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Prostrating on Earth
Question:

Why do we prostrate on Turbah (earth) in Salat? Although I do understand that the banning of prostration on Turbah is a Bid'ah, an innovation in religion, I am however, requesting a firm answer backed by logic and narrations that will help me answer my Sunni brothers. Thank you.


Answer:

As you may be aware, Sajdah is not only a part of Salat, but in fact is a superb worship in itself. Furthermore, one is required to prostrate (perform Sajdah) while reading certain verses of the Holy Quran. According to teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), prostration is considered the closest position of a servant to Allah (SWT). (1) Therefore, due to the significance of Sajdah, it is very important that Muslims perform it correctly. One of the requirements for the validity of Sajdah is the place where we can prostrate on. Since we can not find out the correct way of performing Sajdah using our wisdom, we have to investigate our religion to see how Allah (SWT) has taught us to perform Sajdah correctly.   

 

Sajdah and Shia

According to the teachings of Ahl al-Bayt (PBUT), under normal circumstances we must perform Sajdah on earth, on its components, or on what grows from the earth (except the things that are edible or used in manufacturing cloth). (2) Thus, except for the edible and clothing plant products, we can prostrate (perform Sajdah) on anything that is a component of earth, i.e. soil, stone, sand, or plants. However, amongst the wide variety of things permissible to perform Sajdah on, earth is the most recommended and Ahl al-Bayt (PBUT) have encouraged us to perform Sajdah on earth when possible. The concern that remains is that in this day and age, it is not always possible to find clean earth, so as a solution Shiites have made earth in the form of Turbah, so that they are confident about its cleanliness and can easily carry it wherever they want.

 

Understanding Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) tradition

Shiites believe that the Infallible Imams (PBUT) are the most superior, reliable and authentic sources of Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) narrations and traditions. As they have stated in various narrations, they have learned everything they teach us from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) himself. This belief is not restricted to Shiites, since a lot of great Sunni scholars accept the Imams (PBUT) as authentic narrators and narrate great number of Hadiths from them. Therefore, the words of Ahl al-Bayt (PBUT) about prostration are sufficient for us to be assured that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) prostrated the same way.

The Infallible Imams (PBUT), however are not the only ones who have explained the way one must prostrate; as a matter of fact several narrators amongst the companions and the followers of the Prophet (PBUT&HP) have also narrated Hadiths, which indicate Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) traditions in this regard. The significance of these narrations is that all Muslim scholars, Shia and Sunni (in Sihah Sittah), have agreed upon the authenticity of them. In order to create a common ground in that our Sunni brothers can also rely on, we will provide verses from the Holy Quran and narrations from the Sunni authentic sources. 

 

Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) place of Sajdah

According to the most authentic juristic books of both Shiites and Sunnis, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) has said:" The earth has been considered as a place for prostration and an object that cleanses."(3) In this Hadith, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) has explicitly introduced earth as a place to prostrate on. Thus, it is permissible to prostrate on earth and its components like soil, stone, and etc.

Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) has not only specified the place of prostration, but has also shown the correct way of prostrating through his own practice. Wa'il - the companion of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) - has narrated:" I saw the Prophet putting his forehead and his nose on the earth while prostrating." (4)

Abu Hurayra and Abi Sa'eed Khidri have also confirmed this fact through the following narration: "Although the earth had become wet due to the rain, Messenger of Allah prostrated on the earth and we saw its trace on his forehead." (5)

Aisha has narrated that the Prophet never covered his forehead with anything during prostration (6), and he would never allow his turban to cover his forehead and get in the way of his place of prostration. (7)  

Based on the mentioned narrations, it is clearly indicated that even in unusual situations like the time of rain, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) prostrated on earth.  

 

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) and a Sajdah place other than earth

 Looking carefully into Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) tradition, we realize that besides earth, one is also permitted to prostrate on plants, which grow from the earth and are not used as food or elements of clothing. The following Hadith illustrates the fact that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) would sometimes prostrate on certain sections of plants: Abu Sa'eed Khidri has narrated, "I once found Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) doing Salat on a Mat (a small piece of carpet made by certain stems and leaves of plants) and prostrating on it (8)."

Anas ibn Malik has also narrated that the Prophet used to perform his Salat on a mat: "Once the Prophet was invited to lunch. After having lunch, he addressed us to pray. We cleaned a piece of Mat. Them he stood on it, began his Salat, and we accompanied him." (9)

Another thing Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) would prostrate on in Salat was a "Khumrah".  Khumrah is a small carpet made from the branches of a palm tree, and is used to put one's forehead on in Sajdah. (10) Ibn Abbas, Ibn Umar and also Umm Salamah, Meymunah, and Aisha (who were the Prophet's wives) have all narrated that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) would also pray on Khumrah; (11) at times the Prophet would even assign someone to bring a Khumrah to the mosque so that he could pray on it. (12)

From the above statements one can conclude that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) would prostrate on items such as earth, stone, or parts of plants that are neither edible nor wearable.

