Can you say ‘salam’ to non-Muslims?
Common misconceptions – How to greet non Muslims
There is common opinion that you should not greet non-Muslims with the salam. Or that you should only reply to them with ‘walaikum’ not ‘walaikum asalam’. This is not in line with the general principles of Islam, which is to spread the salam and to spread goodness.
The evidence that you can greet non-Muslims with the salam is in the verses of the Quran which say you should greet others in a way better than you are greeted:
And when you are greeted with a greeting, greet [in return] with one better than it or [at least] return it [in a like manner]. Indeed, Allah is ever, over all things, an Accountant. (4:86)
The Prophet (peace be on him) on different occasions said salam to non Muslims, and People of the Book. You can initiate the salam and you can greet non Muslims. It may seem obvious but it is not obvius to those who read the hadith and apply it literally without understanding the details around the hadith.
It is not enough to see a narration in Bukhari or Muslim if there is an issue contradicting the common ruling and the general guidance, especially for Muslims who are living in non-Islamic environments.
Some people might say they greet non Muslims because we are weak, but when we become strong we do not greet them, we just push them into the narrow part of the road. This does not make any sense. How can you want to do dawwah and spread the message of Islam? The message of Islam is mercy.
It is common sense that you should be nice to all your neighbours regardless of their faith.
Returning a greeting with just walaikum applied to a specific occasion
Some scholars have quoted hadith and interpreted them to mean that you should not initiate a greeting, and if you are greeted, do not give the complete reply wa alaikumassalam warahmatullah, but just wa alaikum only.
Anas reported that the Companions of Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) said to him: The People of the Book offer us salutations (by saying as-Salamu- ‘Alaikum). How should we reciprocate them ? Thereupon he said: Say: Wa ‘Alaikum (and upon you too). (Muslim)
However, when you examine the hadith you realise that they related to a specific occasion during the lifetime of the Prophet (peace be on him) when some Jewish people in the community were mocking the Prophet (peace be on him) and instead of saying asalamu alaikum they were saying assamu alaikum. Assam means death so they were greeting him with a death threat, wishing him to die. The Prophet (peace be on him) realised what they were saying, but rather than argue with them, he simply said and the same to you, wa alaikum. He was right, as death is coming to all of us, and no one can escape death.
Ibn ‘Umar reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: When the Jews offer you salutations, some of them say as-Sam-u-‘Alaikum (death be upon you). You should say (in response to it): Let it be upon you. (Muslim)
In fact it is clear from the following hadith, that the Prophet (peace be on him) reprimanded ‘Aisha for retorting to the unpleasantness of the Jews who wished death upon the Prophet (peace be on him) in their salutation:
‘A’isha reported that some Jews came to Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) and they said: Abu’l-Qasim (the Kunya of the Holy Prophet), as-Sam-u-‘Alaikum, whereupon he (the Holy Prophet) said: Wa ‘Alaikum.
A’isha reported: In response to these words of theirs, I said: But let there be death upon you and disgrace also, whereupon Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: ‘A’isha, do not use harsh words. She said: Did you hear what they said? Thereupon he (the Holy Prophet) said: Did I not respond to them when they said that; I said to them: Wa’Alaikum (let it be upon you). (Muslim)
The context is always at the core of any ruling. In this hadith we have problems with the narrator, who suffered trauma and become confused, the text of the hadith (we have multiple narrations which vary in their wording) and is related to a very specific occasion when the Prophet (peace be on him) and his men were going to battle with a Jewish tribe, who had broken their pledge.
Bani Qurayza the Jewish tribe of Madinah had broken their treaty with the Prophet (peace be on him) to protect Madinah and support him when needed. They broke this pledge when they mobilised their troops to fight the Prophet (peace be on him) in Madinah in the Battle of the Ditch. 10000 troops came to attack the believers and uproot the Prophet (peace be on him) and erase Islam from Madinah.
If you do not get the context it will be very difficult to understand. Unfortunately, we don’t pay much attention to the context most of the time and this leads to wide spread misunderstanding.
Also though the hadith is realted by Bukhari and Muslim, Bukhari did not mention it in the main part of his book with his verified and authenticated hadith, he merely mentioned it as a title. Muslim listed in his lowest section of authenticity.
Therefore we cannot use these hadith to create a general ruling, particularly as they related to a specific occasion and that context does not exist. If you have a Jewish or Christian friend it is fine to say assalamu alaikum to them.
Spread the salam to everyone
There are endless hadith on the importance of saying salam and spreading the salam. It was the first instruction the Prophet (peace be on him) gave to the citizens of Madinah in his first khutbah. As ‘Abdullah bin Salam (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:
I heard the Messenger of Allah (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) say: “O people, spread the greeting of peace profusely, maintain kinship ties, feed others, and pray at night when people are asleep, you will enter Paradise in peace. (Ibn Majah)
He did not say spread the greeting among Muslims only. In the Quran Allah Almighty instructed:
“And servants of (Allah) the Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, Peace (Salaam)!”(25:63)
“O you who believe, enter not into houses other than yours without first announcing your presence and invoking peace (saying salaam) upon the folk thereof. That is better for you, that you may be heedful”(24:27)
Abu Hurayrah narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:
“By Him in Whose Hand my soul is! You will not enter Jannah until you believe, and you shall not believe until you love one another. May I inform you of something, if you do, you love each other. Promote salam amongst you” (Muslim)
“And when they hear ill speech, they turn away from it and say, ‘For us are our deeds and for you are your deeds, peace be upon you; we seek not the ignorant”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“Greet with Peace those whom you know and those whom you do not know” (Bukhari and Muslim)
He also informed us that when Allah created Adam, He commanded him “Go to that assembly” and they were an assembly of seated angels – ” and listen to how they greet you. Indeed, it is your greeting and the greeting of your descendants”. He said: “Peace be upon you” they said: “Peace be upon you and Allah’s Mercy”
Sufyan bin Uyaynah, a pious predecessor was once asked whether a Muslim can greet a non-Muslim with salam, and he confirmed that they could because ‘Allah does not forbid you in respect of those who do not fight you because of your religion and do not expel you from your homes – from being righteous and dealing justly towards them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly’
God does not forbid you to deal kindly and justly with those who have not fought against you about the religion or expelled you from your homes. God does not love the unjust people. (60:8)
The general guidance in Islam is to show mercy (rahma) and have good character, and be an agent of goodness. Therefore when a hadith such as this one appears to contradict this, this suggests that there is something wrong with it such as the authenticity, the narrator or the context of the hadith.
Shaykh Haytham Tamim – Delivered to the Sunday Hadith Class based on Ibn Hajar al Asqalani’s collection of Hadith Bulugh al Maram.
Transcribed by Asma Husain
For more inspiration on how to navigate life through the Quran and Sunnah:
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- The Greatness of Muhammad (peace be on him)
- How do you give Dawah?
- Ghazali on arguing
- Why should our shuyukh be more in touch with our community and culture?
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