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The Most Dangerous Form of Idolatry:
Covert Idolatry

So far we have been looking at idolatry in its general sense, where it stems from, how it emerges, and the forms it takes. In this chapter we consider a far more dangerous form of idolatry: covert idolatry.

Our beloved Prophet (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) warned believers against this type of idolatry, for which he gave showing off to people as an example. Mahmud ibn Lubayd narrated:

The Prophet (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) came out and announced, "O people, beware of secret Shirk (idolatry)!" The people asked, "O messenger of Allah, what is secret Shirk?" He replied, "When a man gets up to pray and strives to beautify his prayer because people are looking at him; that is secret Shirk." (Collected by Ibn Khuzaymah)

Abu Musaa narrated:

One day Allah's messenger delivered a sermon saying "O people, fear Shirk for it is more hidden than the creeping of an ant." Those whom Allah wished asked, "And how do we avoid it when it is more hidden than the creeping of an ant, O Messenger of Allah?" He replied, "Say: 'O Allah, we seek refuge in you from knowingly committing shirk with you and we ask your forgiveness for what we do not know about.'" (Collected by Ahmad and at-Tabarani)

Even though people may have escaped all of the snares cited above, they must still be on their guard against self-deception. If they wish to attain a truly unsullied faith, they must think about this subject and avoid pride. Allah commands His servants to believe in Him and turn only to Him without ascribing any equals to Him. This is revealed in the Qur'an:

… turning toward Him (in repentance). Fear (and respect) Him and establish prayer. Do not be among the idolaters. (Surat al-Rum: 31)

Those who do not believe ask: "Why has a Sign not been sent down to him from his Lord?" Say: "Allah misguides whoever He wills and guides to Himself all who turn to Him." (Surat al-Ra'd: 27)

As it is made clear in these verses, Allah has made undiluted faith obligatory and has forbidden idolatry. At the same time, He has revealed that He will direct anyone who turns to Him to the true path. In other words, those who want to be guided to the true path must avoid all forms of idolatry and "make your Lord your goal" (Surat al-Inshirah: 8). But what does this actually mean?ır.

It means regarding Allah as one's only friend and helper, seeking His approval alone, and basing oneself solely upon His mercy. One's ultimate aim is Allah's love and approval. For that reason, such people live according to His criteria, commands, and prohibitions. Other people's approval and contentment is always secondary, for they want nothing in the world other than their true friend, Allah, to be pleased with them. Every believer who reads these words may well think that he or she possesses these same attributes. However, instead of being absolutely certain of themselves, they should think long and deeply on the subject and constantly strive to perfect themselves.

Remembering that Allah controls all things

Those who dedicate themselves only to Allah have full trust in Him alone, for they know that only He has actual control of, and actual power over, everything. Thus, there is no need for them to call upon that, which is not Him. Those who possess this true trust never feel doubt and sadness, and are not troubled by anything that comes their way during life. Aware that Allah sends everything to test them, they accept it and turn toward Him. Out of respect for Him, they feel satisfied with whatever He, in His wisdom, has destined for them. There is a great deal of good in whatever true believers experience, a fact that they know very well. Surely Allah has the true knowledge of what is good for His servants. In the Qur'an Allah reveals this:

It may be that you hate something when it is good for you, and it may be that you love something when it is bad for you. Allah knows and you do not know. (Surat al-Baqara: 216)

Therefore, true believers do not go astray when confronted by events or situations that unbelievers would consider dangerous and terrible. They remain steadfast in their trust of Allah, because if they feel even a moment's doubt it means that their trust in Allah is incomplete and that they have failed to properly appreciate His might and wisdom. This is coming dangerously close to idolatry, for which a true believer has no legitimate excuse.

Here is where covert idolatry emerges as a grave danger. For example, it would be completely wrong for those who find themselves in a difficult situation to think: I am generally very submissive. I have complete trust in Allah, but sometimes I panic and lack full submission. Self-deception is also very dangerous in such cases. Clearly, someone who follows this line of reasoning does not have full trust in Allah. Even if they accept His existence, just thinking of compromising their belief indicates a lack of complete submission and a failure to comprehend His infinite might. Such an attitude can exist only among idolaters.

However, those who dedicate themselves to Allah submit sincerely to the destiny He has created for them, for they know that it cannot be altered in any way. Allah reveals that whatever we experience is recorded in a book and that we can experience only what He has written in it. In the Qur'an Allah reveals this:

…Not even the smallest speck eludes your Lord, either on earth or in heaven. Nor is there anything smaller than that, or larger, which is not in a Clear Book. (Surah Yunus: 61)

As it is made clear in the verse, every event in a person's life, without exception, is recorded in a book. Fully aware of this, believers evaluate whatever happens to them according to that awareness, seek the beauty in every detail of their predetermined destiny, and thus avoid the error of regretting or being displeased or unhappy. Without exception, believers are pleased with every moment of their life.

