[1/-] al-Faqih: Via his chain to Umar b. Udhayna from Zurara from Abi Ja`far عليه السلام, he (Zurara) said: I asked him about the sick person – how does he prostrate? He said: on a small palm-leaf mat or on a hand-held fan or on a tooth-stick which is raised to him [made to touch his forehead], and it is better than gesturing [without the forehead touching anything], verily the one who dislikes prostrating on the hand-held fan dislikes it because of the idols which used to be worshiped apart from Allah, and we never worship anything besides Allah ever – so prostrate on the fan and on the tooth-stick and on a piece of wood.
خمرة “Khumra” – a small mat made from palm tree leaves.
المروحة “Mirwah” – a hand-held fan made mostly from palm tree leaves. Could also have a wooden handle. They were usually rectangular or round in shape and used for both airing and swatting away flying insects.
سواك “Siwak” – a stick from the Arak tree used to brush teeth.
عود “Uwd” – a piece of wood; a wooden stick stemming from a tree branch.
The Imam is asked about the specifics of the prostration of a sick person [who is lying on his back]. There is an opinion which says that he should gesture using his head, or even his eyes if his head cannot move, but this Hadith indicates that it is preferable that he – either by himself or through assistance – raise certain items to his forehead. The items mentioned herein are those which would normally be found in a house. Note that a key feature of all the house-hold items mentioned like the small palm-leaf mat or the palm-leaf fan or the piece of wood (wooden stick) is that they all fulfill the condition of being from the earth.
In my research I came across some narrations proving that the `Amma did indeed dislike if not outright prohibit the indisposed to prostrate on such items.
عَبْدِ الرَّزَّاقِ، عَنِ الثَّوْرِيِّ، عَنْ جَبَلَةَ بْنِ سُحَيْمٍ، قَالَ: سَمِعْتُ ابْنَ عَمْرَ يُسْأَلُ: أَيُصَلِّي الرَّجُلُ عَلَى الْعُودِ وَهُوَ مَرِيضٌ؟ فَقَالَ: لا آمُرُكُمْ أَنْ تَتَّخِذُوا مِنْ دُونِهِ أَوْثَانًا، مَنِ اسْتَطَاعَ أَنْ يُصَلِّيَ قَائِمًا فَلْيُصَلِّ قَائِمًا، فَإِنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَجَالِسًا، فَإِنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَمُضْطَجِعًا يُومِي إِيمَاءً
Ibn Umar was asked: does a man pray on a piece of wood when he is sick? he said: I do not order you to set up apart from Him idols, whoever is able to pray standing let him pray standing, the one who cannot should pray seated, and if he cannot then lying on his side and making gestures [Musannaf Abd al-Razzaq]
أبو عبد الله الحافظ، أنبأ أبو عمرو بن مطر، ثنا يحيى بن محمد، ثنا عبيد الله بن معاذ، ثنا أبي، ثنا شعبة عن جبلة قال: سئل ابن عمر – وأنا أسمع – عن الصلاة على المروحة، فقال: لا تتخذ مع الله إلها آخر، أو قال: لا تتخذ لله أندادا، صل قاعدا واسجد على الأرض، فإن لم تستطع فأومئ إيماء، واجعل السجود أخفض من الركوع
Ibn Umar was asked about prostrating on a hand-held fan – so he said: do not set up besides Allah another god, or he said: do not set up for Allah rivals, pray while sitting and prostrate on the earth, but if you cannot then make gestures, and make your prostration lower than your bowing (your prostration gesture should be lower than bowing one) [Sunan al-Bayhaqi]
نَا أَبُو مُعَاوِيَةَ، عَنِ الْأَعْمَشِ، عَنْ إِبْرَاهِيمَ، عَنْ عَلْقَمَةَ قَالَ: دَخَلَ عَبْدُ اللَّهِ عَلَى أَخِيهِ عُتْبَةَ يَعُودُهُ فَوَجَدَهُ عَلَى عُودٍ يُصَلِّي فَطَرَحَهُ، وَقَالَ: إِنَّ هَذَا شَيْءٌ عَرَّضَ بِهِ الشَّيْطَانُ، ضَعْ وَجْهَكَ عَلَى الْأَرْضِ فَإِنْ لَمْ تَسْتَطِعْ فَأَوْمِئْ إِيمَاءً
Abdallah entered upon his brother Utba visiting him [in his sickness], so he found him praying upon a piece of wood, he tossed it away and said: this is a thing which the Shaytan appeared with, put your face upon the earth, but if you cannot then make gestures [Musannaf Ibn Abi Shayba]
In another variant of the above, Utba was prostrating on a tooth-stick.
