Definition of Shirk by Shah Wali Allah

Courtesy from SF:

Imam Shah Wali Allah al-Dihlawi (1114-1176 H/1703-1762 AD) in his Hujjat Allah al-Balighah (vol. 1 pp. 117-22) includes a section in which he elaborates on the definition of worship and shirk. He starts by explaining that shirk in worship (‘ibadah) can only really be ascertained by the intention of the performer of an action, not by the action itself, but then explains that the Shari‘ah has stipulated some actions to be the likely places (mazinnat) of shirk as they are customarily associated with shirk, and therefore take the ruling of shirk – as it is the norm in the Shari‘ah that actions that are the likely places of an original principle take the ruling of that original principle. Amongst the deeds Shah Wali Allah includes in the actions that the Shari‘ah has deemed the likely places of shirk and thus prohibited as it is customarily inseparable from it is seeking help from other than Allah. He also affirms – contrary to the assertion of many outspoken “traditionalists” today – that shirk is an illness that has afflicted some of the extremist Muslims of today.

The following is a summarised translation of what he wrote:


[In the previous section which discusses tawhid (pp. 115-6), Shah Wali Allah wrote that one of the levels of tawhid is that worship belongs exclusively to Allah, and this is connected with another level of tawhid – the belief in the oneness of Allah in the administration (tadbir) of creation].

Worship, which is solely for Allah, is defined as the utmost act of humbleness (al-tadhallul al-aqsa).

From this arises a question: How do you distinguish reverence (ta‘zim) which is worship i.e. the “utmost act of humbleness” from other types of reverence e.g. a student’s reverence of a teacher or subjects of their ruler? There are two possible ways this distinction (tamyiz) can be made:

1. The physical form (surah) of the act of reverence. For example, worship (i.e. the utmost act of humbleness) is by prostration while an act of reverence not at the level of worship is, for example, by standing.
2. The intention (niyyah). So with the same act, one may intend “worship” or may intend an act of respect lower than worship.

Since prostration is the highest physical form of reverence (a‘la suwar al-ta‘zim) and this has been established for the angels before Adam and Yusuf’s brothers before Yusuf by way of greeting, this conclusively proves the physical form of the act is not the distinguishing factor between a reverence that is worship and one that is not worship. Therefore, this leaves the intention as the factor distinguishing worship from non-worship.

Humbleness (of any kind, worship or not) requires weakness in the humble one and strength in the other (i.e. the one to whom one is being humble), lowness in the humble one and highness in the other, submission of the humble one and control and authority from the other. Such strength, highness, control and authority can be at two levels: at a human or created level and at the level of One who is free of contingency and possibility. Examples of these two levels of qualities of perfection are as follows:

– Knowledge of unseen things is at two levels:
o It can be by a vision, or following through with premises to a conclusion, or intuition, or a dream, or inspiration.
o Or such knowledge can be intrinsic (dhati) as a necessary factor in the Knower, not receiving it from anything.

– Similarly, controlling (taskhir) and managing (tadbir) is at two levels:
o By direct contact, using the physical organs and strength, and making use of bodily faculties
o Or by the property of existentialisation (takwin) without physical contact or strength and preparation. As Allah says: “His command when He intends something is to say: Be, and it is.” (36:82)

– Similarly, greatness is at two levels:
o The first is like the greatness of a king before his subjects which is a result of many helpers and great power or like the greatness of a hero or the greatness of a teacher in relation to a student, i.e. the greatness of those things in which one finds himself sharing in his origin and basis.
o That which is only found in the absolutely transcendent Being

Thus, such qualities of perfection are set at two levels: one for those who are comparable to one’s self and one for the Almighty. However, since the words used for both levels are similar (e.g. control and greatness), the words of the Shari‘ah may be misunderstood and misapplied. Thus, what may happen is someone may consider something emanating from a human being or angel as farfetched of a being of the same category as oneself (i.e. a creation and slave of Allah), and so the matter becomes unclear to him, so he attributes transcendent highness and divine control to him.

Making comparisons of Allah (tashbih) and associating Him (ishrak) with stars (which were believed to determined future events) and the pious servants who performed miracles was something inherited amongst the ancient peoples, so prophets were sent to teach the people the reality of shirk and distinguish the two levels (of the perfections of the Creator and created), and keep the Transcendent Level (al-darajat al-muqaddasa) for the Necessary Being (Allah) even though the words used to describe the two levels (like “highness” and “control” and “knowledge”) are the same. E.g. the Messenger sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam said to a doctor: “You are only a companion, and the doctor is Allah [alone],” and he said “The master (sayyid) is only Allah,” indicating by these some of the meanings of “doctor” and “sayyid” and not other meanings which are applicable to creation. Then when his close companions passed away a group arose understanding the words used outside their contexts, e.g. understanding “being the beloved” (mahbubiyya) and “intercession” established in the scriptures for elite men in a wrong way, in a divine way, though they are of a human nature.

