Answered by: Imam Abdul-Malik Sheikh
Angels Prostrating to Adam Alayhis Salam
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
The matter is not that angels are not capable of learning. This is because the knowledge is from Allāh and this is what the angels understood when they said:
“They (angels) said: “Glory be to You, we have no knowledge except what you have taught us. Verily, it is You, the All-Knower, the All-Wise.” (Al-Baqarah: 32)
The reason for this was to establish that Allāh is the Knower of all things and that He knows the wisdom behind the creation of the human race.
The angels’ prostration to Adam (peace be upon him) was an act of worship and obedience to Allah. In relation to Adam, it was a way of honouring and respect.
Imām al-QādhiAbū Bakr Ibn al-Arabi states:
“The ummah agreed that prostration to Adam (peace be upon him) was not a prostration of worship”
Imām Al-Fakhr al-Razi says:
“Muslims are unanimously agreed that that prostration is not a prostration of worship”
Imām al-Shawkani says:
“And this prostration is the prostration of greeting and veneration. It is not a prostration of worship, and it is for Him (Allāh) to honour whoever He wills from His creation”
This kind of prostration was permitted in some of the previous laws of the prophets, then Islam came to prohibit and abrogate this. Therefore it is not permissible to prostrate to another person or creation even if done with the intention of showing respect.
This matter is clearly explained in the Hadith of Mu’adh:
When Mu‘adh ibn Jabal came from Syria, he prostrated to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), who said, “What is this, O Mu‘adh?” He said, I went to Syria and saw them prostrating to their archbishops and patriarchs, and I wanted to do that for you. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Do not do that. If I were to command anyone to prostrate to anyone other than Allah, I would have commanded women to prostrate to their husbands” (Sunan Ibn Majah No.1853)
With regards to how the angels knew about the nature of human, there are several explanations. One of the explanations given by the Mufassirun, such as Imām al-Tabari, is that the angels said what they said after Allāh Almighty Himself informed them of the nature of Adam’s offspring.
Tafsir al-Tabari Vol. 1, P. 301
Ahkam al-Quran Vol.1 p.7
Al-Tafsir al-Kabir Vol.2 p.212
Tafsir Fath al-Qadir Vol.3 p.157
Only Allah knows best
Written by Imam Abdul-Malik Sheikh
Checked and approved by Mufti Mohammed Tosir Miah