عَبْدُ الرَّزَّاقِ، عَنِ الثَّوْرِيِّ، عَنْ أَبِي إِسْحَاقَ، عَنْ زَيْدِ بْنِ مُعَاوِيَةَ، عَنْ عَلْقَمَةَ، وَالْأَسْوَدَ، أَنَّ ابْنَ مَسْعُودٍ دَخَلَ عَلَى عُتْبَةَ أَخِيهِ، وَهُوَ يُصَلِّي عَلَى مِسْوَاكٍ يَرْفَعُهُ إِلَى وَجْهِهِ، فَأَخَذَهُ فَرَمَى بِهِ، ثُمَّ قَالَ: أَوْمِ إِيمَاءً وَلْتَكُنْ رَكْعَتُكَ أَرْفَعَ مِنْ سَجْدَتِكَ
Abdallah entered upon his brother Utba and found him prostrating on a tooth-stick raising it to his forehead, so he took it and threw it away and then said: make gestures and your bowing should be higher than your prostration [Musannaf Abd al-Razzaq]
This position is also attributed to Zayd b. Ali
قَالَ زَيْدُ بْنُ عَلِيٍّ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ: يُصَلِّي الْمَرِيضُ قَائِمًا، فَإِنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَجَالِسًا، وَيَرْكَعُ وَيَسْجُدُ عَلَى الْأَرْضِ، فَإِنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ أَوْمَأَ إِيمَاءً، قَالَ : لَا يَسْجُدُ عَلَى عُودِهِ ، وَلَا مُرُوحَةٍ ، وَلَا وِسَادَةٍ
Zayd b. Ali said: the sick person prays while standing, if he cannot he does so seated, and he bows and prostrates on the earth, if he cannot do so he makes gestures, he also said: one does not prostrate on his wooden stick, nor hand-held fan nor cushion [Musnad Zayd b. Ali]
As can be seen from the above, the aversion to prostrating on these items is connected in some way to idolatry. A clue as to what this could be is found in the words of Ibn Mas`ud below:
عَنْ أَبِي حَنِيفَةَ ، عَنْ حَمَّادٍ ، عَنْ إِبْرَاهِيمَ ، عَنِ ابْنِ مَسْعُودٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ ، أَنَّهُ قَالَ : أَوَّلُ مَنْ جَاءَ بِالْعُودِ الَّذِي يَسْجُدُ عَلَيْهِ إِبْلِيسُ ، وَكَانَ يَكْرَهُهُ مِنْ أَجْلِ النَّصَارَى وَصُلُبِهِمْ
Ibn Mas`ud: the first one to come with the wood which they prostrate on is Iblis, and it is disliked because of the Christians and their wooden crosses [al-Athar of Abu Yusuf]
Apparently, prostrating on wood was linked to the christian veneration of wooden crosses (which they touch on their foreheads) and thus in turn with polytheistic trinity.
Another possible reason could be the fact that the idols in the time of Jahiliyya were mostly constructed using wood and also palm leaves [Ref. to Kitab al-Asnam of al-Kalbi].
This is as far as the proto-Sunnis are concerned, as for us, the Imam makes clear that we never worship idols and any such aversion does not exist, because any association in these items with idolaters has ceased.
It is based on such an argument that Sayyid al-Khumayni legalized chess as it is played in the modern period because he considered the `Illa for its prohibition to be intimately related to the culture in which it was played in the early period [i.e. in gatherings of music, wine-drinking, gambling and dancing among the libertines]. Thus it became a symbol of being lax in the Shar`ia.