The ways that people honor those that have rights over them differ with the different cultural norms of a given people. We see, for example, that in the Arabian Peninsula they kiss their fathers on the nose as a way of honoring them, and they kiss the heads of their scholars. The original ruling of all of these things is that they are permissible so long as particular forms that Muslims may engage in have not been prohibited.
As for the question of kissing the hands of scholars, it is permissible to do so with a scrupulous scholar, a just ruler, one’s parents, one’s teacher, and anyone who is worthy of being honored and respected. According to Ibn ‘Umar, he was in one of the Prophet’s raiding parties and in his narration he mentioned a story and said, “So we came to the Prophet and kissed his hand.”
The schools of jurisprudence have come to a consensus that kissing the hand of a scholar who is righteous towards his religion is not prohibited saying that it is permitted and well-liked. The positions of the relied upon schools follow:
The Hanafis explicitly stated that it is permissible to kiss the hand of a righteous scholar as a means of seeking blessings and honoring him. Al-Haskafi al-Hanafi said, “(There is nothing wrong with kissing the hand of) a man who is (a scholar) and one who is scrupulous as a means of seeking blessings. Durr. The author narated from al-Jami’ that there is nothing wrong with kissing the hand of a religious ruler (a just ruler).”
Ibn Nujaym said, “There is nothing wrong with kissing the hand of a scholar and a just ruler based on the narration according to Sufyan who said, “Kissing the scholar’s and the just ruler’s hand is sunna.”
Concerning kissing hands, al-Zayla’i mentioned the following, “When it is out of obedience and honoring [someone] it is permissible. Al-Shaykh, al-Imam, Shams al-aimah al-Sarakhsi and some of the later scholars allowed or gave license (rakhkhasa) for kissing the hand of a scholar or someone who is pious as a means of seeking blessings. Abu Bakr kissed the Prophet between his eyes after they were closed and Sufyan al-Thawri said, “Kissing the hand of a scholar or a just ruler is sunna,” and ‘Abd Allah ibn Mubarak rose and kissed his head.”
Muhammad al-Babarti al-Hanafi said, “There is nothing wrong with it when it is out of obedience and honoring [someone] if they are wearing a shirt or a cloak [i.e. a garment symbolic of scholarship]. According to Sufyan, kissing the hand of a scholar is sunna, but license is not given for kissing someone else’s hand.”
The Malikis: It has been related from Imam Malik that it is disliked, but the later scholars of the Maliki school are in agreement with the majority that it is permissible. They interpreted the position of it being disliked that was related from Imam Malik as referring to a situation in which it leads to arrogance. Al-Abhuri said, “The dislike of Malik is if it is out of aggrandizement and arrogance. Al-Nafrawi said, ‘An example of it is the kissing of the Bedouin who asked the Prophet sayin, ‘Show me a sign,’ So the Prophet said, ‘Go to that tree and tell it, ‘The Prophet calls you.’ The tree moved right and left and came towards the Prophet saying, ‘Peace be upon you Messenger of God.’ The Prophet told the Bedouin, ‘Tell it to return,’ and it returned as it had been. The Bedouin kissed the Prophet’s hands and feet and became a Muslim. And there are other similar narrations.
If Malik’s denial of what is narrated concerning the kissing of hands is from the perspective of narration, Malik is a proof, for he is the Imam of hadith, and if it is from the perspective of jurisprudence, then it is due to what preceded. The actions of people are bases on the permissibility of kissing the hand of someone to whom it is permitted to be humble and to obey. The Companions kissed the hand of the Prophet, the Prophet kissed the hand of Fatimah, and the Companions kissed the hands of each other. The apparent meaning of his words is that even if it is the hand of a scholar, old person, ruler, father, someone present, or someone returning from travel, and that is the apparent (dhahir al-madhhab) position of the school.”
The Shafi’is explicitly stated that kissing the hand of a pious scholar is well-liked, as is every kind of honor given to them or other persons of rank. Al-Nawawi said, “The chosen position is that it is well-liked to honor someone entering [a room] by standing if they have an external rank in knowledge, righteousness, honor, or authority accompanied by care, or if they have a sanctity through sainthood . This standing is in order to honor [them] and is not [a form of] ostentation or aggrandizement. The actions of the community, both its early and its later members, have been in accordance with this…It is well-liked to kiss the hand of a righteous man, an ascetic, or a scholar and the like from among the people of the afterlife.
As for kissing someone’s hand because of their [monetary] wealth, their [command of the] world, their power, and the rank that they hold with people of the world for the world and the like, it is extremely disliked. Al-Mutawali said it is not permissible, indicating that it is prohibited. Kissing their head or feet is the same as kissing their hand.”
Similar to this is what is mentioned by Sheikh al-Islam Zakariyah al-Ansari who said, “(It is well-liked to kiss the hand of a living person due to their righteousness and similar things) from religious matters like asceticism, knowledge, and honor as the Companions did with the Prophet, as is related by Abu Dawud and others with authentic chains of transmission. (This is disliked) kissing someone’s hand (when it is due to their wealth and the like) of worldly things, like their power or their rank among people of the world.”
Ibn Qasim al-‘Ibadi said, “It is sunna to kiss the hand of a scholar, a righteous man, a member of the Prophet’s line, and an ascetic like the Companions did with the Prophet. This is disliked when it is for a rich person and the like. It is also well-liked to stand for people of rank as a way of honoring them, not as a form of ostentation or aggrandizement, i.e. pridefulness.”
The Hanbalis explicitly stated that it is permissible to kiss the hand of a scholar and a ruler. The Hanbali muhaqiq Ibn Muflih said, “Kissing the hand of a scholar and a generous person because of their support, and a ruler because of his authority is permissible.”
Al-Safarini said, “He said in Manaqib Ashab al-Hadith, ‘The student should have great humility for the scholar and humble himself before him.’ He said, ‘An aspect of humility is kissing his hand.’ Sufyan Ibn 'Uyaynah and al-Fudayl ibn ‘Iyad, one of them kissed the hand and the other the foot of al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali al-Jufi. Imam Abu al-Ma’li said in his commentary on the Hidayah, ‘Kissing the hand of a scholar, a generous person because of their support, and a ruler because of their authority is permitted. As for kissing someone’s hand because of their wealth it is narrated that, ‘Whoever humbles themselves before a rich person because of their wealth has lost a third of their religion.’”
From what has preceded it is clear that kissing the hands of scholars and those who have rights over us is well-liked and there is no cause to decry it. Verily there are egos that have grown haughty with pride and rejected that which goes against their pride, and God is Most High and Knows Best.