Answered by Shaykh Jamir Meah
Question Asslamu Alaykum
Some people argue that all human actions can be divided into two categories. These categories are:
2. Interactions and Transactions
In the first category no action is allowed unless it has been specifically sanctioned by Sacred Law. In the second category any action is allowed unless it has been specifically prohibited by Sacred Law.
The practical import of this categorisation implies that if one does an act of “worship” which has not been sanctioned by Sacred Law then he will be committing an act of “innovation” (Bid’ah). Another import of this categorisation has to do with “minor and major forms of shirk”.
Is this categorisation of actions an established principle (asl) of the religion?
Can our actions be “shirk”?
Is there a relationship between “bid’ah” and “shirk”?
Answer: Wa’alaykum assalam, thank you for your questions.
The understanding of human actions that you mentioned is not based on sound, traditional Islamic scholarship, and as a consequence, gives rise to your confusion on human actions, innovation and shirk.
This is unfortunately the result of an incorrect methodology which comprises of a mishmash of (what should be purely) legal issues, mixed with tenants of belief, and concepts of innovation and shirk. It is a dangerous approach, at the minimum for going against orthodox Islamic scholarship, and at worst, it often results in labeling a great many Muslims as being outside the fold of Islam.
Generally speaking, human actions fall into one of five legal rulings, as stated in books of legal principles (Usul al Fiqh):
1. al Fard(obligatory): A fard act is that which God has made obligatory on a person, such as the five prayers. Its performance is rewarded and its non-performance is liable to punishment.
2. Al Mandoub (supererogatory): This is otherwise known as ‘mustahab’ or ‘sunna’. A Mandoub act is that which God desires us to perform but has not made obligatorily, such as the mid-morning prayer al Duha. Its performance is rewarded while it’s non-performance is not liable to punishment.
3. Al Mubah (permissible): This is also call al Ja’iz. A mubah act is that which God has given the choice for a person to perform it or not perform it, such as eating, drinking etc. One is not rewarded for doing it, or punished for not doing it.
4. Al Makrouh (disliked): A Makrouh act is that which God desires us to not do, but we are not prohibited from doing it. Examples are standing up when urinating etc. God rewards the non-performance of it, whilst the performance of it is not liable to punishment.
5. Al Haram (prohibited): A haram act is that which God has prohibited us from doing, whether outward acts, such as drinking alcohol, or inward traits, such as envy. Its performance is liable to punishment, while abandoning such acts carries reward.
All human acts fall into one of these categories. What makes our actions valid or invalid is the details of those actions, such as the conditions, integrals, and nullifier of the act, detailed in the books of sacred law (fiqh). There are 4 valid legal schools of law one may follow.
Izz al Din bin Abdus Salam, who lived in the 6th-7th centuries after the Hijra, stated that there are five categories of innovation:
These 5 categories have been accepted by the vast majority of great Islamic scholars ever since, including Imam al Nawawi and Al Hafiz Ibn Hajr. For a detail explanation on these categories and the concept of Bida’ in general, please refer to this article:
Shirk means ‘to associate others with Allah’. Shirk can relate to actions, beliefs, or both together.
Actions:: Given our 5 legal rulings that pertain to human actions, we simply look at the legal rulings of each action, is it obligatory, sunna, haram etc.?
Then, for an action to be considered an act of shirk (whether an innovation or not), there must be an element of associating others with Allah behind the action, such as prostrating to the sun. Similarly, one may state words which express shirk.
Belief: Shirk in belief is to associate other than Allah in one’s belief, such as believing that Jesus is the son of God, or believing that an amulet is the actual thing that is protecting or benefiting one and not God alone.
[al Luma’, al-Qawaid al Kubra, al Fatawa al Hadithiya]
You may also find taking a course in fiqh, usul al fiqh, and aqidah beneficial. Please refer to our course page.
I pray this clarifies your questions.
[Shaykh] Jamir Meah
Shaykh Jamir Meah grew up in Hampstead, London. In 2007, he traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he spent nine years studying the Islamic sciences on a one-to-one basis under the foremost scholars of the Ribaat, Tarim, with a main specialization and focus on Shafi’i fiqh. In early 2016, he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continues advanced studies in a range of Islamic sciences, as well as teaching. Jamir is a qualified homeopath.