By Umarrah Javed Al-Hadi
Prostration (sajdah) is an essential aspect of Islamic prayer and a symbol of submission, humility, and devotion to Allah. It is mentioned numerous times in the Quran and was practiced by our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ as a means of drawing closer to Allah. In this article, we will delve into the meaning of sajdah, the various types of prostration in Islam, the correct way to perform it, and its significance.
The Meaning of Sajdah
The word “sajdah” (سجدة) is an Arabic word that is derived from the root letters “s-j-d” (س-ج-د). The Arabic language is based on a system of trilateral roots, with most words being derived from a three-letter root. The root “s-j-d” has the general meaning of “to prostrate” or “to submit”.
The word “sajdah” is a noun and refers specifically to the act of prostration during Islamic prayer. It can also be used to refer to a physical place of prostration, such as a prayer mat or the ground where one prostrates during prayer. In Islamic terminology, sajdah refers to the act of placing one’s forehead, nose, hands, knees, and toes on the ground in worship of Allah.
A core part of a Muslim’s faith is that Allāh is the only one that we can prostrate to, as He alone is the Lord of the worlds and therefore it is only befitting that we prostrate to Him.
Verses of Prostration in the Quran
The Qur’ān not only mentions prostration as a term related to salah, there are also fifteen verses that are followed by a symbol (۩) that encourages the one receiving those verses to prostrate. The fifteen verses are:
- Surah Al-A’raf:
“Indeed, those who are near your Lord are not prevented by arrogance from His worship, and they exalt Him, and to Him they prostrate.” [7:206]
- Surah Ar-Ra’d:
“To Allah bow down all those in the heavens and the earth—willingly or unwillingly—as do their shadows, morning and evening.” [13:15]
- Surah Al-Nahl:
“And they fear their Lord above them, and do whatever they are commanded” [16:50]
- Surah Al-Isra’:
“And they fall down upon their faces weeping, and it increases them in humility.” [17:109]
- Surah Maryam:
“Those were the ones upon whom Allah bestowed favor from among the prophets of the descendants of Adam and of those We carried [in the ship] with Noah, and of the descendants of Abraham and Israel, and of those whom We guided and chose. When the verses of the Most Merciful were recited to them, they fell in prostration and weeping.” [19:58]
- Surah Al-Hajj:
“Do you not see that to Allah prostrates whoever is in the heavens and whoever is on the earth and the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, the moving creatures and many of the people? But upon many the punishment has been justified. And he whom Allah humiliates – for him there is no bestower of honor. Indeed, Allah does what He wills.” [22:18]
- Surah Al-Hajj:
“And they fall down upon their faces weeping, and it increases them in humility.” [22:77]
- Surah Al-Furqan
“And when it is said to them, “Prostrate to the Most Merciful,” they say, “And what is the Most Merciful? Should we prostrate to that which you order us?” And it increases them in aversion.” [25:60]
- Surah Al-Naml:
“˹He is˺ Allah! There is no god ˹worthy of worship˺ except Him, the Lord of the Mighty Throne.” [27:26]
- Surah Al-Sajdah:
“Only those believe in Our verses who, when they are reminded by them, fall down in prostration and exalt [Allah] with praise of their Lord, and they are not arrogant.” [32:15]
- Surah Sad:
“[David] said, “He has certainly wronged you in demanding your ewe [in addition] to his ewes. And indeed, many associates oppress one another, except for those who believe and do righteous deeds – and few are they.” And David became certain that We had tried him, so he asked forgiveness of his Lord and fell down bowing [in prostration] and turned in repentance [to Allah].” [38:24]
- Surah Fussilat:
“But if the pagans are too proud, then ˹let them know that˺ those ˹angels˺ nearest to your Lord glorify Him day and night, and never grow weary.” [41:38]
- Surah Al-Najm:
“So prostrate to Allah and worship [Him].” [53:62]
- Surah Al-Inshiqaq:
“And when the Qur’an is recited to them, they do not prostrate” [84:21]
- Surah Al-‘Alaq:
“Again, no! Never obey him ˹O Prophet˺! Rather, ˹continue to˺ prostrate and draw near ˹to Allah˺.” [96:19]
It is narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that when, the son of Adam recites the Ayat of Sajdah (prostration) and then falls down in prostration, the Satan goes into seclusion and weeps and says: Alas, and in the narration of Abu Kuraib the words are: Woe unto me, the son of Adam was commanded to prostrate, and he prostrated and Paradise was entitled to him and I was commanded to prostrate, but I refused and am doomed to Hell. [Sahih Muslim 81a]
Prostration in the Life of The Prophet ﷺ
Our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is the role model for Muslims and is the perfect example of how to live a life in accordance with Islamic teachings. He performed sajdah in his prayer and encouraged his companions to do the same. He also performed sajdah as a means of seeking forgiveness and guidance from Allah. There are several instances in ahadith that highlight the significance of sajdah in the life of the Prophet.
