Bowing for greeting and homage is not peculiar to the Yorubas of south western Nigeria. It is traditional in East Asia, particularly in Japan, Korea, China, and Vietnam. Whatever the scholars of Islam say about the practice therefore affects people far beyond our own land too.
Between the 1980’s and today, there has been significant improvement in the tolerance of our elders in the South West of Nigeria generally towards the reluctance of youths to bow or prostate to them as a traditional form of greeting and respect. That followed wide and persistent enlightenment by Muslim du’aah to educate them that based on the pristine teachings of the Prophet Sallallaahu ‘alayhiwassalam, the scholars of the Sunnah, both of old and contemporary times, generally frown on bowing to greet or pay homage.
The great Sheikhs of blessed memory, Naasiruddeen Al-Albaanee, Bun Baaz, Ibnu ‘Uthaymeen, and before them Ibnu Taymiyyah, Ibnu Qayyim and many others, all have fatwas prohibiting the practice based on a hadith reported by Anas may Allah be pleased with him.
عَن أنس رضي الله عنه قَالَ: قَالَ رَجُلٌ: يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ الرَّجُلُ مِنَّا يَلْقَى أَخَاهُ أَوْ صَدِيقَهُ أَيَنْحَنِي لَهُ؟ قَالَ: «لَا» . قَالَ: أَفَيَلْتَزِمُهُ وَيُقَبِّلُهُ؟ قَالَ: «لَا» . قَالَ: أَفَيَأْخُذُ بِيَدِهِ وَيُصَافِحُهُ؟ قَالَ: «نَعَمْ» . رَوَاهُ التِّرْمِذِيّ
According to Anas (may Allah be pleased with him), a man asked the Prophet Sallallaahu ‘alayhimwssalam: When one of us meets his brother, can he bow for him? He replied: No! Can he hold him and kiss him? He replied: No! Should he then hold his hand and shake him? He replied: Yes [reported by Attirmidhee].
Accordingly and commendably, very few are the marriage ceremonies in our midst in recent years where the refusal of a groom to prostate or bow for inlaws has caused any rancour. It has become clearer to the elders that true and genuine respect goes beyond the old practice of bowing and prostration. That was not the case decades ago.
Of course, as with many issues, there are individuals who still seek to perpetuate the practice under different guises: These range from claims of promoting our cultural heritage, to respect for elders which Islam certainly promotes, to the misguided citation and misapplication of otherwise correct jurisprudential usoolee principles such as درء المفاسد بأصغرها and الإباحة الأصلية للعادات, to the outright bold-faced ascription of false judgment of the validity/weakness of ahaadeeth to some contemporary scholars of the Sunnah whose good reputation as hadith scholars is often enough to sway public opinion on issues.
The last approach is the most worrisome, especially when it comes from Muslim academics.
One such case in hand is an article that was shared recently by one Dr N. A. Jawhari (Alhikmah University), written as I learnt by another individual and entitled “Greeting Elders by Bending and Kneeling” and said to be the product of a meticulous study of the texts of Islam on greetings. It resulted in the author subtlly discrediting as extremism the refusal to bow or kneel in greeting and homage to elders as he brazingly permits acts generally frowned upon by all the erudite scholars of the Sunnah mentioned above and many others.
That the original author of the article – and of course the one who agreed with him and shared it – attempted to reach an independent judgment on the subject matter regardless of the views of the heavyweight scholars cited above is not exactly one’s greatest worry. After all, it is a fact that not all bowing is necessarily shirk (though still prohibited for greeting). Neither is it new that there is almost always some “scholar” to quote in support of virtually every divergent view even if it is scholastically discredited by the most trusted scholars of the Ummah. One’s real worry is the claim in the article that the hadith of Anas above, on which the prohibition of bowing is based – whether as haram or as a merely discouraged act – is weak and discredited. The author of the post claims falsely that this is the judgment of Sheikh Al Albaanee in his Silsilaul Ahaadeeth Ssaheehah and also that of the Permanent Committee for Fatwa (KSA).
That others discredited the hadith is not unknown, but certainly not the ones that the author claims did so – from what I know – and whose weight behind any position is enough to sway opinions. Could the falsification have been deliberate for effect?
