Islamic commentators on the Qur'an have emphasized that pre-Islamic Arabic idolatry made a number of godlings (most memorably the three goddesses al-Manāt, al-Lāt and ʻUzzā) equal associates of Allah (as the Qur'an discusses in the 53rd surat) and the word mushrikūn (singular: mushrik) is often translated into English as "polytheists".
Other forms of shirk include the worship of wealth and other material objects. This is pointed out in the Quraan in one of the stories of the Children of Israel , when they took a calf made of gold for worship, and for which Moses ordered them to repent. Another form of shirk mentioned in the Qur'an is to take scholars of religion, monks, divines or religious lawyers as Lord/(s) in practice by following their doctrines, and/or by following their rulings on what is lawful when it is at variance to the law or doctrines prescribed by God's revelation. Yet another form, is to treat a prophet, such as Jesus, as God.
In a theological context one commits shirk by associating some lesser being with Allah. This sin is committed if one imagines that there is some other spirit than Allah whom it is suitable to worship. Many Islamic theologians extend the sense of worship to include praying to some other being to intercede with Allah on one's behalf, rather than taking one's case to God Himself. The limits of the concept of worship are quite elastic and theologians often describe excessive veneration of some artifact here on earth as shirk.
prophet Muhammed has classified shirk into two categories:
- Greater shirk (Shirk-al-Akbar): open and apparent
- Lesser shirk (Shirk-al-Asghar): concealed or hidden
Muhammad describes major shirk in two forms:
- To associate anyone with Allah Taala as His part (to believe in more than one god).
- To associate Allah's attributes with someone else. (Attributing, considering, or portraying God's knowledge or might to being those of anyone else)
Lesser shirk or Shirke-e-Asghar means hidden polytheism.
A person commits hidden polytheism when he says tawhid, there is no god except Allah, but his thoughts and action does not reflect his belief.
Lesser shirk fundamentally stems from an underestimation of God. This intellectual defect leads to pride, arrogance, and self-delusion.
"One who offers the ritual prayers in an ostentatious way is a polytheist. One who keeps the fast, or gives alms, or performs the Hajj to show the public his righteousness or to earn good name is a polytheist"
"Mahmud ibn Lubayd reported, "God's messenger said: "The thing I fear for you the most is ash-Shirk al-Asghar."The companions asked "Oh! messenger of God, what is that?"He replied "Ar-Riya (showing off), for verily God will say on the Day of Resurrection when people are receiving their rewards, 'Go to those for whom you were showing off in the material world and see if you can find any reward from them."
"Mahmud ibn Lubayd also said, "The Prophet came out and announced, 'O people, beware of secret Shirk!'The people asked, 'O messenger of God, 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."