[Major shirk can be divided into four categories:
– The first category of major shirk is “associating in supplication”, which involves directing one’s supplications to other than Allah as a means of gaining provisions or being cured from a sickness or obtaining help during a crisis or for any other purpose.
– The second category of major shirk is “association in the intention”, that is, performing deeds that may be good in themselves but which are done for the sake of this worldly life and not for the sake of Allah.
The third category of major shirk is “association in loving Allah”. That is to love someone or something else more than or as much as one loves Allah.
The fourth category of major shirk is “association in obedience” which is to obey people when they make unlawful things lawful, and to believe that it is permissible to follow those who make such legislations.
Here we discuss the fourth category.]
The fourth category of major shirk is “association in obedience” which is to obey people when they make unlawful things lawful, and to believe that it is permissible to follow those who make such legislations. Allah says: “They take their priests to be their lords besides Allah,” (Qur’an 9:31). A hadith of the Prophet, sallallahu `alaihi wa sallam, relates that when Adiyy Ibn Hatim heard the Prophet reciting this verse, he said to him: “But they did not worship them (their priests)!” The Prophet, sallallahu `alaihi wa sallam, said: “Didn’t those priests make lawful some of the things that Allah has made unlawful and they didn’t make unlawful some of the things that Allah has made lawful? And didn’t they follow them in that respect? That is how they worshipped them.”
So whoever obeys scholars or rulers when they legislate these kinds of laws while knowing that they are changing the religion of Allah and still believes that they have the authority to do so, is in fact committing an act of disbelief. However, if he does not believe that they have the authority to do so, but still follows them in disobeying Allah, he is committing a sin for which he may be punished according to the gravity of the sin. As for the scholar who makes this judgment while trying his best to find the truth with the intention of following the rule of Allah and following the Prophet, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, and he fears Allah as much as he could but did not find the truth, he will not be punished for his mistake but he will be rewarded for his ijtihad, i.e. the effort he exerted in searching for the truth. However, the scholar or a Muslim who knows what the rule of Allah should be in the matter under consideration but nevertheless chooses otherwise, has fallen into “the shirk of association in obedience” specially if he has been following his desires and has been propagating his ideas with the means at his disposal.
Today in many communities there are people who get close to and even fall into one of these types of shirk, especially the shirk of obedience. If the rule of Allah coincides with their own desires, they will rush to apply it. But if it does not, they will shop around for a fatwa (legal ruling) that suits their whims. Eventually they may find a shaykh who will give them the fatwa they desire even though this does not legalize what Allah has forbidden. Unfortunately, we find such shaykhs gaining popularity. They are described to be the ones who are moderate, who are understanding, who can deal with the requirements of modern life when in fact, they are following the desires of the people. In many communities, we find people who are very eager to follow Qur’an when it talks about striving to gain worldly provisions in such verses as, “Walk through the earth and enjoy the sustenance which Allah furnishes.” (Qur’an 67:15). They would exert efforts and spend much energy to gain more money and it will never cross their minds to sit at home without working and Allah will provide for them – and they are right in this aspect. But when it comes to working for the Hereafter, such as avoiding sins, increasing their faith with righteous deeds, they would say: “This is the destiny of Allah” to justify their failure for performing their duty towards Allah. They would hope that Allah would guide them to the straight path, while unwilling to make any effort for getting guidance to it. What if somebody comes and begins beating a person, would he say this is the destiny of Allah or would he defend himself and take the necessary precautions to protect himself? Thus, relying on Allah means that one should exert his/her effort to the utmost while at the same time expecting the support and help of Allah.
Some of these people would say that some of the companions of the Prophet sallallahu `alaihi wa sallam such as Uthman ibn Affan, Abdul-Rahman ibn Awf, and Sa`d Ibn Abi Waqqas were wealthy. However, the comparison stops there because they want to be like them only in the aspect of being rich. They do not ask themselves: How did these companions earn their wealth? How did they spend it? How were their manners? How was their worship, their piety, their fear of Allah? How were their homes? How were their wives and their children? What were their interests? Whom did they mix with? The companions never negotiated part of their religion to gain their worldly life, but that is precisely what most Muslims are doing today. In Sahih Muslim, Jabir, radhiallahu `anhu, reported that a man came to the Prophet, sallallahu `alaihi wa sallam, and said: “O Messenger of Allah, what are the two essential matters?” the Prophet, sallallahu `alaihi wa sallam, said: “Whoever dies without associating any partner with Allah will enter Paradise and whoever dies associating anybody with Allah will enter Hellfire.”
Imam Ibn Kathir