Idolatry has no rational or logical foundation. Nobody starts out by considering how to adopt other deities and ascribing equals to Him. In fact, when people begin to think clearly and use their reason and conscience to reflect upon their surroundings, they clearly see that there only Allah (God) can exist. Nevertheless some people, perhaps even the majority, do not reflect and so act in the exact opposite manner.
Failing to abide by this truth, even though one has accepted it rationally and logically, stems from various emotional factors that impact on and smother one’s reason and logic. For the sake of brevity, we refer to this as emotionalism or romanticism.
People can only think and act correctly if they use their reason. Many Qur’anic verses describe how believers comprehended very important truths by using their reason and that the idolaters and hypocrites always found themselves in trouble because they never used their reason. One of the most important reasons for this is that they act only according to their emotions. Emotionality, which smothers reason, leaves people exposed to all of satan’s suggestions and makes them his playthings. Through this “weapon,” he directs the idolaters as he chooses and leads them into misguidance.
Allah bestows such feelings as love, fear, trust, need, and protection upon people from the moment of their creation. People are to use them to gain Allah’s approval, follow His path, and defend and engage in goodness and truth. However, if these emotions are diverted away from their true purpose, they come to represent a force that propels a person toward satan and idolatry. If these feelings are directed toward good, which is their true purpose, they lead one toward faith, purity, and Allah; if directed toward evil, they lead one toward idolatry. In the first case, the believers can expect their reward from Allah; in the second case, that of attributing a divine nature to man-made entities or personal desires, the unbelievers can expect only Allah’s disapproval and punishment.
The second group of people does not realize that all love, praise, exaltation, fear, respect, trust, and requests for help should be directed to Allah, for there is no other source and provider of all things, and no other possessor of actual superiority and beauty, knowledge and power. By ascribing even one of these divine attributes to that which is not Him, one reveals himself or herself to be a idolater.
We will now examine the emotions of love, fear, and seeking aid to see how failing to control them through one’s reason and basing one’s life and actions upon them can lead to idolatry.
Believers know that since Allah created them, only He is worthy of their love, closeness, and devotion. After creating them out of nothing, Allah has continued to meet all of their physical and spiritual needs by creating countless blessings for everyone. Furthermore, as long as people have faith in and obey Him, Allah will reward them with a great and eternal blessing in both worlds, along with love and approval in His sight. He bestows all of these things for no return, as a mercy and blessing from His presence. Given this, how can any other member of creation be worthy of a person’s love and devotion?
One cause of love is the interest and awe felt when confronted with the beloved’s superior and beautiful features. When this interest and awe is returned, the relationship turns into a powerful bond of affection. The important point here, however, is to determine to whom this superiority and beauty actually belong and then to turn these feelings of interest and awe in the proper direction: Allah is the source and true Lord of all beauty, superiority, and exalted titles. The titles that may appear to be inherent in His creations are actually nothing more than very minor manifestations of His infinite titles and, in fact, belong to Him alone. Thus, given that Allah manifests Himself in His servants, any love that one feels should be felt for Allah alone. If this is not the case, the person has ascribed equals to Allah.
Of course it is not wrong to feel love. What is wrong, however, is to forget Allah and bind oneself, with passion and fanaticism, to that which is not Him or to abandon those things of which He approves and finds pleasing. When looked at through the eyes of faith, all beauty possessed by human beings is understood to belong to Allah. Those who realize this naturally turn to Him and are aware that by loving the other person, they actually love Allah. Idolatrous love, however, is quite different:
He (Ibrahim) said: “You have adopted idols apart from Allah as tokens of mutual affection in this world. But then on the Day of Resurrection, you will reject and curse each other. The Fire will be your shelter. You will have no helpers.” (Surat al-‘Ankabut: 25)
This bond of love will turn into hatred and mutual rejection, because these man-made idols to which people became attached through emotional bonds will bring them chastisement in the Hereafter. No one who takes Allah as his or her Only God can love any other thing or person as much as or more than he or she loves Allah. As for the idolaters, the Qur’an says:
Some people set up equals to Allah, loving them as they should love Allah. But those who believe have greater love for Allah. If only you could see those who do wrong at the time when they see the punishment, and that truly all strength belongs to Allah, and that Allah is severe in punishment. (Surat al-Baqara: 165)
The believers give Allah all of their love, for not doing so would mean that they are not sincere in their faith or lack a proper knowledge of Allah and Islam. Indeed, those who ascribe equals to Allah have a flawed and deficient knowledge and understanding of Him. Unable to establish a sincere closeness to Allah and appreciate Him as they should, they direct their love toward that which is not Him.
Here it will be useful to concentrate upon the male-female relationship, the tightest and most frequently observed form of idolatrous love. In these relationships, any devotion and togetherness constructed independently of Allah’s approval is a major cause of deviation into idolatry. Thus, they are usually based on romanticism, emotionality, and mutual benefit, for one person is seeking the other person’s approval. Not hesitating even for a moment about transgressing the bounds Allah set for humanity in order to please each other, they direct the love bestowed upon them by Allah toward each other and soon forget Him. The result is people who fulfill all duties to each other, instead of to Allah, and who regard each other as independent entities. The Qur’an describes such relationships as mutual worship and deifying the other person.
The Qur’an notes the passion-filled love felt toward women in such relationships. If this love causes the man to forget Allah or to not remember Him as is His due, if he prefers his love of the woman over and above his love for Allah, and if it replaces his love for Allah in his heart, he is heading toward idolatry. The same is true for the female member of this relationship. The Qur’an tells us that such a love, which society considers “innocent,” is not pleasing to Allah:
What they call on apart from Him are female idols. What they call on is an arrogant satan. (Surat al-Nisa’: 117)
Society calls this idolatrous love true love, romantic, and pure emotion; it even praises and encourages it. Since this romantic propaganda hinders the development of young people’s minds and consciousness, generations emerge that are unaware of religion, faith, or the reason for their creation. Never having known Allah, they feel no love, fear, or respect for Him. In their eyes, idolatry is a natural form of behavior, an acceptable lifestyle. Of course people may love and be affectionate toward each other, but they must not do so independently of Allah. Apart from this, and as long as their love is based on their love of Allah, they are among those people whom the Qur’an says are “devoted, passionate, of like age” (Surat al-Waqi‘ah: 37) in Paradise. Thus, this model is legitimate.
The love felt by believers is a transparent, radiant one that gives ease to the heart, for it is addressed to Allah. They love other people because they are no more than manifestations of Allah. This is why believers grieve as little as possible when someone they love dies or when something they love becomes lost. Given that all spiritual and physical beauty in the loved one actually belongs to Allah, Who is eternal, without end, and nearer to a person than his or her jugular vein, such a loss is no more than His temporarily taking back one or more of His manifestations in order to test that person. So long as the person persists in faith and this understanding, He will continue to manifest Himself with His most beauteous attributes in an even more intense form. Since believers who possess true faith understand this truth, they are immune to all forms of grief, sorrow, and emotionality:
Those who say, “Our Lord is Allah,” and then go straight will feel no fear and will know no sorrow. (Surat al-Ahqaf: 13)
But the idolaters suffer the pangs of infinite separation in their hearts when the people whom they love and to whom they are devoted die. Every person and thing they preferred over Allah and ascribed as equal to Him will be a source of suffering in this world and in the Hereafter. This provides endless subject-matter for songs, poems, novels, and movies, the great majority of which are dedicated to themes of unrequited love, separation, betrayal, abandonment, death, and the ensuing pain and suffering.
Thus the pains that begin in this world will continue eternally in the next, and with a far fiercer spiritual and physical pain. The Qur’an speaks of a fire in Hell that reaches right into the heart (Surat al-Humaza’: 5-7) Every form of heartache in this world constitutes a part of the far worse suffering experienced by the idolaters in Hell. Allah visits His vengeance upon those who betray Him and groundlessly attribute equals to Him, both here and in the Hereafter.
