The Difference between Kufr and Shirk
by Abdul Azeez bin Baz (May Allah have mercy on him)
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
• Kufr : to the deny and conceal the truth.
Denying the prayer, the obligation of Zakah, the duty of Fasting, the requirement of Hajj :if you’re able, the obligation to honor the parents are all acts of Kufr.
Along with all the previous mentioned acts, denying the prohibition of Zina, the prohibition of consuming intoxicants, the prohibition of severing family ties and so forth are Kufr.
• Shirk : to direct any act of worship to other than Allah.
Seeking assistance from the deceased, Jinn, idols, and stars to diminish an affliction are acts of Shirk. To offer a sacrifice or to make a promise to the deceased, Jinn, and idols are acts of Shirk as well.
The word Kafir is used to refer to a Mushrik and vice versa. Examples of this can be found in Surah – Al-Mu’minoon. He says,”And whoever invokes (or worships), besides Allah, any other ilah (god), of whom he has no proof, then his reckoning is only with his Lord. Surely! Al-Kafirun (the disbelievers in Allah and in the Oneness of Allah, polytheists, pagans, idolaters, etc.) will not be successful.[ #117] .
In Al-Ma’idah He says,” Verily, whosoever sets up partners in worship with Allah, then Allah has forbidden Paradise for him, and the Fire will be his abode . And for the Zalimun (polytheists and wrong-doers) there are no helpers.”[ #72] .
Along with those verses the Most Merciful says, “Such is Allah your Lord; His is the kingdom. And those, whom you invoke or call upon instead of Him, own not even a Qitmir (the thin membrane over the date-stone). If you invoke (or call upon) them, they hear not your call, and if (in case) they were to hear, they could not grant it (your request) to you. And on the Day of Resurrection, they will disown your worshipping them.” [ Al-Fatir 13-14]
In those magnificent verses of the Quran Allah named their supplication to other than Him as Shirk, except in Surah Al-Mum’minon. There He called the act Kufr.
Moreover in Surah At-Tawba Allah states, “They (the disbelievers, the Jews and the Christians) want to extinguish Allah’s Light (with which Muhammad has been sent – Islamic Monotheism) with their mouths, but Allah will not allow except that His Light should be perfected even though the Kafirun (disbelievers) hate (it).
It is He Who has sent His Messenger (Muhammad ) with guidance and the religion of truth (Islam), to make it superior over all religions even though the Mushrikun (polytheists, pagans, idolaters, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah) hate (it).[ # 32-33]
In those verses, He the Most High described the disbelievers as being Kufr and Mushrikeen. This proves that the Kufr can be described as Shirk: and Shirk can be described as Kufr.
There are number verses and Hadeeth that show the words Kufr and Shirk used identical. Among those Hadeeth are two;
1. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, Between a man and Shirk and Kufr is abandoning the Prayer. [ Muslim 117]
2. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “ The covenant between us and the disbelievers is the prayer. Whoever leaves off the prayer has disbelieved.” [ At-Tirmithi 2545, An-Nisa’ 459 and others]
TN : We have learned here that Shirk and Kufr are sometimes used as one meaning: To disbelieve in Allah. Sometimes they aren’t. And in this case Shirk has a specific meaning: to direct worship to other than Allah, while acknowledging His existence. Kufr on the other hand has a more general meaning. [ refer to Ta’reefath Al-Itiqadeeyah by Sa’d Al-Abdul Latif page 210-211]
Taken from Majmu’ Fatawa of Bin Baz vol 9 page 174-175.
Translated by Abu Aaliyah Abdullah ibn Dwight Battle
Doha, Qatar 1431