There are two types of prostration, one physical and one mental.
Physical requires that you go through the motions of putting your head on the ground, as a man does before a king, thinking that the king is superior to oneself and the king requires this to show his power. But the Quran says that physical acts of ritual worshipping practices are not what Allah asks from us:-
2:177 (One consequence of this schism is their pre-occupation with rituals, with each sect leaving the Revelation aside and taking delight in its own set of dogmas they call religion. 30:320.)
Righteousness and exponential development of the ‘self’ depends not on whether you turn your faces to East or West. But righteousness is that........
Mental prostration is the obedience to the commands of the authorities over us; as Muslims this authority is only to Allah. It is better understood when we look at the meaning of the word sujood:-
(I have used Yusuf Ali translation to show the normal understanding)
You may ask about the term “sujood” which is usually translated as bowing or prostration and that is exactly what we do at namaaz. Let us look deeper at the whole meaning of submission and bowing down to Allah.
Surah 3 verse 83 Do they seek for other than the Religion (Deen) of Allah.-while all creatures (things) in the heavens and on earth have, willing or unwilling, bowed to His Will (accepted Islam), and to Him shall they all be brought back.
The word “aslama” means submit which the above translator has put into brackets to mean “accept Islam”. Further verses help us understand better.
Surah 13 verse 15 Whatever beings there are in the heavens and the earth do prostrate themselves to Allah (acknowledging subjection), willingly or unwillingly: so do their shadows in the morning and evenings.
The word “yasjudu” means bowing or prostrating and this then throws up the question as to exactly how they are bowing. The “shadows” prostrate by moving according to the movement of the Sun. They are doing so only in accordance with the laws of optics which has light travelling in a straight line and not being able to travel through opaque materials and hence shadows are formed. The shadow has no say in what it does or where it goes but is produced by and “follows” the Sun. This is further clarified by:-
Surah 22 verse 18 Do you not see that to Allah bow down in worship all things that are in the heavens and on earth,- the sun, the moon, the stars; the hills, the trees, the animals; and a great number among mankind? But a great number are (also) such as are fit for punishment: and such as Allah shall disgrace, none can raise to honour: for Allah carries out all that He wills.
The moon does not do prostration like us or do three “rakahs”! This bowing is not bending itself but actually means following the laws that were assigned to it by Allah. The moon follows its course around the earth and does not deviate from this unless acted upon by some other force. The laws of Allah are the natural physical laws of the universe and everything within it acts according to these laws. Objects fall down to earth due to gravity, they heat up due to the thermo-nuclear heat of the Sun and they hurt when you hit your head on them! They follow what they are “commanded” to do, according to:
Surah 16 verses 48-50 Do they not look at Allah’s creation, (even) among (inanimate) things, how their (very) shadows turn round, from the right and the left, prostrating themselves to Allah, and that in the humblest manner? And to Allah does obeisance all that is in the heavens and on earth, whether moving (living) creatures or the angels: for none are arrogant (before their Lord). They all revere their Lord, high above them, and they do all that they are commanded.
This clearly states that following what Allah has commanded is the submission and prostration referred to above. Further light can be thrown on this by the next verse:-
Surah 20 verse 49-50 (When this message was delivered), (Pharaoh) said: "Who, then, O Moses, is the Lord of you two?" He said: "Our Lord is He Who gave to each (created) thing its form and nature, and further, gave (it) guidance."
Allah created everything and assigned it guidance which is the fulfilling of its function.
Surah 41 verses 11-12 Moreover He comprehended in His design the sky, and it had been (as) smoke: He said to it and to the earth: "Come you together, willingly or unwillingly." They said: "We do come (together), in willing obedience." So He completed them as seven firmaments in two Days, and He assigned to each heaven its duty and command. And We adorned the lower heaven with lights, and (provided it) with guard. Such is the Decree of (Him) the Exalted in Might, Full of Knowledge.
“Duty and command” means function and it is the instructions or laws of Allah that guide them. But surely we must be doing the right thing by undertaking namaaz five times a day! Well if everything has its laws and are following them accordingly then where are our instructions. They are what is contained in the Quran and that is my whole point. We are “free willed” and our guidance is not fixed like the Moons but ours must be understood and followed willingly. We must submit our wills to the guidance of Allah in order to safe guard our futures and create a heaven on earth. We must do this not by bending physically down to Allah but mentally believing and following His way of life. True submission is putting the words of the Quran into practice by having true faith in them which is only acquired by careful study and pondering over their meaning. Going back to the above verse in Surah 13 verse 15:-
Whatever beings there are in the heavens and the earth do prostrate themselves to Allah (acknowledging subjection), willingly or unwillingly: so do their shadows in the morning and evenings.
We have seen that even the shadows are following the laws set by them, they move as the Sun moves without any thought. What Muslims are doing in the namaaz is a pale “shadow” of the true physical (studying) and practical (implementing) Salat. Namaaz are rituals which are undertaken without thought or comprehension so are worthless in any realistic sense.