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Shirk in the Quran

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Shirk in the Quran is a sensitive topic.­ Shirk (شِرك) means ascribing partners to God, or believing in more than one God. The English equivalent for shirk is polytheism. God has said in the Quran that shirk is a very great sin and it is the only sin that God will not forgive.

In this article on Islam4u, we will take a look at:

Shirk in the Quran: God Does not Forgive One who Does Shirk

Allah says in the Quran:

إِنَّ اللَّـهَ لَا يَغْفِرُ أَن يُشْرَكَ بِهِ وَيَغْفِرُ مَا دُونَ ذَٰلِكَ لِمَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَمَن يُشْرِكْ بِاللَّـهِ فَقَدِ افْتَرَىٰ إِثْمًا عَظِيمًا ﴿48﴾

Indeed Allah does not forgive that partners should be ascribed to Him, but He forgives anything besides that to whomever He wishes. Whoever ascribes partners to Allah has indeed fabricated [a lie] in great sinfulness. 1

This verse shows how grave a sin ascribing partners to God is. God says that He will forgive any sin except Shirk in the Quran and polytheism. In a similar verse, God has said:

إِنَّ اللَّـهَ لَا يَغْفِرُ أَن يُشْرَكَ بِهِ وَيَغْفِرُ مَا دُونَ ذَٰلِكَ لِمَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَمَن يُشْرِكْ بِاللَّـهِ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ ضَلَالًا بَعِيدًا ﴿116﴾

Indeed Allah does not forgive that any partner should be ascribed to Him, but He forgives anything besides that to whomever He wishes. And whoever ascribes partners to Allah has certainly strayed into far error. 2

However, the question is: Why is God laying so much emphasis on the sinfulness of Shirk in the Quran? That is because at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him and his progeny, people used to worship idols and ascribe partners to God. God wanted to abolish such a sinful act by stating how grave a sin it is to ascribe partners to God that one will not be forgiven.

Jesus Rejects Shirk in the Quran

Christians say that Jesus is the son of God. This is a kind of shirk or associating a partner to God. God quotes Jesus as saying:

لَقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا إِنَّ اللَّـهَ هُوَ الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ ۖ وَقَالَ الْمَسِيحُ يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ اعْبُدُوا اللَّـهَ رَبِّي وَرَبَّكُمْ ۖ إِنَّهُ مَن يُشْرِكْ بِاللَّـهِ فَقَدْ حَرَّمَ اللَّـهُ عَلَيْهِ الْجَنَّةَ وَمَأْوَاهُ النَّارُ ۖ وَمَا لِلظَّالِمِينَ مِنْ أَنصَارٍ ﴿72﴾

They are certainly faithless who say, ‘Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary.’ But the Messiah had said, ‘O Children of Israel! Worship Allah, my Lord, and your Lord. Indeed whoever ascribes partners to Allah, Allah shall forbid him [entry into] paradise, and his refuge shall be the Fire, and the wrongdoers will not have any helpers.’ 3

Therefore, we can see that even Jesus himself denied being the son of God as some Christians used to call him. God says in the Quran that ascribing a son to God is such a great thing that:

وَقَالُوا اتَّخَذَ الرَّحْمَـٰنُ وَلَدًا ﴿88﴾

They say, ‘The All-beneficent has taken a son!’

لَّقَدْ جِئْتُمْ شَيْئًا إِدًّا ﴿89﴾

You have certainly advanced something hideous!

تَكَادُ السَّمَاوَاتُ يَتَفَطَّرْنَ مِنْهُ وَتَنشَقُّ الْأَرْضُ وَتَخِرُّ الْجِبَالُ هَدًّا ﴿90﴾

The heavens are about to be rent apart at it, the earth to split open, and the mountains to collapse into bits,

أَن دَعَوْا لِلرَّحْمَـٰنِ وَلَدًا ﴿91﴾

that they should ascribe a son to the All-beneficent!

وَمَا يَنبَغِي لِلرَّحْمَـٰنِ أَن يَتَّخِذَ وَلَدًا ﴿92﴾

It does not behoove the All-beneficent to take a son.

