Assalaamu alaykum. I may be travelling to Asia next year and learn about their history, which can expand one's knowledge. The country which I am most interested in is North Korea, which is beautiful, and it is actually safe for visitors. However, there are potentional problems there. According to the tour group, it says that if you visit Pyongyang, visitors are expected to bow before the statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, who are the previous rulers of the country. The tour group company says that the bowing does not have to involve literally going down to your knees, as in the prayer, but consists of lowering the head, as if to nod; this is done three times, just to show respect, but not out of worship. Neverhteless, the Koreans there, when they bow, do it with the full bowing and worship the statue. When visiting Korea, the mausoleum contains the bodies of Kim Il sung and Kim Jong Il, and visitors are expected to bow like before. Failure to do this can result in consequences, like possibly being arrested and punishment, or the tour guides will get into serious trouble. If a Muslim did slightly lower his head in the situation mentioned above, not because he intends worshipping them, but out of fear of harm, will this make him a polytheist, or will he just be considered very sinful?
All perfect praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, is His slave and Messenger.
It is impermissible for the visitor of such statues to bow to them, even slightly. Bowing to these statues is plain imitation of idol-worshippers.
If a Muslim knows that a country compels its visitors to do this, it is impermissible for him to travel there in the first place. He should seek knowledge in any other country, since knowledge – whether it be related to history or otherwise – is not monopolized by these oppressive countries. It is impermissible for a Muslim to bow to anyone, even if done for mere greeting, and even if done without bowing the back. If it is disliked to bow to a human being, as stated by scholars, what then would the ruling be with respect to bowing to statues and idols?
An-Nawawi said, "Question: Bowing the head to a person... is it lawful or not? Answer: Bowing the head is disliked... ." [Al-Fataawa]
Hawaashi Shurooh Al-Minhaaj reads, "The custom of lowering the head and slightly bowing in a manner that does not amount to full bowing is not Kufr (disbelief), nor is it prohibited; however, it should be disliked."
Some scholars even stated that it is prohibited to bow to a person, so it is prohibited to bow to statues with greater reason.
The Permanent Committee for Iftaa' was asked, "We joined a karate club in America. The coach said, 'You have to bow when your opponent bows to you.' We refused and explained that this is against our religion. He agreed but said, 'You have to bow the head only, because the opponent initiates a greeting by bowing, and you must greet him back.' What is your opinion on this?"
The answer reads, "It is not permissible to bow to greet a Muslim or a non-Muslim, whether it is done by lowering the upper part of the body or the head, because bowing is a greeting of worship, and worship must be to Allah alone."
Allah knows best.
You can search for fatwa through many choices