Another factor that leads people to idolatry is fear. When this emotion, which should be directed solely toward Allah, is felt toward His creation and influences one’s attitudes and behavior, it becomes idolatry. Believers know that the only entity worthy of their fear is Allah, Who has absolute power, controls all that exists, and has subjected everything to His will. For example, nothing can harm a person without His permission, and only He can remove that harm. Fearing any other entity reveals that one believes that entity to be independent of Allah and thus outside of the destiny He has created for it:
Allah says: “Do not take two deities. He is the only One God, so fear Me alone.” Everything in the heavens and Earth belongs to Him, and the religion belongs to Him, firmly and forever. So why do you fear anyone other than Allah? (Surat al-Nahl: 51-52)
Is Allah not enough for His servant? Yet they try to scare you with others apart from Him. If Allah misguides someone, he has no guide. (Surat al-Zumar: 36)
As indicated in these verses, the idolaters fear people and even believers instead of Allah, a misguided emotion that is the result of irrationality:
You are a greater cause of terror in their breasts than Allah! That is because they are people who do not understand. (Surat al-Hashr: 13)
Expecting help and trust
Everything other than Allah is merely one of His creations that exist because He wills it to exist; it survives only because he provides it with the necessary health and sustenance, and makes it laugh and cry. In short, everything, except Allah, is infinitely helpless, impoverished, needy, and has no real power or abilities of its own. Therefore, apart from Allah, there is nobody to trust or ask for help. Rejecting this truth and trusting in causes, intermediaries, and people means that one thinks they have independent power and will; in short, this is idolatry:
They have taken deities besides Allah so that, perhaps, they may be helped. They cannot help them, even though they are an army mobilized in their support. (Surah Ya Sin: 74-75)
Prophet Muhammad (saas) warned his companions against seeking help from others than Allah. At-Tabarani reports:
In the time of the Prophet (saas) there was a hypocrite who used to harm the believers, and some of them said: "Come, let us seek aid from the Messenger of Allah (saas) against this hypocrite." But the Prophet (saas) said: "Aid must not be sought from me; aid must only be sought from Allah (swt)." (Kitaab At-Tawheed (The Book of Tawheed), Shaikh Imam Muhammad Abdul-Wahhaab, Translated by Sameh Strauch, International Islamic Publishing House, Chapter: 12)
The Qur’an reveals that the idolaters are soon enslaved by their own creations. Forgetting Allah and seeking to please His creations in order to safeguard their own futures, they spend their lives in abasement and humiliation at the orders of these idols. However, the hopes they place in them go unanswered. And this is just one of their “rewards.”
Allah describes the meaninglessness of people serving man-made entities:
O humanity, an example has been made, so listen to it carefully. Those upon whom you call besides Allah cannot even create a single fly, even if they were to join together to do it. And if a fly steals something from them, they cannot get it back. How feeble are both the seeker and the sought! (Surat al-Hajj: 73)
These deities’ helplessness is also mentioned:
Do they make things into partner-deities that cannot create anything and are themselves created; which are not capable of helping them and cannot even help themselves? (Surat al-A‘raf: 191-92)
Those you call on besides Him cannot help you. They cannot even help themselves. (Surat al-A‘raf: 197)
And yet heedless people have always beseeched and begged them for help. Their end, as stated in the Qur’an, will be as follows:
So do not call on any other deity along with Allah, or you will be among those who will be punished. (Surat al-Shu‘ara’: 213)
One person who was punished in this world for this attitude is the owner of the garden mentioned in Surat al-Kahf. An exceedingly proud man because of his garden and possessions, claimed that they would never disappear and that the Day of Judgment would never come. And yet when the retribution came upon him, he realized what a grave error he had made by attributing equals to Allah:
The fruits of his labor were completely destroyed, and he woke up wringing his hands in grief, regretting everything that he had spent on it. It was a ruin with all of its trellises fallen in. He said: “Oh, if only I had not associated anyone with my Lord!” There was no group to come to his aid, besides Allah, and he was not given any help. (Surat al-Kahf: 42-43)
Those who place their hope and esteem in that which is not Allah, who hope for compassion from them and trust them, will never attain their desires. Thus, they feel empty, lonely, and abandoned, especially in difficult times: “Do not set up any other deity together with Allah and so sit there reviled and forsaken” (Surat al-Isra’: 22). Allah describes in the Qur’an this emptiness as such:
