Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Categories of Syirik

The Categories of Syirik

Dr. Billal Philips

In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;
All the praise and Thanks is due to Allāh, the Lord of al-‘ālamīn. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam is His Messenger.

The study of Tawhid cannot be considered complete without a careful analysis of its opposite, Syirik. Some mention of Syirik has already been made in the previous parts and examples of it have been given to illustrate how Tawhid may be obliterated. However, in this part Syirik will be looked at as a separate topic whose grave importance Allah has attested to in the Qur'an.

Allah Says:

"Surely Allah will not forgive the association of partners [syirik] with Him, but He forgives [sins] less than that of whomever He wishes."

[Surah An-Nisa’, 4:48]

Because the sin of Shirik denies the very purpose of man's creation, it is to God the gravest of sins; the unforgivable sin. Syirik literally means partnership, sharing or associating, [64] but in Islam it refers to the act of assigning partners to Allah in whatever form it may take. The following analysis of Syirik is according to the three broad categories developed in the study of Tawhid. Hence, we will first look at the main ways in which Syirik can occur in the area of Rabbubiyah [Lordship], then Asma was-Sifat [Divine Names and Attributes] and finally in 'Ibadah [Worship].

Syirik in Rabbubiyah

This category of Shirik refers to either the belief that others share Allah's Lordship over creation as His equal or near equal, or to the belief that there exists no Lord over creation at all. Most religious systems fall into the first aspect of Shirik in Rabbubiyah while it is the philosophers and their man-made philosophies that tend to fill the second aspect.

A. Syirik by Association

Beliefs which fall under this sub-category are ones in which a main God or Supreme Being over creation is recognized, however His dominion is shared by other lesser gods, spirits, mortals, heavenly bodies or earthly objects. Such belief systems are commonly referred to by theologians and philosophers as either monotheistic [having one God] or polytheistic [having more than one God]. According to Islam, all of these systems are polytheistic and many represent various degrees in the degeneration of divinely revealed religious systems all of which were originally based on Tawhid.

Within Hinduism, the Supreme Being Brahman is conceived as indwelling, all-pervading, unchangeable and eternal, the abstract impersonal Absolute, in which all things have their origin and end. While the god Brahma is the personified creator of the universe who forms a trinity with the preserver god, Vishnu and the destroyer god, Shiva. [65] Thus, Syirik in Rabbubiyah is expressed in Hinduism by the delegation of God's creative, destructive and preservative powers to other gods.

Christian belief states that the one God reveals himself in the three persons of Father, Son [Jesus Christ] and Holy Spirit. These three persons are nevertheless regarded as a unity, sharing one 'substance'. [66] Prophet Jesus is elevated to divinity, sits on the right hand of God and judges the world. The Holy Spirit, who in the Hebrew Bible is the means by which God exercises his creative power, in Christian thought becomes a part of the God-head. Paul made the Holy Spirit the alter ego of Christ, the guide and help of Christians, first manifesting itself on the day of Pentecost. [67] Consequently, Syirik in Rabbubiyah occurs in the Christian belief that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are God's partners in all of His dominion, in their belief that Jesus alone pronounces judgement on the world and in their belief that Christians are helped and guided by the Holy Spirit.

Zoroastrians [Parsis] conceive of God, Ahura Mazda, as being the creator of all that is good, and is alone worthy of absolute worship. Fire is one of the seven creations of Ahura Mazda and is considered his son or representative. But they also commit Syirik in Rabbubiyah by conceiving of evil, violence and death as being the creation of another god called Angra Mainyu whom they represent by the symbol darkness. [68] Hence, God's sovereignty over all creation .e. His Rabbubiyah) is shared with an evil spirit elevated to the level of an opposing god due to man's desire to not attribute evil to God.

In the Yoruba religion, followed by over 10 million people in West Africa [mainly Nigeria], there is one supreme God, Olorius [Lord of Heaven] or Olodumare. Nevertheless, modern Yoruba religion is characterized by a multitude of Orisha worship, so that Yoruba religion appears as strict polytheism. [69] Consequently, Yoruba’s commit Syirik in Rabbubiyah by turning over all of God's functions to minor gods and spirits.

The Zulus of South Africa believe in one God, Unkulunkulu, meaning the ancient, the first, the most revered one. The principal specific titles for God are; Nkosi yaphezulu [Lord-of-the-Sky] and uMvelingqanqi [the first to appear]. Their Supreme Being is represented as a male, who, along with the earth female, bring forth the human world. Thunder and Lightening are in Zulu religion acts of God, whereas sickness and other troubles in life may be caused by the ancestors, the "Idlozi" or "abaphansi" [those under the earth]. The ancestors also protect the living, ask for food, are pleased with ritual and sacrifice, punish neglect and take possession of fortune tellers [inyanga]. [70] Thus, Syirik in Rabbubiyah takes place in the Zulu religion not only in their concept of the creation of the human world but also their attribution of good and evil in human life to the work of ancestral spirits.

