter of fact, this is not a third type but it falls under the minor Shirk. It may be hidden, because the intention lies within the heart just as described in the previous Hadith. Other examples, when someone recites Qur’aan perfectly out of Riya’, propagates virtue and prevents vice out of Riya’, fights in the Cause of Allah out of Riya’ or the like.
It may be considered hidden Shirk in terms of the legal ruling on some types of people like those mentioned in the previous Hadith of Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them). The hidden Shirk can also be major Shirk even though it is hidden, such as the belief of hypocrites. They show off in front of people with their apparent deeds, yet they do not reveal their hidden Kufr (disbelief). This is clarified in the Saying of Allah (may He be Exalted): Surah An-Nisaa', 4: v142 Verily, the hypocrites seek to deceive Allâh, but it is He Who deceives them. And when they stand up for As-Salât (the prayer), they stand with laziness and to be seen of men, and they do not remember Allâh but little. Surah An-Nisaa', 4: v143 (They are) swaying between this and that, belonging neither to these nor to those.
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There are many Ayahs concerning their Kufr and Riya’, may Allah safeguard us!
Accordingly, the hidden Shirk is related to the previous two types: major Shirk and minor Shirk, even if it is called "Khafy (hidden)", as Shirk can be hidden and can be obvious.
Shirk Jaly (obvious Shirk) is manifested in: invoking the dead, seeking their help, vowing for them and the like.
Shirk Khafi is: what remains hidden in the hearts of the hypocrites who offer Salah along with people and observe Sawm with people, while inwardly they are really Kafirs (disbelievers). They believe in the permissibility of worshiping idols and sculptures, and so actually they embrace the religion of Mushriks (those who associate others with Allah in His Divinity or worship). This is the reality of the hidden Shirk, because it lies deep in the hearts.
The minor hidden Shirk is represented in acts like reciting the Qur’aan, offering Salah, giving out Sadaqah (voluntary charity) and the like seeking praise from people. This is hidden Shirk, but it is minor.
Thus, it becomes clear that Shirk is of two types: major and minor and each of them can be hidden. It can be major hidden Shirk, such as that of the hypocrites. It can be minor hidden Shirk, such as the acts of those who commit Riya’ in their Salah, Sadaqah, supplication to Allah, propagation of virtue and prevention of vice or the like.
Each Mu’min (believer) should beware of such acts and abstain from these types, especially major Shirk. It is the most grievous sin to be committed against Allah and the gravest crime a human can commit. Regarding this type of Shirk, Allah (may He be Glorified and Exalted) says: Surah Al-An'aam, 6: v88 But if they had joined in worship others with Allâh, all that they used to do would have been of no benefit to them. Surah Al-Maa'idah, 5: v72 Verily, whosoever sets up partners (in worship) with Allâh, then Allâh has forbidden Paradise to him, and the Fire will be his abode. and: Surah Al-Nisaa', 4: v48 Verily, Allâh forgives not that partners should be set up with Him (in worship), but He forgives except that (anything else) to whom He wills.
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Consequently, whoever dies while committing acts of major Shirk, they will absolutely be one of the dwellers of Hellfire, forbidden from entering Paradise, and will eternally abide in Hellfire. We seek refuge with Allah from this (punishment).
Regarding minor Shirk, it is one of the gravest of major sins and those who commit it are extremely endangered. They may be forgiven for committing acts of minor Shirk by the preponderance of their good deeds. Otherwise, they may be punished for this by being admitted into the Fire for some time, but they will not abide there eternally as the Kafirs. Minor Shirk neither enjoins eternal dwelling in the Hellfire nor nullifies good deeds, but it nullifies the acts associated with it.
Minor Shirk nullifies the acts associated with it. For example, if someone offers Salah out of Riya’ (doing good deeds for show), they will not be rewarded for it; rather, they will be punished for such a sin.
If someone recites Qur’aan out of Riya’, they will not be rewarded for it; rather, they will be punished for such a sin. Minor Shirk is unlike major Shirk and major Kufr (disbelief) as they nullify all good deeds. Allah (may He be Exalted) says: Surah Al-An'aam, 6: v88 But if they had joined in worship others with Allâh, all that they used to do would have been of no benefit to them.
It is the duty of every man and woman, every scholar and student and every Muslim to pay much attention and ponder on this matter. Thus, they should know the essence of Tawhid (belief in the Oneness of Allah) and its types, the reality of Shirk and its two types - major and minor, take the initiative to repent to Allah sincerely from the acts of major or minor Shirk they may have committed. They should abide by Tawhid, hold fast to the right path, adhere to the obedience of Allah and pay Allah His due rights. Tawhid has rights to be done, such as carrying out Faridahs (obligatory acts) and abstaining from the prohibitions. They should also abstain from all types of Shirk, both minor and major.
Major Shirk is against Tawhid and is absolutely against Islam. Minor Shirk is against the dutiful perfection of one’s Islam; therefore, Muslims should abstain from both of them.
We should all bear this matter in our minds, learn about it well and warn people against it carefully and clearly. Thus, a Muslim becomes fully aware of all such grave matters.
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We ask Allah (may He be Glorified and Exalted) to guide you and us to useful knowledge and good deeds, grant all Muslims and us the ability to understand and stick to His religion, support His Religion and elevate His Word. May Allah make us rightly guided people. May peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family, his Companions and those who rightly follow him until the Day of Resurrection!