In this verse, the sage Luqmân calls his son to avoid associating partners in worship with Allah, decrying it as a mighty form of oppression.
Polytheism takes various forms. They are as numerous as the possible ways of worship are numerous. Just as the ways of practicing polytheism are many, the objects of polytheistic worship are also quite varied.
The most obvious of these are idols and fetishes. Idols are the statues that are fashioned in the shape of a human being or other creature and worshipped besides Allah. Fetishes are whatever is worshipped other than Allah, whatever form it takes.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “O my Lord do not let my grave be worshipped as a fetish.” [ Musnad Ahmad and al-Muwatta' ]
The term fetish ( wathan in Arabic) has a more general meaning than the term idol ( sanam ).
They are worshipped in many ways. Prostration to them is a form of worship, offering sacrifices to them is another, and invoking a vow in their name is another.
Worship also takes the form of devotions of the heart. Harboring for one of these idols or fetishes the feelings of love, reliance, fear, and hope that are due to Allah alone or turning to them in repentance is pure polytheism. It is idolatrous to focus such feelings and devotions upon anyone or anything else besides Allah alone.
Allah tells us about those who give over their love and devotion in worship to other than Allah. He says: “Yet there are men who take (for worship) others besides Allah, as equal (with Allah): they love them as they should love Allah, but those who believe are overflowing in their love for Allah.” [ Sûrah al-Baqarah : 165]
With respect to fear and awe, Allah says: “It is only the Satan that suggests to you the fear of his votaries: be not afraid of them, but fear Me, if you have faith.” [ Sûrah Al-`Imrân : 175]
With respect to trust and reliance being worship, Allah says: “But in Allah put your trust if you have faith.” [ Sûrah al-Mâ'dah : 23]
For turning in repentance, Allah says: “Turn in repentance to Him, and fear Him: establish regular prayers, and be not among those who join gods with Allah.” [ Sûrah al-Rûm : 31]
In short, everything that is deemed to be a form of worship to Allah may not be offered to other than Allah. It is idolatry and polytheism to do so. Allah says: “One who joins other gods with Allah has strayed far, far away (from the right).” [ Sûrah al-Nisâ': 116]
Idolatry is not confined to the worship of physical statues and fetishes. There are immaterial idols which people succumb to in their worship, like the whims and vain desires that go against Allah's religion and His law. Whoever follows his vain desires instead of Allah's religion has taken an idol of sorts as a god in worship besides Allah.
Allah says: “Have you seen such a one as takes as his god his own vain desire? Allah has, left him astray upon knowledge and sealed his hearing and his heart, and set a covering upon his sight. Who, then, will guide him after Allah? Will you not then receive admonition?” [ Sûrah al-Jâthiyah : 23]
Following one's whims means the adoption of deviant principles, ideologies and philosophies. The pious predecessors used to refer to the people who followed their heretical whims and ideas as “the people of vain desires and innovations”.
Therefore, we must realize that the worship of idols is not confined to a special type of behavior or a particular form. There ways of engaging in idol worship are as numerous as all the ways a person can conceivably engage in worship.
In the beginning, humanity was united in pure monotheism. Allah says: “Mankind was one single nation. And Allah sent Messengers with glad tidings and warnings; And with them He sent the book in truth to judge between people in matters wherein they differed.” [ Sûrah al-Baqarah : 213]
Humanity knew nothing of idolatry except after ten epochs had passed from the time of Adam to the time of Noah (peace be upon them both). This is the time when idolatry and the worship of other than Allah first took place. This is why Allah sent Noah; to call the people to return to the worship of Allah alone and abandon their idol worship.
When Noah came to his people with this message, they rejected it. Allah tells us: “And they said (to each other): ‘Abandon not your gods, abandon neither Wadd nor Suwâ`, neither Yaghûth nor Ya`ûq nor Nasr.” [ Sûrah Nûh : 23]
Ibn `Abbâs tells us that these names belonged to pious people who had belonged to Noah's nation aforetime. When those pious people died, Satan inspired the people to erect statues in the places where they used to sit and confer upon those statues the names of those people. This they did. At that time, however, the statues were not worshipped.
However, after that generation had passed away and knowledge was lost, those statues were taken as objects of worship.
After that, the idols of Noah's people became the idols of the Arab tribes. [ Sahîh al-Bukhârî (4920)]
This state of affairs continued until Allah sent His Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who demolished them.
All nations had a Prophet to call them to the worship of Allah alone to and leave whatever else of idols and fetishes they had been worshipping. Allah says: And there has never been a people who have not had a warner live among them.” [ Sûrah Fâtir : 24]
The oppression that is polytheism
The negative affect of polytheism on a person's mental and emotional state are numerous. Some of these have been mentioned in Allah's book. We will briefly mention a few of these by way of example:
1. Lack of security, contentment and inner peace. Allah says, conveying to us the words of Abraham (peace be upon him) to his people: “How should I fear (the beings) you associate with Allah, when you fear not to give partners to Allah without any authority having been given to you? Which of (us) two parties has more right to security, if you possess knowledge? It is those who believe and mix not their beliefs with oppression. It is these who have security, for they are rightly guided.” [ Sûrah al-An`âm : 81-82]
The oppression mentioned in this verse refers to polytheism.
2. Intellectual and moral decline. This comes from people worshipping others like themselves who possess neither the ability to help or harm them. Even worse, they worship inanimate objects that neither hear nor see.
