Islam: a blessing loaded with blessings.
From among these blessings is one thing in particular that distinguishes Islam from all other faiths. Something that transcends linguistic, cultural, ethnic and geographical barriers. Something that is understood from the most urbanized areas in the West, to the remotest locations of the East. Something that embodies the concept of the Ummah (Muslim community): unity, brother/sister-hood, homogeneity. Something that eliminates the barriers of unfamiliarity and instills within foreign hearts a bond of recognition and a stir of love.
This compelling and powerful thing is a phrase. A blessed combination of words with roots extending from the heart to the lips and branches that bypass the mind due to the instantaneous adoration it entails for its recipient. This phrase is a greeting—a greeting of peace:
(As-salamu `alaykum wa rahmat allah wa barakatuhu)
Peace be upon you [along with] the Mercy of Allah and His Blessings*
* roughly translated
This greeting of peace, or salaam, is one that is frequently exchanged between Muslims all over the world—regardless of whether they know one another or even speak the same language. This is because the salaam represents a verbal bond which, like the declaration of the shahadah (the phrase: “I bear witness that there is no god worthy of worship except Allah”), ties and strengthens the relationship of the global Muslim community.
However, despite its unique ability to bring people together, many people have forgotten/neglected the benefits of giving and returning the salaam. Indeed, as opposed to relishing the utter beauty that is reflected by the salaam, many have chosen to disregard it completely or be stingy with whom they give it. For example, some people withhold giving the salaam to others who are of a different nationality or ethnicity. Or, some may reluctantly return a salaam to a person who may follow a different madhab (school of thought) or learn under a different scholar than they do. These types of behaviors completely contradict the very essence of what the salaam entails and act as a divide that separates people instead of a glue that unifies them. Unfortunately, many Muslims fail to realize—or purposefully neglect—the hadith (narration) narrated by Abu Hurayrah (radi allahu `anhu, may Allah be pleased with him) wherein he states:
“I heard the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, say, ‘The rights a Muslim has over another Muslim are six.’ He was asked, ‘What are they?’ He replied, ‘When he meets him, he should greet him, when he gives him an invitation he should accept, when he asks him for advice he should give him good counsel, when he sneezes and praises Allah he should wish him mercy, when he is ill he should visit him, [and] when he dies, he should accompany him,’” (Muslim).
Subhan’Allah (Glory to God). According to the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him), withholding the salaam when meeting another Muslim is synonymous to withholding their rights. This in turn reflects a form of oppression—one that I, myself, have experienced; I once noticed a sister that was walking in clear-view towards me and thus, prepared to give her the salaam. After she was within a reasonable distance from myself, I audibly said, ”Assalamu ‘alaykum,” and waited for her response. Needless to say, a dirty look was not what I had anticipated. I was left slightly shocked as a series of thoughts rushed through my mind: did I give her the salaam in an inappropriate manner? Did she have something against my skin color? Was it because I was dressed differently than her? And the questions and doubts continued. I tried to dampen them by remembering to make excuses for her: maybe she didn’t hear me. Maybe she didn’t see me. Maybe… But as I made these excuses, I realized that they were not viable; she did hear and see me. So what was up? During a reflection on this moment, I remembered another hadith:
“The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) turned to face the people and said, ‘Straighten your rows,’ three times, ‘for by Allah either you straighten your rows or Allah will create division among your hearts,’” (Abu Dawood).
The act of straightening the rows in salah (prayer) promotes unity in formation and, as we learn from the hadith, unity of the hearts. Similarly, giving the salaam promotes unity through aligning the hearts while withholding it does the opposite. After having my salaam “rejected”, so to speak, I immediately felt distant from my sister in Islam as if an invisible tie or bond between us had been broken—and thus, misaligned—as a result of having my right withheld from me.
This is something that no Muslim should have to feel as a result of their brother/sister in Islam. Instead, we should strive to not only to give the salaam, but to be the first to do so when encountering others:
It was narrated that Abu Umamah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: Allah’s Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The one who is closest of people to Allah, the Most High, is the one who initiates the greeting of Salam,” (Abu Dawood).
Furthermore, the Prophet ﷺ taught us to not be stingy with giving the salaam:
‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr reported that a man said, “Messenger of Allah, which aspect of Islam is best?” He replied, “Feeding people and greeting those you know and those you do not know,” (Bukhari).
In commenting on this hadith, scholar Ibn Rajab (ra) said in al-Fath (1/43):
“The hadeeth makes the connection between feeding others and spreading salaam because this combines good actions in both word and deed, which is perfect good treatment (ihsaan). Indeed, this is the best thing that you can do in Islam after the obligatory duties.”
Regarding this hadith, Al-Qaadi (ra) eloquently states in his book Ikmaal al-Mu’allim (1:276):
“Here the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was urging the believers to soften their hearts. The best Islamic attitude is to love one another and greet one another, and this is achieved by words and deeds. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) urged the Muslims to foster love between one another by exchanging gifts and food, and by spreading salaam, and he forbade the opposite, namely forsaking one another, turning away from one another, spying on one another, seeking out information about one another, stirring up trouble and being two faced [...] Love is one of the duties of Islam and one of the pillars of the Islamic system. One should give salaams to those whom one knows and those whom one does not know, out of sincerity towards Allah; one should not try to impress other people by giving salaams only to those whom one knows and no-one else. This also entails an attitude of humility and spreading the symbols of this ummah through the word of salaam.”
When greeted with the salaam (e.g. “As-salamu alaykum”), there are three (usual) ways to reply:
- “Wa `alaykum as-salaam” (and peace be upon you)
- “Wa `alaykum as-salaam wa rahmat allah” (and peace be upon you and the mercy of Allah)
- “Wa `alaykum as-salaam wa rahmat allah wa barakatuhu” (and peace be upon you and the mercy of Allah and His blessings)
“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.” (Qur’an 4:86)
Abu Hurayrah (ra) reported that a man passed by the Messenger of Allah ﷺ whilst he was sitting with some others, and said “As-salaamu `alaykum (peace be upon you).” The Prophet ﷺ said, “[He will have] ten hasanaat (rewards).” Another man passed by and said “As-salaamu `alaykum wa rahmatullah (peace be upon you and the mercy of Allah).” The Prophet ﷺ said, “[He will have] twenty hasanaat.” Another man passed by and said “As-salamu `alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu (peace be upon you and the mercy of Allah and His blessings).” The Prophet ﷺ said, “[He will have] thirty hasanaat.”
This goes for both giving and receiving the salaam. How beautiful is that? Furthermore, the salaam is not something that is limited to our current realm but something that transcends into the realm of the unseen. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (Glorified is He) says about the people of Jannah, or Paradise:
“They will not hear therein ill speech or commission of sin - Only a saying: ‘Peace, peace.’” (Qur’an 56:25-26)
Furthermore, the salaam is even used by the angels:
“The ones whom the angels take in death, [being] good and pure; [the angels] will say, ‘Peace be upon you. Enter Paradise for what you used to do.’” (Qur’an 16:32)
Thus, after learning about the salaam and its’ virtues from the Qur’an and Sunnah, we learn just how much of a gift it is—to both the giver and the receiver. Far greater than a mundane bundle of roses or chocolates, this bundle, in its most complete form, contains peace, mercy, and blessings. The salaam is a du`a’` (supplication), a prayer that is made from the heart and uttered by the tongue to the one whom it is directed. It is also an enemy of pride and an extinguisher of the ego—something that should be embraced, extended, and as the Prophet ﷺ encouraged us to do, spread greatly among all Muslims.
And Allah (swt) knows best.