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"The Adoration of the Golden Calf" by Nicolas Poussin

Idolatry is usually defined as worship of any cult image, idea, or object, as opposed to the worship of a monotheistic God. It is considered a major sin in the Abrahamic religions whereas in religions where such activity is not considered a sin, the term "idolatry" itself is absent. Which images, ideas, and objects, constitute idolatry, and which constitute reasonable worship, is a matter of contention with some religious authorities and groups using the term to describe certain other religions apart from their own (sometimes resulting in iconoclasm).


The word idolatry comes (by haplology) from the Greek word εἰδωλολατρία eidololatria parasynthetically from εἰδωλολάτρης from εἴδωλον eidolon, "image" or "figure", and λάτρις latris, "worshipper"[1] or λατρεύειν latreuein, "to worship" from λάτρον latron "payment". Although the Greek appears to be a loan translation of the Hebrew phrase avodat elilim, which is attested in rabbinic literature (e.g., bChul., 13b, Bar.), the Greek term itself is not found in the Septuagint, Philo, Josephus, or in other Hellenistic Jewish writings. It is also not found in Greek literature. In the New Testament, the Greek word is found only in the letters of Paul, 1 Peter, 1 John, and Revelation, where it has a derogatory meaning. Hebrew terms for idolatry include avodah zarah (foreign worship) and avodat kochavim umazalot (worship of planets and constellations).

In today's context, idolatry is not limited to religious concepts, however, and considered more of a social phenomenon where false perceptions are created and worshipped, or even used as a term in the entertainment industry.

Hindu views of idolatry — linguistic symbols as idols of divine

The misleading notion that Hinduism is fundamentally idolatrous was addressed in the context of Abrahamic religions by Muslim scholar Al-Biruni. Al-Biruni rejected the notion and established that Hindus do not necessarily need anthropomorphisms, but the crowd and the members of the single sects use them most extensively [1]. He wrote:

The Hindus believe with regard to God that he is one, eternal, without beginning and end, acting by free-will, almighty, all-wise, living, giving life, ruling, preserving; one who in his sovereignty is unique, beyond all likeness and unlikeness, and that he does not resemble anything nor does anything resemble him


Hinduism neither prescribes nor proscribes worship of images (Skt. murti, or "idols" as seen by some non-Hindus). Striving for Moksha (salvation) i.e. one-ness with the universal soul (Brahman) is the ultimate goal of Hindus. And there is no one way to do this. One can approach through worship (Bhakti-Maarg) or Yoga (Raja-Maarg), or by performing one's duties well (karma-maarg) or intellectual path (Gnaana-Maarg). In achieving this spiritual progress "the first stage is the external/material worship; struggling to rise high, mental prayer is the next stage, but the highest stage is when the divine has been realized" [ref., Mahanirvana Tantra, 4:12]. The Hindu sages closed their eyes and meditated silently (forms of Skt. tapasya and Skt. sadhana) - they did not need enclosures/buildings, nor even words or mental images for their meditation. But these sages did not abuse any one's murtis or call its worship sin. They recognized it as an approach/stage in an individual's sincere spiritual progress guided by the principles of Dharma. "Would it be right for an old man to say that childhood is sin or youth is sin? .... Unity in variety is the plan of nature, and the Hindu has recognized it". [ref. Swami Vivekananda, address to the World Parliament of Religions, Chicago (Sept. 11, 1893)]. This conscious Hindu recognition and the respect for different approaches to sincere worship proved useful to Jews who migrated to India (for trading or fleeing persecution by other anti-idolatrous Abrahamical religions) and thrived for many hundreds of years before moving back to Israel in 1948 (ref: History of the Jews in India).

