Why Is Shirk the Greatest Sin of All?
Published: July 25, 2022 • Updated: March 22, 2023
Author: Dr. Zohair Abdul-Rahman
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
Why beliefs matter
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And We certainly sent into every nation a messenger, [saying], “Worship Allah [alone] and avoid Ṭāghūt (idols, false deities).” And among them were those whom Allah guided, and among them were those upon whom error was [deservedly] decreed. So proceed through the earth and observe how was the end of the deniers.
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was asked, “Which is the greatest sin?” He replied, “That you set up with Allah ﷻ a rival and He is the One who created you.”
Separating emotions from reality
And they said Ar-Raḥmān (The Most Merciful) has taken a son. You have come with an atrocious thing. The heavens almost rupture therefrom and the earth almost splits open and the mountains almost collapse in devastation. That they attribute a son to Ar-Raḥmān.
Why does God care about shirk?
And the example of a bad word is like a bad tree, uprooted from the surface of the earth, not having any stability.
The day that every soul will find what it has done of good present and what it has done of evil, it will wish that between itself and that was a great distance. And Allah warns you of Himself, and Allah is Kind to His servants.
ʿĀʾisha (rA) reported, One night I missed the Messenger of Allah ﷺ from the bed, and when I sought him my hand touched the soles of his feet while he ﷺ was in the state of prostration; they (his feet) were raised and he ﷺ was saying: “O Allah, I seek refuge in Your pleasure from Your anger, and in Your forgiveness from Your punishment, and I seek refuge in You from You. I cannot enumerate Your praises. You are as You have praised Yourself.”
Immorality and the afterlife
This Day every soul will be recompensed for what it earned. No injustice today! Indeed, Allah is swift in account.
Every soul will taste death, and you will only be given your [full] compensation on the Day of Resurrection.
What makes shirk so evil?
Abū Umāma reported: A young man came to the Prophet ﷺ and he said, “O Messenger of Allah, give me permission to commit zinā.” The people turned to rebuke him, saying, “Quiet! Quiet!” The Prophet ﷺ said, “Come here.” The young man came close and he told him to sit down. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Would you like that for your mother?” The man said, “No, by Allah, may I be sacrificed for you.” The Prophet ﷺ said, “Neither would people like it for their mothers. Would you like that for your daughter?” The man said, “No, by Allah, may I be sacrificed for you.” The Prophet ﷺ said, “Neither would people like it for their daughters. Would you like that for your sister?” The man said, “No, by Allah, may I be sacrificed for you.” The Prophet ﷺ said, “Neither would people like it for their sisters. Would you like that for your aunts?” The man said, “No, by Allah, may I be sacrificed for you.” The Prophet ﷺ said, “Neither would people like it for their aunts.” Then, the Prophet ﷺ placed his hand on him and said, “O Allah, forgive his sins, purify his heart, and guard his chastity.” After that, the young man never again inclined to anything sinful.
Wābiṣa bin Maʿbad reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Have you come to ask about good and evil, Wābiṣa?” I said, “Yes,” so he ﷺ joined his fingers and hit his chest and said “Seek judgment from your nafs (self), seek judgment from your heart” three times. (Then he ﷺ said), “Good is what the self is comfortable with and what makes the heart at peace. Evil is what arouses discomfort in the self and hesitancy in the heart despite the opinions of others.”
ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAmr narrates that the Prophet ﷺ said, “The merciful are shown mercy by ar-Raḥmān (The Most Merciful). Be merciful to those on earth and the One above the heavens will show mercy to you.”
If you judge, then judge between them with justice, verily Allah ﷻ loves those who are just.
Forgive and overlook; wouldn’t you love for Allah ﷻ to forgive you?
Allah ﷻ loves His Names and Attributes, and He loves the consequences of His Attributes and their manifestations upon the servants. Just as He is Beautiful, so He loves beauty. As He is the Most Forgiving, He loves forgiveness; as He is the Most Generous, He loves generosity: as He is All-Knowing, he loves the people of knowledge… So because Allah ﷻ loves those who emulate His Attributes, He is with them according to how much of these qualities they reflect, and this is a special and unique type of companionship.
