REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM MUZLIMBUZZ.SG: http://muzlimbuzz.sg/2012/11/05/whats-your-shirk/
“This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted: You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship…Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism…Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things-if they are where you tap real meaning in life-then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth.” -David Foster Wallace
Sometimes inspiration comes from unexpected places. All my life a part of me felt safe from the wrath of Allah (swt). I felt like although I have made plenty of mistakes and committed several sins, at least I wasn’t committing Shirk (associating partners with Allah). I felt assurance that in the core of my being, I recognized and worshipped the One and Only true God. Surely, all my other transgressions would be forgiven and wiped away as long as I recognized and repeatedly turned back to this reality. I felt an almost smug confidence in myself whenever I read the verse:
“Surely, Allah forgives not that partners should be set up with Him (in worship), but He forgives except that…whoever sets up partners with Allah in worship, he has indeed invented a tremendous sin.” [An-Nisa 4:48]
Then one day I was flipping through the pages of Oprah Magazine while waiting at the dentist’s office and the above quote from the late poet David Foster Wallace somehow caught my eye. I suddenly realized that worship does not simply constitute bowing down to something or supplicating to it. Worship is a state of mind. It is embedded deep in your heart. And your actions are a much clearer indication of whom or what you worship than your feelings or beliefs. The deeper I reflected on this, the more conscious I became that perhaps I am not as immune from the potential of committing shirk as I previously believed.
Many people worship money. Their thoughts, hopes and self-worth are tied to what they consume, what assets they own, and the power to accumulate more. There is nothing wrong with wanting or having money in and of itself. The intention, however, is tremendously important. Are you working to provide a good life for your family or to serve the cause of Islam? Or is the endgame of all your hard work that coveted penthouse condo, that dazzling Mercedes, that Louis Vuitton purse? The slippery slope is when your money and your possessions start defining who you are; when you start pursuing luxuries to add meaning to your life. As Allah (swt) Reminds us:
“Fair in the eyes of men is the love of things they covet: Women and sons; Heaped-up hoards of gold and silver; horses branded (for blood and excellence); and (wealth of) cattle and well-tilled land. Such are the possessions of this world’s life; but in nearness to Allah is the best of the goals (To return to).” [Ali’-Imran 3:14]
Unfortunately, many Muslims have fallen into this trap. Indeed it’s a hard one to resist in the consumerist culture of modern societies. However, resist it we must, for as the true believer knows, having “things” adds nothing to our lives. Nor does our wealth benefit us when we die.
Excess materialism, of course, is the most obvious form of what we’re discussing. Perhaps many more of us unknowingly commit shirk when we worship our whims.
“Have you seen such a one as takes as his god his own vain desire? Allah has, left him astray upon knowledge and sealed his hearing and his heart, and set a covering upon his sight. Who, then, will guide him after Allah? Will you not then receive admonition?” [Al-Jathiya 45:23]
I think many shades of shirk can be found in the broad category of worshipping our “vain desires.” For many people this means an unbridled occupation with doing whatever feels good; a sense of entitlement or freedom to act immorally or selfishly in order to pursue personal pleasure. It all seems harmless enough, at first, but we can see the ugly manifestations of this line of thinking in the form of societal addictions: drug abuse, alcoholism, extra-marital sex, excessive gambling, and even over-eating. It reminds me of the lyrics of an old Sheryl Crow song: “If it makes you happy/it can’t be that bad.” Yes, it can be. It can be devastating actually. True happiness comes from mastering our desires, not allowing ourselves to be overtaken and enslaved by them.
An offshoot of this phenomenon is the worship of one’s own intellect. We have all met academics and even so-called religious people who seem completely and utterly smitten by their powers of reasoning or eloquence. Similarly, some people are so talented in a particular field that they start worshipping their own proficiencies and accomplishments. They forget that these gifts from Allah (swt) are meant to be used as a means, not an ends. Others are absolutely obsessed with looking good. Beauty is their god. They will spend ridiculous amounts of money and time at the gym, at the spa, at the hair salon, and now increasingly, undergoing plastic surgery, all in the pursuit of looking beautiful. What do we gain with these obsessions except vanity? For the record, I am not discounting these avenues completely. There is a such thing as seeking knowledge for the sake of Allah (swt) or pursuing this or that treatment or exercise regimen as a means to good health. But there is a limit, and many of us have unfortunately crossed it.
Women have been particularly susceptible to worshipping the false deities of youth and beauty. We can’t seem to find time to recite Qur’an, we don’t seem to have enough money to donate to the masjid or sponsor an orphan, but we can spend hours a week applying makeup or styling our hair, hundreds of dollars on the latest spa treatment or weight-loss gimmick. What this indicates is a misalignment of priorities. And our priorities are a strong indicator of what we worship. As Muslim women, we need to be particularly wary of Shaytan’s constant campaign to make us believe that our worth is proportional to our attractiveness. It is not. We are much more precious than that. Whenever you find yourself falling into this trap, recall the wise words of Teilhard de Chardin: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
Still others worship their relationships and this is perhaps the easiest, and therefore most dangerous, form of shirk. Is your purpose and self-worth defined by your friends and popularity among them? Do you follow a revered teacher or role-model with unflinching dedication? Do your feelings, identity, loyalty and worldview revolve completely around your family? Do all your hopes, fears and very pride reside in your children? Do you love your spouse so passionately that your life would be over without him or her? Most of us can certainly identify with the sentiment behind these questions. Our relationships are supremely important. They are a monumental blessing from Allah (swt) and sometimes, a considerable test. Our most beautiful moments, as well as our most profound heartaches, are often born out of the love we feel for certain special people in our lives. But what if your reliance on people is greater than your reliance upon God? What if the greatest comfort in your life is a special someone and not Allah (swt)? At least seventeen times a day, we face Allah (swt) and proclaim, “You alone we worship and You alone we turn to for help.” [Fatihah 1:5]. But do we affirm this in our choices? Do our hearts truly reflect this attitude? Because God is no need of our lip-service. True believers recognize that one’s love for the created should pale in comparison to one’s love for the Creator.
“Yet, there are men who take (for worship) others besides Allah, as equal (with Allah): They love them as they should love Allah. But those of faith are overflowing in their love for Allah.” [Al-Baqarah 2:165].
At the end of the day, even our most significant relationships are secondary to our relationship with God. As hard is it may be to recognize, to think otherwise (whether in belief or actions), constitutes a form of shirk.
We must be deliberate in the internal struggle to detach ourselves from these forms of worship. And we must constantly seek the assistance and protection of Allah (swt) in this endeavour, for without His guidance, we would truly be astray.
As the Prophet (sas) said: “Live in this world as a traveller.” (Bukhari).
Let us always bear in mind the illusory reality of this world. Let’s not be distracted by its false promises or dazzled by its glitter. Let’s remember:
“Every soul shall have a taste of death: And only on the Day of Judgment shall you be paid your full recompense. Only he who is saved from the Fire and admitted to the Garden will have attained the object (of Life): For the life of this world is but goods and chattels of deception.” (Ali’-Imran 3:185).
May Allah (swt) Guide us and Protect us from shirk, in all its various forms. Ameen.