إِن كُلُّ مَن فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ إِلَّا آتِي الرَّحْمَـٰنِ عَبْدًا ﴿93﴾

There is none in the heavens and the earth but he comes to the All-beneficent as a servant.

لَّقَدْ أَحْصَاهُمْ وَعَدَّهُمْ عَدًّا ﴿94﴾

Certainly He has counted them [all] and numbered them precisely,

وَكُلُّهُمْ آتِيهِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ فَرْدًا ﴿95﴾

and each of them will come to Him alone on the Day of Resurrection. 4

As a result, it is impossible and illogical for God to take a son. Why would He need a son? God is needless of everything and everyone and everything is in need of Him.

Prophets who Fought With Shirk in the Quran

Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him and his progeny, was not the only prophet who was fighting shirk in the Quran and polytheism. The Prophets before him, too, fought against shirk and idolatry. The most prominent prophet who did so was Prophet Ibrahim. Prophet Ibrahim wanted to show his people that the stars, the moon, and the sun cannot be God. Therefore, he pretended he believed in them:

وَكَذَٰلِكَ نُرِي إِبْرَاهِيمَ مَلَكُوتَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَلِيَكُونَ مِنَ الْمُوقِنِينَ ﴿75﴾

Thus did We show Abraham the dominions of the heavens and the earth, that he might be of those who possess certitude.

فَلَمَّا جَنَّ عَلَيْهِ اللَّيْلُ رَأَىٰ كَوْكَبًا ۖ قَالَ هَـٰذَا رَبِّي ۖ فَلَمَّا أَفَلَ قَالَ لَا أُحِبُّ الْآفِلِينَ ﴿76﴾

When night darkened over him, he saw a star and said, ‘This is my Lord!’ But when it set, he said, ‘I do not like those who set.’

فَلَمَّا رَأَى الْقَمَرَ بَازِغًا قَالَ هَـٰذَا رَبِّي ۖ فَلَمَّا أَفَلَ قَالَ لَئِن لَّمْ يَهْدِنِي رَبِّي لَأَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الضَّالِّينَ ﴿77﴾

Then, when he saw the moon rising, he said, ‘This is my Lord!’ But when it set, he said, ‘Had my Lord not guided me, I would surely have been among the astray lot.’

فَلَمَّا رَأَى الشَّمْسَ بَازِغَةً قَالَ هَـٰذَا رَبِّي هَـٰذَا أَكْبَرُ ۖ فَلَمَّا أَفَلَتْ قَالَ يَا قَوْمِ إِنِّي بَرِيءٌ مِّمَّا تُشْرِكُونَ ﴿78﴾

Then, when he saw the sun rising, he said, ‘This is my Lord! This is bigger!’ But when it set, he said, ‘O my people, indeed I disown what you take as [His] partners.’

إِنِّي وَجَّهْتُ وَجْهِيَ لِلَّذِي فَطَرَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ حَنِيفًا ۖ وَمَا أَنَا مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ ﴿79﴾

‘Indeed I have turned my face toward Him who originated the heavens and the earth, as a Hanif, and I am not one of the polytheists.’ 5

Prophet Ibrahim was also known as an idol-breaker. When his people were out of town for a ceremony, he went inside the temple of the idols and shattered them. God tells the story in the Quran:

وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا إِبْرَاهِيمَ رُشْدَهُ مِن قَبْلُ وَكُنَّا بِهِ عَالِمِينَ ﴿51﴾

Certainly We had given Abraham his probity before, and We knew him

إِذْ قَالَ لِأَبِيهِ وَقَوْمِهِ مَا هَـٰذِهِ التَّمَاثِيلُ الَّتِي أَنتُمْ لَهَا عَاكِفُونَ ﴿52﴾

when he said to his father and his people, ‘What are these images to which you keep on clinging?’

قَالُوا وَجَدْنَا آبَاءَنَا لَهَا عَابِدِينَ ﴿53﴾

They said, ‘We found our fathers worshipping them.’

قَالَ لَقَدْ كُنتُمْ أَنتُمْ وَآبَاؤُكُمْ فِي ضَلَالٍ مُّبِينٍ ﴿54﴾

He said, ‘Certainly you and your fathers have been in manifest error.’

