In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
The Islamic Greeting and it’s Etiquette
(Friday speech delivered by Imam Mohamed Baianonie at the Islamic Center of Raleigh, NC on February 22, 1988.)
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.
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 in 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."
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:
The one who comes greets the Muslims that are present.
The one who is riding greets the one who is walking.
The one who is walking greets the one who is sitting.
The smaller group greets the bigger group.
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 return salam 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."