One of the distinctive aspects of the Muslim’s social conduct is his use of the greeting of salaam. In Islam, greeting with salaam is not regarded as being the matter of a social custom defined by men, which may be changed and adapted according to time and circumstances. Greeting with salaam is clearly defined etiquette which has been commanded by Almighty Allah in His Book, and rules and regulations concerning this greeting have been set out in numerous hadiths to which the scholars of hadith devoted an entirely chapter called kataab as-salaam or bab as-salaam.

Allah commanded the Muslims to greet one another with salaam in clear, definitive terms in the Qur’an: “O you who believe! Enter not houses other than your own, until you have asked permission and saluted those in them….” (Qur’an 24: 27)

Allah commanded the Muslims to return the greeting with something similar or something better, hence it is an obligation on the one who hears a greeting to return it, and not to ignore it: “When a courteous greeting is offered to you, meet it with a greeting still more courteous, or at least of equal courtesy.” (Qur’an 4: 86)

The Prophet (saw) strongly encouraged the Muslim to spread salaam and to greet those they know and those they do not know. Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-Aas (ra) said: “A man asked the Prophet (saw), ‘Which type of Islam is the best?’ He said, ‘To feed people, and to say salaam to those you know and those you do not know.’” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Greeting with salaam is one of the seven things which the Prophet (saw) commanded his companions, and the Muslim ummah after them, to adhere to. They were listed by Al-Barra’ ibn ‘Aazib (ra): “The Messenger of Allah (saw) commanded us to do seven things: to visit the sick, to attend funerals, to bless someone when he sneezes, to support the weak, to help the one who is oppressed, to spread salaam, and to help people fulfil their oaths.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

The Prophet (saw) placed great emphasis on salaam and encouraged Muslims to use this greeting in many hadiths, because he understood its effects in spreading brotherly love and strengthening the ties of love, closeness and friendship between individuals and groups. He described it as something which would lead to love, and love would lead to faith, and faith would lead to paradise: “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 salaam among yourselves.” (Muslim)

The Prophet (saw) also said that the one who initiated the greeting would be closer to Allah and more deserving of His pleasure, favor and blessing: “The closest of the people to Allah is the one who starts the greeting of salaam.” (Abu Dawud)

Abdullah ibn Umar used to go to the market in the morning, and he did not pass by anybody without saying salaam to him. One day he was asked, “What do you do in the market, when you do not sell anything, or ask about prices, or haggle, or join any gathering?” He said: “We go there in the morning for the purpose of saying salaam to whoever we meet.” (Bukhari)

There is only one form of the greeting, which the Muslim who is aware of Islamic manners adheres to. It is: “As-salaamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu (peace be upon you, and the mercy and blessings of Allah).” He says like this – in the plural form – even if he is greeting only one person. The response is: “Wa’alaikum as-salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu.

This Islamic greeting is the greeting which Allah chose for His creation from the time of Adam, to whom He taught it and commanded him to greet the angels with it. He wanted Adam’s descendants in all times and places to use this greeting, because of its meaning of peace which is something most beloved by man regardless of where or when he lives. This is divinely-ordained greeting is preserved nowhere except in the ummah of Islam which has adhered to the true way and has not changed it or deviated from it.

The Prophet (saw) said: “When Allah created Adam, He told him, ‘Go and greet those’ – a group of angels who were sitting – ‘and listen to how they greet you, for it will be your greeting and that of your descendants. So he said: ‘Assalaamua’alaikum,’ and they responded,’ Wa ‘alaika as-salaamu wa rahmatullah.’ They added wa barakatuhu.’” (Bukhari and Muslim)

No wonder this form is such a blessed greeting, for it comes from Allah, who commanded us to adopt it as our greeting and never to replace it with anything else. Allah (swt) said: “But if you enter houses, salute each other – a greeting or blessing and purity as from Allah.” (Qur’an 24: 61)

by Muhammad Ali Al-Hashimi