Hindus do not consider it a 'sin' in any manner to use icons, images, or linguistic symbols such as the sacred "Aum" to represent the divinity. For a Hindu the human language itself is a symbolic representation of the divine, and so the use of words to represent the divine in itself is an act of 'idolatry' but not sin in any manner. Also, these images (Skt. murti), icons, and symbols are understood by Hindus themselves as being symbolic representations of various divine attributes of the Supreme Being (Brahman), which is ultimately beyond all material names and forms.[2] Hindu iconography employs a rich language of symbols, and images are constructed to exacting proportions in an effort to convey particular religious truths.

Scientists use thousands of symbols to analyze, understand and retain some elements of truth and so do the Hindus. Those opposed to using idols/symbols should stop using modern technology (like cellphones, cars) since all of that is designed and developed using thousands of symbols.

The multiple heads or limbs often seen in Hindu art, for example, would be intended to represent divine omniscience and omnipotence, whereas the use of an animal icon would seek to represent particular abstract qualities associated with that animal such as wisdom, agility or power. Gestures (mudra) of the hand or the holding of a certain object are also heavily weighted with meaning. Each individual icon thus becomes to the Hindu worshiper a complex statement of faith and every detail may be a focus of meditation and spiritual insight. To fully equate the divine with its icons or murtis would be an Asuri (demonic) mis-construal of the Hindu concept of divine reality. The argument of scholars of Abrahamic faiths is that a human being with several heads or limbs is a false representation of God who is All-seeing and All-knowing. Hence they argue that such representations should not be worshipped. Further they argue that though God may have given certain qualities (agility,power etc.) to various animals, they cannot be in any way compared with the qualities of God Who is the Creator and Sustainer of everything in the universe.

From a historical perspective, image worship (Murti-PujA) is an ancient tradition within the Hindu tradition, with the oldest extant images of the classical Pauranik deities allegedly dating from the Gupta period (c. 3rd to 7th centuries CE). Modern academic view is that in the Vedic period that preceded this, worship was primarily centred around the open-air fire altar (yajna-kunda) and no physical representations of the divine were used. A text in the Shukla Yajur-veda (32.3) reads, “Of Him there is no likeness (pratima), whose glory is infinite”. The Upanishads, which form the philosophical ‘conclusions’ (vedAnta) of the Vedas, repeatedly stress the formlessness (nirākāra, no material form) and unimaginable nature of God, and advise the aspirant to realise the divine presence inwardly. Bhagavata Purana recommends meditation on and worship of pratima (murti) with the understanding that it is not an ordinary material object.[3]

The advent of Islamic rule in India saw dhimmification of the Hindu religious expressions and the persecution of Hindus. Hindu reformist movements in the 18th - 19th centuries such as the Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj, were highly critical of image worship like the Semitic religions and called for a return to the ancient Vedic and Upanishadic teachings.[4]

The use of icons in worship continues to be an issue of contention between Hindus and members of Abrahamic religions, whose scriptural texts often fulminate against idolatry. However, Hindus view the entire anti-idolatry plank of Semitic religions as an ideological justification for genocide of pantheistic Pagan cultures and the destruction of their symbols of belief in order to establish their cultural and religious supremacy. An understanding of the meaning inherent in these practises and the philosophical monotheism that underlies the apparent 'pantheon' of gods would do much in the way of promoting interreligious tolerance and dialogue.

Idolatry in the Bible

According to the Bible, idolatry originated in the age of Eber, though some interpret the text to mean in the time of Serug; traditional Jewish lore traces it back to Enos, the second generation after Adam. Image worship existed in the time of Jacob, from the account of Rachel taking images along with her on leaving her father's house, which is given in the Book of Genesis. According to the midrash Genesis Rabba, Abraham's father, Terah, was both an idol manufacturer and worshipper. It is recounted in both traditional Jewish texts and in the Quran that when Abraham discovered the true God, he destroyed his father's idols.

The commandments in the Hebrew Bible against idolatry forbade the adoption of the beliefs and practices of the pagans who lived amongst the Israelites at the time, especially the religions of ancient Akkad, Mesopotamia, and Egypt.

By and large, the [Bible] has succeeded in its task [of uprooting idolatry]. The Jewish People abandoned paganism and heralded monotheism. Through Judaism's offshoots of Christianity and Islam, much of the world has come to reject paganism and polytheism, and to believe in the One God.[5]

The Challenge of Creation, page 211

Some of these pagan religions, it is claimed in the Bible, had a set of practices which were prohibited under Jewish law, such as sex rites, cultic male and female prostitution, passing a child through a fire to Molech, and child sacrifice.

There is no one section that clearly defines idolatry; rather there are a number of commandments on this subject spread through the books of the Hebrew Bible, some of which were written in different historical eras, in response to different issues. Taking these verses together, idolatry in the Hebrew Bible is defined as either:

  • the worship of idols (or images)
  • the worship of polytheistic gods by use of idols (or images)
  • the worship of animals or people
  • the use of idols in the worship of God.

In a number of places, the Hebrew Bible makes clear that God has no shape or form, and is utterly incomparable; thus no idol, image, idea, or anything comparable to creation could ever capture God's essence. For example, when the Israelites are visited by God in Deut. 4:15, they see no shape or form. Many verses in the Bible use anthropomorphisms to describe God, (e.g. God's mighty hand, God's finger, etc.) but these verses have always been understood as poetic images rather than literal descriptions. This is reflected in Hosea 12:10 which says, “And I have spoken unto the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and by the hand of the prophets I use similes.”

The Bible records a struggle between the prophet's attempt to spread pure monotheism, and the tendency of some people, especially rulers such as Ahab, to accept or to encourage others into polytheistic or idolatrous beliefs. The patriarch Abraham was called to spread the true knowledge of God, but the prophetic books still reflect a continuing struggle against idolatry. For example, the Biblical prophet Jeremiah complains: "According to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah" (2:28).

The Bible has many terms for idolatry, and their usage represents the horror with which they filled the writers of the Bible [adherents of Jewish faith maintain that the Torah is the eternally binding word of God]. Thus idols are stigmatized "non-God" (Deut. 32:17, 21 [3]; Jer. 2:11 [4]), "things of naught" (Lev. 19:4 et passim [5]), "vanity" (Deut. 32), "iniquity" (1 Sam. 15:23 [6] ), "wind and confusion" (Isa. 41:29 [7]), "the dead" (Ps. 106:28 [8]), "carcasses" (Lev. 26:30; Jer. 16:18), "a lie" (Isa. 44:20 et passim [9]), and similar epithets.

Pagan idols are described as being made of gold, silver, wood, and stone. They are described as being only the work of men's hands, unable to speak, see, hear, smell, eat, grasp, or feel, and powerless either to injure or to benefit. (Ps. 135:15-18)

Idols were either designated in Hebrew by a term of general significance, or were named according to their material or the manner in which they were made. They said to have been were placed upon pedestals, and fastened with chains of silver or nails of iron lest they should fall over or be carried off (Isa. 40:19, 41:7; Jer. 10:14; Wisdom 13:15), and they were also clothed and colored (Jer. 10:9; Ezek. 16:18; Wisdom 15:4).

At first the gods and their images were conceived of as identical; but in later times a distinction was drawn between the god and the image. Nevertheless, it was customary to take away the gods of the vanquished (Isa. 10:10-11, 36:19, 46:1; Jer. 48:7, 49:3; Hosea 10:5; Dan. 11:8), and a similar custom is frequently mentioned in the cuneiform texts.

Idolatry as a negative stereotyping process

Yehezkel Kaufman (1960) has suggested that when Yahweh gave commandments regarding idolatry he meant it to be understood in its most literal form: according to the Bible, most idolaters really believed that their idols were gods, and Kaufman holds that this is an error in assuming that all idolatry was of this type, when in some cases, idols may have only been representations of gods. Kaufman writes that "We may perhaps say that the Bible sees in paganism only its lowest level, the level of mana-beliefs...the prophets ignore what we know to be authentic paganism (i.e., its elaborate mythology about the origin and exploits of the gods and their ultimate subjection to a meta-divine reservoir of impersonal power representing Fate or Necessity.) Their [the Biblical author's] whole condemnation revolves around the taunt of fetishism." Modern Pagans find this understanding of their religious practices as a stereotyping of their cultural and religious practices by Semitic religions.

