فَإِذَا دَخَلْتُم بُيُوتًا فَسَلِّمُوا عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِكُمْ تَحِيَّةً مِّنْ عِندِ اللَّهِ مُبَارَكَةً طَيِّبَةً
So, when you enter houses, greet yourselves with a salutation from Allah, blessed and good.
(Sūrat al-Nūr, No 24, Āyat 61)
A beautiful aspect of Islam’s social etiquette, emphasized in the above verse, is that believers should greet one another with the words, “salāmun ‘alaykum” or “as-salāmu ‘alaykum”. These words indicate peace and security. It is as if the one saying it is showing his respect for the other party and declaring that their life, property, and dignity are considered safe. A result of all believers (regardless of their social status and level) greeting one another in this way is that it should bring about a sense of love and closeness amongst them. In what follows below, a few points about the meaning, rulings, and etiquettes of saying salām will be mentioned.
In terms of the linguistic meaning of the words, “salāmun ‘alaykum”, much has been said by scholars about the different possibilities and subtleties of what it indicates. Readers who are interested can refer to The Sacred Effusion by Shaykh Muhammad Khalfan for a more detailed discussion. However, in the interests of remaining brief we will give one possibility that is appropriate for what a believer would intend when he greets another believer.
The well-known Arabic linguist Rāghib al-Isfahānī, who lived in the fifth century AH, has translated the Arabic word salām as, “to be free from calamities, whether apparent or hidden.” (Al-Isfahānī, al-Mufardāt, p 421). Hence, the words, “Salāmun ‘alaykum”, can be an invocation whereby one is asking Allah ‘azza wajall that may the addressee be in a state free from any calamity. The Arabic definite article al could be to further emphasize the idea of being free from any calamity: al-salām meaning all types of salām.
In terms of the rulings of saying salām, in normal circumstances it is highly recommended and emphasized for a believer to say salām. However, it is not something obligatory to initiate. On the other hand, to immediately respond to salām is obligatory. The one responding must ensure they do so loud enough that the other party hears them. If they are in the state of prayer, they should repeat the same words that were said to them without changing the order, e.g., they say the words “salāmun ‘alaykum” in response to someone who said this. Responding like this is obligatory and will not invalidate the prayer. However, if they are not in prayer, they would normally respond by switching the words around and saying “alaykum al-salām”. In fact, outside of prayer it is recommended to respond in a better way, by adding something extra such as “wa rahmatullāhi wa barakātuh.” (Al-Sistānī, Minhāj, v 1, Rulings 676-690).
On a final note, some of the etiquettes of saying salām are as follows. The plural form should be used (salāmun ‘alaykum not salāmun ‘alayka) just like how when someone sneezes it is good to use the plural form and say, “yarhamakumullāh.” This is because angels are encompassed in the invocation as well. When entering an empty house, instead of saying the normal salām it is good to say the invocation, “al-salāmu ‘alaynā min rabbinā.” In normal situations, the young should initiate and say salām to the elders. Similarly, the one who is passing by should greet the one who is sitting. If a group is being addressed and intended by salām, then it suffices that one person responds on behalf of the entire group. (Al-Qummī, Akhlāq va Ādāb, p 403-405.) Also, grammatically one should say: as-salāmu ‘alaykum instead of as-salāmun ‘alaykum.
May Allah allow us to be amongst those who adorn themselves with the Islamic etiquettes after first adhering to what is obligatory and refraining from that which is forbidden.
Resources: Āyatullāh Mahmūd Tahrīrī, Sīmāy-i Mukhbitīn (A commentary on Ziyārat Amīnullāh), Shaykh Muhammad Khalfan, The Sacred Effusion (A commentary on Ziyārat ‘Ashūrā),
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