This is the most serious of all prohibitions, according to the hadeeth narrated by Abu Bakrah, who said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: Shall I not tell you of the most serious of the major sins? three times. We said, Of course, O Messenger of Allaah! He said, Associating anything in worship with Allaah . . .
(Agreed upon; see al-Bukhaari, no. 2511, al-Bagha edition).
Every other sin may be forgiven by Allaah, apart from shirk, which requires specific repentance, as Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
Verily, Allaah forgives not that partners should be set up with Him in worship, but He forgives except that (anything else) to whom He pleases . . . [al-Nisaa 4:48]
One of the forms of shirk which is particularly widespread in Muslim countries is:
Grave-worship,the belief that dead awliyaa (saints) can fulfil ones needs or help at times of distress, and calling upon them for aid. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him . . . [al-Israa 17:23]
Similarly, they call upon dead Prophets, righteous people and others to intercede for them or to rescue them from some calamity, but Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
Is not He (better than your gods) Who responds to the distressed one, when he calls Him, and Who removes the evil, and makes you inheritors of the earth, generations after generations? Is there any ilaah (god) with Allaah? . . . [al-Naml 27:62]
Some of them have adopted the habit of mentioning the name of a shaykh or wali (saint) when they stand up, or sit down, or stumble, or encounter problems or distress, so they might say O Muhammad! or O Ali! or O Husayn! or O Badawi! or O Jeelaani! or O Shaadhili! or O Rifaai! - or they may call upon al-Aydaroos or Sayyidah Zaynab or Ibn Alwaan. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
Verily those whom you call upon besides Allaah are slaves like you . . . [al-Araf 7:194]
Some of those who worship graves walk around them as if in Tawaaf, and acknowledge their corners, or touch them, kiss them, wipe their faces with their dust, prostrate towards them when they see them, or stand before them in fear and humility, praying for whatever they need of healing from some disease, or for a child, or for help with some difficulty. Sometimes they call upon the occupant of the grave, saying O my master, I have come to you from far away, so do not let me down. But Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
And who is more astray than one who calls (invokes) besides Allaah such as will not answer him till the Day of Resurrection, and who are (even) unaware of their calls (invocations) to them? [al-Ahqaaf 46:5]
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: Whoever dies calling on someone else as a rival to Allaah, will enter Hell. (Reported by al-Bukhaari, al-Fath, 8/176).
Some of them shave their heads at the graves, and some have books with titles like Manaasik Hajj al-Mashaahid (The Rituals of Pilgrimage to Shrines), mashaahid or shrines referring to graves or tombs of awliyaa. Some of them believe that the awliyaa are running the affairs of the universe and that they have the power to benefit or harm. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
And if Allaah touches you with hurt, there is none who can remove it but He; and if He intends any good for you, there is no one who can repel His Favour . . . [Yoonus 10:107]
It is also shirk to make a vow to any other than Allaah, as is done by those who vow to bring candles or lights for the occupants of the graves.
Another manifestation of al-shirk al-akbar is
Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
Therefore turn in prayer to your Lord, and sacrifice (to Him only) [al-Kawthar 108:2]
- i.e., sacrifice to Allaah and in the name of Allaah. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said:
Allaah will curse the one who sacrifices to anything other than Allaah. (Reported by Imaam Muslim, may Allaah have mercy on him, in his Saheeh, no. 1978, Abd al-Baaqi edition). This sin combines two haraam deeds, that of sacrificing to anything other than Allaah and that of sacrificing in the name of anything other than Allaah, both of which make the meat of the animal slaughtered haraam. One of the forms of sacrificing to anything other than Allaah which was known during the first Jaahiliyyah and is still widespread nowadays is the practice of offering a sacrifice to the jinn, whereby upon buying or constructing a house, or digging a well, people slaughter an animal at its entrance, out of fear of harm from the resident jinn. (See Tayseer al-Azeez al-Hameed, al-Iftaa edition, p. 158)
Another widespread form of al-shirk al-akbar is the sin of
allowing what Allaah has forbidden and forbidding what Allaah has allowed, or believing that anyone has the right to do so except Allaah, or referring matters for judgement to jaahili (non-Islamic) courts freely and by choice, and believing that this is permissible. Allaah has mentioned this form of major kufr in the Quraan (interpretation of the meaning):
They (Jews and Christians) took their rabbis and their monks to their lords besides Allaah (by obeying them in things which they made lawful or unlawful according to their own desires without being ordered by Allaah). . . [al-Tawbah 9:31]
When Adiyy ibn Haatim heard the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) recite this aayah, he said, But they were not worshipping them. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) replied, Yes, but they permitted things that Allaah had forbidden, and the people accepted this, and they forbade things that Allaah had allowed, and the people accepted this too, and this is a form of worshipping them. (Reported by al-Bayhaqi in al-Sunan al-Kubraa, 10/116. See also al-Tirmidhi, no. 3095. Al-Albaani classified it as hasan in Ghaayat al-Maraam, p. 19).