However, Kaufman holds that in some places idolaters worshipped gods and spirits that existed independently of idols, and not the forms of the idols themselves. For instance, in a passage in 1 Kings 18:27 [10], the Hebrew prophet Elijah challenges the priests of Baal atop of Mount Carmel to persuade their god to perform a miracle, after they had begun to try to persuade the Jews to take up idolatry. The pagan priests beseeched their god without the use of an idol, which in Kaufman's view, indicates that Baal was not an idol, but rather one of the polytheistic gods that merely could be worshipped through the use of an idol.

Orestes Brownson asserts that the pagans in the Hebrew Bible did not literally worship the objects themselves, so that the issue of idolatry is really concerned with whether one is pursuing a "false god" or "the true God". Brownson may have been correct,[6] but Brownson's theory contradicts the understanding of the Ancient Hebrews, whose culture was contemporary with others that practiced "idol worship." The Book of Daniel, Chapter 14,[7] illustrates the Hebrew understanding. In Daniel 14, Cyrus, king of the Persians, worships two deities, a deity named Bel and a dragon. Daniel 14 characterizes the king and some of the Babylonians as believing, literally, that Bel and the dragon are living gods:

Now the Babylons had an idol, called Bel, and there were spent upon him every day twelve great measures of fine flour, and forty sheep, and six vessels of wine.[4] And the king worshipped it and went daily to adore it: but Daniel worshipped his own God. And the king said unto him, Why dost not thou worship Bel?[5] Who answered and said, Because I may not worship idols made with hands, but the living God, who hath created the heaven and the earth, and hath sovereignty over all flesh.[6] Then said the king unto him, Thinkest thou not that Bel is a living God? seest thou not how much he eateth and drinketh every day?....

Idolatry in Jewish thought

Judaism strongly prohibits any form of idolatry, and holds that idolatry is not limited to the worship of a statue or picture itself, but also includes worship of the Almighty Himself with the use of mediators and/or any artistic representations of God such as "Jesus on the Cross". According to this understanding, even if one directs his worship to the Almighty Himself and not to a statue, picture, or some other created thing, but yet he uses a created thing as a representation of the Almighty in order to assist in his worship of the Almighty, this is also considered a form of idolatry. In fact, Maimonides explains in chapter 1 of Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim (Avoda Zarah) in the Mishneh Torah that this is one of the ways that idolatry began.

While such scholars as Rabbi Saadia Gaon, Rabbi Bahya ibn Paquda, and Rabbi Yehuda Halevi elaborated on proper monotheism and the issues of idolatry, without a doubt Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides) was the most thorough in his elucidation of monotheism and the problems of idolatry. This is seen in his work known as the Mishnah Torah, in the Guide for the Perplexed, and in the various shorter writings he composed. In the Mishnah Torah, intended to be a complete compilation of Talmudic law, the theme of proclaiming the Unity of the Creator and eradication of idolatry is not limited to the sections specified for these topics. Rather, it permeates every section of the this work as the purpose and foundation of the entire Torah. In the Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides so clarifies his understanding of monotheism and idolatry that in its light even certain Jewish communities of his time, and today, become suspect of idolatry. This was the core reason for his controversy, even more so than the issue of philosophy.