Among some Muslim people, Syirik in Rabbubiyah is manifested in their belief that the souls of saints and other righteous humans can affect the affairs of this world, even after their deaths. Their souls, it is believed, can fulfill one's needs, remove calamities and aid whoever calls on them. Therefore, grave worshippers assign to human souls the divine ability to cause events in this life which in fact only Allah can cause.

Common among many Sufis [Muslim mystics] is the belief in "Rijaal al-Ghaib" [71], chief of whom occupies the station called "Qutub" from which the affairs of this world are governed. [72]

B. Syirik by Negation

This sub-category represents the various philosophies and ideologies which deny the existence of God either explicitly or implicitly. That is, in some cases God's non-existence is stated [Atheism], while in other cases His existence is claimed, but the way in which He is conceived actually denies His existence [Pantheism].

There are a few ancient religious "systems" in which God does not exist, foremost among them is the system attributed to Gautama Buddha. Buddhism, a reformist movement in Hinduism opposed to the caste system, was founded in the 6th century BC during the same period as Jainism. During the 3rd century BC it became the state religion. Eventually it was assimilated by Hinduism, Buddha himself becoming one of the Avatars [incarnations of God]. It disappeared from India but became dominant in China and other Eastern nations. Hinayana Buddhism [400-250 BC], the earlier and stricter of the two interpretations of Buddhism which arose after Gautama Buddha's death, makes it clear that there is no God; hence the burden of salvation belongs to the individual alone. [73] Thus, this ancient strain of Buddhism could be classified as an example of Syirik in Rabbubiyah wherein God's existence is explicitly denied.

Similarly in the teachings of Jainism as systematized by Vardhamana, there is no God, but liberated souls achieve something of this status, having immortality and omniscience; and the religious community treats the liberated ones as though they were divine, building temples to them and venerating their images. [74]

Another ancient example is that of the Pharaoh of Prophet Moses' time. Allah mentioned in the Qur'an that he negated the existence of God and claimed to Moses and the people of Egypt that he, Pharaoh, was the only true lord of all creation. Allah quoted him as saying to Moses, "If you chose a god besides me, I will surely imprison you"[Surah Ash-Shura, 26:29] and to the people, "He proclaimed, 'I am your Lord, the Most High'"[Surah An-Nazi'at, 79:24.]In the nineteenth and twentieth century’s a number of European philosophers asserted the non-existence of God in what became known as the "death of God philosophy". The German philosopher Philipp Mainlander [1841-1876] in his principal writing, The Philosophy of Redemption, 1876, states that the world begins with the death of God, since God is a principle of unity shattered in the plurality of the world and a principle of joy denied in the law of suffering which dominates the worid. [75] In Prussia Friedrich Nietzsche [1844-1900] supported the idea of the "death of God" proposing that God was nothing more than a projection of man's uneasy conscience and that man was the bridge to the Superman. [76] Jean Paul Sartre, a French philosopher of the twentieth century also echoed the "death of God" thought. He claimed that God could not exist because He was a contradiction in terms. The idea of God, according to him, is a projection which man must make being what he is. [77]

Darwin's [d. 1882] proposal that man was merely a glorified ape was widely adopted in the theories of social scientists and philosophers of the nineteenth century as it provided a "scientific" basis for the non-existence of God. According to them religion evolved from animism to monotheism along with man's supposed social evolution from an independent individual to a national state and his physical evolution from ape to man.

They attempt to escape the questions surrounding creation by claiming that there was none and by attributing Allah's attribute of being without beginning and end to matter which He has created. Present day holders of this belief are the followers of Karl Marx, communists and scientific socialists, who claim that the origin of everything in existence is matter in motion. They further claim that God is a figment of man's imagination created by the ruling classes to justify their hereditary rule and divert the attention of the oppressed masses from the realities in which they live.

An example of this form of Syirik among some Muslims is that of many Sufis like Ibn 'Arabi who claim that only Allah exists [All is Allah, and Allah is all]. They deny the separate existence of Allah and thereby in fact deny His existence. This idea was also expressed in the 17th century by the Dutch Jewish philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, who claimed that God is the total of all parts of the universe including man.

Allah the Exalted Alone Know most.


64. The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, p.468.
65. W.L. Reese, Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1980), pp.66-67 and 586-7. See also John Hinnells, Dictionary of Religions (England: Penguin Books, 1984) pp.67-8.
66. Dictionary of Religions, p.337.
67. Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, p.231.
68. Dictionary of Religions, pp.361-2.
69. Dictionary of Religions, p.358.
70. Ibid. p. 363.
71. Literally, "men of the unseen world". The world is supposed to endure due to the intercessions of a hierarchy of "averting" Saints whose number are fixed, the place of one who dies being immediately filled. (Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam, p.582).
72. Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam, pp.55.
73. Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, p.72.
74. Dictionaries of Philosophy and Religion, pp. 262-3
75. Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, p.327.
76. Ibid. p.391.
77. Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, pp.508-9.

[Via MSA.]

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