قَالُوا أَجِئْتَنَا بِالْحَقِّ أَمْ أَنتَ مِنَ اللَّاعِبِينَ ﴿55﴾

They said, ‘Are you telling the truth, or are you [just] kidding?’

قَالَ بَل رَّبُّكُمْ رَبُّ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ الَّذِي فَطَرَهُنَّ وَأَنَا عَلَىٰ ذَٰلِكُم مِّنَ الشَّاهِدِينَ ﴿56﴾

He said, ‘Indeed, your Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, who originated them, and I affirm that.

وَتَاللَّـهِ لَأَكِيدَنَّ أَصْنَامَكُم بَعْدَ أَن تُوَلُّوا مُدْبِرِينَ ﴿57﴾

By Allah, I will devise a stratagem against your idols after you have gone away. 6

Therefore, Ibrahim made the plan to break the idols when his people were gone. The Quran continues the story:

فَجَعَلَهُمْ جُذَاذًا إِلَّا كَبِيرًا لَّهُمْ لَعَلَّهُمْ إِلَيْهِ يَرْجِعُونَ ﴿58﴾

So he broke them into pieces—all except the biggest of them—so that they might come back to it.

قَالُوا مَن فَعَلَ هَـٰذَا بِآلِهَتِنَا إِنَّهُ لَمِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ ﴿59﴾

They said, ‘Whoever has done this to Our gods?! He is indeed a wrongdoer!’

قَالُوا سَمِعْنَا فَتًى يَذْكُرُهُمْ يُقَالُ لَهُ إِبْرَاهِيمُ ﴿60﴾

They said, ‘We heard a young man mentioning them. He is called ‘‘Abraham.’’ ’

قَالُوا فَأْتُوا بِهِ عَلَىٰ أَعْيُنِ النَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَشْهَدُونَ ﴿61﴾

They said, ‘Bring him before the people’s eyes so that they may bear witness [against him].’

قَالُوا أَأَنتَ فَعَلْتَ هَـٰذَا بِآلِهَتِنَا يَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ ﴿62﴾

They said, ‘Was it you who did this to our gods, O Abraham?’

قَالَ بَلْ فَعَلَهُ كَبِيرُهُمْ هَـٰذَا فَاسْأَلُوهُمْ إِن كَانُوا يَنطِقُونَ ﴿63﴾

He said, ‘No, it was this biggest one of them who did it! Ask them, if they can speak.’

فَرَجَعُوا إِلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ فَقَالُوا إِنَّكُمْ أَنتُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ ﴿64﴾

Thereat they came to themselves and said [to one another], ‘Indeed it is you who are the wrongdoers!’

ثُمَّ نُكِسُوا عَلَىٰ رُءُوسِهِمْ لَقَدْ عَلِمْتَ مَا هَـٰؤُلَاءِ يَنطِقُونَ ﴿65﴾

Then they hung their heads. [However, they said,] ‘You certainly know that they cannot speak.’

قَالَ أَفَتَعْبُدُونَ مِن دُونِ اللَّـهِ مَا لَا يَنفَعُكُمْ شَيْئًا وَلَا يَضُرُّكُمْ ﴿66﴾

He said, ‘Then, do you worship besides Allah that which cannot cause you any benefit or harm?

أُفٍّ لَّكُمْ وَلِمَا تَعْبُدُونَ مِن دُونِ اللَّـهِ ۖ أَفَلَا تَعْقِلُونَ ﴿67﴾

Fie on you and what you worship besides Allah! Do you not exercise your reason?’ 7

Then the polytheists of the time of Ibrahim planned to kill him. They decided to light a fire and throw him inside it with a catapult:

قَالُوا حَرِّقُوهُ وَانصُرُوا آلِهَتَكُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ فَاعِلِينَ ﴿68﴾

They said, ‘Burn him, and help your gods, if you are to do anything!’

قُلْنَا يَا نَارُ كُونِي بَرْدًا وَسَلَامًا عَلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ ﴿69﴾

We said, ‘O fire! Be cool and safe for Abraham!’

وَأَرَادُوا بِهِ كَيْدًا فَجَعَلْنَاهُمُ الْأَخْسَرِينَ ﴿70﴾

They plotted to harm him, but We made them the biggest losers. 8

Therefore, God saved Ibrahim from the fire by making the fire cool and safe for him. This was the story of Prophet Ibrahim’s battle against shirk.