Allaah described the mushrikeen as (interpretation of the meaning): . . . [those who do not] forbid that which has been forbidden by Allaah and His Messenger and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth . . . [al-Tawbah 9:29]
And Allaah said (interpretation of the meaning): Say: Tell me, what provision Allaah has sent down to you, and you have made of it lawful and unlawful. Say: Has Allaah permitted you (to do so), or do you invent a lie against Allaah? [Yoonus 10:59]
Other widespread forms of shirk are:
magic, fortune-telling and divination. Magic (sihr) is an act of kufr, and one of the seven sins which doom a person to Hell. It causes harm but no benefit. Allaah says of the one who learns it (interpretation of the meaning):
. . . And they learn that which harms them and profits them not . . . [al-Baqarah 2:102]
. . . and the magician will never be successful, no matter what amount (of skill) he may attain). [Ta-Ha 20:69]
The one who deals in magic is a kaafir, as Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
. . . Sulayman did not disbelieve, but the shayaateen (devils) disbelieved, teaching men magic and such things as came down at Babylon to the two angels, Haaroot and Maaroot, but neither of these two (angels) taught anyone (such things) things till they had said, We are only for trial, so disbelieve not (by learning this magic from us). . . . [al-Baqarah 2:102]
The prescribed punishment for the one who practices magic is death, and his income is haraam and impure. But people who are ignorant wrongdoers and weak in faith go to magicians to help them harm someone or take revenge on someone. Some people commit the sin of going to a magician to ask his help in undoing the magic of someone else, when they should turn to Allaah to help them and heal them, by reciting His words, such as the soorahs that offer protection (al-Falaq and al-Naas), and so on.
Fortune-tellers and their ilk are kaafirs who disbelieve in Allaah, because they claim knowledge of the Unseen, but no one has knowledge of the Unseen except Allaah. Many of these fortune-tellers take advantage of simple-minded people and take their money. They use many methods such as drawing lines in the sand, throwing sea-shells, reading palms, teacups (or coffee cups), crystal balls and mirrors, and so on. If they get it right one time, they get it wrong ninety-nine times, but ignorant people remember only the one time when these liars get something right. They go to them to find out about the future, whether they will be successful in marriage or business, or to help them find something they have lost, and so on. The ruling concerning the person who visits a fortune-teller is: if he believes what he says, he is a kaafir who has left Islaam, on the basis of the hadeeth in which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: Whoever goes to a fortune-teller or a soothsayer and believes in what he says has disbelieved in what was revealed to Muhammad. (Reported by Imaam Ahmad, 2/429; see also Saheeh al-Jaami, 5939). If a person does not believe that they have knowledge of the Unseen, but he goes out of curiosity or whatever, he is not a kaafir, but his prayers will not be accepted for forty days, as the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: Whoever goes to a fortune-teller and asks him about something, his prayers will not be accepted for forty nights (Saheeh Muslim, 4/1751) - even though it is still obligatory to pray and to repent for this sin.
