How did the Prophet ﷺ performed his prostration in prayer? When he was kneeling down for prostration, did he place his hands or knees on the ground first?
Alhamdulillah, praise and thanks to Allah for the countless blessings He has blessed us all with. Blessings and salutations to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, his wives, his family, companions and all those that follow his teachings to the day of judgement.
Prostration is one of the pillars or prerequisites of prayer (rukun – obligatory in prayer). Without the act of prostration, then it is not considered as prayer. The act of prostration in prayer must also follow the conditions of prostration itself. The sanctioning of prostration in prayer is mentioned in the Quran, hadith and the obligation of it is agreed upon by the consensus of scholars.
Allah SWT states:
يَٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ ٱرۡكَعُواْ وَٱسۡجُدُواْۤ وَٱعۡبُدُواْ رَبَّكُمۡ وَٱفۡعَلُواْ ٱلۡخَيۡرَ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تُفۡلِحُونَ
“O you who have believed, bow and prostrate and worship your Lord and do good - that you may succeed.”
Surah al-Hajj (77)
A man entered the mosque and started praying while Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) was sitting somewhere in the mosque. Then (after finishing the prayer) the man came to the Prophet (ﷺ) and greeted him. The Prophet (ﷺ) said to him, "Go back and pray, for you have not prayed. The man went back, and having prayed, he came and greeted the Prophet. The Prophet (ﷺ) after returning his greetings said, "Go back and pray, for you did not pray." On the third time the man said, "(O Allah's Messenger (ﷺ)!) teach me (how to pray).". Then the Prophet ﷺ taught him the right way to perform prayer. From a part of the hadith, the Prophet said:
ثُمَّ اسْجُدْ حَتَّى تَطْمَئِنَّ سَاجِدًا ثُمَّ ارْفَعْ حَتَّى تَسْتَوِيَ وَتَطْمَئِنَّ جَالِسًا، ثُمَّ اسْجُدْ حَتَّى تَطْمَئِنَّ سَاجِدًا
“…and then prostrate till you feel at rest in prostration, and then sit up till you feel at rest while sitting; and then prostrate again till you feel at rest in prostration,”
Sahih al-Bukhari (6667)
Hence, scholars of salaf and khalaf all agreed on the obligation of prostration in prayer referring to both the Quranic and prophetic evidences above.
Prostration in Prayer
There are evidences of the sanctioning of prostration in the Quran, hadith and scholarly consensus (ijmak). However, there are differing opinions regarding how the Prophet ﷺ performed his prostration. One of the issues in this discussion is how one should prostrate himself in prayer; should he start his prostration by placing his knees or hands first when he was kneeling down?
In this issue, there are two opinions:
- First: One should prostrate placing both knees first, then his hands. This is the opinion in mazhab al-Hanafiah, al-Syafi’eyyah and al-Hanabilah.
- Second: One should prostrate placing both hands first, then his knees. This is the opinion in mazhab al-Imam al-Malik, al-Imam al-Auza’ie and one opinion in mazhab al-Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal Rahimahullah.
Discussions on the First Opinion
Scholars who hold the first opinion presented a hadith from Wa’il bin Hujr RA:
رَأَيْتُ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم إِذَا سَجَدَ وَضَعَ رُكْبَتَيْهِ قَبْلَ يَدَيْهِ وَإِذَا نَهَضَ رَفَعَ يَدَيْهِ قَبْلَ رُكْبَتَيْهِ
“I saw that the Prophet (ﷺ) placed his knees (on the ground) before placing his hands when he prostrated himself. And when he stood up, he raised his hands before his knees.”
