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IslamQA: What is shirk (idolatry) in Islam?

What is shirk and how do you know that you have committed shirk?

Shirk is the sin of associating partners with God. It is often translated as paganism or polytheism, but the meaning is actually much wider. The Quran says:

And do not eat from that over which the Name of God was not pronounced, for it is abomination. The devils inspire their followers to argue with you; but if you obey them, you would be committers of shirk.

The Quran, verse 6:121.

According to this verse, whenever someone prefers Satan’s inspirations and opinions to God’s, that is shirk.

Shirk is any instance of the rejection of God’s authority in favor of another authority. If God tells you to do something and you refuse, preferring your own opinions and desires (which may have been inspired by Satan), then that is shirk.

All sins can be considered shirk because when committing sins we reject God’s authority. But there is minor shirk and major shirk. Minor shirk is the committing of any sin. We have all committed this whenever we have sinned, but God’s repentance and forgiveness are always open to us, so whenever we repent and God accepts our repentance, then our guilt for our shirk is erased.

Major shirk is to believe in an authority other than God and act according to it when you know that this is in contradiction to God’s authority. For example it is major shirk to believe that there are other deities beside God, or to believe that God is powerless over Satan, or that any of God’s attributes are false. For example if a person believes that God is powerless to help them, then that is major shirk, because they are preferring their own opinion (or Satan’s inspiration) over God’s clear statements.

The door of repentance is also open to majir shirk, so a person who has committed it is always welcome to repent and seek to submit to God again.

And God knows best.
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