Proper Greetings in Islam

September 25, 2007 § 47 Comments

I have on occasion come across Muslims who are sincere but ignorant of some of the finer points of Islamic lifestyle according to the traditions of the Holy Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him). This however, is easy to do in this day and age where there are so many forgotten traditions of the Holy Prophet which if we saw today we may think they are some strange bidat! One of these forgotten traditions is one of the most basic and fundamental elements of our dear religion, the Islamic greeting. The Islamic greeting, as-salaamu ‘alaikum; God’s Peace be upon you, is an element of good Islamic manners. In the proper conduct of greetings one may find keys to good social behavior and the proprieties of friendship and exchanges in Islamic framings. God says in the Qur’an (BismillaharRahmanirRahim),

“When you are greeted with a greeting, greet with better than it or return it. Allah takes count of all things”. (004:086)

So clearly it is preferred to return a greeting by adding to it. But there have been so many times where I have greeted a Muslim and received no greeting at all! And perhaps times where a Muslim has greeted me and received only an equal greeting in return, or worse. These days we greet people we know, and only people we know. When we receive a greeting from someone we don’t know we are silent looking oddly as if someone has violated an unwritten code of ethics. But this unwritten code of ethics is un-Islamic by nature and egoistic at best.

One aspect of our Islamic greeting would puzzle me when I first began studying the Arabic language and that was, the fact that we salute a single individual in the the plural saying, as-salaamu ‘alaikum, ‘alaikum implying “upon you all”. This plural pronoun was also used in response. Al-A’mash, Ibrahim an-Nakha’i discussed this item saying,

“When you salute a single individual, you must say: as-salaamu ‘alaikum [using the pronoun -kum], for the angels are with him.”

It should be interesting to note that our greeting, seemingly of a simple nature, holds many keys within it. And like other keys or secrets, there are protocols upon their use. For example a hadith, tradition of the Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him), reported in the Sahih of Muslim as narrated by Abu Huraira (may Allah be well pleased with him) says that according to God’s Messenger (may Peace and Blessings be upon him),

“The rider should salute the walker, the walker the sitter, and the few the many.”

Shaikh Ahmad Fathu’llah Jami’s Sifat al-Mu’minin (The Attributes of the Believers) gives a clear and concise commentary on this hadith explaining that,

“He began mentioning the rider, because of his elevated rank, and because pride might otherwise deter him from being the first to salute. The same principle was then applied to the walker [in relation to the sitter]. It has also been said: “Since the sitter is in the state of dignity, calm and composure, he is entitled to that prerogative [of being saluted], rather that the walker, whose state is the opposite.” As for the salutation offered by the few to the many, it is a mark of respect for the majority of Muslims. As recorded by al-Bukhari, this Prophetic tradition includes the addition words:
“The younger should salute the adult.”

Another custom of the Holy Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) is shaking hands while offering salaams. This custom in particular, you will find upon meeting me that I have a fondness for, perhaps to a fault. Today, we must ask ourselves, how much of this, seemingly simple custom are we following? And if we are not what have we adopted in its place? Especially when there is blessing and reward for us in these simple customs. For instance concerning the shaking of hands, the Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) says,

“When two Muslims shake hands, their sins fall to the ground, as leaves of the tree fall to the ground.”

MashaAllah! And we pass the opportunity to rid ourselves of sins on a daily basis. Yes, mashaAllah to us! There are so many customs for greetings that are lost. But those that we have we should try our best to apply and to raise our children with, to train our children to exercise so that they can benefit from them for generations and not lose these gems, these salutations of the Prophet in later generations. Some of these customs I had never seen in regular life until I attended regular association with a shaykh. Some of which have happened more recently, these customs include:

  • When entering an empty house, you must offer the salutation of peace.
    • You are saluting yourself on Allah’s behalf.
    • You are saluting the believing jinn who occupy the house.
    • Through the blessings of peace, you are seeking safety from the devils and harmful influences present in the house.
  • Custom requires the person who initiates the salutation to be in a state of ritual purity (wudu’) as well as the respondent.
  • When two people meet, custom requires them to try and forestall each other in offering the salutation, as a demonstration of humility.

Seeing Shaykh Effendi, Abdul-Kerim following these simple customs very closely, and witnessing its profound effects on people Muslim and non-Muslim is inspiring which is one of the reason I wrote this post. The other reason is as a reminder, a reminder for you and for me to give salaams to our fellow Believers and shake hands as a means to attain purity.

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§ 47 Responses to Proper Greetings in Islam

  • brnaeem says:

    AssalamuAlaikum Saifuddin,

    May Allah truly bless you for such a nice powerful reminder.

    One of the nice things about being in Saudi is that everyone understands the saying of the Prophet (“Spread the Salaam”) and so people are always giving salaams, whether you know them or not.

