Is Invoking other than Allah Polytheism (shirk)?
Tags: Ahle Bait (a.s.), Holy Quran, Tawheed, Waseelah
Despite the fact that the majority of the Muslims are of the view seeking mediation from divinely-ordained entities in seeking divine pleasure is commendable, a section of Muslims stubbornly maintain that it is polytheism (shirk). These Muslims claim that to call anyone other than Allah is tantamount to polytheism because polytheism means worshipping other than Allah and invoking (dua) is worship so invoking other than Allah is worship. They advance Quranic verses to prove their claim some of which have been listed below:
a) ‘And who is in greater error than he who calls besides Allah upon those that will not answer him till the day of resurrection and they are heedless of their call?’ (Surah Ahqaaf (46): Verse 5)
b) ‘….and those whom you call upon besides Him do not control a straw.’ (Surah Faatir (35): Verse 13)
c) ‘If you call on them they shall not hear your call, and even if they could hear they shall not answer you; and on the resurrection day they will deny your associating them (with Allah)…’ (Surah Faatir (35): Verse 14)
According to these Muslims these verses leave no scope for calling anyone other than Allah and Quran has clearly criticized such an action.
To the extent they believe that even calling on the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) is not permissible as the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) himself confessed:
‘Say: I do not control any benefit or harm for my own soul except as Allah pleases…’ (Surah Aaraaf (7): Verse 188)
1) Invoking other than Allah is not Shirk
Invoking other than Allah is Shirk only if the entity being invoked is a) not divinely designated and b) taken as an object of worship. All the Quranic verses advanced by these Muslims criticizing invocation and calling other than Allah belong to this category. The Holy Quran criticizes invoking of idols, sun, moon, etc. which the people have taken as their gods and such a calling is branded as Shirk. There is no blanket verdict of Shirk on all types of calling. Else how do these Muslims explain the Quranic verse:
‘When you ran off precipitately and did not wait for anyone and the Apostle was calling you from your rear…’ (Surah Aale Imran (3): Verse 153)
Is the calling of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) for help in this verse Shirk? After all, the Prophet was calling companions who were anyway fleeing and better left alone, rather than calling Allah.
Or consider the 51st verse of Surah Nur (24):
‘And when they are called to Allah and His Apostle that he may judge between them, lo! a party of them turn aside.’
If calling must be only towards Allah, then why does the verse mention the Apostle (Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.a.)) in conjunction with Allah? Isn’t it shirk to call towards the Prophet (s.a.w.a.)?
On the contrary this is the highest form of Tauheed and worship and those who avoid calling the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) branding it as Shirk are among those who have turned away from Tauheed and worship as stated in the verse.
Calling only Allah is but one aspect of Tauheed
Muslims who give importance to calling only Allah and consider it as the highest form of Tauheed have in fact missed the point. Calling Allah at all times is but one aspect of Tauheed. Tauheed is a comprehensive concept and there are several aspects related to Tauheed like obedience to all divine commands (including respecting the waseelah), thankfulness, rejecting tashbeeh (ascribing mortal traits and features to Allah like hands, calf, physique) etc.
Otherwise how do they explain the verses which have criticized the people despite their Tauheed in calling Allah:
‘And when distress afflicts a man he calls upon his Lord turning to Him frequently; then when He makes him possess a favour from Him, he forgets that for which he called upon Him before, and sets up rivals to Allah that he may cause (men) to stray off from His path.’ (Surah Zumar (39): Verse 8)
‘So when harm afflicts a man he calls upon Us; then, when We give him a favor from Us, he says: I have been given it only by means of knowledge. Nay, it is a trial, but most of them do not know.’ (Surah Zumar (39): Verse 49)
This proves that every calling is not Shirk; only calling an entity while taking him as God is Shirk.
2) Obeying other than Allah is not Shirk
To extend the argument of these Muslims, just like calling (dua) is worship and calling other than Allah is Shirk, obeying Allah (ita’aah) is also worship and therefore obedience for other than Allah must also count as Shirk. The Holy Quran highlights this in two places:
‘Have you seen him who takes his low desires for his god?…’ (Surah Furqan (25): Verse 43)
‘Have you then considered him who takes his low desire for his god…’ (Surah Jaasiyah (45): Verse 23)
In these verses obeying one’s desires is taken as Shirk. Obeying is worship and worship must only be for Allah and no other entity.
