Most Muslims know that shirk—associating partners with Allah—is the greatest sin one can commit. There are numerous ayaat in the Qur’an (2:165, 4:48, 6:22, 6:137, 6:151, 31:13 and many others) that attest to this. What is less well understood is that there are different forms of shirk. Idol-worship is only one form; Hindus and Buddhists apart, few people now indulge in idolatry, but shirk is widely practised, even among Muslims, without many being aware of it. We need to identify these forms at both the individual and societal levels.
Considering one’s nationalism or nation-state superior to others or pledging allegiance to a flag are all forms of shirk that people indulge in frequently. Though the Qur’an recognises differences of colour, race and tribe, it emphasizes that what counts with Allah is one’s taqwa (49:13). Instead of nationalism, the Qur’an gives us the universal concept of the Ummah (21:92). As members of the “One Ummah”, we have responsibilities toward fellow Muslims, as confirmed by the well-known hadith of the noble Messenger (saws) to the effect that Muslims are like a human body; if one part is hurt the entire body feels the pain. Today, regrettably, this feeling of brotherhood is largely absent. The suffering of the Palestinians, for instance, evokes little sympathy among Muslim officials anywhere. Ordinary Muslims feel their pain and want to help but feel powerless because the strangle-hold of the nation-State structure prevents them from doing anything meaningful for their oppressed fellow Muslims.
This is the most obvious problem facing Muslims at the societal level. There is another, equally serious issue that needs to be addressed. Muslims living in the West have been put on the defensive by relentless propaganda. Some have gone to the extent of hiding their faith, or trying to minimise its outward manifestation in their public behaviour; others have sought refuge in adopting Western names. This clearly reflects their weak iman and inferiority complex. There is also another category of Muslims that shows attachment to the deen but finds solace only when a celebrity accepts Islam or some scientific data confirms what the Qur’an says. Let us deal with the latter first. The Qur’an needs no validation from scientific or any other kind of data. If any Muslim has trouble accepting it as the divine Word of Allah, and thus the total and complete truth, then he or she must seriously examine his or her faith. Seeking validation for the Qur’an in human scientific knowledge is a form of shirk. Human knowledge has not advanced to the level to understand everything that the Qur’an says; perhaps it never will. Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the revealed Word of Allah and is the ultimate truth; that should suffice.
Let us now turn to the issue of celebrity Islam. Since the arrival of Muslims in North America, many people have been inspired by Islam’s teachings and entered its fold. These include both what one would call ordinary people and celebrities. Islam is the deen of the human fitrah and is for everyone—rich and poor, commoner and king. Allah provides guidance to whomsoever He wills. Acceptance of Islam by ordinary people is not any less proof of its validity than its acceptance by celebrities. In fact, Allah judges people only by their taqwa, not their status in worldly life. The salaat that we perform five times a day is a powerful reminder of Islam’s great leveling ethos. Those who are elated by celebrities accepting Islam miss the point; they are in fact falling into a form of shirk. This is most acute when a “white” person accepts Islam and Muslims feel validated; this is an inferiority complex based on racist attitudes. Millions of African-Americans have entered the fold of Islam over the last 50 years; this is no less a cause of celebration than the conversion of far fewer white people.
In recent years, this disease has also affected those who have become Muslims. True, human beings are prone to weaknesses, but to indulge their egos while claiming to be committed to Islam’s teachings is nothing short of disastrous. In recent years, it has also been observed that some “celebrity Muslims” bring a huge entourage of admirers with them to conferences and conventions and walk around like pop-stars or film actors. They thrive on the adulation of naïve young Muslims, while posing as leaders and models of Islam. In reality, there is no sanction for such behaviour in Islam.
Before Islam, Abu Dharr Ghiffari was a highwayman; when he accepted Islam, the noble Messenger (saw) exclaimed: “Allah guides whom He Wills.” Many leading figures of Makkah, puffed up by tribal pride, refused to accept the message of Islam; some were killed in the battle of Badr, others became Muslims when Makkah was liberated in the eighth year of the Hijrah. Bilal (ra), an Abyssinian slave, was among the earliest converts; his conversion elevated his status among Muslims immensely. The noble Messenger (saw) loved him dearly; he became the first mu’adhdhin of Islam. At the liberation of Makkah, when the noble Messenger asked him to climb atop the Ka’aba to call the adhan, many newly-converted Makkan chiefs were dismayed. They had not grown out of their jahili arrogance and false pride.
Today too, Muslims must rise above their arrogance, learn to be humble and stop indulging in shirk. Allah does not like arrogance because it is a characteristic of Iblis, who has been cursed by Allah for all eternity.