…Have done with the defilement of idols and telling lies. Be people of pure natural belief in Allah, not associating anything else with Him. As for anyone who associates others with Allah, it is as though he had fallen from the sky and the birds had seized him and carried him away, or if the wind had dropped him in a distant place. (Surat al-Hajj: 30-31)
On the other hand, believers who trust in and rely on Allah alone, who serve only Him and seek His assistance, spend their lives enjoying blessings, respect, and honor: “… those who believe and whose hearts find peace in the remembrance of Allah…” (Surat al-Ra‘d: 28). One whose heart is at peace and content through remembering Allah needs nothing else, even when faced with great difficulties. They are as dignified as Prophet Ya‘qub (as), who said: “I complain about my grief and sorrow to Allah alone, because I know things from Allah you do not know” (Surah Yusuf : 86). This attitude is due to the believers’ correct understanding of destiny:
Say: “Nothing can happen to us except what Allah has ordained for us. He is Our Master. The believers should put their trust in Allah.” (Surat al-Tawba: 51)
When love, trust, and expecting help are combined, what emerges is the closeness described in the Qur’an as friendship and guardianship. Allah is a sufficient Protector and Helper (Surat al-Nisa’: 45) and states that He is a person’s only true friend and guardian:
Allah is He to Whom the kingdom of the heavens and Earth belongs. He gives life and causes to die. You have no protector or helper besides Him. (Surat al-Tawba: 116)
As Allah is the only being with true power, everything therefore depends upon Him:
Say: “Am I to take anyone other than Allah as my protector, the Bringer into Being of the heavens and Earth, He Who feeds and is not fed?” Say: “I am commanded to be the first of the Muslims” and “Do not be among the idolaters.” (Surat al-An‘am: 14)
And yet one of the idolaters’ major characteristics is their persistence in adopting friends other than Allah, although abandoning Him and taking His servants as friends is a serious sin that entails terrible consequences:
Do the unbelievers imagine that they can take My servants as protectors instead of Me? We have prepared Hell as a welcome for them! (Surat al-Kahf: 102)
While believers take only Allah as their protector, unbelievers and idolaters look to satan to play this role. Going along with his commands, they flout the Qur’an and the bounds set by Allah for humanity, deliberately ascribe equals to Him, fail to remember Him, and show their loyalty and adherence to satan’s commands. This exceedingly irrational action lead to a very unpleasant end:
If anyone takes him (satan) as a friend, he will mislead him and guide him to the punishment of the Searing Blaze. (Surat al-Hajj: 4)
The feeling of indebtednessAll people encounter various blessings at every moment of their lives. Since most of these blessings can be attributed to various causes, it is human nature to direct one’s gratitude toward those causes instead of toward Allah. The Qur’an uses the term giving thanks to describe this feeling of gratitude. However, everyone should understand that whoever or whatever those intermediaries may be, they need to be aware that only Allah can bestow a blessing and that they can depend only upon Him. Thus, this phrase signifies an expression, made by one’s heart and tongue, of each person’s indebtedness and gratitude to Him.
Giving thanks and being grateful to Allah are signs of genuine servitude:
O you who believe, eat of the good things We have provided for you and give thanks to Allah, if you worship Him alone. (Surat al-Baqara: 172)
So eat from what Allah has provided for you, lawful and good, and be thankful for the blessing of Allah, if it is Him you worship. (Surat al-Nahl: 114)
As these verses make clear, giving thanks only to Allah is a precondition for and a sign of being a true servant, for this attitude shows that one understands that only He can bestow blessings and control everything. Knowing this means that a person really understands that Allah is the only power, force, and authority that exists. Thus, the person has undiluted faith, embodies the human model described and praised in the Qur’an, and has fulfilled one of the preconditions of true faith and purity.
The idolaters, however, attribute whatever blessings they enjoy to the man-made entities and beings they have created, placed their hopes in, and directed their gratitude toward. Adopting such false deities who have no independent power and influence, they blind themselves to the fact that Allah created these false deities and allows them to appear as independent entities by willing that their actions occur. It is both idolatry and also the height of ingratitude to forget Allah, look for power and influence in His servants, and turn to and thank them.