Sunan Abu Daud (838), Sunan al-Tirmizi (268), Sunan al-Nasa’ie (1089) and Sunan Ibn Majah (882)
However, regarding the above hadith, al-Imam al-Daraqutni Rahimahullah said: “The hadith’s chain of narrators or transmitters (sanad) is as the following; Yazid (single narrator) narrated from Syarik (single narrator), in which he narrated from ‘Asim bin Kulaib. However, since it has been transmitted by a single narrator in the two layers of the chain of narrators (sanad) of the hadith, then this narration is considered as weak.”. Due to this, Syeikh Nasiruddin al-Albani Rahimahullah said the status of the hadith is dhoif (weak) and he details the discussion of the status of this hadith in his book Silsilah al-Ahadith al-Dho’ifah wa al-Maudhu’ah.
Another hadith that supports the first opinion is a hadith from Abu Hurairah RA:
أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ كَانَ إِذَا سَجَدَ بَدَأَ بِرُكْبَتَيْهِ قَبْلَ يَدَيْهِ
“Indeed, the Prophet ﷺ prostrated placing his knees on the ground before his hands,”
Syarh Ma’ani al-Athaar li al-Tahawi (1516) & Qurratu al-‘Ainayn bi Raf’I al-Yadayn fi al-Solah li al-Bukhari (54)
In another hadith:
كُنَّا نَضَعُ الْيَدَيْنِ قَبْلَ الرُّكْبَتَيْنِ، فَأُمِرْنَا بِالرُّكْبَتَيْنِ قَبْلَ الْيَدَيْنِ
“We placed both our hands before our knees, then we are asked to placed our knees before our hands.”
Sahih Ibn Khuzaimah (628), al-Sunan al-Kubra li al-Baihaqi (2637), Ma’rifah al-Sunan wa al-Athaar li al-Baihaqi (3501) & Syarh al-Sunnah li al-Baghawi (643).
As for the above hadith, scholars have criticized it because one of the narrators for this hadith is Ismail bin Yahya bin Salamah and (according to the biographical evaluation of the narrators of hadith), he is matruk (disregarded) (his narrations are not accepted). (See Tahzib al-Kamal fi Asma’ al-Rijal. Muassasah al-Risalah, 3/213)
There is a sound and strong sayings, actions and consent of the Sahabah (athar) from the actions of Umar RA which states:
حَفِظْنَا عَنْ عُمَرَ فِي صَلَاتِهِ أَنَّهُ خَرَّ بَعْدَ رُكُوعِهِ عَلَى رُكْبَتَيْهِ كَمَا يَخِرُّ الْبَعِيرُ وَوَضَعَ رُكْبَتَيْهِ قَبْلَ يَدَيْهِ
“We have memorized the prayer of Umar and in his prayer, after his rukuk (bow) he placed his knees first for his prostration before his hands, just like a camel.”
Narrated by al-Tahawi in Syarh Ma’ani al-Athaar (1528)
According to the above evidences, scholars conclude the following opinions:
- Al-Imam al-Syafi’e (w.204H) Rahimahullah said: “And I like to start (prayer) with takbir then and for prostration, I place my knees then hands then my face…” (See al-Umm. Dar al-Ma’rifah, 1/136)
- Al-Imam al-Khattabi (w.388H) Rahimahullah said: “There are disagreements in this issue, but most scholars agreed that for prostration, one should place the knees first then the hands, for it is a neater and more beautiful movement in prayer.” (See Ma’alim al-Sunan. Al-Matba’ah al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1/208)
- Al-Imam al-Nawawi (w.676H) Rahimahullah said: “In our mazhab, it is sunnah to placed your knees first, then both hands, then forehead and lastly the nose…” (See Al-Majmu’ Syarh al-Muhazzab. Dar al-Fikr, 3/421)
- Al-Imam Ibn qayyim al-Jauziyyah (w.751H) Rahimahullah in his book Zaad al-Ma’aad also mentioned the same opinion of first placing the knees for prostration before the hands. (See Zaad al-Ma’aad. Muassasah al-Risalah, 1/215)
Discussions on the Second Opinion
The second opinion states that for prostration, the hands are placed on the ground before the knees. The evidence the scholars referred to is a hadith from Abu Daud:
إِذَا سَجَدَ أَحَدُكُمْ فَلاَ يَبْرُكْ كَمَا يَبْرُكُ الْبَعِيرُ وَلْيَضَعْ يَدَيْهِ قَبْلَ رُكْبَتَيْهِ
“When one of you prostrates himself, he must not kneel in the manner of camel, but should put down his hands before his knees.”
