Disbelievers know that there is a Creator behind everything. But they don’t want to be restricted by the commands of One God only, especially if that God’s Words are not changeable according to man’s desires. Mankind surrenders to God’s universal laws unquestioningly but in regulating life and society men wish to make themselves assume some of god’s powers.
And the Day whereon We shall gather them all together, then We shall say to those who did set partners in worship with Us: “Stop at your place! You and your partners (whom you had worshipped in the worldly life).” then We shall separate them, and their (Allah‘s so-called) partners shall say: “It was not us that you used to worship.” (TMQ Yunus:28).
Shirk goes beyond idol worshipping. In Surah Ahqaf, Allah swt says,
And when mankind are gathered (on the Day of Resurrection), they (false deities) will become enemies for them and will deny their worshipping. (TMQ 46:6).
It is only “Mankind” who will be gathered together on that Day. Mushrikin (idol worshippers) can be monotheists who besides One God also worship other human beings. Their ‘partners’, who are also humans, will deny any demand for being worshipped by other men. That’s strange. Why did disbelievers worship them anyway? Lets take a real example. Allah swt made Riba haram for us. But we allowed Riba based institutions to become Economic cornerstones. Can the followers of Riba also worship Allah swt after permitting what He swt disallowed? Its not rationally possible to worship the Creator whilst engaged in disobeying Him swt. Riba promoters became partners with Allah swt in our economic life due to our obedience of Riba rules. Those who allowed Riba are Mushrikeen, they worshipped men (who promoted Riba) by obeying them instead of obeying God.
Disbelievers however will accept that God is the Creator and the sustainer of the Universe. Allah swt says,
Say (O Muhammad swm): “Who provides for you from the sky and from the earth? Or who owns hearing and sight? And who brings out the living from the dead and brings out the dead from the living? And who disposes the affairs?” They will say: “Allah.” Say: “Will you not then be afraid of Allah’s Punishment (for setting up rivals in worship with Allah)?” TMQ 10.31
They, mushrikin, know that only Allah swt can Create and Provide for His Creation, but this material world deceives them, so they surrender to other ‘deities’ besides Him swt. Our societies are filled with these conflicting concepts. We see people claiming to worship One True God but busily promoting and serving other concepts which are disallowed by the very same God. Obedience of God is worship of God. When people obey a source outside of God they effectively make partners with God. These ‘partners’ can exist in economy, security, legal, international or any other areas of public or private life. There is only one way to reject these fake gods, it is to go back to the One True God, Allah swt, to find His Guided ways through His Messenger Muhammad swm, as we find in the Holy Quran. May Allah swt help us all find the sirat al mustakim, Ameen.