Is Bowing Before Someone a Kind of Shirk?

19 March, 2017
Q Is bowing toward someone during a greeting a form of shirk? Also, if so, can you expound upon what shirk entails?


Salam Alaikum,

Thank you for sending in your question to our website.

In Islam, the first pillar of faith, and the first article of belief that a person has to possess in order to be Muslim, is monotheism or “tauheed” i.e. belief in only one god.

When a Muslim staunchly believes and declares that “there is no god besides Allah”, they are actually rejecting all deities, partners, and associates with Allah and His Divine attributes.

Shirk is considered to be the greatest sin in Islam, and it means the association of one or more partners with Allah, or with any of His Divine attributes, either in one’s innate beliefs, words, or actions.

In other words, shirk has different forms and levels, and a human being can commit the grave sin of shirk in more ways than one.

For example, if they staunchly believe, in their hearts, that someone else besides Allah has the ability to create, give life, or to take it away; then they are committing shirk of belief by ascribing divinity to someone (or something) besides Allah.

Another example would be if a person exhorts, verbally or in writing, that some benefit or loss in their life came solely because of someone or something besides Allah; then they have committed shirk by saying such words, even if they believe in only one God.

As a last example, if any person bows down or prostrates before anyone or anything besides Allah, either as an act of worship, or as a way of exalting/honoring them, then they have committed shirk of worship through these physical actions.

This is because, since the advent of Islam, the physical acts of bowing and prostrating that were historically done before kings, gurus, priests, or anyone else in authority, as an act of expressing servitude to them or to honor them due to their exalted status, — have been categorically prohibited and declared haram.

Therefore, whether it is bowing your head before your opponent at the start or end of a match in martial arts, or bowing in front of a family elder to show respect (as is rampant in South Asia, where younger people touch the feet of their family elders as a custom of showing respect), this action is totally forbidden for a Muslim.

Bowing the head before someone out of respect, without bending the back, is also forbidden:  

Anas narrated that a man said to the Prophet (peace be upon him):

O, Prophet of Allah! One of us encounters his brother or friend, does he bow for him? He said: ‘No’. The man said: ‘Does he honor him by kissing him?’ The Prophet said: ‘No’ Then the man said, ‘So, does he take his hand and shake hands with him?’ The Prophet said: ‘Yes’. [Al Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ahmad]

Please bear in mind that Prophet Muhammad, who deserves the greatest respect among Allah’s creation, openly disliked it when any of his companions stood up for him, out of respect, when he entered their company.

Standing up straight when a leader enters a room, therefore, is also a disapproved action for a Muslim.

Please bear in mind that bowing and prostrating to elders, rulers, and leaders was permitted in the scriptures/laws brought by the previous Prophets of Allah.

One example in the Qur’an is narrated that Prophet Yusuf’s own parents and brothers prostrated to him when they came to him in Egypt after he was appointed in a government position there (an incident that he had dreamt about during childhood).

Also, Allah ordered the angels Himself, to prostrate to Prophet Adam.

Islam has, however, rendered all such stands, bows, and prostrations of respect officially null and void.

And Allah knows best. I hope that this answers your question.

Salam. Please stay in touch.

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Committing Shirk – The Most Serious of All Sins

Hidden Shirk and the Subconscious Mind