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The Reality of Shirk, its Manifestations and its Types

By Shah Waliullah al-Muhaddith al-Dahlawi
Translated by Zameelur Rahman

Shirk is to affirm the special attributes of Allah (Exalted is He) for [those] besides Him, like:

(1) affirming absolute disposal (al-tasarruf al-mutlaq) in the cosmos (kawn) by an absolute will (al-iradah al-mutlaqah), which is expressed as “kun fayakun” (Be! And it is); (2) or affirming intrinsic knowledge (al-’ilm al-dhati) which has not been obtained through acquisition (iktisab) by means of the senses, rational proof, dreams (manam), inspiration (ilham) and their likes from [both] material and spiritual means; (3) or affirming [the act of] existentialising (ijad) the healing of a sick person; (4) or affirming a curse on an individual or displeasure upon him such that the object of this curse becomes penniless, sick or wretched; or [affirming] mercy and satisfaction with an individual, such that he becomes by means of this mercy and pleasure, rich, healthy, fit and happy.

These [pre-Islamic] mushrikun did not recognise a partner (sharik) besides Allah (Exalted is He) in the creation of substances (jawahir), i.e. the foundations of matter, and administration of cosmic affairs. They recognised that none had the power, when Allah (Exalted is He) had established and decreed a thing, to impede or stop Him.

Their association (ishrak) was only in specific matters with [respect to] some servants [of Allah], since they believed that just as a great sultan from amongst the great sultans dispatches his servant and his close companions to one of the corners of his kingdom to take charge of one of the particular affairs and he makes them freely-dispose (mutasarrifin) therein by their choice and authority until another decision issues from him, and he does not take charge of the affairs of [his] subjects and their particular affairs himself, rather he delegates this to his authorities (wulat) and rulers (hukkam) and he accepts from them their intercession and their commendation of the employees that are working under their watch and those connected to them and those close to them, similarly the Absolute King of Kings (Exalted is His Eminence) has indeed conferred the robe of divinity to some of His close servants, and He made their displeasure and pleasure effective for His other servants.

As a result of this, they would believe it necessary to come close to these servants that were brought close [to Allah], until this became a means of the validity of being accepted in the presence of the True King; and [they believed] their intercession with respect to them would obtain privilege and acceptance from Him (Glorified is He) when deeds are recompensed and accounted.

Considering this perception and conception which was firmly-rooted in their minds, their minds incited them to prostrate before them and slaughter on their behalf, and take oaths upon their names and seek help (isti’anah)[1] by their absolute power, and carve their images and their statues from stone, brass, copper etc. and make them a Qiblah (direction of worship) in order to turn to their spirits; and the ignorant gradually advanced in this manner until they began to worship these images and statues and believed them to be gods (alihah) themselves, and confusion, doubt and great corruption occurred in their beliefs.[2]

(Al-Fawz al-Kabir fi Usul al-Tafsir, translated into Arabic by Salman al-Husayni al-Nadwi, pp. 23-25, Dar al-Basha’ir al-Islamiyyah, Third Edition)

