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Prostration (sajda)

What can prostration (sajda) be performed upon?

· ICCI

What can prostration (sajda) be performed upon?

Prostration (sajda) is a necessary part of the Muslim daily prayer (salat). Whilst all Muslims agree that prostration during prayer must be performed in the direction of the qibla, there is no consensus between them regarding the material or surface it should be performed on. Considering that many Mosques have carpeted floors; and most prayer mats are made from synthetic man-made materials, a question that arises is whether prostration is permitted upon synthetic materials or restricted to materials that come from the earth? Although, prostration is a posture that consists of seven body parts touching the surface, the question with regards to whether is permitted to prostrate upon the synthetic materials or the earth is limited to the forehead.

Majority opinion:

It is recommended (mustahab) to prostrate upon the earth or that which is produced by the earth, excluding anything consumable of worn, in accordance with the practice of Prophet Muhammad and the Imams.


However, if a person is to prostate on synthetic materials, then this would not make their prayer void, so long as the essence of prostration, which is humble submission to Allah, is not compromised. Therefore, there is no need to repeat the prayer.

Justification:

1. There are approximate fifteen verses in the Qur’an that encourages to “prostrate to Allah.”[1] The Qur’an does not, however, specify any surface or material upon which prostration should be performed.

2. There are two groups of narrations that report the tradition of the Prophet and his family with regards to the surfaces and materials upon which prostration can be performed.

  • The first group of narrations permits prostrating upon any material or surface. For example:

I asked Imam al-Hadi (as): is it permissible to prostrate on cotton and linen without taqiyya? He replied, ‘it is permissible.”[2]

I wrote to Imam al-Hadi (as) asking him regarding prostrating upon cotton and linen without taqiyya and without any constraint (ḍarūra). He wrote to me: that is permissible.[3]

  • The second group of narrations only permits prostrating upon earth or dust. For example, it is reported that Imam Jaʿfar al-Sadiq stated:

Prostration is only permitted upon the earth or that which comes from the earth except that which is consumed or worn. When the Imam was asked the reason for this, he replied: Prostration is a gesture of humility to Allah and therefore it is not befitting that it be performed upon edibles and wearables. This is because the worldly people are devotees of what they consume and wear; whereas one who is prostrating to Allah is in devotion to Allah and therefore it is unbefitting that he places his forehead during the prostration upon the god of the worldly people who are deceived by the world.[4]
 

The two conflicting groups of narrations can be reconciled by considering the narration of Imam Jaʿfar al-Sadiq as providing the recommended practice, whereas the narrations of Imam al-Hadi inform that it is not necessary. In the above narration, Imam al-Sadiq does not permit prostrating on materials that are worn or consumed, as doing so is considered as a sign of arrogance and being devoted to worldly things. Instead, the Imam expresses that the essence of prostration is to express wilful surrender to God and to have humility in front of Him.

Considering the reasoning provided by the Imam, it can be said that in the present-day context, prostrating on carpets at mosques or prayer mats made from synthetic man-made materials is no longer seen as a sign of arrogance or devotion to worldly things. Accordingly, the narration of Imam Jaʿfar al-Sadiq was particular to a context whereby the essence of prostration was compromised through prostrating on things other than the earth out of arrogance. Since this is no longer the case, prostrating upon carpets or prayer mats is permissible and the aforementioned narration can be interpreted as a recommendation.

3. The recommendation of prostrating on earth or its produce is emphasised by the practice of Prophet Muhammad. We know that he insisted on prostrating upon his prayer mat that was made from date palm leaves.[5]

4. Furthermore, there are some recent scientific studies that suggest that direct physical connection with the earth can promote intriguing physiological changes and subjective reports of well-being. The potential positive effects may include reduction of inflammation, pain, and stress, and improvement of blood flow, energy, and sleep.[6] Therefore, prostrating upon the earth may have additional physical and mental benefits to prostrating upon man made materials.

Minority opinion:

Prostration is only permitted upon the earth or its produce, except that which can eaten or worn. If a person intentionally prostrates on synthetic materials knowing that it is not permitted, without any secondary considerations, the prayer must be repeated.

Justification:

1. There are approximate fifteen verses in the Qur’an that encourages to “prostrate to Allah.”[7] The Qur’an does not, however, specify any surface or material upon which prostration should be performed.

2. There are two groups of narrations that report the tradition of the Prophet and his family with regards to the surfaces and materials upon which prostration can be performed.

  • The first group of narrations permits prostrating upon any material or surface. For example:

“I asked Imam al-Hadi (as): is it permissible to prostrate on cotton and linen without taqiyya? He replied, ‘it is permissible.”[8]

I wrote to Imam al-Hadi (as) asking him regarding prostrating upon cotton and linen without taqiyya and without any constraint (ḍarūra). He wrote to me: that is permissible.”[9]

  • The second group of narrations only permits prostrating upon earth or dust. For example, it is reported that Imam Jaʿfar al-Sadiq stated:

Prostration is only permitted upon the earth or that which comes from the earth except that which is consumed or worn. When the Imam was asked the reason for this, he replied: Prostration is a gesture of humility to Allah and therefore it is not befitting that it be performed upon edibles and wearables. This is because the worldly people are devotees of what they consume and wear; whereas one who is prostrating to Allah is in devotion to Allah and therefore it is unbefitting that he places his forehead during the prostration upon the god of the worldly people who are deceived by the world.[10]
 

The two conflicting groups reports cannot be reconciled. This is because the first group of reports is deemed weak by the standards imposed by Shiite scholars. Therefore, preference must be given to the second group of reports, which suggest that prostration can only be performed on earth or its produce.

3. Although it may be possible to contextualise Imam Jaffar al-Sadiq’s report in line with the reasoning he provides, recourse must be taken to the principle of precaution (iḥtiyāṭ). In accordance with the principle of precaution, a believer must prostrate on the earth or its produce, as this ensures that the duty (or taklīf) of prostration is fulfilled appropriately.

 

[1] Qur’an 7:206, 13:15, 16:50, 17:109, 19:58, 22:18, 77, 25:60, 27:26, 32:15, 38:24, 41:37, 53:62, 84:21 and 96:19.

[2] Tahdhīb al-aḥkām, 2: 307-8. For other reports see al-Istibṣār 1: 331-333.

[3] Tahdhīb al-aḥkām, 2: 308.

[4] Man lā yaḥḍuruhu al-faqīh 1: 273.

[5] al-Majāzāt al-nabawiyya, 252; al-Kāfī 3: 31.

[6] Gaétan Chevalier, Stephen T. Sinatra, James L. Oschman, Karol Sokal, Pawel Sokal, "Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth's Surface Electrons", Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 2012: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3265077/; Karol Sokal, Paweł Sokal, “Earthing the Human Body Influences Physiologic Processes”, Journal of alternative and complementary medicine, April 2011, pp. 301-308; Menigoz W, Latz TT, Ely RA, Kamei C, Melvin G, Sinatra D. “Integrative and lifestyle medicine strategies should include Earthing (grounding): Review of research evidence and clinical observations”, Explore (NY). 2020 May-Jun;16(3), pp. 152-160.

[7] Qur’an 7:206, 13:15, 16:50, 17:109, 19:58, 22:18, 77, 25:60, 27:26, 32:15, 38:24, 41:37, 53:62, 84:21 and 96:19.

[8] Tahdhīb al-aḥkām, 2: 307-8. For other reports see al-Istibṣār 1: 331-333.

[9] Tahdhīb al-aḥkām, 2: 308.

[10] Man lā yaḥḍuruhu al-faqīh 1: 273.

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