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Islam has professed the use of the Islamic greeting when encountering another Muslim or leaving the company of another Muslim because it unifies the hearts and strengthens bonds between Muslims.

Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala 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)

Imam Muslim reported that the prophet (S.A.W.) said, “I swear by the one whose hand my soul is in that you will not enter paradise until you believe. And you won’t be believed until you love one another. May I tell you something, that if you practice it you will love another, spread the (salam) Islamic greeting among you.” This makes it clear to us, that spreading salam among Muslims is the first step towards paradise. This is because spreading salam leads to increasing the love between our hearts. And the increase of love between our hearts will increase the Iman, (faith).

An authentic hadith reported by Imams At-Termithi and Ibn Majah that the prophet (S.A.W.) said: “Oh you people, spread salam among you, serve the food, behave kindly with your blood relations, and offer prayer at night when others are asleep, and you will enter paradise safely.” And Imams Bukhari and Muslim reported that a man asked the prophet (S.A.W.), “what in Islam is the best?” He (S.A.W.) answered, “To feed people and to say salam to everyone whether you know them or not.”

What is the history of the Islamic greeting, when did it start, and who was the one who chose it?

Imams Bukhari and Muslim reported that the prophet (S.A.W.) said, “When Allah created Adam he told him to go and say Assalamu Alikum to a group of Angels and listen to their reply. It is your greeting and the greeting of your descendants. Adam went and said: Assalamu Alikum they said Assalamu Alikum Wa Rahmatulah.”

The complete form for the Islamic greeting is Assalamu Alilkum Wa Rahmatulah Wa Barakatuh meaning peace, mercy, and blessings be upon from Allah (S.W.T.). This is because Imams Abu-Dawood and At-Termithi reported in a good hadith that a man came to the prophet (S.A.W.) and said, “Assalamu Alikum.” The prophet responded and the man sat down. The prophet said, “Ten rewards.”Another man came and said, “Assalamu Alikum Wa Rahmatullh.” The prophet responded and the man sat down. The prophet said,“twenty rewards.”

Then another man came and said: Assalamu Alakum Wa Rahmatulah Wa Barakatuh. The prophet responded and the man sat down. The prophet said, “thirty rewards.”

The Scholars have agreed that starting with salam is highly recommended. And responding is obligatory because Allah (S.W.T.) said insurat An-Nesa’, (verse 86), what can be translated as, “When a courteous greeting is offered to you, meet it with a greeting still more courteous, or at least of equal courtesy.”

It is enough for one to say the Islamic greeting to a group and it is enough for one of the group to return it. This is the meaning of the two ahadith that were reported by Imams Abu Dawood and Malik.


From the Etiquette of Salam:

  1. The one who comes greets the Muslims that are present.
  2. The one who is riding greets the one who is walking.
  3. The one who is walking greets the one who is sitting.
  4. The smaller group greets the bigger group.
  5. The young greet the elder.

Imams Bukhari and Muslim reported that the prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) said, “A rider should greet a pedestrian, a pedestrian should greet one who is sitting, and a small party should greet a large party, a younger should greet an elder one.”

Salams are recommended when leaving as well as when you meet. Imams Abu-Dawoud, and At-Tirmith reported in a good hadith that the prophet Muhammed (S.A.W.) said, “When one of you joins a gathering he should greet those present; and when he leave them he should greet them because the first salutation is not better than the last one.”

What does Islam say about saying salams to the people of the book?

The majority of scholars reported that starting with Assalamu Alikum is not permitted. They refer to the hadith of the prophet that was reported by Imam Muslim in which the prophet (S.A.W.) said, “Don’t start with the (salam) Islamic greeting when encountering Jews or Christians.”

Some scholars see no problem in starting with the Islamic greeting. Some of the Shafies agree with this. This is the opinion of Ibn-Abbas one of the companions of the prophet. He said that this hadith was special for the Jewish of Quraizah, not for all of the people of the book.

What if the people of the book start with the salams with the Muslims. Some of the scholars, like Ahnaf say that it is allowed to returnsalam and others say it’s obligatory.

Ibn Abbass said, “Whoever says Assalamu Alakum to you, you have to return his greeting even if he was a Majos (fire-worshipper). He was referring to a verse from surat An-Nesa’ (verse 86), what can be translated as, “When a courteous greeting is offered to you, meet it with a greeting still more courteous, or at least of equal courtesy.”