    Again, thank you for the post.

    (I know its not the best adab, but in the virtual world I’m too used to simply abbreviating the salaams as AA-. But worry not, in real life I say it completely. LOL!)

  • [...] A quick brush-up with ethics of greetings- One aspect of our Islamic greeting would puzzle me when I first began studying the Arabic language and that was, the fact that we salute a single individual in the the plural saying, as-salaamu ‘alaikum, ‘alaikum implying “upon you all”. Powered by Gregarious (21) [...]

  • Hafsa says:

    “When you are greeted with a greeting, greet with better than it or return it. Allah takes count of all things”. (004:086)

    the concept was explained in another verse.

  • Saifuddin says:

    BismillaharRahmanirRahim

    wa ‘alaikum as-salaam, All.

    “One of the nice things about being in Saudi is that everyone understands the saying of the Prophet (”Spread the Salaam”) and so people are always giving salaams, whether you know them or not.”

    Indeed, that is a blessing brnaeem. And there is no “thanks” necessary for this post, it was as much for me as anyone else.

  • Donnacha says:

    It would be nice to have some guidance for those non-Muslims who want to promote cordial relations with Muslim people everywhere. There are of course millions of such people of good will everywhere.

    While many people have a general sense of greetings in many cultures and will even risk making a mistake, in the case of greeting Muslims we often are concerned about getting it wrong and offending when we mean to please.

    as-salaamu ‘alaikum

    D

  • Saifuddin says:

    BismillaharRahmanirRahim

    wa ‘alaikum as-salaam Donnacha! Welcome, and thank you for visiting, I pray you will be commenting regularly. You wrote,

    “It would be nice to have some guidance for those non-Muslims who want to promote cordial relations with Muslim people everywhere.”

    I am feeling more and more strange each day at offering my thoughts and advice over the internet but what I can say with some assurance is to ‘just be yourself’. If you are sincerely looking to promote cordial relations with Muslims or anyone else for that matter, the opportunity will find you. Likewise, the opposite is true. Smiling is a universal language and a sincere smile makes people feel good.

    Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, is reported to have said:

    “There is no person who does not have the obligation of (doing) charity every day that the sun rises.”

    Whereupon he was asked,

    “O messenger of God, wherefrom would we get something to give in charity (so often)?”

    To which he, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, replied:

    “Indeed the gates to goodness are many: glorifying God, praising Him, magnifying Him, saying ‘There is no god but Allah’, enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong, removing (any source of harm from the road, listening to the aggrieved, guiding the blind, showing the seeker his need, striving as far as your two legs could carry you and with deep concern to give succor to him who asks, carrying with the strength of your arms (the burdens of) the weak. All these are (acts of) charity which are an obligation on you.”

    And he added,

    And your smiling in the face of your brother is charity, your removing of stones and thorns from people’s paths is charity, and your guiding a man gone astray in the world is charity for you.”

    This, I think, is good advice concerning the goodness of the human heart. It is a reminder to the strengthening of bonds and affections of people with each other, both Muslims and those ‘millions of people of good will’ that you mentioned.

    -Saifuddin

  • Donnacha says:

    Thanks for this Saifuddin. No need to feel strange. We all have a duty to promote understanding. A great Christian said, “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.” So it’s good to be doing something.

    Which book do these quotations come from?

    insha allah

  • Mohurutshe Moile says:

    i a keen interest in Islam and contemplating to convert but my weakness is that i like and eat pork a lot and have an eye for woman,how do i do away with this things i have just mentioned

  • Saifuddin says:

    BismillaharRahmanirRahim

    as-salaamu ‘alaikum Mohurtshe Moile! It is good to here that you are thinking of Islam. The pork and woman issue is not as important as taking the first step and finding safety from harm. My suggestion is to make a sincere intention to make the shahadat, taking the first step is the most important part. Worry about the second and third, etc. after you’ve made the first.

    My suggestion is to follow someone, someone who is walking in the way of the Holy Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him), his Companions (may Allah be pleased with them), the Successors and the Saints (may Allah keep their secrets).

    I can certainly help you to find support in this venture, email me privately and we can discuss things further (saifuddin at gmail dotcom). You may also want to join the Osmanli Naksibendi Yahoo Group, it is a group of Muslims that you will be able to ask a number of questions and find support.

    -Saifuddin

  • jonolan says:

    A point could be made that many “greetings” are just mouthings of phrases planned to gain one’s attention and lead to some purpose other than a true greeting. That would have a lot to do with the lack of response.

    In America, the old concept of greetings and hospitality of all but vanished. Few understand the import of the phrase “breaking bread with someone” or the import originally placed on a greeting and blessing.