 

The Companions' place of Sajdah

This act and practice of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) was so obvious that even the companions would prostrate on either earth or parts of some plants; and they would refrain from prostrating on man-made materials. For example, Jabir ibn Abdullah al-Ansari has narrated, "On one extremely burning midday, I was performing Salat with the Prophet. I took some gravel and held it in my hand; I then passed it over to my other hand in order to cool it.  Once it was cooled, I prostrated on it." (13)

Bayhaqi, a well-known Sunni scholar, comments on the above stated Hadith as follows:" If indeed it was permissible to prostrate on cloth, it would have been much easier than cooling the gravel in order to prostrate on..." (14)

This Hadith and other similar ones clarify that it is not permissible to prostrate on cloth under normal situations.

Up to this point, only a small portion of the narrations about the area of prostration, have been discussed. 

According to the books held authentic by our Sunni brothers, and according to other narrations about the life and style of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), it can be concluded that the method the Shiites follow in Salat and prostration is consistent with the way of Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) tradition.  As a matter of fact, Shiites set the preference for prostration on the earth over all other options. However, the majority of the sects within Islam, including our Sunni brothers, unfortunately neglect this important tradition of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP).

 

The underlying purpose for prostrating in this way…

Besides all these facts, our Imams (PBUT) have somewhat explained the reason for performing Sajdah on earth and the parts of plants which are neither edible nor wearable.

When Imam Sadiq (PBUH) declared the regulations of prostration for Hisham ibn Hakam, Hisham asked about the reasons. Imam Sadiq (PBUH) replied: "Sajdah is showing humbleness for Allah; thus it is not possible to prostrate on things which is eaten or worn because the materialistic people are a servant of their own food and clothing; yet a person who prostrates, is worshiping Allah during prostration. That person should not therefore place his forehead on what the materialistic people worship (with which they have been misled). Furthermore, prostrating on earth is superior because it involves a greater humbleness towards Allah." (15)

 

A sacred Turbah, the best thing to prostrate on

Till this point, it has become clear that according to Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) tradition, earth is the best thing to prostrate on, and we are free to select the earth from any land. However, the Infallible Imams (PBUT) have declared the most sacred earth for us to prostrate on. It is a known fact that the earth of different lands possesses different qualities. Furthermore, according to the Islamic traditions the earths of certain lands are superior religiously and spiritually. The superiority of these lands may help us gain a better proximity with Allah (SWT) during our Salat. However, which earth does possess such superiority?

Following their Imams (PBUT), the Shiites endeavor to select the earth on which Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) used to respect, smell, kiss, and protect. (16) According to the narrations narrated by all Muslims (including both Shiites and Sunnis), the Turbah of Imam Hussain (PBUH) was respected and blessed by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) even 50 years before the incident of Karbala and Imam Hussain's (PBUH) martyrdom. As the most authentic Sunni books have narrated, it was so that the angels brought some of this Turbah for Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) by Allah's (SWT) order. (17)

Therefore, it is highly recommended, following Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) that we   perform Sajdah on the earth on which the shrine of Imam Hussain (PBUH) is placed upon.  By this, one is seeking proximity towards Allah (SWT) by prostrating on the Turbah of a person who sacrificed his existence in the way of his beloved, Allah (SWT).


 
1- Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) said:'' O Osama! Perform Sajdah, because it is the state in which a person is closest to Allah.'' (Mustadrak Wasa'il al-Shia, vol. 4, p. 475)
 
2- Many narrations have been narrated from Ahl al-Bayt (PBUT) indicating the permissible things to prostrate on. The scholars have used these narrations as sources. For example, Hisham ibn Hakam asked Imam Sadiq (PBUH) about the things to perform Sajdah on. Imam replied: ''Prostration is forbidden on anything but earth, its components, or on what grows from the earth, except for the things that are edible or wearable.'' (Man la Yahduruhu al-Faqih, vol. 1, p. 272)
 
