Polytheism creeping into people's minds

Q459 :I have read a Hadith which states that "polytheism may be more subtle among my nation than the movement of an ant on a black stone in the dark night." Could you please comment on what is metaphorically expressed here. How to diagnose this? And how to purify oneself from it?

A459 : This authentic Hadith warns us against entertaining any thoughts or indulging in any practices which smack of polytheism, although they may not appear to have any relationship with faith. It also aims to keep us on our guard so that we may watch our actions and examine our thoughts in order to always ensure that our faith remains free from elements which detract from our sincerity and dedication. As you are well aware, Islam places very strong emphasis on the need to maintain sincerity of faith. That can only be achieved if our actions are dedicated to Allah and if our devotion to Him is pure. Every human being may profess himself a believer. However, true faith can only be expressed through actions. It is for this reason that the Prophet defines faith as that "which is instilled deeply in the heart and to which credence is given through actions." If somebody professes to be a firm believer and that he associates no partner with Allah in any shape or form, he must confirm these statements with actions. If he does not, his claim is false. He may be in actual fact a polytheist or at least he may allow elements of polytheism to creep into his mind. It is perhaps useful to look at certain actions which involve such elements of polytheism. The first that springs to mind is hypocrisy. I do not mean here the sort of total hypocrisy which is practiced by a person who knows himself not to believe in Allah and the message of Muhammad (peace be upon him) and yet professes to be a Muslim. Such a person knows that he is not a believer. When he is alone or with people like him or those who are open enemies to Islam, he acknowledges his lack of belief and that he wishes Islam ill. What I mean by hypocrisy here is the sort of hypocritical attitude in people's dealings when a person, for example, shows his superiors at work that he is totally devoted to them and that he is keen to serve the interests of the establishment in which he works, but his claims are in fact false. Moreover, if a person praises another and extols his qualities to a degree of clear exaggeration, without actually being honest about what he is saying, his attitude is hypocritical. When we realize that to practice "even very simple and elementary hypocrisy is polytheistic," this becomes very clear to us. Another aspect of such subtle polytheism is that evidenced by actions and feelings such as loving someone or something although that love may lead to or involve some injustice and to hate another although it may lead to or involve some injustice. A true believer must always be on the side of justice and must fight injustice in every shape and form. Allah states in a Qudsi Hadith: "My servants, I have banished injustice away from Me and I have made it forbidden to you. Therefore, let no one of you be unjust to another." A person of sincere faith will be naturally and instinctively inclined to the side of justice. When that does not happen and he favors injustice in any situation, then he is after self-interest. The same is true when he dislikes or disfavors justice. Any person who allows himself to maintain such an attitude places his self-interest above basic Islamic principles. That is clear evidence that he does not have firm beliefs. His faith is suspect. That is a mark of subtle polytheism. Perhaps a clearer example of what the Prophet described as subtle polytheism is to believe that a human being, dead or alive, or something such as a charm or a shrine or whatever, can cause benefit or harm. A believer in the Oneness of Allah is one who attributes to Him everything that comes to him in the way of benefit or harm. A true Muslim always prays Allah to ask him to fulfill his wishes whatever they are. He knows that the realization of his hopes and the fulfillment of his aspirations can only come with Allah's help. Similarly the avoidance of any trouble and the relief from any evil or hardship that happens to any one can only be accomplished by Allah. Therefore, he asks no one else for such help. But many people do not realize that when they believe that a certain person or a particular thing can be of benefit to them or can cause them evil, they are elevating that person or that thing to the degree of partnership with Allah. Islam allows nothing of the sort. Allah states in a Qudsi Hadith: "I am the least desirous of any sort of partnership. Anyone who associates with Me a partner from among My creation, I abandon him to that which he claims to be My partner." This means that Allah rejects any person who associates any partners with Allah. Whomever Allah rejects will never prosper. That association of partners with Allah does not necessarily take a deliberate form. It is not necessary that a person concerned is aware that he believes that Allah has partners on the same level with him or even on a level beneath him. The fact that he believes that a person or thing can cause him benefit or harm is a manifestation of polytheism. The Prophet warns everyone against entertaining such thoughts. He says: "Whoever humbles himself in front of another in order to achieve any worldly gains loses two-thirds of his faith." All these attitudes and similar ones are often unrecognized by people as forms of polytheism. In order to ensure our awareness and keep us mindful of what we believe and what thoughts we entertain, the Prophet uses such a highly vivid picture, describing certain elements of polytheism as more subtle than the movement of ants. When you remember that an ant may travel the whole length of your arm or your body without you feeling anything at all, you will realize how serious the whole question is. It is very important for every Muslim to examine his thoughts and beliefs every now and then so that he may purge any alien thought and maintain purity of faith.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )