“What’s distinctive about the Islamic concept of idolatry vis a vis previous scriptures? At the heart of the Qur’an, there’s a deep philosophical and social criticism of the term that is robust and dynamic. There are so many objects of idolatry in the Qur’an, which is distinctive from the biblical precedence. I want to bring that into a modern mode of analysis and ask the question, Are there other idols in our lives, in our society, in our politics, even in our religious life that may be exposed in this creative reading of the Qur’an?” —Rushain Abbasi
“Shirk is a universal concept, idolatry is one instantiation of it. Most of our scholars say there are two broad categories of shirk: greater and lesser. Greater is affirming another entity that shares in the essential attributes of the Divine. Lesser shirk is, as the scholars say, to notice and observe other than God in some affairs of your life. The theological and legal implications of both categories are very different; however, they are both very serious: the first takes one outside the fold of Islam, and the second is very dangerous in the spiritual life of a believer.” —Omar Qureshi
In his recent essay for Renovatio (“The Idols We Carry in Our Hearts”), the scholar of Islamic thought Rushain Abbasi argues that the Qur’an, unlike previous scriptures, universalized the problem of idolatry, applying it beyond the worship of physical constructs. But discussions about idolatry remain relatively absent in mainstream Muslim discourse, which means we may be neglecting the rich perspective around shirk (associations with God) offered by the Qur’an. In a thought-provoking exchange, Rushain Abbasi and Omar Qureshi, provost of Zaytuna College, present their ideas on why shirk retains theological utility for Muslims today and explain why the concept goes far beyond idols of stone. Ubaydullah Evans facilitates the conversation.
Rushain Abbasi is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities and Lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University. Professor Abbasi’s scholarly work seeks to bring the premodern Islamic intellectual and cultural heritage to bear on contemporary debates in religious studies and social theory.
Omar Qureshi is provost of Zaytuna College. He holds a PhD Loyola University and is a scholar of educational philosophy, ethics, theology, and Islamic law. His field specialties include science education, philosophy of education, metaphysics, ethics, theology, and Islamic law.
“The Idols We Carry in Our Hearts,” Russian Abbasi, Renovatio