Zayd ibn Khaalid al-Juhani reported: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) led us in the morning prayer at al-Hudaybiyah after rain had fallen during the night. When he had finished, he turned around to face the people and said: Do you know what your Lord says? They said, Allaah and His Messenger know best. He said: [Allaah says]: This morning one of My slaves became a believer in Me and one became a disbeliever. As for the one who said, We have been given rain by the grace and mercy of Allaah, he is a believer in Me and a disbeliever in the stars; as for the one who said, We have been given rain by such-and-such a star, he is a disbeliever in Me and a believer in the stars. (Reported by al-Bukhaari; see Fath al-Baari, 2/333)
Similarly, the one who reads the horoscopes in newspapers and magazines and believes what they say about the influence of the stars and planets is a mushrik, and the one who reads them for entertainment is a sinner, because it is not permitted to entertain oneself by reading things that contain shirk, because Shaytaan will try to lead him to shirk through this.
Yet another form of shirk is believing that certain things can bring benefit when the Creator has not made them so. For example. some people believe in amulets and spells, or wearing certain types of pearls or seashells or metal earrings and so on, on the advice of fortune-tellers or magicians or in accordance with inherited customs. So they hang them around their own or their childrens necks to ward off the evil eye - or so they claim; or they tie them onto their bodies or hang them in their cars and homes, or wear rings with special stones, thinking that these things can relieve or ward off distress. This without a doubt is contrary to the idea of relying on Allaah, and will only result in making a person even more weak, like seeking medicine in a haraam way. These amulets obviously contain much shirk, such as seeking the help of some jinns and devils, or vague drawings and illegible writing. Some of these liars even write aayaat from the Quraan, or mix them with words of shirk, or write them with impure substances such as menstrual blood. Hanging up these amulets or tying them to ones body is haraam because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: Whoever hangs up an amulet is guilty of shirk. (Reported by Ahmad, 4/156; see also Silsilat al-Saheehah, no. 492).
If the one who does this believes that these things can cause benefit or harm instead of Allaah, he is a mushrik who is guilty of al-shirk al-akbar. If he believes that they are a means of causing benefit or harm, then he is a mushrik who is guilty of al-shirk al-asghar, which includes shirk that consists of attributing causes to things other than Allaah.
Showing off in worship: among the conditions for any good deed to be acceptable are that it should be free of any kind of showing off and within the framework of the Sunnah. The person who performs acts of worship, like praying, in order to be seen by other people is a mushrik and his deed is unacceptable. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
Verily, the hypocrites seek to deceive Allaah, but it is He Who deceives them. And when they stand up for prayer, they stand with laziness and to be seen of men, and they do not remember Allaah but little. [al-Nisaa 4:142]
Similarly, the person who does a good deed so that news of it will reach other people has also fallen into the sin of shirk. The threat of punishment for the one who does this was reported in the hadeeth narrated by Ibn Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him and his father), in which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: Whoever does things to be seen and heard by others, Allaah will cause him to be seen and heard as an example to others. (Reported by Muslim, 4/2289). Whoever does any act of worship for the sake of Allaah and other people, his deeds will be unacceptable, as is stated in the hadeeth qudsi: I am so self-sufficient that I am in no need of having an associate. Thus he who does a deed for someone elses sake as well as Mine will have that deed renounced by Me to him who he associated with Me. (Reported by Muslim, no. 2985).
It may happen that a person starts to do a deed for the sake of Allaah, then the urge to show off comes over him. If he resists that impulse his deed will still be acceptable, but if he submits willingly to it, then in the opinion of most of the scholars his deed will be unacceptable.
Superstitious belief in omens: this is a form of pessimism, as Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
But whenever good came to them, they said, Ours is this. And if evil afflicted them, they ascribed it to evil omens connected with Musa and those with him . . . [al-Araaf 7:131]
Before Islam, if one of the Arabs wanted to do something like travelling, he would take hold of a bird and release it: if it flew to the right, he would take this as a good omen and proceed with his plans, but if it flew to the left, he would take it as a bad omen and cancel his plans. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) gave his verdict on this practice when he said: Al-Tiyarah (observing birds for omens) is shirk. (Reported by Imaam Ahmad, 1/389; see also Saheeh al-Jaami, 3955).
