In this final article of the series, Shaykh Jamir Meah discusses one of the simplest yet most important everyday sunnas that is sometimes neglected; greeting each other with salam, the greeting of peace.
Many Muslims, both in the East and West, are not accustomed to saying salam to family and friends, and even more so to strangers. For others, salams are given multiple times throughout the day, however, it is often restricted to people we know, or only when returning greetings.
When we pass a fellow Muslim on the street, or sit next to each other on the train or bus, we are often hesitant to give salam. This could be for many reasons. However, it is important to try to overcome this barrier and be as free and generous with our greetings of peace with one another as possible, and ideally, stretch ourselves to even smile or look pleased to see another Muslim!
The salam is universal to all Muslims, so does not require translation. Everywhere you go it is understood. Spreading the salam among ourselves is not only affirmed in the Qur’an and Sunna, but as we’ll see from the prophetic traditions. It has a positive affect for both the people engaged, and potentially, the entire Muslim community.
The Effect of A Simple Greeting
Moreover, we all know what the effect of a simple smile can have on a person’s day, even from a stranger, smiling being a sunna in its own right. Sometimes, little unexpected gestures of kindness and sincerity are enough to lift the mood of a person’s otherwise negative or depressive moods. It is often the start to positive energy being released. When a person is genuinely greeted with a warm, smiley, and sincere salam, it can impart a real sense of reassurance and belonging.
This is ever more essential today as so many people feel insecure and detached in modern society. How many a group of Muslims youths have we walked by, religion far from their mind, but when a person says salam to them, they all immediately return the salam with unexpected fervor and pride?
How many an old person do we pass by, coming and going to and from the local mosque as if invisible, but when the greeting of salam is given to them, their eyes light up with all the intensity and vibrancy of youth? Likewise, many more people, whose private circumstances we can never know, can be touched and uplifted by an honest and simple greeting of peace from a stranger.
One of the Names of Allah is As Salam, the One Who gives Peace. God is the source of all peace. This is why we say after prayer (which itself concludes with the greetings of salam to those on ones right and to those on ones left):
Allahumma antas salam wa minkas salam tabarakta ya dhal Jalali wal ikram.
O Allah, You are peace, and peace comes from You. Blessed are You, O Possessor of Glory and Honor.
The universal greeting of peace is fundamentally a supplication to God for that person. If we truly mean God’s peace to be upon that person, and they return the same greeting, and we all do this throughout the day to different people, then we can expect Allah Most High to answer these prayers, showering His mercy, blessing and peace upon each person, and then the Umma at large.
The greeting of peace is not restricted to this world, for it will be the greeting not only from the angels to those who enter Paradise: “Peace be upon you for what you patiently endured. And excellent is the final home.” (Sura al Ra‘d 13:24) But more importantly, from God Himself: “And ‘Peace!’ will be [their] greeting from the Merciful Lord.” (Sura Ya Sin 36:57)
Spreading the Salam in the Qur’an and Sunna
Allah Most High tells us in many places in the Qur’an about the importance of spreading greetings among ourselves, ‘And when you are greeted with a greeting, meet it with a greeting better than it, or equal to it. Allah takes account of all things.’ (Sura al Nisa 4:86)
Likewise, the are many traditions of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, which stressed the passing the salam between us, too many to mention in this article. Among the most useful for our purposes are;
Abu Hurairah, Allah be pleased with him, narrated, “You cannot enter Paradise until you are a believer and your belief cannot be complete until you love each other. Should I not guide you to something, which, if you practice it, it will establish bonds of love among you all? Make salam a common practice among yourselves.” (Muslim) Through this simple act, love is implanted in the heart and the sense of unity and brotherhood is given life. Small acts can have tremendous impact on our states.
Abu Umamah, Allah be pleased with him, narrated, The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him,, commanded us to spread the salam.’ (Ibn Majah)
‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr bin al ‘As, Allah be pleased with them both, narrated, “A man asked the Messenger of God, blessings and peace be upon him, ‘Which practice of Islam is the best?’ He, blessings and peace be upon him, replied, ‘Give food, and relate the salam to those whom you know and those who you do not know.’”
Methods and Etiquette of Giving Salam
The minimum salam necessary to fulfill the sunna, is to say “Assalamu alaykum” (Peace be upon you). The optimal is to say, “Assalamu alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuhu” (Peace be upon you and the Mercy of Allah and His blessings).
Note here that one says the plural attached pronoun “kum” at the end of “alaykum” even if the person being greeted is only one or two people.
The person returns the greeting by saying “Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuhu” (And upon you be peace and the mercy and blessings of Allah).
This full reply is sunna regardless of whether the person was greeted with a simple “Assalam alaykum,” or the optimal “Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu.” In the first case, one has fulfilled the words of Allah we mentioned, “meet it with a greeting better than it,” while in the second case one has fulfilled the words of Allah, “or equal to it.”
As mentioned, it is sunna to be genuine, friendly, and cheerful (bashasha) when giving salam and when returning it. One should look the person directly in the face when greeting them.
