In Judaism, there is a distinction drawn between avoda zarah (idolatry) and shituf (association). The former is the worship of multiple gods and/or worship of idols as gods. The latter is the association of "partners" with who we believe is the One God in a way that, as Wikipedia says, "is not outright polytheistic, but also should not be seen as purely monotheistic." For example, some Jewish authorities hold that belief in the Christian trinity constitutes shituf rather than avoda zarah. Both types of worship are forbidden to Jews, but many authorities allow shituf for non-Jews (although it is not ideal).

I have seen that shirk is often defined in a way similar to the latter: "The establishment of 'partners' placed beside God" (From Wikipedia). Does Islam distinguish between the concepts of partnership and idolatry? Is one more severe than the other?

  • 2 points: 1) Sorry for the lengthy description of the Jewish concept. I thought it was necessary to clarify what I was talking about, but if it can be shortened or it is considered unnecessary, I am happy to take it out or have someone else take it out. 2) It should be noted that (I think) most Orthodox Jewish authorities do not consider Christianity to be shituf, but rather avoda zarah. I just used that example because it is familiar and not too difficult to understand.
    – Daniel
    May 21, 2013 at 13:44
  • 1
    Those "most authorities" don't think Shittuf is a belief system at all, but rather a prohibition of swearing in God's and another's (even if not divine) name together. More like an honor-to-God prohibition. This isn't really the place to elaborate though.
    – Double AA
    May 21, 2013 at 15:45
  • @Daniel This article explains it in detail about why Even Idolatry is a type of Shituff:islamqa.info/en/ref/34817
    – user940
    May 21, 2013 at 16:31

4 Answers 4


When someone is praying in front of an idol, he has a concept behind it. That concept is materialized in the form of an idol. The concept is usually of a deity that has some devine powers. So idolatry is basically "associating someone with God".

Surah Iklas is best explanation of monotheism.


Shirk (a.k.a Shituff)is a very broad concept in Islam, unlike Judaism and is the antithesis of Monotheism (Tauhid), an equally broad subject. Shirk is viewed in Islam as a violation of Allah's right in the sense that to Allah alone belongs all worship, following and love in a manner it befits his majesty(not how you love your parents , wife etc). Infact Allah terms the person who commits Shirk as the greatest oppressor as he is trampling the fundamental rights of Allah :

“Indeed shirk is the greatest oppression.” [Quran,Luqman: 13]

And hence is the single biggest Sin in Islam to the extent there is no forgiveness for the person who commits it and dies without repenting.

"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)

Shirk can be done with the heart, tongue and limbs,Shirk in itself can be divided into three types:

  • Shirk ul-Akbar (The major shirk) (Includes Idolatry)
  • Shirk ul-Asghar (The small shirk) (Includes Hypocrisy)
  • Shirk ul-Khafie (The hidden shirk) ( Inconspicious Shirk )

Shirk ul-Akbar (The major shirk)

Idolatry is classified as a Major Shirk in Islam. Regarding your question on difference between Avoodah Zara(Idolatry) and Shituff(Shirk) than Idolatry means that you are associating an Idol in worship instead of worshipping Allah alone , Hence Idolatry is a type of Shirk(Association). In Islam the major Shirk takes one outside the fold of Islaam(becomes a Kafir\disbeliever), whereas the minor Shirk 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)

You can avoid committing Shirk by studying the Islamic Shariah(Islamic counterpart of Halaka); by doing so, you will know not to do them for anyone other than Allaah, such as prayer, fasting, da’wah, slaughtering etc

Some more examples of 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 Indo Subcontinent 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,


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 Kafirs) 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 which are detailed in the magnum opus and revolutionary book o Kitaab ut-Tawheed (The Book of Tawheed) by Sheikh Muhammad bin 'Abd al-Wahhaab (may Allah's mercy be upon him).

Shirk ul-Asghar(The minor Shirk) -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 or others.

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)."


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 committed unknwowingly.

Compiled from here , here and here


Idolatry is only a part of the concept of "partnership with God". Both are prohibited in Islam..

Pagan forms of worship (I mean those including worshiping animals, rains, etc) is also prohibited.

Associating Divine powers to living beings,humans is as strongly prohibited as idolatry.

Minor forms of shirk i.e. giving more importance to creations than the creator, as in 'star worship' (actor, celebrity), giving more importance to our egos than the commands of God is also prohibited. Though they are of lesser severe than idolatry and major forms of shirk!

I hope you realize that Shirk is defined as major and minor. And has no place in Islam!

Hope it helps.


I belief that your distinction is not useful. Partnership with God starts when you give a Divine attribute (e.g. Human creation, Sustainer, Protector, Wealth creator (;-))) to someone else besides Him.

Therefore I would conclude that 'idolatry' implies 'partnership with God'.

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