Allah says: “ They have taken as lords beside Allah their rabbis and their monks and the Messiah son of Mary, when they were bidden to worship only One Allah. ; yet they were commanded to worship but One God: there is no God but He, glory be to Him above the partners they ascribe to Him.” [ Sûrah al-Tawbah : 31]
Allah says: “Why worship that which neither hears nor sees and can profit you nothing?” [ Sûrah Maryam : 42]
He says: “If you invoke them, they will not listen to your call, and if they were to listen, they cannot answer your (prayer). On the day of Judgment they will reject your ‘partnership'. None can inform you like Him Who is All-Aware. ” [ Sûrah Fâtir : 14]
He says: “But the supplication of those without faith is nothing but vain error.” [ Sûrah Ghâfir : 50]
3. The pursuit of uncertainties and lies. Allah says: “Behold, verily to Allah belong all creatures in the heavens and on Earth. Those who follow aught instead of Allah do not follow His partners. They follow nothing but conjecture and they do noting but lie.” [ Sûrah Yûnus : 66]
4. Inconsistency in behavior, thought, and worship. Allah says: “And most of them do not believe in Allah without associating (others as partners) with Him.” [ Sûrah Yûsuf : 106]
5. Confusion and the inability to distinguish between what is beneficial and what is harmful. Allah says: “Say: ‘Do you then take (for worship) protectors other than Him, such as have no power either for good or for harm to themselves? Say: ‘Are the blind equal with those who see? Or the depths of darkness equal with light?' Or do they assign to Allah partners who have created (anything) as He has created, so that the creation seemed to them similar? Say: ‘Allah is the Creator of all things: He is the One, the Supreme and Overpowering'.” [ Sûrah al-Ra`d : 16]
6. Crass opportunism and a tendency to take advantage of others. This is the attitude that people who worship gods beside Allah exhibit in their relationship with Allah. Allah says: “Yet, when He removes the distress from you, behold, some of you turn to other gods to join with their Lord” [ Sûrah al-Nahl : 54]
He says: “Now, if they embark on a boat, they call on Allah, making their devotion sincerely (and exclusively) to him, but when He has delivered them safely to (dry) land, behold, they give a share (of their worship to others)” [ Sûrah al-`Ankabût: 65]
He also says: “When trouble touches men, they cry to their Lord turning back to Him, in repentance: but when He gives them a taste of mercy from Himself, behold, some of them pay part-worship to other gods besides their Lord” [ Sûrah al-Rûm : 33]
They worship Allah sincerely when they face hardship and after Allah gives them relief from their hardship, they turn again to worshipping other gods beside Allah.
7. Idolatry and other forms of polytheism give Satan a way to have power over the polytheist. Consequently, many of the polytheist's behaviors and attitudes are derived from Satan's whispers and suggestions.
Allah says: “ So when you recite the Quran, seek refuge with Allah from Satan the rejected one. No authority has he over those who believe and put their trust in their Lord. His authority is over those only, who take him as patron and who join partners with Allah. ” [ Sûrah al-Nahl : 98-100]
Allah says: “Likewise did We make for every Messenger an enemy, satans among men and Jinns, inspiring each other with flowery discourse by way of deception.” [ Sûrah al-An`âm : 112]
8. A narrow, materialistic worldview. The more blessings he experiences, the more reckless and arrogant the polytheist gets and the more heedless he becomes of his Lord. He becomes more and more steeped in the worship of his other gods.
Allah describes such a person in the Qur'ân, saying: “(Abundant) was the produce this man had. He said to his companion, in the course of a mutual argument: ‘I have greater wealth than you, and am mightier in followers. ' He went into his garden while he oppressed himself. He said: ‘I hold that none of this will ever perish, nor do I deem that the Hour (of Judgment) will (ever) come. Even if I am brought back to my Lord, I shall surely find (there) something better in exchange.” [ Sûrah al-Kahf : 34-36]
Such people are greedy for the worldly life. Allah says: “You will indeed find them, of all people, most greedy for life, even more than the idolaters: each one of them wishes he could be given a life of a thousand years: but the grant of such life will not save him from (due) chastisement for Allah sees well all that they do.” [ Sûrah al-Baqarah : 96]
9. Indecisiveness, perplexity, and incoherence of thought. A polytheist finds his life always beset with uncertainty on account of the numerous focuses of worship that he has. Allah says: “Allah puts forth a parable a man belonging to many partners at variance with each other, and a man belonging entirely to one master: are those two equal in comparison? Praise be to Allah, but most of them have no knowledge” [ Sûrah al-Zumar : 29]
10. Depression, frustration, and despair of Allah's mercy. Many idolaters commit suicide. Allah says: “Those whom Allah wills to guide, He opens their breast to Islam; those whom He wills to leave straying, He makes their breast close and constricted, as if they have to climb up to the skies. Thus does Allah lay abomination on those who refuse to believe.” [ Sûrah al-An`âm : 125]
Allah says: “And who despairs of the mercy of his Lord but such as go astray?” [ Sûrah al-Hijr : 56]
These are but a few of the evil affects of polytheism on the people who engage in it. There are many more. Far worse than all of these, however, are the consequences that idolatry has on a person in the Hereafter. A person who dies on polytheism will never be forgiven. He will be eternally consigned to Hell.
Every benefit and advantage that a person realizes by worshipping Allah alone is matched by an equal portion of mischief and suffering for the polytheist.