In the Quran God encourages us many times to fall prostrate to Him. The provision to fall prostrate to God is a compulsory daily action in which the main features is to pray to Him, praise and glorify Him. It is common knowledge ‘Prostration’ is a humble act of submitting and surrendering oneself to another. However in the Quran there are many degrees in the action of prostration as its teaches us apart of showing the action of humility to Allah there is also the action to show humility to fellow human being.
The evidence from the Quran that there is prostration to Allah but there is also prostration to show humility to fellow human is narrated in Surah 12:100 And he raised his parents high on the throne (of dignity), and they fell down in prostration, (all) before him. He said: “O my father! This is the fulfillment of my vision of old! Allah hath made it come true! He was indeed good to me when He took me out of prison and brought you (all here) out of the desert, (even) after Satan had sown enmity between me and my brothers. Verily my Lord understands best the mysteries of all He plan to do for verily He is full of knowledge and wisdom. With this verse it may look contradictory when there is also a command by Allah which says in Surah 41:37 Among His Signs are the Night and the Day, and the Sun and the Moon. Do not prostrate to the sun and the moon, but prostrate to Allah, Who created them, if it is Him ye wish to serve. If one is to compare it to Surah 12:100 mentioned above it looks like one verse asks people not to prostrate or worship others than Allah, while the other asks some people to prostrate or worship Joseph! Such situation could become an embarrassment if one is to see a Muslim prostrating to another person? The sun and the moon are the signs of Allah, but do not worship them; prostrate only to Allah who has created them.
However from the message of Quran there will not be any problem with the above situation as there are evidences prostration has various meanings with definite action to show humility or how to be humble not only to Allah but to fellow humans. There is different degree in the Quran regarding being humility to Allah and being humility to fellow human. The general action of humbling oneself due to the process of prostration according to the Quran is the standard action to move the head by mere lowering of the chins. The general action of humility is as described in Surah 17:107 Say: “Whether ye believe in it or not, it is true that those who were given knowledge beforehand, when it is recited to them, lower (yakhiruu) to the chins (lilazqani) in humble prostration. This is a description of the first posture to show the action of prostration of humility while on the standing position the head moves the chin to humble itself on the neck. This is not an uncommon ways of showing humility as it is done by the Japanese and the Korean. They lower their chins once or several times towards the necks in front of a guest to show their humility and respect. After the standing position the next action to show humility in the Quran is stated in Surah 38:24 (David) said: “He has undoubtedly wronged thee in demanding thy (single) ewe to be added to his (flock of) ewes: truly many are the partners (in business) who wrong each other: Not so do those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and how few are they?” And David gathered that We had tried him: he asked forgiveness of his Lord, fell down bowing (Kharra rakeaan), and turned (to Allah in repentance). Here bowing is the lowering of the chin beyond the neck to bring the head down to the same level as if one is to kneel. Although the Muslim bowing is not the same as kneeling but when the two hands is placed on the knees the chins and the head will automatically be at the same level that of kneeling. This is a common way of showing respect in the case of English kings and queens and also those of Europe. The humblest action of prostration is stated as In Surah 37:103 “So when they had both submitted their wills (to Allah), and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice.)“ shows us the third example of prostration of humility in the Quran. Whenever the chin is lowered and the forehead is placed on the ground the two palms of the hands and the two knees will also be on the ground and this the prostration of submission which is the humblest form of humility.
Thus in describing the action of worshipping Allah a Muslim will have to demonstrate all the three action of stand with the chins on the neck, bow by lowering the head with the two hands placed on the knees and lastly prostrate on the forehead with the two hands and both the knees on the ground. This is the command of Allah to establish worship at Surah 22:26 Behold! We gave the site, to Abraham, of the (Sacred) House, (saying): “Associate not anything (in worship) with Me; and sanctify My House for those who compass it round, and stand up and bow to prostrate themselves (therein in prayer). A one stand, bow and to prostrate in submission is called a unit of prayer to worship Allah.
And from the Quran the obligatory daily prayer Allah allowed to do two stands or one stand as stated in Surah 34:46 Say: “I do admonish you on one point: that ye do standup before Allah, (It may be) in pairs, or (it may be) singly, and reflect (within yourselves). The ideal in prayer is to do two units of prayer but one stand of unit is done when one is on a journey or in fear by reducing the unit and time for the prayer. As illustrated above the prostration of submission the humblest form of humility by placing the forehead on the floor and this is only reserved for Allah. The respect or to show humility to fellow human can take the other two forms of prostration standing with the chins lowered and bowing or kneeling with the chins hanging half way to the ground.
Nevertheless with the three positions of prostration to show humility having been defined, prostration in the case of Joseph at Surah 12:100 can be described that all of his brothers and parents showed to him the respect or humility by lowering their chins to the necks while in a standing position. This form of humility for dignitaries is quite common today in the standing with the chins lowered. The other example shown in Surah 2:58 “And remember We said: “Enter this town, and eat of the plenty therein as ye wish; but enter the gate with prostration, in posture and in words”. As can be seen it is impossible to walk while in prostration and this is where prostration can be defined as in Surah 17:109 entering the gate by lowering the chins placed on the necks in prostration and saying humble words to the esidents. Thus there is a clear meaning in the Quran of prostration in submission to Allah and prostration to show humility to humans.
In worshipping Allah the Quran shows the example the prophet Muhammad did his action of humility as stated in Surah 4:102 When thou (O Messenger) art with them, and stand to lead them in prayer. And his submission as in Surah 48:29 Muhammad is the messenger of Allah; and those who are with him are strong against Unbelievers, (but) compassionate amongst each other. Thou wilt see them bow and prostrate themselves (in prayer), seeking Grace from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure. Thus the three position in worshipping Allah is by standing, bow and submission in prostration.