The Salam

As-Salam Alaikum means peace be upon you and it  is the greeting of a Muslim. Subhan-Allah! What a great greeting. It should be known that As-Salam is one of the Names of Allah and it means ‘The Source of Peace’. Today's post would be on some important facts about Salam – the Greeting in Islam.

1. The Salam has been the greeting of believers right from the day one when Adam (AS) was created. Go through the following narration in this regard:

Narrated Abu Hurairah (RA): The Prophet (SAW) said, “Allah created Adam (AS) in ‘His Image’ sixty cubits (about thirty metres) in height. When He created him, He said (to Adam), ‘Go and greet that group of angels sitting there, and listen what they will say in reply to you, for that will be your greeting and the greeting of your offspring.’ Adam (went &) said, ‘As-Salam Alaikum (i.e. peace be upon you).’ They replied, ‘As-Salam Alaikum Wa Rahmatallah’ (i.e. peace and Allah’s mercy be upon you).’ So they increased ‘Wa Rahmatallah’.” The Prophet (SAW) added, “So whoever will enter Paradise, will be of the shape & picture of Adam. Since then the creation of Adam’s offsprings(i.e. stature of human beings) is being diminished up to the present time.” - Hadith No. 6227, Book of Asking Permission, Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 8

In the narration above, the phrase ‘His Image’ means that Adam has been bestowed with life, knowledge, power of hearing, seeing, understanding, but the features of Adam are different from those of Allah, only the names are same. For example: Allah has life and knowledge and power of understanding, and Adam also has them, but there is no comparison between the Creator and the created thing. 

2. The Salam shall be the greeting of believers on ‘The Day of Judgement’ & in Paradise.

It is mentioned in Qur’an that the believers will be greeted by the Salam at the time of their meeting with Allah. Refer to the following verse:

 “Their greeting on the Day they shall meet Him will be ‘Salam’. And He has prepared for them a generous reward.” - Q33 V44

Further, when the believers shall enter Paradise (Be-izn-Allah), they shall be greeted there by the Salam. This too is mentioned in Qur’an, have a look:

 “And those who believed and did righteous deeds, will be made to enter Gardens under which rivers flow, – to dwell therein forever, with the Permission of their Lord. Their greeting therein will be Salam.” - Q14 V23

3. Initiating the Salam

It was narrated that Abu Umamah (RA) said: Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “The one who is closest of people to Allah, the Most high, is the one who initiates the greeting of Salam.” - Hadith No. 5197, Book of Etiquette, Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol. 5

Can there be a better narration than this to emphasize the greatness of the person who initiates Salam? If we follow Sunnah of our beloved Prophet (SAW) in this matter, we come to know that he even greeted small children with Salam. And on the contrary give a thought to the condition of Muslims at present. Whoever possesses wealth or a big position, he/she feels that it is not they who should greet others, and rather others (whom they think inferior to them) are to greet them. Sadly, pride has overtaken the essence of their greetings. Nevertheless, the importance of initiating the Salam should be understood well by us. However, there is one crucial thing to remember: It is not allowed for a Muslim to initiate greeting with a Non-Muslim. Following hadith proves this:

It was narrated that Abu Hurairah (RA) said: Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “Do not initiate the greeting with the Jews or Christians, and if you meet one of them on the street, drive him to the narrowest part of it.” - Hadith No. 5661 (2167), Book of Salam, Sahih Muslim, Vol. 6

Still there is one more situation which asks for clarification. It is mandatory that when a Muslim meets a Muslim, they should greet each other with the Salam; on the other hand it is not allowed for a Muslim to initiate the greeting with a Non-Muslim. So what shall a Muslim do when he/she comes across a gathering which consists of Muslims as well as Non-Muslims? Should he/she initiate the greeting of the Salam or not in such a situation? There is a hadith which answers this question too.

Usama bin Zaid (RA) narrated that the Prophet (SAW) passed by a gathering in which the Muslims and Jews were mixed, so he gave the Salam to them. - Hadith No. 2702, Chapters on Seeking Permission, Jami’ At-Tirmidhi, Vol. 5

Therefore, in a mixed gathering, Salam should be given for the respect of the Muslims.

4. Responding to Salam

Having read the importance of initiating the Salam, an automatic question comes to the mind: Is the greeting of the Salam required to be answered / responded? The answer to this question has already been touched briefly at the start of our discussion in the hadith which explains how the Salam began. Therefore, it is established that when someone greets us with Salam, it is mandatory to give a response. However, there is a manner in which the Salam should be answered. To understand it let us go through following verse of Qur’an:

 “When you are greeted with a greeting, greet in return with what is better than it, or (at least) return it equally. Certainly, Allah is Ever a Careful Account Taker of all things.” - Q4 V86

It is very important to understand this aayah. The first thing to understand is that it is mandatory to respond to a greeting. The second thing to remember is that the response should also be a greeting, either better than the earlier one or at least equal than that. For example: If someone greets us by saying As-Salam Alaikum, our response should be a step better than that i.e. Wa-alaikum As-Salam Wa Rahmatallah or at least equal i.e. Wa-alaikum As-Salam. Similarly, if someone greets us by saying As-Salam Alaikum Wa Rahmatallah, our response should be Wa-alaikum As-Salam Wa Rahmatallah Wa Barakatuhu (a step better) or at least Wa-alaikum As-Salam Wa Rahmatallah (same as the greeting said to us). Never should we reply to the greeting by saying a greeting lesser than what was said to us like saying Wa-alaikum in response to As-Salam Alaikum.