In short, the proper Jewish definition of idolatry is to do an act of worship toward any created thing, to believe that a particular created thing is an independent power, or to make something a mediator between ourselves and the Almighty. These laws are codified in the Mishneh Torah, mainly in the section called Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim (Avodah Zarah) - The Laws of Strange Worship (Idolatry). It is considered a great insult to God to worship one of His creations instead of Him or together with Him. According to the Noahide Laws, the 7 laws which Jews believe to be binding on the non-Jewish world, the non-Israelite nations are also Forbidden to worship anything other than the Absolute Creator. One can find this in Hilkhot Melakhim u'Milhhamotehem (Laws of Kings and their Wars) chapter 9 in the Mishneh Torah. Judaism holds that any beliefs or practices which significantly interferes with a Jew's relationship with God may, at some point, be deemed idolatry.

Christian views of idolatry

The Ten Commandments on a monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol. The first commandment listed is interpreted as prohibiting Idolatry, but the nature of Biblical law in Christianity is disputed.

"Idolatry" was prohibited by the Apostolic Decree.

The Christian view of idolatry may generally be divided into two general categories. The Catholic/Orthodox view and the Fundamentalist view. The Puritan Protestant groups adopted a similar view to Judaism, denouncing all forms of religious objects whether in three dimensional or two dimensional form. The problem springs from differences in interpretation of the Decalogue commonly known as the Ten Commandments. "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments." (RSV Exodus 20:3-6).

It would appear that both Orthodox and Protestant views of idolatry condemn idolatry as it is practiced in non-Christian religions as worship directed to spirits other than the Creator. The Catholic missionary Saint Francis Xavier referred to Hinduism as idolatry, and Protestant Christian apologetics make similar claims about various non-Christian religions.

The Roman Catholic and particularly the Orthodox Churches cite St. John of Damascus' work "On the Divine Image" to defend the use of icons. He wrote in direct response to the iconoclastic controversy that began in the eighth century by the Byzantine emperor Leo III and continued by his successor Constantine V. St. John maintains that depicting the invisible God is indeed wrong, but he argues that the incarnation, where "the Word became flesh" (John 1:14), indicates that the invisible God became visible, and as a result it is permissible to depict Jesus Christ. He argues: "When He who is bodiless and without form... existing in the form of God, empties Himself and takes the form of a servant in substance and in stature and is found in a body of flesh, then you draw His image..." He also observes that in the Old Testament, images and statues were not absolutely condemned in themselves: examples include the graven images of cherubim over the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:18-22) which God instructed Moses to make, the embroidered figures of cherubim angels which God told Moses to make on the curtain which separated the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle tent (Exodus 26:31), or the bronze serpent mentioned in the book of Numbers. He also defends external acts of honour towards icons, arguing that there are "different kinds of worship" and that the honour shown to icons differs entirely from the adoration of God. He continues by citing Old Testament examples of forms of "honour": "Jacob bowed to the ground before Esau, his brother, and also before the tip of his son Joseph's staff (Genesis 33:3). He bowed down, but did not adore. Joshua, the Son of Nun, and Daniel bowed in veneration before an angel of God (Joshua 5:14) but they did not adore him. For adoration is one thing, and that which is offered in order to honour something of great excellence is another". He cites St. Basil who asserts, "the honour given to the image is transferred to its prototype". St. John argues therefore that venerating an image of Christ does not terminate at the image itself - the material of the image is not the object of worship - rather it goes beyond the image, to the prototype.

Christian theology, following the Great Commission, requires evangelism (promotion of the faith through conversion), and the prohibition of idolatry sometimes caused hostile relationships with pagan religions and other Christian groups who used images as part of their religious practice.

Fundamentalist Protestants often accuse Catholic and Orthodox Christians of idolatry, iconolatry, and even paganism for failing to "cleanse their faith" of the use of images.

Catholic and Orthodox Christians use religious objects such as Crosses, Icons, incense, the Gospel, Bible, candles and religious vestments. Icons are mainly in two- but rarely in three-dimensional form. These are in dogmatic theory venerated as objects filled with God's grace and power -- (therefore Eastern Orthodoxy declares they are not "hollow forms" or cult images). Evidence for the use of these, they claim, is found in the Old Testament and in Early Christian worship.