The scholar had agreed upon starting the greeting with the non-Muslims is allowed with any word but Assalamu Alikum, like good morning, how are you? etc..

When meeting another Muslim shaking hands is highly recommended, along with a great smile, because it increases the love and respect among Muslims.

It was reported by Imam Bukhari that Qatadah asked Anass (R.A.) if shaking hands was practiced by the companion at the time of the prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.). He said, “Yes.”

Shaking hands with another Muslim will result in forgiveness from Allah (S.W.T.).Imams Abu Dawood and At-Termithi reported that the prophet (S.A.W.) said, “If Muslims meet and shake hands with each other, they will be forgiven before they leave.”

Imam At-Termithi reported a good hadith that a man said: “O messenger of Allah if one of us meets his brother or friend, should he bend down to him? The prophet said, “ No.” He asked should he hug him and kiss him? The prophet answered, “No.” He asked should he take his hand and shake it. The prophet answered, “Yes.”

Imam At-Termithi reported that Anass (R.A.) said, “When the prophet use to meet a man, he shook hands with him and the prophet (S.A.W.) would not pull away his hand until the man would pull his hand away first.”


وَاللَّهُ يَدْعُو إِلَىٰ دَارِ السَّلَامِ وَيَهْدِي مَن يَشَاءُ إِلَىٰ صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ

But Allah doth call to the Home of Peace: He doth guide whom He pleaseth to a way that is straight..” (The Quran, 10:25)

The very word ‘Islam’ (from the Arabic silm) connotes peace. According to a tradition of the Prophet, ‘Peace is Islam’ (Al-Bukhari). This means that peace is one of the prerequisites of Islam. Similarly, a Hadith states: A Muslim is one from whose tongue and hands people are safe. One of the attributes of God described in the Quran is ‘As-Salam’, which means peace and security.’ That is to say that God’s Being itself is a manifestation of peace. Indeed, God is Peace (Al-Bukhari). In the Quran divine guidance is likened to the paths of peace. (5:16)

According to Islam, Paradise is the ideal human abode, and is thus called the ‘Home of Peace.’ It is also said that, the people of Paradise will wish peace to one another, indicating that the social culture of the people of Paradise will be based on peace. The Quran, avers that, ‘reconciliation is best’ (4:128), and judging by the consequences, the way of peace is far better than that of confrontation. By the law of Nature, God has decreed that success will be met with only on a reconciliatory path, and not on a confrontational or a violent course of action.
Whenever the Prophet had an option between two courses of action, he always chose the easier (non-confrontational) one. (Bukhari)

This means that, violent activism should not be indulged in if peaceful activism is an option. For, peace is the easier course as compared to violence.

For instance, trying to change the status quo in the very first stage of a movement is a hard option, while launching one’s activities in the available sphere without doing so is an easier option.

Going to war in confrontational situations is a hard option while following a conciliatory course in dealing with one’s rival is easier. Countering aggression with aggression is a hard option, while countering aggression with patience and forbearance is an easier option. An agitational course of action is harder than employing quiet strategy. Adopting a radical method of reformation is harder than that of following a gradual method. Taking emotional, extreme steps without a thought for their consequences creates difficulties. While a well-considered method, keeping an eye on the consequences, gives much better results. The policy of confrontation with a ruler is a harder option, while initiating one’s action; by sidestepping the ruler in the sphere of education and learning is an easier option. These instances show us the easier and harder options, as demonstrated by the Hadith.

The truth is that peace in Islam is the ‘rule’, while war is the ‘exception’. This is borne out by all the teachings of Islam and the practical life of the Prophet of Islam.

The Example of the Prophet Muhammad(Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)

The Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation in 610 A.D. in Makkah. God ordained that he carry out the mission of Tawheed(or oneness of God).

The house of the Kabah, which was built as the house of monotheism by the Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael (peace be upon them), later on became a centre of polytheism with 360 idols in it. The first revelation might well have demanded the purification of the Kabah, which would have given rise to a serious problem. But the first revelation made in the Quran was:

Purify your vestments (74:4).

This means to purify one’s moral character. If, in the first stage the Prophet had been commanded to purify the Kabah while Makkah was still under the domination of the idolaters, this would have surely precipitated clash and confrontation. Therefore, according to the command of the first revelation, the Prophet continued to perform his prayers peacefully in the Kabah for a period of 13 years, even though it housed several hundred idols.

Similarly, the Prophet and his companions circumambulated the Kabah on the occasion of Umrah al-Hudaybiyya in 629, while the Kabah still housed 360 idols.

