Prostration before Allah is the sole prostration of worship. But prostration out of respect and obedience to one other than Allah, has indeed been ordered by Allah Himself. We find in the Quran;

And when We said to the angels: Prostrate before Adam, they did prostrate, but Iblis (did it not). He refused and he was proud, and he was one of the unbelievers. (Surah 2, al-Baqarah verse 34)

Iblis the Shaytan used to prostrate himself before Allah for he was one who worshipped Allah a great deal. However he refused to prostrate before Allah’s creation Adam (pbuh) and on the basis of this he was rejected from Allah’s Heaven. Now if a respectful prostration was considered idolatrous, why would Allah the Generous Lord have asked his angels to prostrate themselves before Adam (pbuh)? If it were in any sense an idolatrous prostration, Allah would never have commanded it in Adam (pbuh)’s honour. If there is disagreement on this view then it has to be said that Allah forbid, Allah Himself ordered idolatry!

Indeed in defence of this prostration it may be said that Allah Himself commanded the prostration before Adam (pbuh). Thus the prostration of the angels was not to Adam (pbuh) as such but it was a prostration to Allah’s command. And there is nothing wrong at all with prostrating before Allah’s command. (We are all agreed in this matter that the prostration here was one of respect, on the basis of Allah’s command.)

The question arises, where did Allah give the command to kiss the shrines of the martyrs or to bow before them? A sufficient answer would be, when did Allah expressly prohibit such actions? A second reply would be that even without Allah’s explicit command, there have been other instances of bowing and prostrating out of respect. At no point did Allah prohibit those prostrations of respect, and further, they have been proved by the actions of two prophets.

The two prophets in question neither hindered the prostrations that were offered out of respect, nor did they reprimand and stop those prostrating. Allah Himself in turn did not advise the two prophets that such prostrations should not be offered. Further, Allah did not term those offering the prostrations as unbelievers or idolaters. Therefore it has to be admitted that a prostration of respect is not a reprehensible act in Allah’s sight. The Quranic ruling on this matter is thus;

And he raised his parents upon the throne, and they bowed to him in prostration. (Surah 12, Yusuf verse 100).

Yusuf (pbuh) was a prophet and his father Yaqub (pbuh) was also a prophet. Yusuf sat both his parents (even though his mother was not a prophet) on the throne. Subsequently everyone prostrated to him. In this verse Allah does not say that all prostrated ‘except Yaqub’, that is, it was not the case that the whole gathering bar Yaqub (pbuh) prostrated to Yusuf (pbuh).1

Now let us reflect: one prophet is prostrating before another prophet: neither is the prostrating prophet hesitant nor is the prophet who is prostrated to objecting. Further, Allah does not say that this is disliked by Him. If a prostration out of respect and obedience was considered idolatrous, then without a doubt neither Yaqub nor Yusuf (pbut) would have remained prophets after this act, indeed, Allah forbid, they would have become disbelievers. Thus we can conclude from these two prophets’ actions that a prostration of respect and obedience is not idolatry, it is not unlawful and Allah does not forbid it.

Hence no one has the right to say that to kiss, to prostrate with respect or to respect places and items associated with revered personalities, is considered idolatry and innovation. Indeed according to the Quran one who says so would leave Islam.

  • 1. This is the translator’s wording: the author originally claimed that Yusuf (pbuh) prostrated – ‘Yusuf sat both this parents (even though his mother was not a prophet) on the throne. Subsequently everyone prostrated. In this verse Allah does not say that all prostrated ‘except Yusuf’, that is, it was not the case that the whole gathering bar Yusuf (pbuh) prostrated.’ However, in following authentic Quranic translations, Yaqub was the prophet who prostrated to his son Yusuf, in fulfilment of the dream mentioned in verse 4 of this surah. Agha Mahdi Puya writes, ‘Sajada-falling down in prostration. The father, the brothers and the aunt fell down in prostration before Yusuf. There are two types of sajdahs-one is that which is for Allah in total submission to His will, and the other is done in reverence to pay homage to a divinely chosen representative of Allah (see commentary of al Baqarah: 34) ( Shakir writes, ‘And he raised his parents upon the throne and they fell down in prostration before him, and he said: O my father! this is the significance of my vision of old; my Lord has indeed made it to be true’. The vision of old from verse 4 Shakir translates as, ‘When Yusuf said to his father: O my father! Surely I saw eleven stars and the sun and the moon-- I saw them making obeisance to me.’ (