Again, the dealing with Non-Muslims in such a scenario is different. We have read in previous Section that a Muslim is not supposed to initiate greeting with a Non-Muslim. But what should be the response of a Muslim if a Non-Muslim greets him/her? Following hadith tells us about this:

It was narrated that Anas bin Malik (RA) that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “If the people of the Book greet you with Salam, say: ‘Wa alaikum’." - Hadith No. 5652 (2163), Book of Salam, Sahih Muslim, Vol. 6

This means that whatever greetings are said to a Muslim by a Non-Muslim, the response of a Muslim should be ‘Wa alaikum’, that’s all.There is a reason behind this ruling. The Jews used to initiate greeting with Prophet (SAW) but used to say As-Samu Alaikum, meaning ‘death be upon you’. Rasulullah (SAW) used to respond by saying Wa alaikum, meaning ‘and upon you too’. Therefore, there is no certainty about what the Non-Muslims intend to say while greeting a Muslim. Hence this response is to be used.

5. The Salam is to be said at the time of joining a gathering as well as at the time of leaving the gathering.

It was narrated that Abu Hurairah (RA) said: Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “When one of you comes to a gathering, let him saySalam, and when he wants to leave, let him say Salam, for the former is not more of a duty than the latter.” - Hadith No. 5208, Book of Etiquette, Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol. 5

6. How to respond to a Salam while in prayer?

If we are in the middle of Salat, and someone says Salam to us, what to do? Should we answer it in the normal manner? Or is there any other ruling about this? Actually, in the beginning, responding to the Salam while praying in a normal manner (i.e. verbally, by saying Wa-Alaikum As-Salam) was allowed. But later on this was abrogated. However, it does not mean that the Salam will go unanswered. There are two ways of answering this Salam. First way is to answer the the Salam after completing the Salat. Another way is to answer the Salam while in prayer by means of a motion of hand. Ahadith prove that Rasulullah (SAW) has used both means and hence both can be adopted. People might find the latter way of answering as a bit surprising, but following hadith shall remove whatever doubts one might have regarding this:

Suhaib narrated, “I once passed by Allah’s Messenger (SAW) while he was praying, so I greeted him, and he responded by motioning (one narrator said by motioning with his finger).” - Hadith No. 925, Book of Salat, Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol. 1

In other narrations we find that the Prophet (SAW) even responded by motioning the palm of his hand, with his inner palm facing downwards and outer palm facing upwards. Anyhow, the point is that we can respond to the Salam while in prayer by a motion of our hand or finger(s).

7. Not to greet or respond to the greeting when in toilet?

Ibn Umar (RA) narrated that a man gave the Salam to the Prophet (PBUH) while he was urinating, but the Prophet (PBUH) did not return the Salam to him. - Hadith No. 2720, Chapters on Seeking Permission, Jami’ At-Tirmidhi, Vol. 5

Therefore, while in toilet (or rather somewhere impure), we should neither say the Salam to others nor should we respond to their Salam.

8. Can men greet women, and vice versa?

It is definitely allowed for men to greet women and the women to greet women. Whoever says that it is not allowed to do so, is absolutely wrong. Have a look at following hadith:

Asma bint Yazid narrated, “The Prophet (SAW) passed by us while we were with some women, and greeted us with Salam.” - Hadith No. 5204, Book of Etiquette, Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol. 5

9. Greeting in absence and response to it

Salam may be sent to someone in his/her absence, irrespective of whether the person (to whom the Salam is being sent) is alive or dead. Salam is sent to dead, as we all know is recommended whenever we enter (or pass by) a graveyard. It is also mentioned in Qur’an that we should send Salam to Allah’s Messenger (SAW).

“Allah sends his Salat (graces, blessings, honours etc.) on the Prophet Muhammed (SAW) and so also His angels. O’ who you believe! Send your Salat (Salam) to him and you should greet him (Rasulullah, SAW) with Islamic way of greeting i.e. As-Salam alaikum.” - Q33 V56

10. A general rule about who should greet whom.

Abu Hurairah (RA) said: Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “The one who is riding should greet the one who is walking, the one who is walking should greet the one who is sitting and the smaller group should greet the larger group.”

(Hadith No. 6232 & 6233, Book of Asking Permission, Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 8; Hadith No. 5646 (2160), Book of Salam, Sahih Muslim, Vol. 6).

Concluding remarks

Dear brothers and sisters, the Salam is a great greeting. The greatness of Salam can be understood by the fact that it leads us to Paradise. It might sound strange, but it is true. Following hadith tells us about this:

It was narrated that Abu Hurairah (RA) said: Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said, “By the One in Whose Hand is my soul, you will not enter Paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another. Shall I not tell you of something which, if you do it, you will love one another? Spread the Salam among yourselves.” - Hadith No. 5193, Book of Etiquette, Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol. 5

I interpret this hadith in two ways. First thing to understand from this narration is the greatness of Salam and the significance of spreading the Islamic greeting among ourselves. The other message to be learned from this hadith is that we Muslims are supposed to spread peace and harmony among ourselves as Salam means peace and live united with fellow people.

Spread the Salam among all the Muslims. Start with our families, friends and neighbors. It is our responsibility to teach the younger ones the Islamic way of greeting. Children see their ideals in their parents; therefore, we have to teach them by example. Keep all those HiHello, Whatsup, How far, How you dey  etc. aside; and greet in the proper Islamic manner.