Understanding shirk, and the significance of the Black Stone in Islam

Ariyo Fadlul-Hakeem Ahmad, Jamia Ahmadiyya International, Ghana
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Shirk involves the belief of associating any partner or partners with God Almighty. The Holy Quran emphatically addresses this, stating:

  إِنَّ ٱللّٰهَ لَا يَغۡفِرُ أَن يُشۡرَكَ بِهِۦ وَيَغۡفِرُ مَا دُونَ ذَٰلِكَ لِمَن يَشَآءُۚ وَمَن يُشۡرِكۡ بِٱللّٰهِ فَقَدِ ٱفۡتَرَىٰٓ إِثۡمًا عَظِيمًا

“Surely, Allah will not forgive that a partner be associated with Him; but He will forgive whatever is short of that to whomsoever He pleases. And whoso associates partners with Allah has indeed devised a very great sin.” (Surah an-Nisa’, Ch.4: V.49)

Shirk can manifest in various forms. The Promised Messiahas elucidates on this, stating:

“Associating others with God takes many forms and is called shirk. There is the obvious shirk in which Hindus, Christians, Jews and other idol worshippers indulge, in which a man or stone or lifeless things or faculties or fictitious deities are worshipped as God.” (Malfuzat, Vol. 3, pp. 79-82, as quoted in Essence of Islam, Vol. I, 2007, p. 172)

This makes it abundantly clear that shirk is strictly prohibited and condemned within Islam and has no place in its teachings. However, we still see some people raising allegations against the religion of Islam regarding the Black Stone.

The Black Stone

The black stone, commonly known as al-hajar al-aswad, is a stone embedded in the eastern corner of the Holy Ka‘bah, and is believed to be one of the stones showered from space and used when Prophet Abrahamas built the Holy Ka‘bah. When the walls of the Ka‘bah were raised to a certain height, Abrahamas placed a distinctive stone at one corner to indicate where people should begin their circumambulation (tawaf) of the house of Allah. (The Life & Character of the Seal of Prophetssa – Vol. I, p. 101)

Clarifying a misconception

A common misconception challenges the actions of Muslims in relation to the Black Stone during Hajj, posing the question: if major religions condemn idol worship, why isn’t the “veneration” of the Black Stone seen as such?

This misunderstanding arises from observing Muslims who travel to Mecca and strive to see or touch the Black Stone, suggesting parallels to idolatry. However, this comparison is fundamentally flawed. The Islamic faith, as dictated by the Holy Quran, expressly prohibits all forms of shirk. Muslims firmly believe in tawhid, the Oneness of God, and directing any form of worship, supplication, or hope for benefit towards anything other than Allah is considered a grave sin. The rituals involving the Black Stone are not about worshipping the stone itself; rather, they are a symbolic emulation of the actions of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, demonstrating love and respect for his traditions. They are outward expressions of reverence towards God and a symbolic connection to the Prophet Abraham and the origins of Islam. Moreover, pilgrims are not obligated to kiss or touch the Black Stone as a prerequisite of Hajj, indicating that its role is symbolic rather than divine. Above all, Muslims do not attribute any divine powers to the Black Stone; unlike those who engage in idol worship, Muslims believe that Allah alone possesses all power and authority, and no object, person, or entity can grant blessings or inflict harm independently. Thus, it is not believed to confer benefits or cause harm.

It was narrated by Hazrat Umarra, a close companion of the Prophetsa that upon seeing the Black Stone, he remarked:

“You are just a stone that can neither cause harm nor bring benefit; were it not that I saw Allah’s Messengersa kissing you, I would not have kissed you.” (Sunan an-Nasa’i, Kitab manasiki l-hajj, Hadith 2938)

This statement underscores the symbolic significance of the Black Stone in Islamic practice. It is essential to recall that when the Holy Prophetsa returned to Mecca, he cleansed the Ka‘bah of the idols that had been placed there, re-establishing the pure monotheistic worship of Allah. The act of kissing the stone does not imply that it possesses any divine power but rather is a gesture of respect and emulation of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, signifying a spiritual connection with the Prophet’ssa actions and his devotion to Allah. He expressed his reverence for the Ka‘bah upon his return to Mecca after a long absence by touching and kissing the stone, demonstrating his emotional connection to this sacred site. The above hadith clearly illustrates that the significance of the Black Stone is rooted in tradition and symbolism, rather than any supernatural attributes.

According to the teachings of Islam, only Allah possesses divine attributes, embodying perfection in every sense. This principle is eloquently described by the Promised Messiahas who emphasises the all-encompassing power of God:

“We found the Messengersa who manifested God to us and we found the God Who created everything through His perfect power. How majestic is His power that nothing came into being without it and nothing can continue to exist without its support? That True God of ours possesses numberless blessings, numberless powers, numberless beauties and beneficences. There is no other God beside Him.”(Nasim-e-Da‘wat, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 19, p. 363)          

In Islam, physical actions such as kissing the Black Stone are deeply symbolic and are meant to express devotion, not idolatry. This is emphasised in the practices observed during Hajj, where pilgrims perform circumambulation (tawaf) around the Ka‘bah, a symbolic gesture echoing the actions of the prophets Abrahamas and Muhammadsa, not an act of worship towards the stone itself.

Moreover, Islam teaches that true devotion is measured by the purity of one’s intentions, as reflected in a hadith narrated by Hazrat ‘Umarra b. al-Khattab. When pilgrims kiss the Black Stone, they do so with the intention of fulfilling a sunnah of the Prophetsa, acknowledging the stone’s historical significance rather than perceiving it as a source of benefit or harm.

Hazrat ‘Umarra b. al-Khattab narrated:

سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللّٰهِ صلى اللّٰه عليه وسلم يَقُولُ‏ إِنَّمَا الأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّات

“I heard Allah’s Messengersa saying, ‘The [reward of] deeds depend[s] upon the intentions.’” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab bad‘ al-wahy, Bab kayfa kana bad‘ al-wahy ila rasulillahisa, Hadith 1)

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas eloquently articulates the profound spiritual significance of the Black Stone in the broader context of Islamic devotion:

“In the world of love, the human spirit always circles around its lover and gives a kiss towards its threshold. Likewise, the Holy Ka‘bah is a physical manifestation for all the fervent lovers [of God]. Allah states that this is His house and the Black Stone [Hajr-e-Aswad] is the stone of His threshold. He gave this order so that a person could practically express their ardent love. Hence, pilgrims physically walk around it [the Ka‘bah] on the occasion of Hajj, in a way that they are intensely in love with Allah. They put aside their beauty, shave their head, and walk around the Ka‘bah. They kiss the Black Stone with the thought that it is the stone of the threshold of Allah.

“This physical passion creates spiritual warmth and love, and the body circles His house and kisses the threshold’s stone, and with this, the spirit circles its true lover and kisses its spiritual threshold. Similarly, the soul circulates the true Beloved and kisses His spiritual threshold.

“There is no shirk [associating partners with Allah] involved in this practice. When a friend receives a letter from a beloved friend, they kiss it as well. No Muslim worships the Holy Ka‘bah, nor do they ask anything from the Black Stone, but only considers it a model of God’s manifestation which has been established by Allah. Just as we lay prostrate on the ground and this prostration is not for the material earth, in exactly the same manner do we kiss the Black Stone, but that kiss is not for the Black Stone. A stone is merely a stone and can neither benefit anyone, nor cause any harm, but it has been bestowed from the hands of the Beloved, Who has declared it to be a manifestation of His threshold.” (Chashma-e-Ma’rifat, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 23, pp. 101-102 as quoted in “The philosophy of Hajj and sacrifice in Islam”, www.alhakam.org)

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