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Shirk – Discover the Most Serious Sin in Islam

In my formative years as a Christian, I was taught that some of the biggest sins were having intercourse before marriage, abortion, and… Well, I really can’t remember being told that anything else was a serious sin.

Disclaimer: This may be my own fault. I was never a good student as a child. This is in no way a comment on the Christian mores nor is it a statement about the religious education I was afforded.

Sure, I was taught the Ten Commandments. But, to me at least, most of those guidelines were not really set in stone (pun intended). To me, it was as if God was making polite and meek suggestions for people who lived thousands of years ago. And if you didn’t follow God’s rules, you would run the risk of hurting God’s feelings.

And in much the same way I thought of the Ten Commandments as mild-mannered suggestions for people who lived in the stone ages; I also thought that they were randomly thrown together in no particular order.

I was wrong on all accounts.

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When I came to Islam, I learned, firstly, that God wasn’t joking about the laws He set forth for humankind in those ten laws. God was, in fact, firmly telling us to stay away from this stuff, otherwise… There are clear and obvious consequences.

I also learned that we don’t hurt God when we don’t follow His rules. We in fact hurt ourselves, and that God has created everything in such a way that when we do evil we will reap evil, even if it isn’t immediate.

Furthermore, I realized that the Ten Commandments were in a very particular order with the first being the most important:

“You shall have no other gods before Me”.

But what is the First Commandment talking about?

What is Shirk?

In Islamic terms, the command to have no other god is a firm injunction on us to steer clear of shirk.

Shirk, in English, is something you do. “To shirk” is to avoid or refuse a duty or responsibility. And to me this is the root of what shirk means. What could be a bigger way “to shirk” a responsibility than “to shirk” the responsibility to put God before all others?

Shirk in Arabic means ascribing or establishing “partners” above or beside God. In this way, Islamic belief goes one step further with monotheism, and doesn’t just say to have no false god above God, but to have no God next to, near, in association with, or in the vicinity of the one true God.

There is no duty more basic, more essential than the duty to not associate or put anything above God. Allah is our originator, the One who created, continues to create, and provides for all that is in existence. All other duties, even our responsibilities to each other and the rest of creation, come from this one major responsibility to the Creator.

And what could be simpler than a responsibility to NOT do something?

Most responsibilities involve action. Taking out the trash. Raising your children. Going to work to make a living. These are all examples of responsibilities that take effort.

How can we go out of our way to not do something?

We have to take action “to shirk”. It’s a responsibility that requires nothing more than remaining in our natural state of believing in our Creator.


As Muslims, most of us feel pretty safe from shirk because we hold tawheed as an important principle in our lives. It is, after all, the first step to becoming a Muslim. And shirk is the one thing that scholars agree voids faith and one’s Islam. But often shirk creeps into our lives in unassuming ways.

Sometimes we attach our hearts to people and things too much; we forget that they are just a part of God’s creation. As I stated before, not giving God His rights doesn’t hurt Him, it hurts us.

Shirk Destroys in this Life

With all the misdirection in my youth, I began searching for something to fill the void in my life that should on be filled with Tawheed. I was looking for something I felt missing, something to shape my identity, to anchor my life. And I clung to different things that seemed to fit the bill.

First it was popularity.

I thought that gaining the love and admiration of others was my purpose and my ultimate goal. I filled my life with making the right friends and playing the role of the cool kid. But I found that people are fickle when it comes to affection for others. Putting people and popularity in the place that God should be made me realize people are flawed and they will fail you.

So, in the place of love and affection from all, I decided that fitness or fashion would make me feel fulfilled. I obsessed, caused damage to my body; I spent all my money, and become very insecure. Finally, I realized I would never be able to attain physical perfection. And even if I could, it would never last. Putting appearance in a position only meant for God made me realize how temporary everything in this life is.

Read Also: Filling the Void Within Me

Going from one false god to the next, I started to feel like the little bird looking for its mother in all the wrong animals. I was lost and broken. But, Alhamdulillah, God guided me back to Him. And because of the memory of all the pain shirk caused in my life, I remain vigilant in avoiding it.

We were not created to be a slave to anything other than the one true God, the most merciful, the One who

…is not ever unjust to [His] servants (Quran 22:10).

And nothing will fill God’s place.

After bouncing from false god to false god, the following hadith rings true to me:

Whoever possesses the (following) three qualities will have the sweetness of faith (1): The one to whom Allah and His Apostle becomes dearer than anything else; (2) Who loves a person and he loves him only for Allah’s Sake; (3) who hates to revert to atheism (disbelief) as he hates to be thrown into the Fire (Al-Bukhari)

And I understand why the sin of shirk is really a big deal not just in the hereafter, but also in this life.

Even as a Muslim I don’t feel safe from shirk. I know that even the halal can be put in an unhealthy place in my life.

One thing we can all do to protect ourselves from this major issue is recite this du’a the Prophet taught us:

“Allaahumma innee a‛oodhu bika an ushrika bika wa ana a‛lamu, wa astaghfiruka li maa laa a‛lam:

O Allah, I seek refuge with You lest I should commit shirk with You knowingly and I seek Your forgiveness for what I do unknowingly.” (Ahmad)

(From Discovering Islam’s archive.)

About Theresa Corbin
Theresa Corbin is the author of The Islamic, Adult Coloring Book and co-author of The New Muslim’s Field Guide. Corbin is a French-creole American and Muslimah who converted in 2001. She holds a BA in English Lit and is a writer, editor, and graphic artist who focuses on themes of conversion to Islam, Islamophobia, women's issues, and bridging gaps between peoples of different faiths and cultures. She is a regular contributor for and Al Jumuah magazine. Her work has also been featured on CNN and Washington Post, among other publications. Visit her blog, islamwich, where she discusses the intersection of culture and religion.