Those afflicted by this disease of shirk are of types:
1. Those who completely forget the majesty of Allah, so they worship only the false partners (shuraka) and raise their needs to them alone, and they do not turn to Allah, although they know by reason and deduction that Allah is the Necessary Being.

2. Those who believe Allah is the Master and Administrator, but He gives to some of His servants the garment of highness and majesty and makes them free to dispose in some particular affairs and accepts their intercession just like the supreme king who has supporting kings working under him. So their tongues are hesitant to call them “slaves of Allah” so as to make them equal to others, rather they call them “the beloveds of Allah” and “His children” and call themselves their slaves e.g. ‘Abd al-Masih and ‘Abd al-‘Uzza. This is the illness of the majority of the Jews and Christians, and the idolaters, and some of the extremists of the hypocrites of the religion of Muhammad (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) in today’s time (wa ba‘d al-ghulati min munafiqi dini Muhammad sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam fi yawmina hadha).

Since the principle method of legislating in the Shari‘ah was to make the likely places (mazinna) a substitute for the original principle, it considers certain tangible things which are the likely places/actions of shirk to be kufr, like prostrating to idols, and sacrificing for them and taking oath by their name etc.

The reality of shirk is: “To believe about some great people that the wonderful feats emanating from them only emanated because he has imbued a quality of perfection which is not recognised in the category of humanity, rather is exclusive to the Necessary Being and is not found in other than Him, but [it is believed] He adorned others with the qualities of divinity or others have become annihilated (yafni) in His Essence and remain therein or the like of this.” This was narrated of the idolaters who would say in the Hajj season: “We are here O Allah, we are here. You have no partner, except a partner You have, You possess him and what he possesses.” Thus, they submitted to this partner with the utmost humility (i.e. worship) and behaved with him in the manner servants behave with Allah.

Such a belief has physical manifestations, and the Shari‘ah only investigates these physical manifestations which people perform with the intention of shirk until it became a likely place (mazinna) of shirk and inseparable (lazima) from it in the custom of people, just as is the norm of the Shari‘ah to make causes that necessitate benefits or harms in the place of those benefits or harms.

Examples of these actions which the Shari‘ah has made the “likely places of shirk” and thus forbidden are the following:

1. Prostration to other than Allah. Allah says: “Prostrate not to the sun, nor the moon, and prostrate to Allah [alone] Who created them.” (41:37)

It is not as some mutakallimin thought that tawhid al-ibadah (singling out Allah alone in the act of worship) is a ruling from Allah that changed with religions. Rather, oneness of worship is a direct consequence in the belief that Allah alone is the Creator and the Administrator.

The stupidity of the idolaters was to admit that Allah is the Creator and Administrator, and recognise that a consequence of this was that He alone is deserving of worship, yet they directed their worship at other “partners.”

2. Seeking help [in a matter that is not established by the natural means (asbab) or established in the Shari‘ah] from other than Allah in needs like curing the sick or enriching the poor; and taking vows by them; and reciting their names hoping for their blessing. Allah thus made it obligatory to say in Salah: “You ALONE we worship and You ALONE we ASK FOR HELP.” (1:5) And He said: “Do not call any besides Allah.” (72:18). The meaning of “call” here is “seek help,” so the verse means “Do not seek help from any besides Allah.”

3. Calling creatures sons and daughters of Allah

4. Taking scholars as lords besides Allah in the sense that their rulings are taken as having full legislative force and not simply an unveiling of the ruling of Allah. Tahlil (making lawful) and tahrim (making unlawful) are exclusive attributes of Allah, and its attribution to the Prophet is in the sense that his speech is an absolute indication to Allah’s tahlil/tahrim, and its attribution to the mujtahids is in the sense that they transmit and unveil them.

5. Sacrificing to other than Allah

6. Superstitiously devoting certain animals to other than Allah

7. Believing the names of other than Allah are blessed and glorified and taking oath with them believing it to have effect

8. Performing pilgrimage for other than Allah. The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) said: “Don’t take stringent journey except to the three mosques.”

9. Naming someone the “servant” (‘abd) of other than Allah

These are the physical manifestations of shirk which the Lawgiver has forbidden because they are its physical manifestations.

Original book can be found here:

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