Minor shirk can only occur in Uloohiyyah. Minor shirk is still a major sin.
The Prophet Muhammad (saw), in an authentic narration, said that they would be among the first groups of people thrown into because the scholar, when he taught the knowledge that Allah gave him, did not do so for the sake of Allah. He taught so that people would praise him, saying what a great scholar he is and how knowledgeable he is. Allah will say to him: “You received your praise, what you sought in that world. But there will be nothing for you in the next.” So he will be drawn off on his face and thrown into Hell.
Similarly the rich individual – the philanthropist, who was generous with his wealth. He gave and people praised his generosity, but Allah will say, “You did it for the praise and you were praised. There was no sincerity there; it was not for the sake of Allah. You did it for as long as people appreciated it, but when people did not pay you mind, you were not generous anymore. Your generosity was conditional; it was not really for the sake of Allah.” So that individual will be drawn off on his face and thrown into Hell.
And the martyr – the one whom we all assumed had died fii-sabilillah. We would think that his place in Paradise is guaranteed. But Allah will say: “You fought so people would say, ‘How brave this one is! How strong and courageous he was!’” People said it; they praised him, but he did not do it for the sake of Allah, so he will be drawn off on his face and thrown into Hell. (Tirmidhi)
Shirk in Uloohiyyah can also be divided into 2 categories: major shirk (shirk akbar) and minor shirk (shirk asghar).
Every matter which contains a type of shirk but does not reach the level of major shirk
Every matter that the religion has prohibited and which is a means and channel to major shirk, and which Islamic Law has termed ‘shirk’.
Equating other than Allah with Allah in a matter that is specific to Him, either by attributing it as a means, or by way of accident.
Minor shirk could be to rely on the cause instead of the creator of the cause. For example, medicine. A ‘cause’ must be either something Allah has informed us, or a direct, physical, common-sense relationship.
Or it could be making something which Allah has not made a cause into a cause (while believing that Allah is the Rabb). For example a talisman. We cannot invent a cause. This is minor shirk if we acknowledge Allah as the Rabb. If we say talisman is holy in and of itself, its major shirk, if you say Allah has made the talisman holy, it is minor shirk.
We can differ about physical causes like homeopathy vs. traditional medicine, but we cannot get into supernatural like ‘chi energy’ as this borders on the religion.
Minor shirk is a grave issue.
“The matter that I fear the most for you is minor shirk…” (Al-Albaanee’s As-Silsilah As-Saheehah)
“Were I to lie and swear by Allaah, it would be more beloved to me than to swear by other than Allaah while telling the truth.” (Saheeh Tarheeb wa Targheeb)
“Minor shirk is more hidden than a black ant on a black stone in a dark night.” (Ibn ‘Abbaas)
Differences between major and minor shirk.
1. Major shirk expels a person from Islam. This is the main point and the other points follow from this one.
2. Major shirk necessitates a person’s eternal punishment in the Fire of Hell.
3. Major shirk nullifies all of a person’s good deeds.
4. Major shirk makes it permissible for a Muslim state to take the life and property of its practitioner.
There is a difference of opinion about whether Allah can forgive minor shirk without punishment.
Minor shirk in acts of worship pertaining to the heart. These are only some examples and not a comprehensive list.
Minor shirk in the heart.
The most common type is riyaa: worshipping Allah based upon the Sunnah but to impress people, and this is the most common type.
“When they get up for the prayer (Salaah), they get up lazily. That is because they only show off in front of the people, and rarely do they think of Allaah.” (An-Nisaa’, 4:142)
“The thing that I fear most for you is the minor Shirk; Riyaa”(Ahmad in his Musnad)
Allah(swt) will ask the one who does riyaa on the Day of Judgement to take his rewards from those he showed off for.
You have to fight riyaa. This is one thing that simple knowledge cannot cure. It is something that affects the most ignorant worshipper and the greatest alim. It is a continuous struggle.
The question arises about performing a good deed purely for a worldly benefit. For example, going on hajj purely for business. Unlike riyaa, which nullifies your deed, worldly benefit can be combined with the deed.
“There is no sin on you if you seek the Bounty of your Lord (during pilgrimage by trading, etc.). Then when you leave ‘Arafat, remember Allah (by glorifying His Praises, i.e. prayers and invocations, etc.) at the Mash’ar-il-Haram. And remember Him (by invoking Allah for all good, etc.) as He has guided you, and verily, you were, before, of those who were astray.” (2:198)
In one hadith the Prophet (saw) mentioned that the best wages one can earn are those from teaching the Quran.
Minor shirk in statements of the tongue
Swearing by other than Allah while believing that Allah is the Rabb.
A Jewish man came to the Prophet (saw) and said to him: “Verily, you (Muslims) commit Shirk, for you say: “As Allaah (swt) Wills and as you will;” and you say: “By the Ka’bah!” And so the Prophet (saw) ordered whoever wanted to swear, to say: “By the Rabb of the Ka’abah!” and to say: “As Allah (swt) Wills, then as you will.” (Narrated by An-Nasaa`ee)
Equating Allah with the creation using the conjunctive ‘and’. Do not say I was cured because of Allah and the doctor, but say Allah first and then the doctor.
Naming created objects with names that go against pure tawheed like “Abul-nabi” or “King of Kings” – “Verily, the lowest name to Allaah is that of a man who calls himself “King of kings,” for there is no king except Allah (SWT).” (Reported by Al-Bukhari)
Minor shirk in actions of the limbs
This includes amulets and charms. It also includes certain types of riyaa, like trying to show off to people that one is a great worshipper.