Should we bow in prostration to Prophet Muhammad?
Do we as Muslims actually have to pray and prostrate for Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)? Remember when Allah said to the angels to bow to Muhammad and everyone bowed except iblees! So how come we have to bow and pray to a human being like us? Isn’t it the same then as Christians praying to Jesus? I am a little confused. Please clarify. thanks
Dear honorable brother,
What you have mentioned in the question with respect to prostration to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) does not exist in shari'ah (Islamic law).
This necessitates clarifying the great difference between tawassul [supplicating Allah through an intermediary] and shirk [polytheism).
The word wasila or tawassul in the Arabic language means: status, communication and pious actions. This in general means:
Wasila is to get closer to Allah through every lawful means. This incorporates venerating everything that Allah Almighty venerated such as places, times, people and conditions. Muslims, for instance, strive to pray in the Holy mosque and supplicate Allah at the grave of the Prophet (pbuh) and the multazam to venerate the places that Allah venerated. A Muslim seeks the hour when prayers are answered and endeavors to spent Laylat al-Qadr [the night of Power] in performing voluntary prayers, and on Fridays and the last third of night to venerate the times which Allah has venerated. A Muslim also gets closer to Allah through loving His prophets, pious friends and the righteous to venerate the people Allah has venerated. A Muslim seeks to supplicate Allah when traveling and when it is raining to venerate the conditions Allah has venerated and so on. All of this falls under the words of Allah Almighty:
That [is so]. And whoever honors the symbols of Allah - indeed, it is from the piety of hearts. [Al-Hajj: 32).
Shirk, on the other hand, means to dedicate one's worship to other than Allah in a manner that does suits none but Him, even if this is done with the intention of getting closer to Allah. Allah Almighty says,
And those who take protectors besides Him [say], "We only worship them that they may bring us nearer to Allah in position." [Az-Zumar: 3).
Allah also says,
And [yet], among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals [to Him]. They love them as they [should] love Allah. But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah. And if only they who have wronged would consider [that] when they see the punishment, [they will be certain] that all power belongs to Allah and that Allah is severe in punishment. [Al-Baqarah: 165).
Based on this, the difference between wasila and shirk becomes clear. Wasila includes venerating what Allah has venerated in all of its forms as per His words, Exalted be Him:
That [is so]. And whoever honors the symbols of Allah - indeed, it is from the piety of hearts. [Al-Hajj: 32].
Shirk, on the contrary means venerating another entity either with or other than Allah. Therefore, the angels' prostration before Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) was a form of faith and monotheism, while the polytheists' prostration before idols was disbelief and shirk, even though prostration in both cases was to a creature. However, the angels' prostration to Prophet Adam was a form of veneration to what Allah has venerated and thus it is permissible and rewardable, while the polytheists' prostration to idols was a veneration by associating others with Allah, therefore it is prohibited and its doer deserves punishment.
Allah the Almighty knows best.