  • Jennifer says:

    Good day to all,

    I am a Christian European/Canadian and my husband is Buddhist Thai/American. I would like to know when we enter a business or establishment and know the merchants are Muslim, is it proper to greet them with as-salaamu ‘alaikum? We believe in the respect of all men and women and cultures equally, and are always willing and open to learn about other cultures.

    Also, what book (s) would be the easiet to read to learn about the Muslim culture and religion. I have many Muslim friends back home in Canada, but we don’t really discuss religion. Could someone please point me in the right direction.

    I hope these are not ignorant questions, and that I have no offended anybody. If I have, I do apologize.

    Thank you, and have a wonderful day!

    Sincerely,

    Jennifer

  • jonolan says:

    I wouldn’t do so in the west – but only because speaking Arabic in the US to a merchant seems too contrived and formulaic to me. I prefer to use the English translation, “peace be upon you.”

    Saifuddin could give a better social perspective.

  • Saifuddin says:

    BismillaharRahmanirRahim

    salam alaykum Jennifer. Yes! Say Salam Alaykum! Very Good, if it is coming to your heart to say… say. If you are confused about it, leave it for now. Thank you for commenting, please come again, your comments are welcome.

    -Saifuddin

  • Jennifer says:

    as-salaamu ‘alaikum Saifuddin and thank you!

    Yes, knowing the merchants I deal with are Muslim, I prefer to give them the respect they deserve and greet them from the heart the way I would anyone else. I am fluent in French and Italian also, and I know greetings in multiple languages. I think it is polite and shows respect to greet someone in their native tongue; they appreciate the gesture. I do not know Thai, but I greet my husbands family with a bow and sawatdee ka, which is respectful. If more people were respectful of others and their cultures, the world would be a better place.

    Thank you again.

    Sincerely,

    Jennifer

    • samir says:

      Salaam oua Alaikoum
      i agree with you in full Jennifer when it comes about respect of culture and backgrounds… . But saying Salaam oua alaikoum is the most beautiful way to greed one anothers (Soul) in a sense where race,ethnic,culture traditions is no longer what differences us but common us as “un etre” one being .

      so from a soul to a soul

      Salaam oua Alekoum

  • faatimah says:

    Assalamualaikum
    r there more greetings than that i wanted to know wat if i say Adaab??????????

  • Saifuddin says:

    BismillaharRahmanirRahim

    wa alaykum asalaam. I am no expert on the Arabic language but to my knowledge, adaab is merely referring to manners it is not ordinarily used as a greeting.

  • jonolan says:

    It’s not Arabic – exactly – this time. It’s Urdu (Pakistani)! Adaab is used as “Good Morning” is Urdu.

  • iloveislam says:

    Hi jennifer

    If you want to know about islam, read the Quran or buy one, it is the best book you can get on islam and you will understand how muslims think, eat, walk and even do business, everything!!. It will have the answers to what the purpose of creation is, what will happen after death, in heaven, hell, the many stories of the prophets mentioned in the bible too, incl Adam, Abraham, Joseph, Jesus etc.

    To be honest you will not have read a book like it – ive read the bible – KJV twice, torah, guru granth sahib, vidas you name it and ive read it but the Quran is in a league of its own!. Infact i coould just about guarantee your life will never be the same.

    Happy reading :).

  • Yusuf says:

    I want someone to send me the proper muslim greetings with english translations….in the process of converting and I need to know this things.

  • Dee says:

    I regularly talk to a few merchants at my local market who are Muslim and I though I took an Arabic class recently have yet to work up the courage to greet them in Arabic. Do you think it would seem offensive if I did?

    Also, are As-salam alikum and its reply used in any non-muslim countries? If so which ones?

    Thanks, this thread is very informative.

  • Rabih says:

    As Salamu Alaykum to all my Muslim brothers and sisters…. I just want to know if it is usual and permissable for a Muslim man to say as salamu alaykum to a Muslim woman that he comes across, like say at the supermarket…Because I said so to a Sister who was a cashier, and she didn’t reply, I thought maybe she didn’t hear me, so I said it again, and she didn’t again. I know Islam forbids free mingling between the sexes, but should we be saying salams to each other…thank you,
    and asalamu alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatu to every true beliveing Muslim, be he male or female inshaAllah

  • saadiya says:

    salaam alaikum

    I HAVE CONVERTED ABOUT A MONTH AGO AND SINCE THEN HAVE RECIEVED MANY BLESSINGS.
    I AM SO HAPPY AND HAVE NEVER LOOKED BACK.ITS A BEAUTIFUL RELIGION MASHA ALLAH!!

