Answered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick
Is it permissible for a believer to reply to a salam greeting from a non-Muslim with the complete Islamic greeting response, or should we say “wa alaykum?”
In the Name of Allah, the Most High, and may He send His choicest Peace, Blessings, and Salutations upon our leader and exemplar, Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace). May Allah guide every aspect of our lives to that which pleases Him. Amin.
Returning the Salam Greetings of Non-Muslims
When one is confident that the salam greeting was said correctly and that it is from a non-Muslim, one must reply by saying, “wa alaykum,” (and upon you [plural]) or “wa alayka” (and upon you [singular]. [Ramli, Nihaya Al-Muhtaj]
Anas bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) is reported to have said that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “When the People of the Book convey their salam upon you, say wa alaykum (and upon you).” [Agreed upon – Bukhari & Muslim]
Can One Respond with the Full Greeting?
According to a minority of scholars, one may respond to the salam of non-Muslims (People of the Book) with the full Islamic greeting because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) only commanded us to shorten the greeting to wa alayk because of a prevalent practice of the time.
Some of the People of the Book would deliberately say al-saam alaykum (death be upon you) instead of al-salam alaykum, as indicated in the hadith narrated by ‘Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her). He said, “Do you not see that I say ‘wa alaykum’ when they say ‘al-saam alaykum?’ Then he said, If the People of the Book greet you with salaam, say, ‘wa alaykum.’”
Allah says: “and when they come to you, they greet you with a greeting wherewith Allah greets you not, and say within themselves, Why would Allah punish us not for what we say? [Quran, 58:8]
If this reason is not there, and the Jew or Christian says, ‘salaam alaykum wa rahmatullah,’ then it is only fair to respond kindly. [Nawawi, Al-Adhkar & Ibn Al-Qayyim, Ahkam Ahl Al-Dhimma]
Allah says: “And when you are greeted with a greeting, greet [in return] with one better than it or [at least] return it [in a like manner]. Indeed, Allah is ever, over all things, an Accountant.” [Quran, 4:86]
Meaning of the Salam Greeting
The salam greeting is a divine prayer. The full greeting is “as-salam alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh.” The meaning of the greeting is, “May The Peace (a name of Allah) be with you. And may the Mercy of God and His blessings be with you.”
The salam greeting informs the person greeted that he or she is in peace and safety from all kinds of mischief from the side of the greeting person.
The salam greeting is also a kind of glad tidings from Allah, which He makes through Muslims who give glad tidings to each other that they are in peace from evil and receive Allah’s Blessing or Mercy. This glad tiding is given to the persons due to their Islam and adherence to Allah’s religion.
Initiating the Salam Greeting with Non-Muslims
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “Do not initiate the greeting of salam [to say as-salam alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh] to a Jew or a Christian.” [Muslim]
The above prohibition considers that the salam greeting is a prayer and may contain elements of faith not shared by these religious groups. However, the prohibition is specifically about the salam greeting, not other customary greetings.
For more information, we encourage you to read the following:
I pray that this is beneficial
[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar, Shaykh Taha Karaan.
Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.
He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.
Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and pursuing his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.