The Syirik in Al-'Ibadah
Dr. Bilal 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. There is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, sallallāhu alayhi wa sallam, is His Messenger.
The Syirik in Al-'Ibadah, involves acts of worship are directed to other than Allāh and the reward for worship is sought from the creation instead of the Creator. Syirik in al-'Ibadah has two main aspects.
A. Ash-Syirik Al-Akbar (Major Syirik):
This form of Syirik occurs when any act of worship is directed to other than Allāh. It represents the most obvious form of idolatry which the prophets were specifically sent by Allāh to call the masses of mankind away from. This concept is supported by Allāh's statement in the Qur'an:
“Surely we have sent a Messenger to every Ummah (community, nation) (saying): "Worship Allah (Alone), and shun the Taghut (all false deities).'' Then among them were some whom Allah guided, and among them were some who deserved to be left to stray. So travel through the land and see the end of those who denied (the truth)”
[Surah An-Nahl, 16:36]
[Surah An-Nahl, 16:36]
Thāghut actually means anything which is worshipped along with Allāh or instead of Allāh. For example, love is a form of worship which, in its perfection, should only be directed to Allāh. In Islam, the love of God is expressed by total obedience to Him. It is not the type of love which man naturally feels toward creation; towards parents, children, food, etc. To direct that type of love towards God is to lower Him to the level of His creation which is Syirik in al-Asma was-Sifat. Love which is worship is the total surrender of one's will to God. Consequently, Allāh told the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) to tell the believers:
"Say: If you love Allāh, follow me and Allāh will love you." [Surah Ali-'Imran, 3:31]
The Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) also told his companions, "None of you is a true believer until I become more beloved to him than his child, his father and the whole of mankind". [Reported by Anas and collected by al-Bukhari [Sahih Bukhari; English- Arabic], vol.1, p.20, no.13) and Muslim [Sahih Muslim, English Trans., vol.1, p.31, and no.71]] Love of the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) is not based on his humanity but on the divine origin of his message. Thus, like the love of Allāh, it is also expressed by total obedience to his commands.
Allāh said in the final revelation:
"Whoever obeys the Messenger has obeyed Allāh," [Surah An-Nisa, 4:80]
"Say: Obey Allāh and obey the Prophet..." [Surah Ali-'Imran, 3:32]
If man allows the love of anything or anyone to come between himself and Allāh, then he has worshipped that thing. In this way, money can become one's god or even one's desires could become a god. The Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) said, "The worshipper of the Dirham will always be miserable" [Reported by al-Bukhari [Sahih Bukhari, English-Arabic], vol.8, p.296, no.443]
And Allāh said in the Qur'an "Have you not seen the one who takes his desires as his god?" [Surah Al-Furqan, 25:43]
Much emphasis has been placed on the evils of Shirik in 'Ibadah (worship) because it contradicts the very purpose of creation as expressed in Allāh's statement:
"I have not created Jinn or mankind except for my worship." [Surah Adh-Dhariyat, 51:56]
Major Syirik represents the greatest act of rebellion against the Lord of the Universe, and is thus the ultimate sin. It is a sin so great that it virtually cancels out all good a person may do and guarantees its perpetrator eternal damnation in Hell. Consequently, false religion is based primarily on this form of Shirik. All man-made systems in one way or another invite their followers to the worship of creation. Christians are called upon to pray to a man, a Prophet of God named Jesus, whom they claim to have been God incarnate. Catholics among Christians pray to Mary as the "mother of God", to the angels like Michael who is honored on May 8 and September 29, Michaelmas Day, as St. Michael,  as well as to human saints, whether real or fictitious.
Muslims whose acts of worship fall into this category of Syirik are those who pray to Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) or to mystics in the Sufi hierarchy of saints believing that they can answer their prayers, though Allāh has clearly said:
"Say: Think to yourselves, if Allāh's punishment came upon you or the Final Hour, would you then call on other than Allāh? [Reply] if you are truthful." [Surah Al-An'am, 6:40]
B. Ash-Syirik Al-Asghar (Minor Syirik).
Mahmūd ibn Lubaid (radiyallāhu`anhu) reported, "Allāh's Messenger (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam) said: "The thing I fear for you the most is Ash-Syirik Al-Asghar (Minor Syirik)." The companions asked "Oh! Messenger of Allāh, what is minor Syirik?" He (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) replied "Ar-Riyā’ (showing off), for verily Allāh will say on the Day of Resurrection when people are receiving their rewards, 'Go to those for whom you were showing off in the material world and see if you can find any reward from them.'" [Narrated by Ahmad. At-Tabarāni and Al-Baihaqi in Az-Zuhdi. See Taisir Al-'Aziz Al-Hamid, p.118]
Mahmūd ibn Lubaid (radiyallāhu`anhu) also said, "The Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam) came out and announced, 'O people, beware of Secret (hidden) Shirik!' The people asked, 'O Messenger of Allāh, what is secret Syirik?' He (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) replied, 'When a man gets up to pray and strives to beautify his prayer because people are looking at him; that is secret Syirik.'" [Narrated by Ibn Khuzaimah]
Riyā’ is the practice of performing any of the various forms of worship in order to be seen and praised by people. This sin destroys all the benefits that lie in righteous deeds and brings on the one who commits it a serious punishment. It is particularly dangerous, because it is natural for man to desire and enjoy the praise of his fellow men. Doing religious acts to impress people or in order to be praised by them is, therefore, an evil which deserves man's utmost caution.
This danger is really significant to the believers whose goal is to make all of the acts of their lives religious acts dedicated to Allah. In fact, the likelihood that knowledgeable true believers would commit Ash-Syirik Al-Akbar is small, since its pitfalls are so obvious. But, for the true believer like everyone else, the chance of committing Riyā’ is great because it is so hidden. It only involves the simple act of changing one's intention. The motivating forces behind it are also very strong, since it comes from man's inner nature. Ibn 'Abbas (radiyallāhu`anhu) alluded to this reality when he said; "Syirik is more hidden than a black ant creeping on a black stone in the middle of a moonless night." [Reported by Ibn Abi Hatim and quoted in Taysir Al-'Aziz Al-Hamid, p. 587]
Thus, great care has to be taken to ensure that one's intentions begin pure and remain pure whenever righteous deeds are being done. In order to ensure this, the saying of Allāh's name is enjoined in Islam before all acts of importance. A series of Du'a (supplications) have also been prescribed by the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam) before and after all natural habits like eating, drinking, sleeping, sex, and even going to the toilet, in order to turn these everyday habits into acts of worship and develop in Muslims a keen awareness of Allāh. It is this awareness, called Taqwa, which ultimately insures that intentions remain pure.
The Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam) also provided protection against the inevitable acts of Syirik by teaching certain specific prayers which may be said anytime. Abu Musa (radiyallāhu`anhu) reported, who said, "One day Allāh's Messenger (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) delivered a sermon saying 'O people fear Syirik for it is more hidden than the creeping of an ant.' Those whom Allāh wished asked, 'And how do we avoid it when it is more hidden than the creeping of an ant, O Messenger of Allāh?' He (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) replied, 'Say: Allāhumma Inna na'udzu bika an nushrika bika shay'an na’lamuh, wa nastaghfiruka lima la na’lamuh (O Allāh, we seek refuge in you from knowingly committing syirik with you and we ask your forgiveness for what we do not know about).'" [Narrated by Ahmad and At-Tabarani]
Allah Almighty Knows Best
1. William Halsey [ed.], Colliers Encyclopedia, U.S.A: Crowell-Collier Educational Foundation; 1970, vol.16, p.110.