Shirk of the Children of Israel

Even though the Children of Israel had witnessed so many signs of God and miracles from Moses such as the serpent, the white hand, and the splitting of the sea, they were still inclined to shirk and polytheism. After crossing the sea, they came across a group of people who were worshipping idols. They said to Moses:

وَجَاوَزْنَا بِبَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ الْبَحْرَ فَأَتَوْا عَلَىٰ قَوْمٍ يَعْكُفُونَ عَلَىٰ أَصْنَامٍ لَّهُمْ ۚ قَالُوا يَا مُوسَى اجْعَل لَّنَا إِلَـٰهًا كَمَا لَهُمْ آلِهَةٌ ۚ قَالَ إِنَّكُمْ قَوْمٌ تَجْهَلُونَ ﴿138﴾

We carried the Children of Israel across the sea, whereat they came upon a people cleaving to certain idols that they had. They said, ‘O Moses, make for us a god like the gods that they have.’ He said, ‘You are indeed an ignorant lot. 9

Then Moses said:

إِنَّ هَـٰؤُلَاءِ مُتَبَّرٌ مَّا هُمْ فِيهِ وَبَاطِلٌ مَّا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ ﴿139﴾

What they are engaged in is indeed bound to perish, and what they have been doing shall come to naught.’

قَالَ أَغَيْرَ اللَّـهِ أَبْغِيكُمْ إِلَـٰهًا وَهُوَ فَضَّلَكُمْ عَلَى الْعَالَمِينَ ﴿140﴾

He said, ‘Shall I find you a god other than Allah, while He has graced you over all the nations?’ 10

Indeed, the Children of Israel were favored by God and had miraculously been saved from the clutches of Pharaoh, yet they still had polytheistic tendencies. This shows how ungrateful man can sometimes be. The story of their calf-worshipping can be read in the article Moses in the Quran.

Other Prophets who Fought Against Shirk in the Quran

Many prophets fought against shirk and idolatry including: Noah, Hud, Saleh, Shuayb, and Elijah. This shows that shirk in the Quran was one of the biggest problems of past nations. Prophet Noah’s people drowned in the flood for their idolatry while the people of Prophet Hud, Saleh, and Shu‘ayb, each were punished by God for their refusal to submit to the one and only God of the universe. Prophet Elijah was sent to a group of people who used to worship a big idol call Baal (بَعل). Eventually, they were promised punishment of hell for not believing in God and worshipping Baal.

The Two Types of Shirk in the Quran

Shirk is a very broad topic. There are two kinds of shirk in the Quran:

  • Shirk jaliyy (شرك الجلي) [manifest shirk]
  • Shirk khafiyy (شرك خفي) [hidden shirk]

Shirk jaliyy as the name indicates means openly ascribing partners to God and saying there are associates for God. Such people are polytheists and are not Muslims. On the other hand, shirk khafiyy is something even a Muslim can fall victim to. This means that sometimes one forgets that the real and true doer of actions in the world is God.

For example, when one is cured of a sickness, one attributes it to someone other than God, such as an individual or medicine, while not remembering that God has created those things and they are just a means for being cured and it is by God’s leave that they have proven effective. Therefore, we must always remember that God is the true doer of actions and everything else are just means God has provided for us.

Another example would relate to the issue of God’s sustenance and provision. It is God who provides for us. Yes, we have to work hard to earn a living, but in the end, it is God who arranges things for us so that we are able to make an income. We must always remember this, otherwise we will fall victim to shirk. It is hoped that we will never do shirk and always stay on the path of monotheism.


  1. Quran 4:48 (Qara’i).
  2. Quran 4:116 (Qara’i).
  3. Quran 5:72 (Qara’i).
  4. Quran 19:88-95 (Qara’i).
  5. Quran 6:75-79 (Qara’i).
  6. Quran 21:51-57 (Qara’i).
  7. Quran 21:58-67 (Qara’i).
  8. Quran 21:68-70 (Qara’i).
  9. Quran 7:138 (Qara’i).
  10. Quran 7:139-140 (Qara’i).
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