Allah (SWT) says in Quran: Surah Al-Hashr # 23
He is Allah and there is no other worth worshipping than Him. He is the sovereign Lord, the Holy one, Peace, Keeper of Faith, the Guardian, the Majestic, the Mighty, the Powerful, the Superb. Glory to Allah (SWT) who is above all that which they ascribe to Him.
In this verse, As-Salaam is one of the Glorious Names of Allah (SWT). We will try to understand the meaning, significance and use of this word Salam.
Before the dawn of Islam, the Arab used to greet each other with expressions like Haya Kallah which means may Allah keep you alive. Islam introduced a new greeting assalam-u-alaikum. It means may you be saved from all forms of grief, hardship and misery. Ibnul Arabi said in Ahkam-ul-Quran that Salam is one of the attributes of Allah (SWT) and it means May Allah be your protector.
This Islamic greeting is better than the greeting of love which is used by all the other nations. This is due to the following reasons.
1. It is not just an expression of love but the reason and logic for this love is expressed in the form of a supplication wishing that you be saved from all forms of grief. This supplication is not only for life as the Arabs used to say but for a life full of goodness.
2. It reminds us that we all depend on Allah (SWT). Nobody can harm or benefit anybody without Allah’s will. Hence it is a form of worship of Allah (SWT) which reminds the fellow Muslims of Allah (SWT).
3. Note that when somebody says I pray that you be at peace, he is declaring and promising that you will be safe from his hand, tongue and he will respect your life, honor and dignity.
Ibnul Arabi says in Ahkam-ul-Quran:
Do you know what is salam ? The speaker is announcing that you will remain entirely unharmed and safe from me.
Hence we conclude that salam is (i) a remembrance of Allah, (ii) reminder, (iii), expression of love between Muslims (iv) a superior supplication and (v) a declaration or announcement that you will be safe from any harm by my hand or tongue.
A hadith sums it up very beautifully:
“True Muslim is he who does not harm any Muslim by his hand or tongue.”
If we understand this Hadith alone, it should suffice to reform the whole Muslim Ummah. That is why, Prophet Mohammad (SAS) stressed this point of spreading the use of salam among Muslims and called it the most superior one out of all the good deeds you do.
There are several sayings of the Messenger of Allah (SWT) to bring out the importance of this greeting amongst all Muslims:
It is narrated by Abu Huraira (RU) that the Messenger of Allah (SWT) said: “You cannot enter Heaven unless you are a believer. Your belief can not be completed unless you love each other. Let me tell you something which if you do, you will cultivate and enhance love between yourselves. Greet each other with salam whether the other person is known to you or not.” (Muslim)
Abdullah bin Umr (RU) said that one person asked the Messenger of Allah (SWT) : “Which are the best deeds in Islam.” The Messenger of Allah answered: “Feed people and greet each other with salam whether you know each other or not.” (Sahiheen)
Abu Umamma (RU) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (SWT) said: “That person is closest to Allah who initiates salam.”
(Musnad Ahmed,Tirmidhi,Abu Dawud)
Abdullah bin Masood (RU) narrates that Messenger of Allah said: “Salam is one of the names of Allah which Allah has sent to earth. Hence we should spread salam. When a person greets another with salam, his level is raised in the eyes of Allah. If members of a congregation do not answer his salam, then creatures better than them (i.e. angels) answer the salam.” (Musnad Bazaz,Tabarani)
Abu Hurraira narrates that the Messenger of Allah (SAS) said: “The real miser is the one who is a miser in spreading salam.” (Tabarani)
In Quran Allah (SWT) says: Surah An-Nisa # 86
Whenever you are greeted with a greeting, you should greet with a better than it or at least answer back similarly. Indeed Allah will take account of all your deeds.
Hence Allah (SWT) says that one should answer with the same or better words. This was demonstrated by The Prophet (SAS) as mentioned in Ibn Jareer and Ibn Abi Hathim. One day when the Prophet was sitting with his companions, a person came and said assalm-u-alaikum. The Messenger of Allah (SWT) answered walaikum salam wa rahmatullah.
A second person arrived and said, assalam-u-alaikum wa rahmatullah, Messenger of God answered walaikum assalm wa rahmatullah wa barakatuhu. Soon after a third person arrived. He said assalamu alikum wa rahmatulla wa barakatuhu. The messenger of God answered : Waalaika.
The third person humbly asked: “O, the Messenger of Allah, when they greeted you briefly, you answered back with better wording. I greeted you in the most detailed way. I am surprised you answered me back very briefly saying Waalaika.” The Messenger of Allah (SAS) answered: “You have not left any room for additions. Therefore I returned you similar greetings which fulfills the condition laid out in Quran by Allah.”
Hence we conclude that to answer salam with these three phrases is Sunnah or the way of Prophet Mohammad (SAS). Wisdom of limiting to these three phrases is that salam is meant to be a brief communication and not a long speech.
In this verse Allah (SWT) uses the objective voice without specifying the subject: Hence the Quran teaches the etiquettes of answer greetings. It is indirectly ordering us to greet each other. This format where the subject is missing indicates that it should be a normal and customary habit and routine of the believers to greet each other. Of course the person who initiates salam is closer to Allah (SWT) as mentioned earlier.
Hasan Basri concluded that:
“To say salam is voluntary but to answer is obligatory.”
It is mentioned in Mautah of Imam Malik reported by Tufail bin Abi bin Kaab that Abdullah bin Umr (RU) used to go to market just to say salam to people with no intention to buy or sell anything. He really understood the importance of the initiation of salam.
Allah (SWT) says in Surah An-Nisa # 86
The Last part of this verse says: Allah will take account of every thing.
Here, of course,initiation and answering of salam are included also. Hence we should love to initiate salam. Similary we must answer salam to please, Allah (SWT) and to cultivate love among us.
The Messenger of God (SAS) further guided that:
¨ The riding person should say salam to a person on foot.
¨ Walking person should say salam to a sitting person.
¨ Smaller group to a larger group.
¨ The one departing should say salam to those who are staying.
¨ When leaving or entering your home, say salam even if nobody is home (angels will answer).
¨ If meeting again and again, say salam again and again.
Exceptions for answering back the greetings:
¨ While praying. Prayer will become invalid by answering verbally.
¨ Khateeb, a person reciting Quran or a person making call for salat (adhaan and Iqama) or teaching Islamic books.
¨ While sitting in the washroom. Allah (SWT) further explains the significance of salam in Sura Al-Inaam:54
When those who believe in verses of the Quran come to you, say: peace be on you; your Lord has written Mercy for Himself, so that if any of you does evil in ignorance, and thereafter repents and does righteous good deeds then surely, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
Here Allah (SWT) instructed Prophet Mohammad (SAS) about the believers who were poor and stayed mostly in his company. Although the rich non-Muslims wanted the Messenger (SAS) to send these poor Muslims away so that the rich could be with him. Allah (SWT) ordered Prophet Mohammad (SAS) to address these poor believers by Assalam-u-alaikum on their arrival. It could mean two things. First, convey greetings of Allah (SWT) to them. It was a matter of great honor and respect for the poor and sincere Muslims. It would strengthen their hearts and raise their spirits. Secondly, convey to them the good tidings that they would be, with the permission of Allah (SWT), at comfort, peace and tranquility even if they make some mistakes.
May Allah (SWT) grant us ability to practice this greeting with true Islamic spirit in our everyday life and in doing so generate love and unity among us. Ameen.