Sunan Abu Daud (840) & Sunan al-Darimi (1360)
The above hadith is discussed by al-Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jauziyyah in his book Zaad al-Ma’aad, where he said in his opinion there is wahm on the narration (matan) of the hadith from Abu Hurairah. The beginning contradicts the end of the hadith. The reason is, the hadith commanded to not kneel down for prostration like a camel, but then ask to first kneel down with our hands before our knees (as if it contradicts the end of the hadith for a camel kneels down with its front legs first before its hind legs). Furthermore, al-Imam Ibn al-Qayyim said for the above hadith from Abu Hurairah, there is an inqilab (confusion in the matan), where the narration could probably be “and place both knees first before his hands.” (See Zaad al-Ma’aad. Muassasah al-Risalah, 1/217-218)
Moreover, there is a narration from Ibn Umar R.Anhuma where he placed both his hands first in his prayer for his prostration:
كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَفْعَلُ ذَلِكَ
“The Prophet ﷺ did it like so, (placing both hands first before his knees).”
Sahih Ibn Khuzaimah (627)
According to the above discussion, we would like to state that this is an issue of muktabar khilaf (accepted disagreements among the scholars), where both opinions are supported with evidences.
This is clear when al-Imam al-Nawawi himself in his book Al-Majmu’ Syarh al-Muhazzab said: “It is unclear as to which of the opinion is the sunnah (actions of the Prophet ﷺ) for this issue.” Then he includes both of the opinions and evidences scholars presented regarding this issue. (See al-Majmu’ Syarh al-Muhazzab. Dar al-Fikr, 3/421)
Hence, Syeikh Abd al-Aziz Marzuq al-Tarifi Hafizahullah stated his opinion in this issue before going detail in the discussions in his book, entitled Sifat Solat al-Nabi (The Characteristics of the Prayer of the Prophet):” Regarding the narration, there is no elevated (marfu’: a narration attributed to the Prophet PBUH) hadith found in this issue”
Here, we include the opinion of Syeikh Abd al-Aziz Marzuq al-Tarifi Hafizahullah discussing this issue in his book Sifat Solat al-Nabi (The Characteristics of the Prayer of the Prophet ﷺ), where at the end of his discussion he states: “There are extensive discussions by scholars regarding this issue and people should perform their prayer choosing either way that is suitable for them (whether to first place his knees or hands first on the ground for prostration). This is what is prioritized. Some people are full-bodied, while some are slender, thus, choose whichever that is easier for them. Hence, regarding this matter there is no final opinion about it.” (See Sifat Solat al-Nabi. Maktabah Dar al-Minhaj, pg. 130).
In our opinion, people are free to choose from the two opinions stated in the beginning of our discussion. Being rigid and inflexible by ruling one or the other as the correct way of prostration is an extreme opinion and would close the doors of intellectual discussions.
As for the scholars who have differing opinions regarding this issue, they have issued their ijtihad through their reason and thorough exertion of their mental faculty, trying to understand the evidences the way it should be understood. If after their great effort and ijtihad, they managed to conclude an accurate ijtihad then they would receive 2 rewards while if their ijtihad is inaccurate then they would receive 1 reward.
إذَا حَكَمَ الْحَاكِمُ فَاجْتَهَدَ ثُمَّ أَصَابَ، فَلَهُ أَجْرَانِ، وَإِذَا حَكَمَ فَاجْتَهَدَ ثُمَّ أَخْطَأَ، فَلَهُ أَجْرٌ
“When a judge gives a ruling, having tried his best to decide correctly, and is right (in his decision), he will have a double reward; and when he gives a ruling having tried his best to decide correctly, and is wrong (in his decision), he will have a single reward.”
Sahih al-Bukhari (7352) & Sahih Muslim (1716)