  • Ulfilas says:

    Assalamu alaikum

    As one of the people of the book (Christian) I am pleased to greet my islamic friends using the greeting to my brothers in sisters in God. I am surprised that I don’t always receive a greeting back :( I understand that salam etiquette does not seem to allow muslims to begin a greeting to a Jew or Christian in the islamic way – but it would be nice to receive a blessing back when one is making an effort :)

    May The Lord bless you and keep you.

    May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you.

    May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

    • Nirlepa says:

      What? How pathetic!
      Do you really believe that you being patronizing is going to get you in to “Heaven”?

      • Seyfettin says:

        BismillaharRahmanirRahim

        The question is legitimate. And I don’t find it patronizing but very sincere.

        May Allah make things easy on you both.

        -Seyfettin

  • Ermias Habte says:

    I appreciate introducing me the Islamic greetings. I have been working hard to investigate Quran. My name is Ermias Habte and I am living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

    I was born and grow up from the Christian family. But the time I realized that the Bible is full of mistakes and clashes, I was no more a Christian. Rather I started to refer other holly books specially the holly Quran. I passed through different challenges but those challenges will never change me from the right way of Life.

    There is no doubt that the true way of life is ISLAM! But it’s hidden in the holly Quran. Where we grow up no one knows the strength of the word of Allah written in the holly Quran. I can say people are following traditions. We should come direct to the scriptures. Christians doesn’t have any proof for what they believe. And they don’t deserve respect for it’s clearly written in Suratel Bakarah chapter 2 : 111.

    Please help me to learn more about ISLAM. I will never retreat from teaching what I know in here. Feel free to show this to any for your friends or business associates who may have an interest to help me know more about Quran.

  • sulaiman says:

    assalamualaaykum.
    i will like receiving messages from you concerning islam.
    maasalm.

  • Saifuddin says:

    BismillaharRahmanirRahim

    wa alaykumasalaam,

    sulaiman, I have sent you a email newsletter request. All you need to do is accept it and you will receive regular updates of our postings here.

    -Saifuddin

  • Oscar Morales says:

    Is it disrespectful if a non-muslim first offers up the traditional greeting upon first encountering a muslim?

    Also, if I am ever first given the blessing/greeting: “as-salaamu alaikum”, will I be out of place if I respond “alaikum as-salaamu” ?

    • Seyfettin says:

      BismillaharRahmanirRahim

      I don’t find it disrespectful at all Oscar unless there are underlying implications. Which I don’t find often. And no you would not be out of place to reply alaykum selam.

  • Paul says:

    I am not a Muslim but rather a Christian…I have always been intrigued by the Muslim culture and i found this to be very informative.

    God be with you
    -Paul

  • Nick says:

    as-salaamu ‘alaikum
    I am a Christian living in the US who has many Muslim friends and I want to show them proper respect. I appreciate these postings and find them to be very helpful. I would like to also know what the proper words are upon exit. Thank you for your help. May you all be blessed.
    -Nick

  • yahya says:

    should the handshake be with one hand or should we take a brothers hand in both of ours?

  • asqfish says:

    Asalaam o Alaikum,
    Alhamdollillah! thank you for the guidelines, jazaaik Allah Khair!

  • abideed says:

    I want someone to send me the proper muslim greetings with english translations….in the process of converting and I need to know this things.

  • razi says:

    thank you for your information..

    nice article…

  • Brittany says:

    I have greatly appreciated this article and the following comments. Is there anyway to continue to know if there are updated articles?

  • Caleb says:

    Wa ‘alaikum as-salaam.

    I found this article to be very interesting and informative.

    Thank you for sharing this information.

    Kind Regards.

  • khan says:

    As Salaamu Alaiukm Warahmatullahi WabarakAtuhu ….. JazAkAllah khayr. To the Brothers and sisters of this page… This is a very helpfull sight, I have come across many Muslims whom I have asked of the correct greeting we should say whEn we approach our muslims brothers and sisters ! Funny enough none of uS knew the basic greetings used by our beloved Prophet Muhammed ( Salalahu AlAyhi wasalam)….. Its great to know muslim have sights like these to help us and let our brotherd and Sisters know aNd learn…. Once again amazing sight great information and knowleDge to learn from this Sight!!!! JazakAllah khayr…

  • Mohd Asifuddin says:

    Assalaamu alaikum
    what do you mean jazakallah

  • David Lloyd says:

    I received a business email with a Malaysian Islamic greeting that was translated as “keep spirit.” I believe the greeting was an attempt to politely acknowledge me as a Christian. Surely there is an appropriate respectful response that draws from those elements that are common between Christianity and Islam. My thought was to find a blessing that is expressed in both the Christian scriptures and the Koran that builds upon the “keep spirit” expression. (Preferably without stepping on my beliefs or his.) Any ideas?

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