3- Sahih Bukhari (the book of Tayammum and Salat, chapter Fadl Istiqbal al-Qiblah), vol. 1, pp. 86 & 113;
Sahih Muslim (chapter of Masajid and Places of Salat), vol. 2, p. 64; Sahih Tirmadhi (the book of Salat, chapter of all the earth is place for Sajdah except the graves and baths, also the book of al-Sayr, chapter regarding Qanimat) vol. 1, p. 199 & vol. 3, p. 56;
Sunan Nasa'ei (the book of ablutions and Tayammum, chapter of Tayammum with Sa'eed & the book of Masajid, section of encouraging to sit in mosques and wait for Salat), vol. 1, p. 210 & vol. 2, p. 56;
Sunan ibn Majah (the book of cleanness and its traditions, chapters of Tayammum and its reasons, Hadith 576), vol. 1, p. 188;
Sunan Daaremi (the book of al-Sayr, chapter of Qanimat is not permissible for anyone before us), vol. 2, p. 224;
Sunan Abu Dawud, vol. 1, p. 118;
Musnad Ahmad, vol.1, p. 301 & vol. 2, pp 222 & 250 & vol. 3, p. 304 & vol. 4, p. 416 & vol. 5, pp. 145 & 148 & 161 & 248 & 256 & 383; …
 
4- Musnad Ahmad (Musnad al-Koufiain), vol. 4, p. 317
 
5- Sahih Bukhari (the book of Adhan, chapter of obligation of congregational prayer, chapter of superiority of Sajdah, chapter of Taslim, book of Tarawih prayer, book of I'tikaf, chapter of one who quits I'tikaf at dawn), vol.1, pp. 163 & 198 & 203, vol. 2, pp. 254 & 258 & 259;
Sahih Muslim (book of I'tikaf) vol. 3, pp. 172 & 173;
Sunan Nasa'ei (book of Sahw, chapter of forget to wash head after Taslim) vol. 3, p. 79;
Sunan Abu Dawud (book of Salat, chapter of performing Sajdah on forehead and nose), vol. 1, pp. 204 & 272;
Musnad Ahmad, vol. 3, pp. 60 & 74
 
6- Musnad Ahmad, vol. 6, p. 58; Kanz al-Ummal, vol. 4, p. 212
 
7- Tabaqat, vol. 1, p. 455
 
8- Sahih Muslim (book of mosques and places for Salat), vol. 2, p. 62
 
9- Sahih Bukhari (book of Salat, chapter of Salat on Mat & book of Adhan, chapter of Wudu of al-Sebyan…), vol. 1, pp. 101 & 209;
Sahih Muslim (book of mosques and places for Salat, chapter of permission for combination of Nafilah and Salat on Mat…), vol. 2, p. 127;
Sunan Nasa'ei (book of Imamate, chapter of the place of Imam when there are 3), vol. 2, p. 85;
Sunan Abu Dawud (book of Salat, chapter of how to pray when there are 3), vol. 1, p. 146;
Musnad Ahmad, vol. 3, p. 131
 
10- Lisan al-Arab, definition of the word Khumrah
 
11- Sahih Bukhari (book of Salat, chapter of Salat on surfaces and Minabrs and woods), vol. 1, p. 100;
Sahih Tirmadhi (book of Salat, chapter of Salat on Khumrah, vol. 1, p. 207; Sunan Nasa'ei (book of Masajid, Salat on Khumrah), vol. 2, p. 57; Sunan ibn Majah (book of Salat and its traditions, chapter of Salat on Khumrah) vol. 1, p. 328; Musnad Ahmad, vol. 6, pp. 330 & 331 & 335, vol. 2, pp. 92 & 98, vol. 6, pp. 149 & 179 & 209 & 302
 
12- Sahih Muslim (book of menses), vol. 1, p. 168;
Sahih Tirmadhi (book of cleanness, chapter of woman on menses and eating from mosque), vol. 1, p. 90;
Sunan ibn Majah (book of cleanness and its traditions, chapter of woman on menses and eating from mosque), vol. 1, p. 207;
Sunan Nasa'ei (book of cleanness, chapter of employing woman on menses & book of menses, chapter of employing woman on menses), vol. 1, pp. 146 & 192;
Sunan Abu Dawud (book of cleanness, chapter of woman on menses and eating in mosque), vol. 1, p. 65;
Musnad Ahmad (the remaining of Musnad al-Ansar…), vol. 6, pp. 45 & 106 & 179 & 214 & 229 & 245
 
13- Sunan Nasa'ei (book of opening, chapter of Tatbiq, chapter of cooling stones for Sajdah), vol. 2, p. 204;
Sunan Abu Dawud (book of Salat, chapter of the time for Salat of Dhuhr), vol. 1, p. 100;
Musnad Ahmad, vol. 3, p. 327;
Sunan Bayhaqi, vol. 2, p. 105
 
14- Sunan Bayhaqi, vol. 2, p. 105
 
15- Man la Yahduruhu al-Faqih, vol. 1, p. 272
 
16- Mustadrak al-Sahihain, vol. 4, p. 398
 
17- Musnad Ahmad, vol. 6, p. 294; Tarjumah al-Imam Hussain (Ibn Asakir), p. 241; Al-Bidayah wa al-Nahayah, vol. 6, p. 257; Majma' al-Zawa'id, vol. 9, p. 187