The salam and its return should be said loud enough so the person it is intended for can hear it. The return should be given straight away, and not delayed.
If a person enters his house, it is sunna to give salam, even if no one is home. The same applies to entering into another’s home, or entering a mosque.
Make It the First and Be the First
One should be eager to offer the greeting first, for the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said, “The best of the two is the one who begins with the salam.” (Bukhari) Therefore, although it may sometime feel awkward, or we hesitate to say salam to strangers, we should strive to overcome any concerns and be eager to say it first, without fear that the person may not respond. Each person is responsible or rewarded for what is in his capacity.
Likewise, the greeting of peace should be the first thing said before any other talk. This applies to between two people or when addressing a group.
Rulings on Giving and Returning Salam
Giving salam: It is sunna to give the salam. The sunna to give the salam is a communal sunna (sunna kifayah), which means it is disliked not to perform without an excuse. It also means that if there is a group of people, it suffices that one of them offers the salam to fulfill the sunna, although optimal if all say salam.
Returning the salam: In regards returning the salam, it is obligatory. If the salam is said to one person, then it is personally obligatory (fard ‘ayn) for that person to return the salam, while if the salam is said to a group of people, the returning of the salam is communally obligatory. So, if one of them returns it, it suffices for the rest, while if none return the salam, they all incur a sin. The optimal again, is for all to return the salam.
There are times, however, when the salam or returning it is not sunna, but rather, disliked or prohibited. Among them it is disliked to give the salam to a person who is relieving themselves, making love, sleeping, very drowsy, in prayer, saying the adhan or iqama. Likewise, it is disliked to say it to a person who has food in his mouth.
As for returning the salam in these situations, it is disliked to return it whilst relieving oneself or making love, and sunna for the one with food in his mouth, or at least when he has swallowed the food. It is prohibited to return the salam verbally during prayer, but sunna to gesture the return with the hands.
For the mu‘adhdhin, it is permissible (not disliked) to return the salam verbally between the words of the adhan. The muqim, the person who says the iqama, should not return it, but rather gesture or return it afterwards, as the iqama is meant to be swift.
As for saying salam to a person reciting the Qur’an, the sounder opinion is that it is still recommended to give salam and mandatory to return it verbally.
One of the reasons why fiqh is so captivating (for some anyway!) is because it enters into the everyday, practical aspects of life. Every human act, from the most significant to the most trivial, falls under a legal ruling. Below are a few common, useful, or just interesting, fiqh rulings related to spreading the greetings of peace:
It is a sunna to send salam to people who are not present via a third person. Among the greatest honor of our Lady Khadija, may Allah be pleased with her and shower her with abundant mercy and favor, was that Allah himself sent His Salam upon her via our master Jibril, may Allah be pleased with him. It is narrated that “Jibril came to the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! This is Khadija coming to you with a dish of soup (or some food or drink). When she reaches you, greet her on behalf of her Lord and on my behalf.’” (Bukhari)
If a person sends his salam to a person via a third person, such as the third person saying, “So and so sends his salam,” then it is obligatory for the receiver of the message to return the salam verbally. It is also sunna to return the salam to the third person, by saying, “Wa ‘alayka wa ‘alayhi assalam,” (And upon you and him be peace.”)
If one is greeting a deaf person, one should still say the words of the greeting verbally as well as gesture with the hands in a way that the person can understand and is able to return the salam. Likewise, if a deaf person says salam to a person, then one answers by mouth and gesture.
If a person greets a pre-pubescent child, it is not obligatory for the child to return the salam, but it is proper manners and highly recommended for them to do so. If a pre-pubescent child gives salam to an adult, it is obligatory for the adult to return the salam.
If two people greet each other with the salam, and then see each other again very soon after, it is still sunna to greet each other with the salam, and even a third, fifth, sixth time and so on.
It is disliked for a person to say salam to people during the Friday sermon. As for returning his salam, some scholars state that it should not be returned, while others held that it should be returned, but only one person should return it.
Related Issues when Greeting A Person
If a person gives salam to a person who holds religious honor, such as being known for the asceticism, uprightness, knowledge, noble lineage etc., then it is also sunna to kiss their hands, as was the practice of the Sahaba of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, who kissed his blessed hands and feet.
It is also recommended to kiss the hands or cheeks, or/and hug one’s loved ones, such as parents, siblings, or small children when greeting them, out of love, closeness, and mercy. This also applies to a friend who returns from travel.
As for other than these people or non-travelers, it is disliked to hug or kiss others when greeting them. Rather it is sunna to shake hands (same-gender only) when greeting each other and saying the salam. The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, is reported to have said, “There are no two servants who love each other for the sake of Allah, who meet each other and shake hands … that they do not depart except that their future and past sins are forgiven.” (Kitab Ibn Sunni)
I hope the above information has encouraged us all to eagerly spread the greetings of peace to one another each day. The final practical challenge to this series then, is to try to initiate the greeting of peace with as many people as possible each day, with those whom we know and those whom we don’t know.
It would of course be befitting for me to end this article, and this series, with a very warm (and smiley) farewell greeting of peace to you all,
Assalamu alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuh.