وَإِذَا حُيِّيتُمْ بِتَحِيَّةٍ فَحَيُّوا بِأَحْسَنَ مِنْهَا أَوْ رُدُّوهَا ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ حَسِيبًا
Wa-idhā Huyyītum bitaHiyyatin fa-Hayyū bi-aHsana minhā aw rudūhā. Innallāha kāna ‘alā kulli shay’in Hasība
And when you are greeted with a greeting, greet with a better (greeting) than it or return it; surely Allah takes account of all things. Sūratun Nisā’ (No. 4), Āyat 86
Islam expects the highest moral traits from believers. The cultivation of good manners is a crucial part of the training of the believer and is what elevates him on the ladder towards perfection. One of the qualities emphasized by Allah as mentioned in the above verse is to return a greeting with that which is better than it, or at least of equal merit. The Holy Prophet (s) taught the Muslims that when someone greets you with سَلَامٌ عَلَيْكُم peace be on you, return it with سَلاَمٌ عَلَيْكُمْ وَ رَحْمَةُ اللَّهِ peace be on you and the mercy of Allah. When someone greets you with سَلاَمٌ عَلَيْكُمْ وَ رَحْمَةُ اللَّه say سَلاَمٌ عَلَيْكُمْ وَ رَحْمَةُ اللَّه وَ بَرَكَاتُهُ Peace be on you and the mercy of Allah and His blessings. That is the complete salām. If someone greets you with the complete salām then there is no need to add more to it, return it with the same greeting.
The greeting of salām is actually a Du‘a for the person, meaning may the peace of Allah be on you. It is a sign of affection and bonding, and brings down blessings from Allah. The Holy Prophet (s) constantly reminded his companions of the importance of salām , saying:
– spread the greeting of salām, the good in your home will increase. (MH, H. 8843)
– salām is a name from the names of Allah, so spread it between yourselves (MH, H#8845).
– when one of you enters his house, let him greet with salām for it brings down blessings and pleases the angels (MH, H. 8853)
Imam Muhammad al-Bāqir (a) said: when a man from you enters his house, if there is anyone in it let him greet them with salām. If there is no-one in the house, let him say الَسلَامُ عَلَيْنَا مِنْ قِبَلِ رَبِّنَا Peace be upon us from our Lord. (MH, H. 8852)
Greeting in the verse above is just one example of good that a person does. The verse encourages returning any good with something better. When someone does good to you, don’t just accept it and thank him. That is only the first stage. Pray for the person – the meaning behind Jazākallāh (May Allah reward you). Think of ways in which you can do good to the person, a deed that is higher on the scale of goodness than his. This is not to surpass him in good, and be better than him. It is to reward him for taking the initiative, and appreciating the good that has been done. When a slave girl gave a stem of flowers to Imam Hasan (a), the Imam returned it by freeing her. In explaining his action, he recited the above verse, saying that any form of expression of consideration and courtesy should be returned with something better than it.
Imagine a society in which everyone tries to outdo each other in the good they do to each other, stemming from a sincere desire to reward the good doer, and please Allah. Such a society will have affection and harmony flowing within its veins, with relationships bonding together like the bricks of a wall. Such can be the reality of a society of believers.
Sources: Tafsīir-e Namune, Aytaullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzi (ed);
Tafsīr-e Nūr – Aghae Muhsin Qarā’ati; Mīzānul Hikmah, Muhammadi Rayshahrī