This kind of haraam belief that goes against Tawheed also includes the practice of regarding certain times etc., as inauspicious, such as not holding a wedding in Safar, or regarding the last Wednesday of every month as a day of evil omen and ongoing calamity, or believing that numbers such as 13, or certain names, are unlucky. It is also haraam to believe that handicapped people are bad omens, such as going to open ones store but turning back upon seeing a one-eyed man. All of this is haraam and is part of the shirk for which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) disowned people. Imraan ibn Husayn reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: He is not one of us who observes birds for omens or has someone else do this for him, or who predicts the future or asks someone else to do it for him, (and I think he said) or who practices magic or asks someone else to do it for him. (Reported by al-Tabaraani in al-Kabeer, 18/162; see also Saheeh al-Jaami 5435).
The expiation required from the person who commits any of these sins is reported in the hadeeth reported by Abdullaah ibn Amr: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: Whoever was turned away from doing something because of a bad omen is guilty of shirk. The people asked, O Messenger of Allaah, what expiation is there for doing that? He said, That he should say: O Allaah, there is no goodness except Your goodness and no omen except your omen and there is no god but You. (Reported by Imaam Ahmad, 2/220; al-Silsilah al-Saheehah, 1065).
Pessimism is a part of everyones nature, to a greater or lesser extent; the best cure for it is reliance upon Allaah (tawakkul), as Ibn Masood said: There is no one among us (who will not feel pessimistic sometimes), but when we rely on Allaah, He makes that feeling go away. (Reported by Abu Dawud, no. 3910; see also al-Silsilah al-Saheehah, 430).
Swearing by something other than Allaah: Allaah may swear by whatever of His creatures He wills, but His creatures are not permitted to swear by anything other than Allaah. Many people swear all kinds of oaths by things other than Allaah, but swearing by something is like glorifying it, and it is not right to glorify anything or anyone other than Allaah. Ibn Umar reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: Allaah has prohibited that you should swear by your fathers. If anyone swears, let him swear by Allaah, or else remain silent. (Reported by al-Bukhaari; see al-Fath, 11/530). Ibn Umar also reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: Whoever swears by something other than Allaah is guilty of shirk. (Reported by Imaam Ahmad, 2/125; see Saheeh al-Jaami, 6204). The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: Whoever swears by trustworthiness is not one of us. (Reported by Abu Dawud 3253; see also al-Silsilah al-Saheehah, no. 94).
It is not permitted to swear by the Kabah, by trustworthiness, by honour, by help, by the blessing of so-and-so, by the life of so-and-so, by the virtue of the Prophet, by the virtue of a wali, by ones father and mother, by the heads of ones children, etc. All of that is haraam, and the expiation for doing it is to say La ilaaha ill-Allaah, as is stated in the saheeh hadeeth: Whoever swears and says By al-Laat or By al-Uzza, let him say La ilaaha ill-Allaah (there is no god except Allaah). (Reported by al-Bukhaari, al-Fath, 11/536). There are other phrases that similarly involve shirk and are therefore forbidden, but that are often spoken by Muslims, such as: I seek refuge with Allaah and with you, I am depending on Allaah and on you, This is from Allaah and from you, I have no-one but Allaah and you, I have Allaah in heaven and I have you on earth, If it were not for Allaah and so-and-so, I disown Islaam, Time has let me down (and every other expression which involves cursing time, like saying, This is a bad time, This is an unlucky time, Time is a betrayer, etc., because cursing time is an insult to Allaah Who has created time), references to Natures way. Names that imply being a slave of anyone other than Allaah, such as Abd al-Maseeh, Abd al-Nabi, Abd al-Rasool and Abd al-Husayn, are also forbidden.
There are also modern expressions which are contrary to Tawheed and are therefore haraam, such as Islamic socialism, Islamic democracy, The will of the people is the will of Allaah, Religion is for Allaah and the land is for the people, In the name of Arabism, In the name of the revolution, etc.
It is also haraam to use titles such as King of kings or Judge of judges for human beings; to address munafiqeen or kuffaar with titles like Sayyid (master) (whether speaking Arabic or other languages), to use the words If only... - which imply discontent and regret, and open the way for Shaytaan, and to say O Allaah, forgive me if You want to. (For more information, see Mujam al-Manahi al-Lafziyyah, Bakr or Zayd)