For example, we learn from Sahih al-Bukhari (Hadith 1079): Narrated Ibn `Umar: Whenever the Prophet (ﷺ) recited the Sura which contained the prostration of recitation he used to prostrate and then, we, too, would prostrate and some of us did not find a place for prostration.
From his example (ﷺ) we are also able to learn the correct way to prostrate. Performing sajdah correctly is essential to ensuring that the act is accepted by Allah. The following are the steps involved in performing sajdah:
It was narrated that Jabir said: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “When anyone of you prostrates let him be balanced in prostration, and not spread his arms as a dog does.” [Sunan Ibn Majah 891]
Narrated Al-Bara’: The bowing, the prostrations, the period of standing after bowing and the interval between the two prostrations of the Prophet (ﷺ) used to be equal in duration [Sahih al-Bukhari 801]
Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “A slave becomes nearest to his Rubb when he is in prostration. So increase supplications while prostrating.” [Muslim].
It was narrated that Ibn Mas’ud said: “The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ‘When anyone of you bows, let him say in his bowing: “Subhana Rabbiyal-‘Azim (Glory is to my Lord, the Most Great)” three times; if he does that his bowing will be complete. And when anyone of you prostrates, let him say in his prostration, ‘Subhana Rabbiyal-A’la (Glory if to my Lord, the Most High)” three times; if he does that, his prostration will be complete, and that is the minimum.’” [Sunan Ibn Majah 890]
It is important to note that the hands, feet, and other body parts should be placed on the ground in a specific way during sajdah. The hands should be placed parallel to the shoulders, with the fingers close together and pointing towards the Qiblah. The feet should be placed upright, with the toes pointing towards the Qiblah. The forehead, nose, and knees should be placed on the ground gently and without force.
In addition to this, the Prophet ﷺ advised prostration to Allāh in the case of forgetfulness in salah:
Narrated Abdullah bin Malik bin Buhaina: Once Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) led us in the Zuhr prayer and got up (after the prostrations of the second raka) although he should have sat (for the Tashahhud). So at the end of the prayer, he prostrated twice while sitting (prostrations of Sahu). [Sahih al-Bukhari 830]
Story of Creation: Prostration to Adam (as)
When Adam (AS) was created by Allāh, Allāh commanded the angels to prostrate to him. When this happened, Iblees (who was a jinn but due to his righteousness had been permitted to be in the assembly of angels at this time):
“And [mention] when We said to the angels, ‘Prostrate before Adam’; so they prostrated, except for Iblees. He refused and was arrogant and became of the disbelievers.” [2:34]
An important matter to note here is that this worship was a worship of honour and respect not one of worship as that is reserved only for Allāh. This incident was the manifestation of Iblees’ arrogance and the declaration of his war against Adam (AS) and his descendants.
Through this we can learn the absolute significance of prostration and how it separates the believers from the non-believers. It has the power to differentiate those that hear the commands of Allāh and obey and those that hear His command and disobey. May we all be among those that immediately submit and obey.
Benefits of Sajdah
Prostration is considered a highly virtuous act in Islam, and Muslims are encouraged to perform it regularly. The following are some of the benefits of performing sajdah:
- A means of drawing closer to Allah: As mentioned earlier, sajdah is a means of demonstrating one’s submission and devotion to Allah. It is a reminder that Allah is the ultimate source of guidance and blessings, and Muslims should strive to seek His pleasure through their actions.
- A means of seeking forgiveness: Sajdah is also a means of seeking Allah’s forgiveness and mercy. Muslims are encouraged to recite supplications and ask for forgiveness during sajdah, as this is a time when Allah is most likely to respond to their prayers.
- A means of developing humility: Sajdah is a physical act of humility, as it involves placing one’s forehead on the ground, which is the lowest point in one’s body. It is a reminder that no matter how great one’s status or wealth may be, they are ultimately humble servants of Allah.
- A means of physical and spiritual purification: Sajdah is also a means of purifying oneself physically and spiritually. It is a way of expressing gratitude to Allah for the blessings He has bestowed upon us and seeking His guidance and blessings for the future.
In conclusion, prostration (sajdah) is an essential aspect of Islamic prayer and a symbol of submission, humility, and devotion to Allah. It is mentioned numerous times in the Quran and was practiced by Prophet Muhammad ﷺ as a means of drawing closer to Allah. Performing sajdah correctly is essential to ensuring that the act is accepted by Allah, and Muslims are encouraged to follow the example of the angels and prostrate to Allah in prayer, as a sign of their submission and devotion to Him. Sajdah is considered a highly virtuous act in Islam, and Muslims are encouraged to perform it regularly as a means of seeking Allah’s forgiveness and mercy, developing humility, and purifying themselves both physically and spiritually.
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