Then how does one explain the Quranic verse in Surah Nisa (4): Verse 59?
‘O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Apostle and those in authority from among you…’
This verse and several other verses exhorting people to obey prophets, parents, etc are an open call to Shirk from Allah Himself since they are an invitation for obeying other than Allah.
The answer is not difficult to unravel. These verses do not invite towards Shirk rather they invite man towards everlasting success by obeying entities including divinely-ordained personalities which become a medium (waseelah) for obeying Allah.
3) Helping other than Allah is not Shirk
Just like calling Allah and obeying Allah is worship, helping Allah is also worship. Take the Quranic verses:
‘O you who believe! If you help Allah, He will help you and make firm your feet.’ (Surah Muhammad (47): Verse 7)
‘…and surely Allah will help him who helps Him…’ (Surah Hajj (22): Verse 40)
Helping Allah (and His Cause) is worship. That being the case, this worship must be directed at Allah as helping others will become Shirk. So, all Quranic verses urging people to help prophets and believers are an open call to Shirk.
How does one help Allah?
Since Allah is not a physical entity how is it possible to act on such verses which urge the Muslims and believers to help Allah?
The answer is simple ��” by helping divinely designated entities like the divine proofs (Prophets and Imams) and others like believers, parents, relatives, the oppressed etc. These are the waseelah by helping whom, one helps Allah Himself (and His Cause) and merits Allah’s Help as promised in Surah Hajj (22): 40.
4) Loving other than Allah is not Shirk
Loving Allah is worship and Tauheed demands that all worship must be for Allah. For instance, Quran states in several places regarding loving Allah:
‘And there are some among men who take for themselves objects of worship besides Allah, whom they love as they love Allah, and those who believe are stronger in love for Allah…’ (Surah Baqarah (2): Verse 165)
‘Say: If you love Allah, then follow me, Allah will love you and forgive you your faults, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.’ (Surah Ale Imran (3): Verse 31)
If Tauheed means that all worship must only be for Allah including loving Allah, then how do we explain the scores of verses and traditions that exhort Muslims and believers to love the prophets, successors, believers, parents, even mankind in general. Is it Shirk to love these entities?
Consider once again the 165th verse of Surah Baqarah – ‘And there are some among men who take for themselves objects of worship besides Allah, whom they love as they love Allah, and those who believe are stronger in love for Allah…’
This verse clearly implies that loving other than Allah is not Shirk, only taking the loved one as an object of worship is Shirk. It means that it is possible to invoke (take waseelah), love, help, obey other than Allah and not descend into the abyss of Shirk so long as the entities invoked, loved, helped, obeyed are a) divinely designated and b) not taken as objects of worship. In fact these are the means waseelah through which Allah Himself is invoked, loved, helped and obeyed.
This concept is further clarified through verses where it is patently impossible to worship Allah without a waseelah; consider the verse:
‘Who is there who will offer to Allah a good loan so He will double it for him, and he shall have an excellent reward.’ (Surah Hadeed (57): 11)
Apart from the fact that Allah does not need a loan from His creatures, how is it possible for one to directly offer Allah a loan? If one interprets this as an exhortation for charity (sadqah), zakaat, khums it still does not explain how and where one can submit his charity, zakaat, khums directly to Allah.
The answer is simple ��” we can only act on this verse by offering a loan to Allah’s creatures. These are the waseelah through which Allah’s Pleasure and accretion in wealth can be achieved. It is notable that the waseelah over here can be a needy person, who is certainly not infallible. Then what can one say about waseelah like the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), Imams (a.s.), who are sinless and Allah’s highest creatures? It is not even possible to imagine how close one can get to Allah by taking them as waseelah.
There are scores of other instances how one can misinterpret worship and how performing that action for other than Allah will be tantamount to Shirk. But it is not Shirk because as we have seen, it is Allah Himself who has invited the people to perform these actions in favour of designated personalities like Prophets (a.s.), Imams (a.s.), believers, parents, relatives, etc. And one cannot attribute Shirk to a divine command. Shirk is when we perform such actions (calling, obeying, helping, loving, etc.) for entities after taking them as god or for entities not designated by Allah.
For further reading: Permissibility of Tawassul in Islam