However, this does not mean that it is wrong for people to thank each other. As long as they remember that Allah performs the good deed in question and act out of that awareness, they are still behaving correctly. Idolaters, on the other hand, make concessions with regard to faith and to Allah’s approval for the sake of these false deities:
(Ibrahim said to his people:) “Instead of Allah you worship only idols. You are inventing a lie. Those you worship besides Allah have no power to provide for you. So seek your provision from Allah, worship Him, and give thanks to Him. It is to Him you will be returned.” (Surat al-‘Ankabut: 17)
Unlike idolaters, believers thank Allah alone and feel gratitude only to Him. They turn to Him when they receive a blessing, thank Him, and realize that what they receive is due to His favor. One example of this is how Allah made Prophet Zakariyya (as) responsible for the blessed Maryam:
Her Lord accepted her with approval and made her grow in health and beauty. And Zakariyya became her guardian. Every time Zakariyya visited her in the Upper Room, he found food with her. He asked: “Maryam, how did you come by this?” She said: “It is from Allah. Allah provides for whoever He wills without any reckoning.” (Surah Al ‘Imran: 37)
Clearly, she was aware that all of the blessings bestowed upon her were from Allah. Another example is how Prophet Sulayman (as) turned to Allah:
He said: “O council members, who among you will bring me her (the Queen of Saba’s) throne before they come to me in submission?” A demon of the jinn said: “I will bring it to you before you get up from your seat. I am strong and trustworthy enough to do it.” He who possessed knowledge of the Book said: “I will bring it to you before your glance returns to you.” And when he saw it standing firmly in his presence, he said: “This is part of my Lord's favor to test me to see if I will give thanks or show ingratitude. Whoever gives thanks only does so to his own gain. Whoever is ungrateful, my Lord is Rich Beyond Need, Generous.” (Surat al-Naml: 38-40)
Even though he expressed a wish that was fulfilled immediately, he instantly turned to and gave thanks to Allah rather than to the one who had performed the deed. That is the attitude of all believers, for those who forget Allah in a comparable situation actually place their hopes in an intermediary and imagine that the blessing came from it. Any person who thinks this way has ascribed an equal to Allah.
Ascribing equals to Allah and giving thanks to Him are mutually opposed actions. For example, Allah reveals that Prophet Ibrahim (as) was not a idolater but one who gave thanks for Allah’s blessings:
Ibrahim was a community in himself, exemplary, obedient to Allah, a man of pure natural belief. He was not one of the idolaters. He was thankful for His blessings. Allah chose him and guided him to a straight path. (Surat al-Nahl: 120-21)
As we have seen above with other emotions, gratitude brings with it faith and purity when directed toward Allah and gives rise to idolatry when directed to anything other than Him. Giving thanks is exceedingly important, and thus satan regards making human beings ungrateful as one measure of his success. The Qur’an reveals this warning from satan’s own mouth:
He (satan) said: “By Your misguidance of me, I will lie in ambush for them on your straight path. Then I will come at them, from in front of them and behind them, from their right and from their left. You will not find most of them thankful.” (Surat al-A‘raf: 16-17)
So far, we have looked at only a few of the emotions that can lead people into idolatry. While these are among the most important and common ones, there are many others, such as compassion, goodness, and hatred.
Imagine someone who is grieving over his young child’s death or a beloved animal. This supposed compassion may lead him to rebel against Allah and ascribe equals to Him. However, if that person uses his reason to clear his mind of grief, he will see the truth in a very distinct and transparent form. For one thing, since there is no question of their suffering retribution or oppression, death is a salvation for small children, believers, and innocent animals as well as a step toward an eternal, beautiful life. Death is a door through which Allah takes these entities into His presence. From the point of view of Satan and his followers, however, death is a moment when excesses and the endless demands of one’s passions come to an end, a moment when the door to the eternal suffering promised them opens. Thus Satan regards death as something terrible and seeks to have others look at it in the same way. This analysis is quite correct from his own perspective; however, it does not apply to innocent people and sincere believers. For them, death brings happiness and Paradise.
Someone who uses his reason and thus rises above his emotions sees the facts clearly and behaves accordingly. Matters that appear very complicated, complex, irresoluble, and inexplicable to those who are emotional and whose reason is therefore clouded are very simple, clear, and uncomplicated to believers. People dragged along by their emotions have left their reason behind in order to continue on their way toward eternal suffering in a morass of idolatry, having submitted their wills to satan’s enchantments.