The offering of veneration in the form of latreía (the veneration due God) is doctrinally forbidden by the Orthodox Church; however veneration of religious pictures or Icons in the form of douleía is not only allowed but obligatory. Some outside observers find it difficult to distinguish these two levels of veneration in practice, but the distinction is maintained and taught by believers in many of the hymns and prayers that are sung and prayed throughout the liturgical year.

In Orthodox apologetics for icons, a similarity is asserted between icons and the manufacture by Moses (under God's commandment) of the Bronze Snake, which was, Orthodoxy says, given the grace and power of God to heal those bitten by real snakes. "And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any person, when he beheld the serpent of brass, they lived"(Numbers 21:9). Another similarity is declared with the Ark of the Covenant described as the ritual object above which Yahweh was present (Numbers 10:33-36); or the burning bush which, according to Exodus, allowed God to speak to Moses; or the Ten Commandments which were the Word of God "Dabar Elohim" in tablet form. These inanimate objects became a medium by which God worked to teach, speak to, encourage and heal the Hebrew faithful.

Veneration of icons through proskinesis was codified in the Seventh Ecumenical Council during the Byzantine Iconoclast controversy, in which St. John of Damascus was pivotal. Icon veneration is also practiced in the Catholic Church, which accepts the declarations of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, but it is practiced to a lesser extent, since Latin-rite Catholics today do not usually prostrate and kiss icons, and the Second Vatican Council enjoined moderation in the use of images. Eastern-rite Catholics still use icons in their Divine Liturgy, however.

Most Protestant groups avoid the use of images in any context suggestive of veneration. Protestantism from its beginnings treated images as objects of inspiration and education rather than of veneration and worship. Occasionally icons may be seen within some High Church communities such as Anglicans, but they are not viewed or used in the same manner described in Orthodox doctrine, and their presence sometimes causes controversy.

Very conservative Protestant groups avoid any use of religious images, even for inspiration or instruction, as incitement to what they view as idolatry.

In Colossians 3:5 it states “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” - NASB. In the King James version the words used are “fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness”. This expands the scope of evil which is included in idolatry mentioned above.

Idolatry in Islam

According to the Quran, idolatry or assigning partners to the One God (Arabic: shirk‎) is an egregious sin. It is seen as different in type from all other sins and is categorized as the one and only categorically unforgivable sin. However, this is not meant to be understood in narrow terms referring specifically to graven images. There are numerous forms of "shirk", including subtle aspects such as arrogance and unbridled egoism.Depicting religious themes, and specifically God, is seen as inappropriate and unbecoming.

Derived from the Qur'an and the prophetic tradition (Sunnah), there are three main categories of Shirk in Islam.

Shirk in Rubūbīyah (Lordship)

This category of Shirk refers to either the belief that others share God's Lordship over creation as His equal or near equal, or to the belief that there exists no Lord over creation at all.

  • Shirk by association - This is the shirk concerned with associating 'others' with Allah.
  • Shirk by negation - This is Shirk in Rubūbīyah (Lordship)

This category of Shirk refers to either [the belief that] others share God's Lordship over creation as His equal or near equal, or [to the belief that] there exists no Lord over creation at all.

Shirk in al-Asma was-Sifat (the names and attributes of Allah)

Shirk in this category includes both the common pagan practice of giving God the attributes of His creation as well as the act of giving created beings God's names and attributes.

  • Shirk by humanization - In this aspect of Shirk in al-Asma was-Sifat, God is given the form and qualities of human beings and animals. Due to man's superiority over animals, the human form is more commonly used by idolaters to represent God in creation. Consequently, the image of the Creator is often painted, moulded or carved in the shape of human beings possessing the physical features of those who worship them.
  • Shirk by deification - This form of Shirk in al-Asma was-Sifat relates to cases where created beings or things are given or claim God's names or His attributes. For example, it was the practice of the ancient Arabs to worship idols whose names were derived from the names of God. Their main three idols were: al-Lat taken from God's name al-Elah, al-'Uzza taken from al-'Aziz and al-Manat taken from al-Mannan . During the era of Muhammad there was also a man in a region of Arabia called Yamamah, who claimed to be a prophet and took the name Rahman which, in Islam, belongs only to God.