Giving a brother the benefit of any doubt, this fact was brought to the notice of the one who shared the article on a platform with copies from the pages of the sources sighted in it to prove the error, but his response as shared with me was most disappointing, suggesting a deliberate act whose motive is best known to Allah.
The article is certainly worrisome for promoting contrary to what is known of the scholars of the Sunnah on the topic, and I have done my verification and found it seriously discreditable on the following grounds:
1) It claims falsely that the hadith of Anas which forms the basis for prohibiting bowing in greeting is graded inauthentic by both Sheikh Al Albaanee and the scholars of the Permanent Committee.
The falsity of the claim can be verified by checking the Silsilah Saheehah of Al Albaanee, vol 1, pages 298-302 and the Fataawa Llajnah, vol 24, page 131. I stand humbly to be corrected if the claim is found to be true on verification by those who know Arabic and have access to those sources.
The hadith is sound according to those sources in particular. It has been cited for evidence on the same issue by Ibnu Taymiyyah, Ibnu ‘Uthaymeen, scholars of the Permanent Committee and Sheikh Al Albaanee. Consequently, the prohibition of bowing in greeting stands even where no shirk is intended. The act is at best an act of clear disobedience to the Messenger of Allah who prohibits it precisely as a form of greeting in the hadith under searchlight.
2) The claim that the evil act inherent in bowing is less and prefered to the evil act of disobeying parents is clear misapplication of an otherwise correct principle of Usooluddeen درء المفاسد بأصغرها.
Bowing is outright disobedience to the Messenger (مفسدة متحققة). Refusing to bow to parents is not even an act of disobedience in itself since they never had any right to it in the sight of Allah.
لا طاعة لمخلوق في معصية الخالق (رواه أحمد).
“No obedience is due to any creature in disobedience to the Creator” [reported by Ahmad].
The evil that the proponents of bowing fear is therefore not even a probable one مفسدة محتملة on the part of the cultured child, but an imagined one مفسدة موهومة and that is the anger of the parents who may feel disrespected due to their ignorance and attachment to tradition. Is their misplaced anger to be blamed on the child’s obeying the Prophet in his authentic instruction or to be avoided by his disobeying the Prophet (which they wrongly call the lesser evil)?
Certainly, the parents’ anger and displeasure at a child’s refusal to bow in greeting, if at all, would be due to their ignorance of what is right in the Sharee’ah. They may be blameless given their cultural background. The remedy for that situation is simply to teach them what is correct in Islam. Unfortunately however, the majority of those who ought to do so with wisdom worsen the case and instruct instead that the Messenger be disobeyed to please parents because violating the Prophet’s instruction not to bow is no more than a مكروه act (a discouraged act). That, they claim, is knowledge of أصول الفقه.
If any evil were to be feared on the part of the youths at all, it would only be regarding their manners with parents when insisting on obeying the Prophet by not bowing: While refusing to bow, they must be humle and address parents in the best terms of honor devoid of any act of disrespect in word or action.
وَقَضَىٰ رَبُّكَ أَلَّا تَعۡبُدُوۤا۟ إِلَّاۤ إِیَّاهُ وَبِٱلۡوَ ٰلِدَیۡنِ إِحۡسَـٰنًاۚ إِمَّا یَبۡلُغَنَّ عِندَكَ ٱلۡكِبَرَ أَحَدُهُمَاۤ أَوۡ كِلَاهُمَا فَلَا تَقُل لَّهُمَاۤ أُفࣲّ وَلَا تَنۡهَرۡهُمَا وَقُل لَّهُمَا قَوۡلࣰا كَرِیمࣰا.
And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them but address them in terms of honour [Surah Al-Isra’ 23].
This lengthy explanation has been necessary to assist parents most particularly, especially the educated ones. It is feared that they may give much premium to academic qualifications (which boldly promoted the article in question) in determining what is right or wrong as they often are unable to verify correctly claims made in the name of Islam.
Insolence is seriously abominable to the Sunnah while correctness of creed – often mistaken for it – is to be appreciated in a child as a great blessing indeed.
The article has the regretable potential to take us decades back to where we thought we had crossed as a community of people who are desirous of following the Messenger through thick and thin. May Allah rectify our affairs, pardon our inadequacies and grant us steadfastness upon the truth.
Written by: Sheikh Murtado Adedokun, Hafidhahullah.