The Prophet Muhammad proceeded thus in order to avoid war and confrontation with the idolaters, and so that the atmosphere of peace should be maintained. The entire life of the Prophet is a practical demonstration of this peace-loving policy. At the time of migration from Makkah, the idolaters were all set to wage war, but the Prophet avoided this by quietly leaving his homeland for Madinah.

The mission of Islam is based on monotheism, its goal being to make people realize the existence of the one and only God and to strive to bring about a revolution in their hearts and minds of individuals in order that they may love God as is His due. And the greatest concern of man should be to fear and worship his Creator (2:165).

Such a mission cannot afford wars and violent confrontations. When a state of war and violence prevails, the normal atmosphere is vitiated and such circumstances as would foster intellectual movements and spiritual reformation cannot be effectively created. It cannot be denied that peaceful circumstances produce a propitious environment for Islam, while violent circumstances inevitably result in antagonism towards Islam.

War: A State Action

In Islam, war is not the prerogative of the individual but of an established government. Only an established government can declare war. In other words, individuals can pray on their own, but they cannot wage wars of their own accord. Only when a war is declared by the ruling government, can the public join in and support it, and not before that. Islam does not sanction individual actions on this issue. Therefore no Non Governmental Organization or NGO can declare a war.

As a general principle, the Quran tells us that, even where an external attack is feared, the common man should not act independently, but should take the matter to the ruler, and then under his guidance take proper counter measures. (4:83).

The Hadith also states that ‘the ruler is a shield, fighting is done under him, and security is attained through him.’

This clearly shows that the decision to do battle and its planning are the tasks of an established government. The common man can play his role as need be under government orders, and not independently.

This Islamic principle shows that there is no room for non-state warfare, which is what we generally call guerilla war. A guerilla war is fought by individual organizations, not by the State. As far as the state is concerned, if it wants to wage a defensive war against any country it has first—in obedience to the Quran—to issue a proper declaration. Only then can it wage a lawful war (8:58). In Islam, there is only ‘declared’ war. Therefore, in accordance with this principle, no proxy war in Islam can be lawful.

Most Islamic actions are governed by certain conditions. The waging of war is also thus subject to certain principles, one being that, even when a defensive war has been declared by the State, it will be aimed only at the combatants. Targeting non-combatants will be unlawful. The Quran enjoins us not to do battle with those who are not at war. Such people have to be dealt with kindly and equitably. But you are free to do battle with those who are fighting against you. (60:8-9)

If, for instance, a Muslim state is at war with a particular nation, and this war is in conformance with Islamic principles, it should still not permit any destructive activities against non-combatants (civilians), as was done on September 11, 2001, in New York and Washington. Similarly in Islamic war, Muslims are not permitted to commit suicidal bombings in order to destroy the enemy. Strapping explosives on to oneself and hurling oneself upon the civilian settlements of even those with whom one is at war, for the purpose of destroying the enemy, and in the process killing oneself deliberately, is totally un-Islamic. This can in no way be termed‘Shahadah’ (martyrdom). According to Islam we can become martyrs, but we cannot court a martyr’s death deliberately.

The Difference between Enemy and Aggressor

Under the scheme of the divine trial of human beings, God has granted man freedom. Due to this freedom, enmities may develop between people (20:123), which sometimes lead them to war. But Islam makes a clear difference between enmity and war.

Believers do not have the right to wage wars against their enemies. What the believers have to do as regards their enemies is far from waging war. Their duty is to peacefully convey to them the message of Islam. The Quran gives a clear injunction on this subject:

“And good and evil deeds are not alike. Repel evil with good. And he who is your enemy will become your dearest friend.” (41:33-34)

That is to say, Islam believes in turning one’s enemy into a friend through peaceful means, instead of declaring him an enemy and then waging war against him.

Islam does give permission to do battle. But such permission is given only in the case of an attack by opponents in spite of the policy of avoidance being followed by the Muslims, thus creating a situation where self-defense is required. The Quran has this to say: “Permission to take up arms is hereby given to those who are attacked because they have been wronged” (22:38). At another place the Quran gives a valid reason for fighting: “They were the first to attack you” (9:13).

This shows that according to the teachings of Islam, war is to be waged not against the enemy but against the aggressor. If Muslims hold someone to be their enemy, that does not give them the right to attack him. The one and only right given to them is to convey the peaceful message of Islam. Islam permits defensive fighting against violent aggression, but only when all efforts at avoidance and reconciliation have failed. The practical example of the Prophet Muhammad provides an incontrovertible proof of the value of this policy.