Shirk from a deontological perspective: Purpose of life
Shirk from a virtue-ethics perspective
And for this reason, shirk is the most despised thing to Him (Allah) because it diminishes one’s love (for Allah) and transfers it to whoever he associated with Him (Allah). For this reason Allah does not forgive shirk… And no doubt this is the greatest crime a lover can commit toward his beloved.
Degree of benevolence
O Humanity, what has deluded you from your Gracious Lord? The One who created you, fashioned you, and balanced you in whatever form He willed, assembling you.
And out of what We have provided them, they take a portion aside for those (idols) they have no knowledge about. Certainly, by Allah, they will be questioned regarding what they used to invent.
Degree of trust
Indeed, we offered the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, and they declined to bear it and feared it; but man [undertook to] bear it. Indeed, he was unjust and ignorant.
Narcissism and self-worship
And do not say “This is permitted and this is prohibited” based on what your tongues assert as untruth in order to invent falsehood about Allah.
Those who disbelieved among the People of the Scripture, and the Polytheists, were not apart, until the Clear Evidence came to them.
Consequentialism: The harm principle
It has been inspired to you and those before you, if you commit shirk your actions will be nullified and you will surely be of the losers.
And it will be said, ‘“Invoke your ‘partners’” and they will invoke them; but they will not respond to them, and they will see the punishment. If only they had followed guidance.
When Allah said He purchased our souls, we have to realize that the value of the commodity is correlated to both the status of the buyer and the price. You are the commodity, and you are so valuable that Allah is purchasing you, and the price is Paradise, which you receive along with seeing Allah, and hearing His speech, in the abode of complete peace and tranquility. Allah chose you and only chooses that which is honored and blessed—and built for you a dwelling place close to Him and made the angels as servants for you, making sure you are taken care of in this world when you are awake and when you are sleeping, when you are alive and when you will die. When a person commits shirk, he sells himself to the other gods (he worships), and so he is deprived of paradise, the mercy, love, and care of Allah.
Allah presents an example: A slaveowned by quarreling partners and another belonging exclusively to one man—are they equal in comparison? Praise be to Allah! But most of them do not know.
“We all have gods,” Martin Luther said, “it is just a question of which ones.” And in American society our gods are celebrities. Religious belief and practices are commonly transferred to the adoration of celebrities. Our culture builds temples to celebrities the way the Romans did for divine emperors, ancestors, and household gods. We are a de facto polytheistic society. We engage in the same kind of primitive beliefs as older polytheistic cultures. In celebrity culture, the object is to get as close as possible to the celebrity. Relics of celebrities are coveted as magical talismans. Those who can touch the celebrity or own a relic of the celebrity hope for a transference of celebrity power. They hope for magic.
A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will come out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshiping we are becoming.
Have you seen the one who makes his own desires as his god? Then would you be responsible for him?
ʿAbdullāh ibn Masʿūd reported, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Spells, amulets, and charms are certainly shirk.”
ʿUqba ibn ʿĀmir reported that the Prophet ﷺ said, “Whoever hangs an amulet around his neck, then Allah will not fulfill his wishes. Whoever hangs a seashell as a charm, then Allah will not grant him security.”
Had there been in the heavens and earth gods beside Allah, they would have been ruined. So exalted is Allah, Lord of the Throne, above what they describe.
While I was at Mecca making the pilgrimage I spoke about the brotherhood that existed at all levels and among all people who were there on that Ḥajj who had accepted the religion of Islam and I pointed out that for what it had done—what the religion of Islam had done—for those people over there despite their complexion differences that it would probably do America well to study the religion of Islam and perhaps it could drive some of the racism from this society as it has driven the racism of the Muslim society.
And those who strive for Us—We will surely guide them to Our ways. And indeed, Allah is with the doers of good.