'Associating' with God in Islamic thought: a comparative study of Muslim interpretations of shirk
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Linnhoff, Josef Sebastian
This thesis explores the meaning of shirk or ‘association’ with God in Islamic thought. The concept of shirk is integral to Islam. The Qur’an specifies shirk or ‘associating’ partners to God as the ultimate doctrinal sin (Q 4:48). Yet we await a serious and sustained analysis of what shirk means to Islamic thought and how the idea of ‘associating’ with God has been conceived across Muslim intellectual history. This thesis contributes an in-depth scholarly treatment of the topic. It examines the roots of the doctrine of shirk in the Qur’an and the life of the Prophet before examining the place and meaning of shirk in the works of a number of post-classical and modern Muslim figures, from Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), Muḥammad ibn ‘Abdul Wahhāb (d. 1792), Muḥammad ‘Abduh (d. 1905) to Sayyid Quṭb (d. 1966). Each chapter is rooted in a close reading of their writings, a study of their historical and intellectual contexts, methodologies and approach to the Islamic tradition and the Muslim communities of their age. In so doing, this thesis reveals that while the Qur’anic command to avoid shirk is a major theme, the very nature of ‘association’ has been frequently reinterpreted by different Muslim thinkers, each in line with their particular contexts. Exploring Muslim conceptions of shirk, even within this narrow sampling of figures, opens a rich and hitherto under-explored area of enquiry. This thesis ultimately uncovers an image of shirk as a central yet multifaceted and highly dynamic concept in Islamic thought, and argues that there is no one single understanding or definition of the concept.