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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