If this is not the case, it means that one's faith is not deep enough and that he or she has fallen into idolatry. Although they may say that they have faith in Allah, believe in the Hereafter, and are true Muslims, anyone who is ever displeased is actually failing to live according to the submission commanded in the Qur'an. This failure to comprehend the true meaning of destiny is a sign of covert idolatry.

In other words, a person's feelings or reactions toward events are of great importance. Given this, all people who consider themselves to be true believers must review their whole life, day-to-day mode of living, thoughts, feelings, perspective on life, and, most important of all, their subconscious to see if there is any weakness in their belief.

Idolatry may sometimes be very deep-rooted in a person's life. For example, fear may prevent some people from living by the faith in the very purest manner. In fact, they might become so caught up in serious concerns over the future that they begin to ignore Allah's commands and prohibitions in order to "guarantee their future". Such a course of action involves making "necessary" concessions. Or, they might regard their difficulties as unwelcome and become rebellious. This is where the majority of people forget Allah's infinite might and control and fall into covert idolatry. Forgetting that only Allah creates the future, gives them money and possessions, and eliminates their difficulties, they seek assistance from other entities.

Everyone must strongly avoid such negligent behavior and, if they find themselves in it, abandon it at once. They must consider their situation according to what Allah says in the Qur'an, remember that our Lord's might is sufficient for all things, and understand that He is the sole Lord of every entity and event.

For instance, those who have cancer or are paralyzed in an unexpected motor accident, if they consider themselves to be true and sincere believers, will not grieve or worry. In fact, they will not even complain about these difficulties; rather, they will greet their situation with submission and pleasantness, knowing that this is what Allah has destined for them and that, if they endure it successfully, they will receive an unimaginable reward in the Hereafter. Sincere believers bear all difficulties in a pleasant manner and look for the good and the wisdom in them. They do not do this to console themselves, but because they know that only good will come out of these present difficulties. Aware that Allah has determined their destiny and that everything happens for a reason, they reflect upon their life and have patience and fortitude at all times.

Everyone may experience unexpected events on any given day, such as a great injustice or slander, or a verbal or physical assault. But those who are free of covert or open idolatry never forget their destiny, never fall prey to their emotions or sorrows, and are never troubled. They remember that Allah controls all things and that whatever happens is part of His destiny for them. Therefore, they respond to evil with good, just as Allah commands in the Qur'an.

They may experience events that would alarm unbelievers, and that would be quite natural. However, sincere believers do not feel fear or concern, for they have placed their full trust in Allah. For example, if sincere believers lose their family and possessions in a single moment, they remain fully submitted to Allah even at that very instant. In the face of what unbelievers would consider a disaster, their faith, submission, and trust in Allah does not waver. They will never grieve or give way to pessimism, sorrow, and despair.

People must honestly think about how they would react to such situations and then take precautions so that they will not succumb to covert idolatry. Just thinking that such a little thing will do no harm, regarding ignorant reactions as normal under difficult circumstances, or basing their reactions upon those exhibited by most other people may lead to covert idolatry. Allah reveals in the Qur'an:

If you obeyed most of those on earth, they would misguide you from Allah's Way. They follow nothing but conjecture. They are only guessing. (Surat al-An'am: 116)

Another factor that may lead to covert idolatry is the belief that people are successful due to their own efforts. For example, it would be a great mistake for a speaker to attribute his or her successful speech to his or her own reason, for only Allah can will someone to talk and give speeches. If someone is successful, makes scientific discoveries, or invents things that make life easier, all it means is that Allah has willed this as part of that person's destiny. People cannot be the source of their success; believing this and then boasting of their accomplishments means that they have forgotten Allah. In the Qur'an Allah reveals this:

But you cannot will unless Allah wills. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise. (Surat al-Insan: 30)

When people experience something negative (e.g., a disaster, illness, or injury), they must remember that these things are a part of their destiny. They cannot attribute such events to a reckless driver or a virus, for this would mean that they do not understand the truth. Of course various attributable causes have been created, but these are completely within Allah's knowledge and under His control. Those who understand this truth have a proper appreciation of Allah; those who do not understand or accept this truth, or who engage in hidden or open rebellion, have fallen into covert idolatry. While it is true that one's illness may have been "caused" by a microbe, Allah created the microbe and gave it the purpose and function of delivering the person's predetermined illness. For example, Allah relates in the Qur'an a moment of difficulty experienced by believers in the time of our Prophet (May Allah bless him and grant him peace):

