"Behold! Luqman said to his son exhorting him: ‘O my son! Join not in worship others with God. Indeed polytheism is a mighty oppression." (Quran 31:13)
In this verse, the sage Luqman calls his son to avoid associating partners in worship with God, 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 God. Fetishes are whatever is worshipped other than God, whatever form it takes.
The Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, said: "O my Lord do not let my grave be worshipped as a fetish."
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 God 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 God alone.
God tells us about those who give over their love and devotion in worship to other than God. He says: "Yet there are men who take (for worship) others besides God, as equal (with God): they love them as they should love God, but those who believe are overflowing in their love for God." (Quran 2:65)
With respect to fear and awe, God 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." (Quran 3:175)
With respect to trust and reliance being worship, God says: "But in God put your trust if you have faith." (Quran 5:23)
For turning in repentance, God says: "Turn in repentance to Him, and fear Him: establish regular prayers, and be not among those who join gods with God." (Quran 30:31)
In short, everything that is deemed to be a form of worship to God may not be offered to other than God. It is idolatry and polytheism to do so. God says: "One who joins other gods with God has strayed far, far away (from the right)." (Quran 4:116)
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 God's religion and His law. Whoever follows his vain desires instead of God's religion has taken an idol of sorts as a god in worship besides God.
God says: "Have you seen such a one as takes as his god his own vain desire? God 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 God? Will you not then receive admonition?" (Quran 45:23)
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. The 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. God says: "Mankind was one single nation. And God 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." (Quran 2:213)
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 God first took place. This is why God sent Noah; to call the people to return to the worship of God alone and abandon their idol worship.
When Noah came to his people with this message, they rejected it. God tells us: "And they said (to each other): ‘Abandon not your gods, abandon neither Wadd nor Suwa`, neither Yaghuth nor Ya`uq nor Nasr." (Quran 71:23)
Ibn Abbas 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.
This state of affairs continued until God sent His Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, who demolished them.
All nations had a Prophet to call them to the worship of God alone and to leave whatever else of idols and fetishes they had been worshipping. God says: And there has never been a people who have not had a warner live among them." (Quran 35:24)
 Musnad Ahmad and al-Muwatta'
 Saheeh Al-Bukhari
The negative affect of polytheism on a person’s mental and emotional state are numerous. Some of these have been mentioned in God’s book. We will briefly mention a few of these by way of example:
1. Lack of security, contentment and inner peace.
God says, conveying to us the words of Abraham (peace be upon him) to his people: "How should I fear (the beings) you associate with God, when you fear not to give partners to God 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." (Quran 6:81-82)
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.
God says: "They have taken as lords beside God their rabbis and their monks and the Messiah son of Mary, when they were bidden to worship only One God. And they were not commanded except to worship one God; there is no deity except Him. Exalted is He above whatever they associate with Him." (Quran 9:31)
God says: "Why worship that which neither hears nor sees and can profit you nothing?" (Quran 19:42)
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." (Quran 35:14)
He says: "But the supplication of those without faith is nothing but vain error." (Quran 40:50)
3. The pursuit of uncertainties and lies.
God says: "Behold, verily to God belong all creatures in the heavens and on Earth. And those who invoke other than God do not (actually) follow (His) ‘partners.’ They follow nothing but conjecture and they do nothing but lie." (Quran 10:66)
4. Inconsistency in behavior, thought, and worship.
God says: "And most of them do not believe in God without associating (others as partners) with Him." (Quran 12:106)
5. Confusion and the inability to distinguish between what is beneficial and what is harmful.
God 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 God partners who have created (anything) as He has created, so that the creation seemed to them similar? Say: ‘God is the Creator of all things: He is the One, the Supreme and Overpowering.’" (Quran 13:16)
6. Crass opportunism and a tendency to take advantage of others. This is the attitude that people who worship gods beside God exhibit in their relationship with God.
God says: "Yet, when He removes the distress from you, behold, some of you turn to other gods to join with their Lord." (Quran 16:54)
He says: "Now, if they embark on a boat, they call on God, 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)." (Quran 29:65)
He also says: "And when adversity touches the people, they call upon their Lord, turning in repentance to Him, but when He gives them a taste of His Mercy, behold! a party of them associate partners in worship with their Lord." (Quran 30:33)
They worship God sincerely when they face hardship and after God gives them relief from their hardship, they turn again to worshipping other gods beside God.
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.
God says: "So when you recite the Quran, seek refuge with God 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 God." (Quran 16:98-100)
God says: "Likewise did We make for every Messenger an enemy, devils among mankind and Jinns, inspiring each other with flowery discourse by way of deception." (Quran 6:112)
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.
God describes such a person in the Quran, 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.’" (Quran 18:34-36)
Such people are greedy for the worldly life. God 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 God sees well all that they do." (Quran 2:96)
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.
God says: "God 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 God, but most of them have no knowledge." (Quran 39:29)
10. Depression, frustration, and despair of God’s mercy. Many idolaters commit suicide.
God says: "Those whom God 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 God lay abomination on those who refuse to believe." (Quran 6:125)
God says: "And who despairs of the mercy of his Lord but such as go astray?" (Quran 15:56)
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 God alone is matched by an equal portion of mischief and suffering for the polytheist.
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