Shirk In al-'Ibadah (Worship)

In this category of Shirk, acts of worship are directed to other than Allah and the reward for worship is sought from the creation instead of the Creator. As in the case of the previous categories, Shirk in al-'Ebadah has two main aspects.

  • Ash-Shirk al-Akbar (Major Shirk) - This form of Shirk occurs when any act of worship is directed to other than Allah. It represents the most obvious form of idolatry which the prophets were specifically sent by God to call the masses of mankind away from. Examples of this shirk, asking forgiveness, admittance to paradise and other things that only Allah can provide, from other than Allah.

Ash-Shirk al-Asghar (Minor Shirk)

  • Minor Shirk
Worshiping of God or charity or any good deed done for the purpose of showing off to people and not with full sincerity and devotion to God is considered as minor shirk.
Mahmud ibn Lubayd reported, "God's messenger said: "The thing I fear for you the most is ash-Shirk al-Asghar (minor shirk)."
The companions asked "Oh! messenger of God, what is minor Shirk?"
He replied "Ar-Riya (showing off), for verily God will say on the Day of Resurrection when people are receiving their rewards, 'Go to those for whom you were showing off in the material world and see if you can find any reward from them."
  • Secret Shirk
Mahmud ibn Lubayd also said, "The Prophet came out and announced, 'O people, beware of secret Shirk!'
The people asked, 'O messenger of God, what is secret Shirk?'
He replied, 'When a man gets up to pray and strives to beautify his prayer because people are looking at him; that is secret Shirk."

Muslims believe, like Christians and Jews, that the human intellect is incapable of conceiving God and are encouraged by the Prophet Muhammad to contemplate the creation of God, not (the essence of) God. Some Shiites are more apt to use representation of religious figures in art, but these are never worshiped per se.

Sikh views of idolatry

Sikhism strongly rejects idolatory, as it is clearly illustrated within Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the central scripture and Guru of Sikhs, Dasam Granth also a highly revered scripture by the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, and within numerous rehatnamas (documents codifying the code of conduct of the Sikh religion), such as the Sikh Rehat Maryada and the Budha Dal Rehatnama. Sikhism criticises the superstition of using idols to represent God and pray to him, and instead puts forward that the shabad the word of God is his true murti (idol), meaning that true prayer and worship of God is through meditation.

  • Rejection of idol worship in Guru Granth Sahib Ji
"Worshipping their idols, the Hindus die; the Muslims die bowing their heads." Ang 556

False idol

False idol, interpreted literally, is a phrase meaning a cult image or object considered idolatrous from the perspective of the speaker. For example, Moses considered the golden calf a false idol upon his return with the tablets of stone, as described in Exodus chapter 32.

The sometimes negative connotations of "idol" can make "false idol" sound like a tautological figure of speech.

See also


  1. idolater at Wordnik
  2. Bhagavad Gita, Chapters VIII through XII]
  3. Bh.P. 10.12.39, 11.27.12,15
  4. Salmond, Noel Anthony (2004). "3. Dayananda Saraswati". Hindu iconoclasts: Rammohun Roy, Dayananda Sarasvati and nineteenth-century polemics against idolatry. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press. p. 65. ISBN 0889204195. 
  5. Slifkin, Rabbi Natan. The Challenge of Creation, (New York: Yashar Books, 2006) page 211.
  6. Catholic Encyclopedia, Idolatry
  7. The Book of Daniel, Chapter 14

External links

  • The Biblical Idea of Idolatry by Jose Faur, outlining the concept of idolatry/iconolatry as it exists in the Bible, in contrast to the Biblically-prescribed monolatry
  • [11] Ancient idol (13 century B.C.) found in Northern Russia, bronze (Galich) in Russian

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