What assailed you on the day the two armies met was by Allah's permission, so that He would know the believers and the hypocrites... (Surah Al 'Imran: 166-167)

It is made clear in the verses that, as all events occur by Allah's will, there is no logical or rational reason to forget that all things are under His control. As He is the All-Knowing, every stage and moment of one's life and destiny takes place because He wills it to. No matter how such an event may appear, it always contains auspicious and great wisdom. But people, both believers and non-believers, may not always understand that wisdom. Sometimes they may see it and give thanks to Allah; sometimes they may be unable to see it but still retain their trust in Allah, knowing with certainty that He creates everything with great good and wisdom.

 

The logic of a little faith, a little idolatry is a grave mistake

Covert idolatry is a gross self-deception that arises from adopting the twisted logic of a little faith and a little idolatry and of thinking perversely that no harm will come to me from a little idolatry in my faith. All believers are to dedicate themselves to Allah at every moment and to make no concessions on this matter, for these are core requirements of faith and reason. Therefore, they must not even entertain the thought that any person or entity other than Allah possesses any actual power. Allah commands His servants not to attribute equals to Him and reinforces the truth that everything is under His control in the Qur'an:

Say: "Praise be to Allah and peace be upon His servants whom He has chosen." Is Allah better, or what you associate with Him? He Who created the heavens and earth and sends down water for you from the sky by which We make luxuriant gardens grow – you could never make their trees grow. Is there another deity besides Allah? No indeed, but they are people who equate others with Him! He Who made earth a stable dwelling place, appointed rivers flowing through its midst, placed firmly embedded mountains on it, and set a barrier between the two seas. Is there another deity besides Allah? No indeed, but most of them do not know it! He Who responds to the oppressed when they call on Him and removes their distress and has appointed you as vicegerents of earth. Is there another deity besides Allah? How little you pay heed! He Who guides you in the darkness of the land and the sea and sends out the winds, bringing advance news of His mercy. Is there another deity besides Allah? May Allah be exalted above what they associate with Him! He Who originates Creation and then regenerates it and provides for you from out of heaven and earth. Is there another deity besides Allah? Say: "Bring your proof if you are being truthful." (Surat al-Naml: 59-64)

As we can see from the above verses, all events take place because Allah wills them to. Forgetting this fact and imagining that anything can take place independently of Allah is to attribute equals to Him.

Covert idolatry is the most significant obstacle to the emergence of true faith. One can only truly live by faith if one's faith is pure and unsullied. Looking for a middle way or imagining that – Surely Allah is beyond that – a person or an entity can have actual power or control is idolatry. Pretending not to understand this fact is useless and no more than self-deception. The subjects under discussion here are facts upon which Muslims must reflect and do their best to implement in their life as soon as possible. To imagine that one is immune to this danger and can live as a "half-Muslim" is not only highly irrational, but is also the cause of a troubled life. People must evaluate their earthly desires from the correct Islamic perspective and then identify and correct their errors, for no one knows when he or she will die and be called to account.

People may not suffer great harm if they postpone resolving other matters. However, not resolving the matter discussed above is a grave danger and error, for it is of the utmost importance. Idolatry is the dividing line between faith and unbelief, and covert idolatry is a most deceptive wall that prevents people from seeing the truth, blunts their reason and foresight, causes them to forget why they are here, and leads them toward heedlessness with regard to the Day of Judgment.

Once people recognize that they have fallen into idolatry, however, it is very easy to free themselves. All they have to do is to sincerely and properly appreciate the might of Allah, their Creator. If they think that by practicing what we have described will enable them to achieve something very difficult or to act heroically, they would be mistaken. In fact, such an attitude would actually reflect their great insincerity, for Allah asks only two easy things from all believers: complete dedication to Him alone and complete belief in Him as the sole Possessor of true power and control.

Those who possess such a pure character may expect complete success, beauty, and blessings from Allah when they truly turn to Him without attributing any equals to Him, for:

Allah has promised those of you who believe and do right actions that He will make them successors in the land, [just] as He made those before them successors; will firmly establish for them their religion, with which He is pleased; and give them, in place of their fear, security. "They worship Me, not associating anything with Me." Any who do not believe after that, such people are deviators. (Surat al-Nur: 55)

These believers' situation in the Hereafter is revealed in these terms:

… except [for] those who repent, put things right, hold fast to Allah, and dedicate their religion to Allah alone; they are with the believers. Allah will give the believers an immense reward. (Surat al-Nisa': 145-146)

 

 

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