The Power of Peace

According to a Hadith, “God grants to gentleness what He does not grant to harshness.” That is to say, peaceful activism is distinctly superior to violent activism. There is nothing mysterious about the point made in this Hadith. It is a simple and a well-known fact of life that in a situation of war and violence, feelings of hatred and enmity flare up between the two sides and, in the process, the existing resources are destroyed. People from both sides get killed and the entire society turns into a jungle of negative feelings. It is quite obvious that in such an atmosphere no constructive and consolidated work can be done. There is nothing to be achieved in war and violence, save death and destruction.

On the contrary, an atmosphere of peace enables normal relations to be established between people. It makes it possible for feelings of love and friendship to prevail. In a favourable atmosphere constructive activities flourish and the existing resources can be used for development or other creative activities. A positive bent of mind will prevail which will help develop academic and intellectual advancement.

The greatest ill effect of war is that it limits human endeavour, whereas the greatest benefit of peace is that to the ultimate extent it opens up opportunities for improvement. War invariably results in further loss, while peace invariably results in further gain. That is why Islam teaches us to avoid war and confrontation at all costs and commands us to establish peace to the greatest possible degree.

Clarification of a Fallacy

There are certain verses in the Quran, which convey injunctions similar to the following:

‘Kill them wherever you find them.’ (2:191)

Referring to such verses, there are some who attempt to give the impression that Islam is a religion of war and violence. This is totally untrue. Such verses relate in a restricted sense, to those who have unilaterally attacked the Muslims. The above verse does not convey the general command of Islam.

The truth of the matter is that the Quran was not revealed in the complete form in which it exists today. It was revealed from time to time, according to the circumstances, over a time span of 23 years. If this is divided into years of war and peace, the period of peace amounts to 20 years, while that of war amounts only to 3 years. The revelations during these 20 peaceful years were the peaceful teachings of Islam as are conveyed in the verses regarding the realization of God, worship, morality, justice, etc.

This division of commands into different categories is a natural one and is found in all religious books. For instance, the Gita, the holy book of the Hindus, pertains to wisdom and moral values. Yet along with this is the exhortation of Krishna to Arjun, encouraging him to fight. (3:30) This does not mean that believers in the Gita should wage wars all the time. Gandhiji, after all, derived his philosophy of non-violence from the same Gita. The exhortation to wage war in the Gita applies only to exceptional cases where circumstances leave no choice. But for general day-to-day existence it gives the same peaceful commands as derived from it by Mahatma Gandhi.

Similarly, Jesus Christ said: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on Earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew, Chapter 10)

It would not be right to conclude that the religion preached by Christ was one of war and violence, for such utterances relate purely to particular occasions. So far as general life is concerned, Christ taught peaceful values, such as the building up of a good character, loving each other, helping the poor and needy, etc.

The same is true of the Quran. When the Prophet of Islam emigrated from Mecca to Medina, the idolatrous tribes were aggressive towards him. But the Prophet always averted their attacks by the exercise of patience and the strategy of avoidance. However on certain occasions no other options existed, save that of retaliation. Therefore, he had do battle on certain occasions. It was these circumstances, which occasioned those revelations relating to war. These commands, being specific to certain circumstances, had no general application. They were not meant to be valid for all time to come. That is why; the permanent status of the Prophet has been termed a ‘mercy for all mankind.’ (21:107)

Islam is a religion of peace in the fullest sense of the word. The Qur’an calls its way ‘the paths of peace’ (5:16). It describes reconciliation as the best policy (4:128), and states that God abhors any disturbance of the peace (2:205). We can say that:

“It is no exaggeration to say that Islam and violence are contradictory to each other. The concept of Islamic violence is so obviously unfounded that prima facie it stands rejected. The fact that violence is not sustainable in the present world is sufficient indication that violence as a principle is quite alien to the scheme of things in Islam. Islam claims to be an eternal religion and, as such, could never afford to uphold any principle, which could not stand up to the test of time. Any attempt to bracket violence with Islam amounts, therefore, to casting doubt upon the very eternity of the Islamic religion. Islamic terrorism is a contradiction in terms, much like ‘pacifist’ terrorism. And the truth of the matter is that, all the teachings of Islam are based directly or indirectly on the principle of peace.”


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