I am a Bengali and in our culture we have a custom of touching the feet of elders out of respect. A girl is normally obliged to touch the feet of her parent’s in-law, especially when they come to see her before marriage. I personally think this is wrong, as to bow in front of anybody else is not permissible. However, my family does not understand. How can I explain to them?
There are few situations here:
1) If one was to touch or kiss the feet of the future parents in-Law in a way that the posture of prostration (sajda) was avoided, then this has two possibilities:
a) If the person whom one is touching the feet of, is from the opposite sex and is a non-mahram, then to touch the feet will be impermissible. Thus, it will not be permissible for the prospective bride to touch the feet of her future father in-Law, as he is regarded a stranger in Shariah before marriage, unless he is a mahram, such as an uncle.
b) If the person whom one is kissing and touching the feet of, is from the same sex or he/she happens to be a Mahram (unmarriageable kin), then in principle it is permissible to kiss the feet (See Durr al-Mukhtar).
However, if touching or kissing the feet of the future parents in-Law is regarded to be part of marriage in Islam, and is considered an act of reward, then there is no basis for this in Shariah and should be avoided.
2) If the kissing or touching was practised in the posture of prostration (sajda), then this is unlawful (haram) and regarded as one of the major sins.
The prostration of worship (sajda al-ibadah), for other than Allah Almighty, is absolutely and undeniably disbelief (kufr). The prostration of respect (sajda al-ta’dhim) or greeting (tahiyya), for other than Allah, is unlawful and a major sin, according to all four Sunni schools of Islamic law, and could lead one to kufr.
The Messenger of Allah (May Allah bless him & give him peace) is reported to have said: “It is not permissible for one human to prostrate in front of another.” (Sunan Tirmidhi).
Given this and similar texts, the scholars are unanimous on the fact that any type of prostration for anyone besides Allah is strictly unlawful, and regarded a major sin. If practised out of worship, then it will be disbelief (kufr).
Therefore in your situation, if touching of the feet does not consist of touching the feet of a non-Mahram, and you are able to avoid the prostration posture (such as not kissing by prostrating on the ground), then it will be permissible, but normally better to avoid.
However, if the case is otherwise, then it would be obligatory to avoid it. In such a case, explain to the elders of the family that this is an un-Islamic practise and must be avoided. Ensure this is done with gentleness, calmness and wisdom.
And Allah Knows Best
[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK