Is it permitted to touch the feet of elders? It is common in our culture.
In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,
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 was avoided, then this has two possibilities:
a) If the person whom one is touching the feet is from the opposite sex and is a non-mahram [someone of one’s immediate family of those whom one cannot marry], then to touch the feet will be impermissible. Therefore, 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 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 (SeeDurr al-Mukhtar).
( I agree Asim... kissing feet... eww...)
However, if touching or kissing the feet of the future parents in-Laws is regarded as part of the 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, then this is unlawful (haram) and regarded as one of the major sins.
The prostration of worship (sajda al-ibadah), for other than Allah, is absolutely and undeniably disbelief (kufr). The prostration of respect (sujud al-ta`dhim) or greeting (tahiyya), for other than Allah, is unlawful and a major sin, according to all four Sunni schools of law, and could lead one to kufr.
The Messenger of Allah (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 any besides Allah is strictly unlawful, and regarded a major sin. If practised out of worship, then it will be disbelief (kufr).
The common situation
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, then it will be permissible, but normally better to avoid.
However, if the case is otherwise, then it would be obligatory to avoid. In such a case, explain to the elders of the family that this is a un-Islamic practise and must be avoided. Ensure this is done with gentleness, calmness and wisdom.
And Allah knows best
Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari, UK