The Islamic Etiquettes of Greeting One Another
In all civilised societies there have always been some particular forms of greeting, as an expression of respect, affection or formal recognition, upon meeting a person. In our own country, the Hindu brethren say Namaste on meeting or arrival, and, also Ram, Ram. Among the Christians, it is customary to salute with words like ‘Good morning’, or ‘Good evening.’ Among the Arabs, too, before the advent of Islam, similar forms of salutation were in vogue. It is stated in Sunnan Abi Dawood, on the authority of the Companion, Imran bin Husain, that “before Islam we used to say An’amallaahu bika a’in (May God grant coolness to your eyes), and An’im Saboah (May your morning be happy) while greeting one another. When from the darkness of Perversion we emerged into the light of Islam, these formulas of salutation were forbidden, and, in their place, we were taught to say, As-Salaam-o-Alaikum (Peace be with you).” There can be no better greeting than As-salaam-o-Alaikum. If two Muslims who meet are already acquainted with each other and there exists a bond of friendship, relationship or affection between them, this form of salutation fully signifies the connection, and, on the basis of it, gives an eloquent expression to the sentiments of joy, regard, love and well-wishing. On the other hand, if they are strangers, it becomes a means of introduction and a declaration of trust and sincerity; or, in other words, one assures the other, through it, that he is a well-wisher and there obtains a spiritual tie between them. Be that as it may, the teaching of As-salam-o-Aiaikum and Wa’aiiku-mus-salaam as the forms of greeting among the Muslims is a most propitious instruction of the sacred Prophet and a distinctive practice of Islam.
(1) It is related by Abdullah bin Amr bin el-Aas (ra) that the Apostle of God (asws) said: “Oh people! Worship Allah, the Beneficent, feed His bondmen, and spread Salaam much, and you will reach Heaven in safety.”
In it, the holy Prophet has taught three things and given the tidings of Paradise to those who observe them. Firstly, paying of divine honours to God, the Beneficent, which is the exclusive claim of the Lord, and the high aim and purpose of creation; secondly, the giving of food to the poor and needy persons, as an act of charity, and to friends and relatives and virtuous slaves of God, as a token of love and sincerity, which is an excellent way of uniting the hearts and promoting mutual affection, and, also, a cure for the deadly ailment of stinginess; and, thirdly, to make common the salutation of As-salaam-o-Alaikum and Wa’alaikum-us-Salaam among the Muslims, on the widest scale, which is a distinguishing practice of Islam and a formula of prayer taught by the Almighty Himself. Upon these three things, the Prophet has given the assurance that whoever will observe them will safely attain the goal of Paradise.
(2) Narrates Abdullah bin Omar that once a person enquired from the Apostle of God what was a better and more superior act in Islam (or a more superior practice among the practices of Islam)? “One, you feed the bondmen of the Lord; and, two, you make salutation (Salaam) to those you know as well as to those you do not”, the Prophet replied.
– Bukhari and Muslim
In it, the holy Prophet has described the giving of food and spreading of Salaam as more meritorious deeds in Islam. In some other Traditions, reproduced earlier, acts like God-remembrance and Jehad and kindly treatment of and obedience to parents, too, have been mentioned as the “best” and “most superior” of acts. But as we have repeatedly emphasised, there is no inconsistency in them. The variation is due, simply, to the divergence in the needs and circumstances of the questioners, and, in various ways, all these deeds command an exceptional significance in the Islamic design of life.
(3) Imran bin Husain (ra) relates that once a person came to the Apostle of God (asws) and said: “As-salaam-o-Alaikum!” The Prophet (asws) returned the greeting, and when the man had sat down, he said: “Ten, i.e., ten good deeds have been written in his name owing to this Salaam”. After it, another person came and said: “As-salaam-o-Alaikum wa Rahmatullah” The Prophet (asws) returned the greeting, and when the man had sat down, he said: ‘Twenty, i.e. twenty good deeds have been written in his name,” Then, another man came and said: “As-salaam-o-Alikum- wa-Rahmatullaah-wa-Barakatuh”. The Prophet (asws) returned his greeting, and when the man had sat down, said: “Thirty, i.e., thirty good deeds have been written in his name.”
– Tirmizi and Abu Dawood
In his Infinite Benevolence, the Almighty has prescribed for the Believers the reward of ten good deeds on every good deed performed by them. It is stated, also, in the Qur’an: Whoso bringeth a good deed will receive tenfold the like thereof. (VII: 161). It was for this reason that the holy Prophet remarked about the person who had said As-salaam-o-Alaikum, alone, that he was going to get the reward of ten good deeds, and about the person who had added the words, Wa Rahmatullah, to it that he was going to get the reward of twenty good deeds, and about the third one who had added Wa Barakatuh to the greeting that he was going to get the reward of thirty good deeds. He who replied to the greeting will be entitled to the reward in the same order.
Imam Maalik has quoted the report from Tufail, son of Ubbi bin k’ab, saying that “I used to visit Hazrat Abdullah bin Omar (ra) (often). His habit was that he took me, with him, to the market and offered Salaam to every shop-keeper, junk-dealer, and poor person he met in the way (and, then, returned home without buying anything). One day, as I went to him, he, as usual, wanted me to accompany him to the market. I said, ‘What will you do there? You neither stop at a shop nor buy anything nor even enquire about its price nor sit with anyone. (What is the use of going to the market)? Let us sit here and talk. It will be more profitable to me’. Hazrat Abdullah bin Omar (ra) replied: ‘I go to the market solely for the purpose of making salutation to whomsoever I see’.”
(4) It related by Abu Umama (ra) that the Apostle of God (asws) said: “He is more deserving of the mercy and propinquity of Allah among the people who is the first to offer Salaam.”
– Musnad Ahmad, Tirmzi and Abu Dawood
(5) Abdullah bin Masud relates that he heard the Apostle of God say: “He who is the first to greet is free from vanity.”
It shows that to take precedence in making the salutation is a sign of freedom from vanity. It can, also, mean that it is a cure for pride which is a great sin.
(6) It is related by Abu Hurairah (ra) that the Apostle of God (asws) said: “When anyone of you meets a Muslim brother, he should offer him Salaam, and if, after it, a tree, wall or rock comes between them, (and they cannot see each other for some time), and, then, they come face to face again, he should offer him Salaam once more.”
– Abu Dawood
It tells that if two Muslims meet and are separated, after the salutation, even for a brief moment, and, then, they meet again, they should exchange the greeting a second time. One can learn from it how important it is to offer Salaam in the teachings of the Prophet (asws) and the Shariat.
(7) It is related by Anas (ra) that the Apostle of God (asws) said: “Son, make salutation when you go to your family. It will be a source of blessing to you as well as to the members of the family.”
(8) It is related, on the authority of Qatadah (Tab’ee*), (by way of a Mursal**), that the Apostle of God said: “When you go to anyone’s house, make the salutation to the inmates, and when you leave, leave by making the salutation of farewell.”
* The term is applied pre-eminently to Muslim doctors who followed the immediate Ashab or Companions of the holy Prophet, and whose reports and narratives regarding the Prophet form a part of the Sunnah.
** Sometimes a Tab’ee relates a Tradition, but does not mention the name of the Sahabi, i.e. the holy Companion through whom it had reached him. Such a Tradition is called Mursal in the special usage of Islam.
(9) It is related by Abu Hurairah (ra) that the Apostle of God (asws) said: “When anyone of you arrives at a gathering (or assembly), he should, (first of all), greet those who are present and, then, sit down if he wants. Afterwards, he should salute, again, on leaving, and the first salutation is not superior to the second salutation, i.e., the salutation of farewell is of the same value or grade as the salutation of arrival, and not inferior to it in any way.”
(10) Abu Hurairah (ra) relates, saying that the Apostle of God (asws) said: “The younger person should salute the elder person; he who is passing on (the road) should salute those who are sitting; and (men of) the smaller group should salute (men of) the larger group.”
(In another narrative of Hazrat Abu Hurairah (ra), it is told that “the traveller on horseback (or any other carriage) should salute him who is going on foot.”)
It tells that when two persons meet, the one who is younger in age should take the lead in making the salutation. In the same way, if a person who is going somewhere happens to pass by someone who is sitting, he should salute him first, and when two groups of men come across each other, men of the smaller group should be the first to greet men of the larger group, and in case a person is riding, he should, first, wish the person who is going on foot. The wisdom of the last instruction is self-evident. The man who is travelling on horseback or in a car etc., apparently, enjoys superiority over him who is walking on foot, and, therefore, he should show humility by wishing the pedestrain first.
(11) Ali bin Abi Talib (ra) related to us, saying that the Apostle of God (asws) said: “If anyone belonging to a group that is passing by salutes, it will suffice for the whole group, and if anyone belonging to the group that is sitting acknowledges, it will suffice for the whole group.”
(12) Abdullah bin Omar (ra) narrates that “(once) a person made the salutation to the Apostle of God (asws) when he had sat down to urinate, and the Apostle of God (asws) did not reply.”
It shows that salutation should not be made in a situation like the above, and if a person did so, out of ignorance, it should not be acknowledged.
(13) Miqdad bin el-Aswad (ra) relates, in the course of a long narrative, that “when the Apostle of God (asws) came to Ahl-e-Suffa* in the night, he used to wish them in such a low voice that those who were asleep did not wake up, and those who were awake heard the salutation.”
It shows that a person who makes the salutation should take care not to disturb anyone in his sleep or cause discomfort to anybody in any other way.
* There was a raised flooring in a corner of the Prophet’s mosque in Medina on which a group of Muslims used to live for religious reasons. They led a life of austerity and devoted themselves wholly to the learning of Faith and worship, and were known as Ahl-i-Suffa or Ashaab-i-Suffa (people of the terrace or platform).
(14) It is related by Abdullah bin Masud (ra) that the Apostle of God (asws) said: “Shaking hands denotes the completion of salutation.”
– Tirmizi and Abu Dawood
(15) It is related by Bara’a bin `Aazib (ra) that the Apostle of God (asws) said: “When two Muslims meet and shake hands with each other, and, (along with it), glorify the Lord, and beg forgiveness for themselves, they will, after all, be forgiven.”
– Abu Dawood
(16) Ata Khorasani Tab’ee (ra) related to us, saying that the Apostle of God (asws) said: “Shake hands with one another for it removes ill-will; and give presents to one another for it will promote love and affection among you and enmity will disappear from the hearts.”
It should, however, be noted that the efficacy and propitiousness of an act is bound by the condition that it is performed with warmth and sincerity and not as a mere formality. A lifeless seed does not germinate.