Assalaamu alaykum. In Japanese and Chinese culture, one has to bow down before his boss or superior. In Islam, however, it is haram to bow down before anybody other than Allah. What if we can make a way out? For example, if somebody just makes a gesture like slightly bending his back in front, suppose maximum 20 degrees, without bowing his head, which is not at all like the bowing of the prayer, and the Japanese counterpart gets the message of respect? Would that be okay?
All perfect praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad, sallallahu ʻalayhi wa sallam, is His slave and Messenger.
No human being is allowed to bow to another human being. Anas ibn Maalik, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated that a man said to the Prophet, sallallahu ʻalayhi wa sallam, “O Messenger of Allah! When a man among us meets his brother or his friend, should he bow to him?” He said, “No.” The man continued, “Should he embrace him and kiss him?” He said, “No.” He said, “Should he take his hand and shake it?” He said, “Yes.” [Ahmad and At-Tirmithi]
Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah wrote, “Bowing to any created being was not the practice of the Prophet, sallallahu ʻalayhi wa sallam. Rather, it is considered the practice of some monarchs and the ignorant people...”
Slightly bending one's back, even if it does not amount to the bowing of prayer, while greeting someone falls into the category of the forbidden bowing because it is considered bowing in the linguistic sense and in reality, as it involves lowering the upper part of the body.
The fatwa of the Permanent Committee for Iftaa’ reads, “It is not permissible to bow when greeting others, whether a Muslim or a non-Muslim, and whether it be done with the upper part of the body or the head, because bowing is a greeting of worship, and worship can only be done for Allah alone.”
Even the scholars who held that slight bowing that does not amount to bowing is permissible stated that it is only allowed towards a Muslim, as quoted by the Shaafiʻi scholar Ar-Ramli in his book Haashiyat Ar-Ramli. He said, “Shaykh Al-ʻIzz ibn ʻAbd As-Salaam said, ‘Bowing the head, if it reaches the extent of the bowing of prayer, should not be done, just like prostration. There is no harm in slightly bowing the head if it does not amount to the bowing of prayer when greeting Muslims deserving of respect and honoring.”
Allah knows best.
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