  1. Shah Waliullah Dahlawi wrote on this issue: “All who go to the land of Ajmer or to the grave of Salar Mas’ud or those that resemble them in order to request [to fulfil] a need, it is indeed a sin more grievous than murder and adultery. Its likeness is not but the likeness of those who worship the creation or like those who call on Al-Lat and Al-’Uzza. However, we do not [unequivocally] declare disbelief [upon them] due to the absence of a text from the Lawgiver in this specific matter. All who assign life to the dead and request their needs from them, ‘his heart is surely sinful’ (Qur’an, 2:283), and [this act] is included in His statement (Exalted is He), ‘that is iniquity’ (Qur’an, 5:3).” (Al-Tafhimat al-Ilahiyyah, 2:45)In the same work, he writes: “The definition of associating (shirk) [partners] with Allah (Glorified is He) in worship is glorifying (ta’zim) other than Allah, intending thereby to come closer to Allah (Exalted is He) and salvation in the Final Abode. One of the greatest diseases in this age of ours is their worship of their shuyukh when [they are] alive or [worship] of their graves when [they are] dead. The ignorant [Muslims] imitate the disbelievers of India [i.e. Hindus] in worshipping their idols [which is] amongst their [ritual] acts. The definition of associating [partners] with Allah in seeking help (isti’anah) is to seek one’s need from another while believing he has the power to accomplish it by applying [his] powerful will (sarf al-iradah al-nafidhah), like curing the sick, giving life and death, giving provision and creating a child, and other things that are contained in the Names of Allah (Exalted is He). The definition of associating [partners] with Allah in supplication (du’a) is to mention other than Allah (Glorified is He) while believing this action of his will benefit him in his afterlife or in coming closer to Allah, just as they mention their shuyukh when waking up in the morning.” (Al-Tafhimat al-Ilahiyyah, 2:64)He also discusses isti’anah in relation to shirk in his masterpiece, Hujjat Allah al-Balighah: “This concept [i.e. shirk] has various embodiments and forms, and the divine law only discusses embodiments and forms of it which the people practice with the intention of shrik, so that they become anticipated sources (mazinnah) of shirk and customarily inseparable from it. This is similar to the practice of the divine law in establishing the causes that entail good or evil actions as being tantamount to those acts themselves. We want to alert you to those things which God, may He be Exalted, has made anticipated sources (mazinnat) of shirk in the divine law brought by Muhammad, may there be peace and blessings upon the one who brought it, so that he forbade them…2) Among them is that they used to request assistance (yasta’inuna) with their needs (fi hawa’ijihim) such as in curing the sick and meeting the needs of the poor, from other than God. They would make vows to them expecting the accomplishment of their purposes through these vows, and they would recite their names, hoping for their blessing. Therefore, God, may He be Exalted, made incumbent upon them that they say during their prayers: ‘Thee alone do we worship, Thee alone do we seek for help’ (Qur’an, 1:4). And He said, may He be Exalted, ‘Call upon no one except God’ (Qur’an, 72:18). The meaning of ‘calling upon’ is not worship as certain of the interpreters of the Qur’an said, it rather means ’seeking help’ (isti’anah) according to the saying of God, may He be Exalted, ‘No, but you call upon Him and He removes the thing because of which you call upon Him’ (Qur’an, 6:41).” (The Conclusive Argument of God: Shah Wali Allah of Delhi’s Hujjat Allah al-Balighah, Trans. Marcia K. Hermansen, p.184-6)
  2. After explaining further the condition of the mushrikun, Shah Waliullah compares them with some Muslims of his time. He writes: “If you, dear reader, are hesitant in accepting the accuracy of what was said about the beliefs of the mushrikin and their deeds, look at the superstitious distorters of this age, especially those of them who reside in the borders of the Abode of Islam [i.e. India], what their conceptions of “sainthood” (wilayah) are; for, despite recognising the sainthood of the early saints, they believe the existence of saints in this age is impossible, and they attend the graves and holy places [of the early saints] and are afflicted by all kinds of shirk, bid’ahs and superstitions; and distortion (tahrif) and assimilation (tashbih) have taken root in them and penetrated into their minds until no tribulation amongst the tribulations and no trial amongst the trials contained in the judgement that has come in the authentic hadith, ‘You will surely follow the ways of those who went before you…’ remained but a group from amongst the groups that are Muslims by name plunged into it and became attached to it. Allah (Glorified is He) save us from that.” (Al-Fawz al-Kabir, p.26)He wrote elsewhere: “Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, ‘You will surely follow the ways of those who went before you, hand span for hand span, arm’s length for arm’s length, until if they were to enter the hole of a lizard, you would follow them.’ We said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! The Jews and Christians?’ He said, ‘Then who?’ Al-Bukhari and Muslim transmitted it. Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) spoke the truth for indeed we have seen men amongst the feeble of the Muslims taking the pious as lords besides Allah and adopting their graves as mosques just as the Jews and Christians would do.” (Al-Tafhimat al-Ilahiyyah, 2:134-5)

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