There are several queries and doubts raised by the skeptics on the Shiite practice of prostration (sajdah) on the soil of Karbala, the land of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) shrine. The doubts range from the extreme allegation of polytheism (shirk) to the lesser accusations of exaggeration (ghuluv) and frivolousness.
How did the Shias reach to this conclusion contrary to the vast majority of Muslims who believe that prostration is valid on carpet, cloth of turban and the like?
1. Role of Saqalain in Shiite jurisprudence
Shias based on their jurisprudence (fiqh), which is dictated by the Holy Quran and the infallible guides (a.s.), believe that prostration is valid only on the earth, stone, wood and the like. In other words, prostration is prohibited on anything that is worn (malboos) or eaten (makool) in any form whatsoever.
Shias adhere to the traditions of Ahle Bait (a.s.) who are declared similar to the Holy Quran according to Hadith al-Saqalain.
- Sahih Muslim vol. 4 p. 1,873 tradition 2,406 in Kitab Fazaail al-Sahabah chap. 4 in Bab Fazaail Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.)
2. Correct prostration according to the Ahle Bait (a.s.)
The Ahle Bait (a.s.) have approved prostration only on the earth and its non-consumable by-products like stone, tiles, leaves, wood and so on.
Garments, carpet, cloth of turban etc. are not approved by the Ahle Bait (a.s.) for prostration.
Among the many traditions on the subject we review a defining report on the matter.
Hisham Ibn Hakam says – I asked Imam Sadiq (a.s.): Prostration is valid on which things?
He (a.s.) replied, “Prostration is not valid on anything other than the earth and whatever grows from it except that which is eaten or worn.”
I asked Imam (a.s.): May I be sacrificed for you, what is the reason for it?
Imam (a.s.) replied, “Because prostration is only for Allah and humility in front of Allah; therefore, it is not appropriate to prostrate on edible and wearable items because the lovers of the world are the slaves of the edible and wearable things. As for the person who prostrates purely for the Almighty Allah, it is not appropriate to keep his forehead on such a thing through which the adorers of the world have been deceived.”
- Wasail al-Shia vol. 5 p. 343 tradition 1
3. Is it obligatory to prostrate on soil of Karbala?
Shias do not consider as obligatory (waajib) prostration on the soil of Karbala. Rather, they believe that prostration on the holy and pure earth of Karbala is highly recommended (mustahabb). This is the conclusion from traditions of the Holy Prophet’s pure progeny (s.a.w.a.).
On this subject Allamah Amini (r.a.) says: We (Shias) carve out pieces of various sizes from soil of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) shrine (Karbala) and rest our forehead on it during prostration. This is the same practice observed by Masrooq Ibe Ajdah the jurist of the Ahle Tasannun and a follower of caliphate. He always took care to carry a piece from soil of Medina (during a sea journey) and used to prostrate on it. (Al-Tabaqaat al-Kubra vol. 6 p.79)
Can we say that a scholar and jurist of Medina and a teacher of the Sunnah was an innovator and his action inappropriate?
- Al- Sujood ala al-Turbah al-Husainiyyah p. 66 of Allamah Amini (r.a.)
Allamah Shaikh Kashif al-Gheta (r.a.) says in this regard:
Probably the motive of Shias behind prostration on soil of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) shrine is that it is the purest and most sacred soil with respect to every soil and mat. The lofty aim is that when the worshipper rests his forehead on it in prayers, he embellishes his worship by paying homage to the valor and sacrifice of Imam Husain (a.s.) and his family in the cause of religion and his belief and struggle against oppression becomes even firmer.
Prostration is the most important action in prayers and it has been narrated in traditions that the nearest condition of a worshipper with his Lord is in prostration. Therefore, it is appropriate to rest the forehead on such a pure soil which serves as remembrance of the person who sacrificed his life in the way of the Lord. Thus, the worshipper’s soul will behold a completely distinct experience. He becomes humble and his prostration assumes a higher spiritual status and the value of this lowly world and its temporal adornments appear meaningless to him. This may be the aim for prostrating on this soil. Similarly, it is narrated in traditions that prostration pierces the veils of the seven heavens. Actually, prostration is a symbol of elevation and ascent from this world to the celestial world near the Lords of the Worlds.
- Al-Arz wa al-Turbah al-Husainiyyah p. 24 by Allamah Shaikh Jafar Kashif al-Gheta (r.a.)
No soil of earth is equal to the soil of Imam Husain’s grave (a.s.) with respect to its superiority, effects and blessings. The soil of Karbala is a part of Paradise. Allah, the Almighty, out of respect and honour for Imam Husain’s (a.s.) enormous sacrifice in the way of religion has embellished his earth with blessings, superiority and healing.
As we recite in Ziyarat-e-Aashura: ‘O Allah, give me honor in this world and the hereafter through the medium of Imam Husain (a.s.)’, we can say that regular prostration on the soil of Imam Husain (a.s.) gives us respect and honour in this world and the hereafter.
4. Prostration on the soil of Karbala
There are numerous traditions on the importance of prostration on the soil of Karbala and its effect on the worshipper’s prayers.
Imam Sadiq (a.s.) had a yellow bag in which he used to preserve the soil of Imam Husain (a.s.). Whenever he (a.s.) offered prayers he placed the soil on the place of prostration and prostrated on it. He (a.s.) informed, “Prostration on the soil of Imam Husain (a.s.) pierces seven veils i.e. it ascends to the seventh heaven and prayers are accepted.”
- Wasail al-Shia vol. 5 p. 366 tradition 3