“And when you are greeted with a greeting, greet in return with what is better than it, or (at least) return it equally.”
(Qur’an, An-Nisa 4:86)
Human interaction is an important facet of any society. In Islam, proper relationships are stressed at all phases of interaction and the common greeting holds a special place in Islamic manners. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“O you who believe! enter not houses other than your own, until you have asked permission and greeted those in them, that is better for you, in order that you remember.”
(Qur’an, An-Nur 24:27)
“….But when you enter houses, greet one another with a greeting from Allah, blessed and good….”
(Qur’an, An-Nur 24:61)
Too often, we take greetings for granted and attach minimal importance to them. In these verses, however, Allah reminds the Muslims that offering greetings and the manner of the greeting are of upmost importance. Similarly, in a Hadith narrated by Bukhari and Muslim, the Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) stressed the importance of greetings when he defined the rights of a Muslim:
“The rights of a Muslim upon another are five: returning greetings, visiting the sick, following the funeral procession, responding to invitations and offering ‘Tashmeet’ for one who sneezes.”[Bukhari and Muslim]
The recommended greeting of a Muslim is to say:
“Assalaamu alaykum” (peace be upon you)
According to a Hadith related by Bukhari and Muslim, this form of greeting was ordained by Allah from the time of Prophet Adam (peace be upon him).
THE VIRTUES OF SALAAM
Exchanging salaam holds a high position in Islam. Not only is salaam equated with many other important deeds, but it is one of the defining criteria of belief. We observe many Hadiths pertaining to the position of exchanging salaam in Islam.
In one Hadith a man asked the Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) about which aspect of Islam was best. The Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) replied:
“Feeding the hungry, and saying salaam to those you know and those you don’t know.”[Bukhari and Muslim]
The Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) also said:
“You will not enter paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another: ‘spread salaam’ (the greeting of peace) among you.”[Muslim]
The Prophet Muhammad (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) also explained another virtue of salaam in the following Hadith:
“When two Muslims meet (give salaam), and shake hands, they are forgiven their sins before they part (with each other).”[Abu Dawud]
Finally, reflect on another saying of the Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam), when he said:
“O people! spread salaam, feed the hungry, be in touch with your kin, and pray while people are asleep (at night) you shall enter paradise peacefully.”[Tirmidhi]
THE GRADES OF SALAAM
There are several forms of exchanging salaam. Each has its grade which corresponds to the extent of the phrase.
There is a Hadith where Imran Ibn Hussayn (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that:
“A man came to the Prophet (SAWS) and said:
The Prophet (SAWS) returned his greeting and when the man sat down, the Prophet (SAWS) said:
Another man came and said: ‘assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah.’
to which the Prophet (SAWS) also responded, and when the man sat down, He said:
Another man came and said:
‘assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.’
The Prophet returned his greeting, and after the man sat down, he said:
“Thirty.”[Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi]
The Hadith has been interpreted to mean that the minimum form of the Islamic greeting which is acceptable is “assalaamu alaykum” and one is rewarded ten good deeds for saying it. The second grade, adding wa Rehmatullah, raises the reward to twenty good deeds. The best grade of salaam is ‘assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatahu, and this is worth thirty good deeds.
The response to the greeting is similar in form and rewards. The least one could say is ‘wa alaykum-us-salaam’, and the best response is: ‘Wa alaykum-us-salaam wa Rehmatullahi wa Barkatahu’.
In the time of the Prophet the Sahabah (companions of the Prophet ) would compete with each other, to see who could give salaams first.
The Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) said:
“The best of the two persons is the one who begins with salaam.”[Related by Nawawi in his book Adkar]
“The Prophet (SAWS) was asked: ‘O Messenger of Allah (SAWS)! When two persons meet with each other, who should take the lead in greeting the other?’
He (SAWS) answered:
“The one who is closest to Allah.”[Tirmidhi]
The Prophet said:
“The person closest to Allah is the one who precedes others in greeting.”[Abu Dawud]
THE ISLAMIC RULING ON SALAAM
Initiating salaams is considered ‘Sunnah’ or optional, returning the salaams after it is offered is considered ‘wajib’ or obligatory, based on the first Qur’anic ayah mentioned. Islam also encourages people to offer the first greeting as mentioned in the Hadiths mentioned previously.
The Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) was asked about the most appropriate way to give salaams as shown in the following Hadith:
Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) says that a man asked the Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam):
“O Messenger of Allah , when any one of us meets a Muslim brother or a friend then should he bow his head (as a sign of courtesy to him)?’ He said: ‘No.’ The man said: ‘Should he embrace him?’ He said: ‘No.’ The man then asked: ‘Should he clasp his hands?’ He said: ‘Yes.”[Tirmidhi]
Unfortunately, now in our community Muslims have adopted other methods of giving salutations, and as we can see in this Hadith, The Prophet was very precise about how salaams were to be given.
We as Muslims, should remember that Prophet Muhammad (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) is the best example for us to follow in all aspects of our life, and we should be careful not to add anything new to the Deen of Islam, for fear of implying that the Prophet Muhammad (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) did not complete his mission.
As Allah (Most Exalted is He) says in the Qur’an:
“You have indeed in the Messenger of Allah, a beautiful pattern for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day.”
(Qur’an, Al-Ahzab 33:21)
The Messenger of Allah (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) said:
“I have not left anything which Allah (Most Exalted is He) ordered except that I have ordered you with it, nor anything that Allah forbade you, except that I forbade you from it.”[Bukhari]
CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH SALAAM IS DISCOURAGED
There are certain situations under which it is preferable not to offer salaam. These include; when a person is relieving himself, when one is having marital relationship, when someone is sleeping or when in the bathroom.
Offering salaam when someone is reciting the Qur’an is permissible but discouraged. The same rule applies to someone who is making du’a (supplication) or one who is praying.