The types of Shirk
There are two main forms of shirk in relation to the actions (of the heart, tongue and limbs – which cannot be separated from one another), which is major and small shirk. Shirk in itself can be divided into three types:
- Ash-Shirk ul-Akbar (The major shirk)
- Ash-Shirk ul-Asghar (The small shirk)
- Ash-Shirk ul-Khafie (The hidden shirk
The differences between ash-Shirk ul-Akbar and ash-Shirk ul-Asghar
1. Ash-Shirk ul-Akbar takes one outside the fold of Islaam.
The fundamental difference between ash-Shirk ul-Akbar and ash-Shirk ul-Asghar is that the first takes one outside the fold of Islaam, whereas the second does not, though it can lead to major shirk.
"They have become kaafir those who say: 'Verily Allaah is al-Maseeh (Jesus) the son of Maryam (Mary)…" (Maaidah, 5:17)
The way we can avoid committing shirk is by studying the ritual acts of Islaam (Sha’aa-ir ul-Islaam); by doing so, you will know not to do them for anyone other than Allaah, such as prayer, fasting, da’wah, slaughtering etc.
2. Ash-Shirk ul-Akbar is the greatest sin and will never be forgiven.
Those who commit major shirk will never be forgiven as Allaah Almighty says:
"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, and whoever sets up partners with Allaah in worship, he has indeed invented a tremendous sin." (Nisaa, 4:48)
3. Major shirk leads to eternal abode in Hellfire.
The one who commits major shirk will be in Hellfire forever, whereas the one who commits ash-Shirk ul-Asghar will be punished in Hellfire, but if Allaah wishes He may take him out (after a period of time known only to Allah) or even leave him there forever, as Allaah Almighty does whatever He wishes. He The Most High says:
"…Verily, whosoever sets up partners in worship with Allaah, then Allaah has forbidden Paradise for him, and the Fire will be his abode." (Maa-idah, 5:72)
4. Major shirk abolishes all Hasanaat (good deeds).
The major shirk abolishes all of your good deeds whereas ash-Shirk ul-Asghar does not.
"If you join others in worship with Allaah, (then) surely (all) your deeds will be in vain, and you will certainly be among the losers." (Zumar, 39:65)
Some examples of ash-Shirk ul-Akbar
Shirk ud-Du'aa (The Shirk of Invocation).
This type of shirk implies invoking, supplicating or praying to others besides Allaah Almighty, such as to supplicate to a dead person in his grave etc. This form of shirk is widely common in parts of Asia and among some Sufis.
Shirk ut-Taa'ah (The Shirk of Obedience)
This type of major shirk implies obeying any authority or law other than the Sharee'ah (obeying the commands of other than Allaah). If you obey any law other than Allaah it is considered to be Shirk at-Taa'ah, such as if a State makes it illegal to support the Mujaahideen or wear the Hijaab. Allaah Almighty says:
"They (Jews and Christians) took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides Allaah (by obeying them in things which they made legal or illegal)..." (Tawbah 9:31)
Once, while Allaah's Messenger (Peace be upon him) was reciting the above verse, 'Adee bin Haatim said: 'Oh Allaah's Prophet! They do not worship them (i.e. their Rabbis and Monks).' Allaah's Messenger (Peace be upon him) replied: "Did they not obey them (the rabbis and monks) when they allowed what Allah made illegal, and forbid what Allah made legal? 'Adee bin Haatim replied: 'Yes'. Allaah's Messenger (Peace be upon him) said: 'This is their worship (of them) '" (Tafseer al-Qur'aan al-'Azeem of at-Tawbah verse 31)
Shirk ul-Mahabbah (Shirk of Love)
This type of shirk involves loving those who Allaah hates (i.e. the kuffaar) or hating those who Allaah loves (i.e. the believers). Allaah Almighty says:
"And of mankind are some who take (for worship) others besides Allaah as rivals (to Allaah). They love them as they love Allaah. But those who believe, love Allaah more (than anything else)..." (Baqarah, 2:165)
There are many other forms of major shirk that have not been mentioned in this article. For an in-depth study of shirk and its types, please refer to Kitaab ut-Tawheed (The Book of Tawheed) by Sheikh Muhammad bin 'Abd al-Wahhaab (may Allah's mercy be upon him).
One example of ash-Shirk ul-Asghar
Ar-Riyaa' (showing off).
Ar-Riyaa' is any action which is performed in order to receive praise, fame or any other worldly gain. It is a form of shirk, for rather than doing your actions for the sake of Allaah you begin doing them for the sake of yourself. It is narrated in the Musnad of Imaam Ahmad and at-Tabaraani that the Messenger Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said: "The thing I fear most for you is ash-Shirk ul-Asghar (The Small Shirk). The Sahaabah then asked him: 'What is The Small Shirk?' He (Peace be upon him) replied: ar-Riyaa (showing off)."
The Shaytaan works actively with the Qurraa’ (those who have been given good voices in reciting the Qur'aan). Shaytaan will approach him and tell him to show off with his recitation, and rather than to lead the Salaah for reward or to please Allaah, he will start to show-off with his recitation.
A person must never show-off with any of his prayers, da'wah or good deeds etc. Any actions that are done out of showing-off will never be rewarded as they were done for your sake, and not for Allaah Almighty.
Ash-Shirk ul-Khafie (The Hidden Shirk)
The Hidden Shirk can either be major or minor shirk, depending on the area in which it was committed. Hidden Shirk is one of the most dangerous forms of shirk as people cannot see that they are committing it. It is reported in al-Jaami' as-Sagheer hadeeth #4934 that the Messenger Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said: "Ash-Shirk ul-Khafie in the Muslim nation is more inconspicuous than the creeping of a black ant on a black stone in the darkness of the night." And this inconspicuous Shirk is expiated by saying thrice the following sentences within a day and a night:
اللّهُـمَّ إِنّـي أَعـوذُبِكَ أَنْ أُشْـرِكَ بِكَ وَأَنا أَعْـلَمْ، وَأَسْتَـغْفِرُكَ لِما لا أَعْـلَم
"O Allaah, I take refuge in you lest I should commit shirk with you knowingly, and I seek your forgiveness for what I do unknowingly."