Two people related by Faith should use the expression of peace and security to address each other. Thus Islam taught Muslims to say Assalamu ‘alaykum (meaning ‘Peace be upon you’) and replaced all other forms of greeting.
In this small greeting is hidden an excellent and comprehensive prayer, kindness and affection for the young, and respect and attention for the elders.
Almighty Allah employs the same greeting in the Glorious Qur’an to address His beloved Prophets as a mark of His favour and esteem on them.
‘Peace be on Nuh among the people’ (37:79)
‘Peace be on Ibrahim’ (37:109)
‘Peace be on Musa and Harun’ (37:120)
‘Peace be on Ilyas’ (37:130)
‘Peace be on those sent (to warn)’(37:59)
‘Peace be on His slaves whom He has chosen’ (27:59).
Believers will also be welcomed into Paradise with the same expression:
‘Enter here in peace, free of fear’ (15:46)
and ‘Peace on you for the patience you observed.
So, how excellent is the ultimate abode’ (13:24).
Salam is a distinctive practice of Islam and Muslims have been encouraged to spread this greeting. The Messenger of Allah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam said: “Oh people! Worship Allah, The Beneficent, feed His servants, and spread salam much, and you will reach Heaven in peace [and safety].” (al-Tirmidhi)
Divine reward for the blessed act of practising Salam is explained in a Hadith. Once a person came to the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam and said, “Assalamu alaykum”. The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam returned the greeting and when the man had sat down, he said, “Ten rewards have been written for him due to this salam”. Thereafter another person came and said, “Assalamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullahi” (‘Peace be upon you and the mercy of Allah’). The Prophetsallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam returned the greeting and when the man had sat down, he said, “Twenty rewards have been written for him”. Then another man came and said, “Assalamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh” (‘Peace be upon you; and the mercy of Allah; and His blessings’). The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam returned the greeting and when the man had sat down, he said, “Thirty rewards have been written for him”(al-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud). Such was the value of salam with the early Muslims that it is related Abdullah Ibn ‘Umarradhiyallahu ‘anhuma would go to the marketplace solely for the purpose of saying salam to whomsoever he met.
Apart from signifying the sentiments of joy, regard and well-wishing salam also has a deep spiritual aspect. The Messenger of Allah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam said, “The one who is the first to greet is free from pride” (al-Bayhaqi). Thus, to precede in greeting another is a sign of freedom from vanity. It can also be a cure for the grave [and deadly] sin of pride [and haughtiness].
The importance of salam is further emphasized by the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam who advised that salam be exchanged a second time if after the meeting of two Muslims, even if it be for a brief moment, they are separated by a tree, wall, or rock, and meet again.
Salam should be said when entering or leaving one’s home. A Hadith tells us that this is a source of blessing to the person saying it as well to the family members. Similarly, the person arriving at a gathering should be the first to greet those who are present; the young are instructed to take the lead in greeting the elders; those passing should greet those sitting; and men of a smaller group should greet men of the larger group.
To shake the hands in simultaneity with salam marks the fulfillment of the objective of salam. The Messenger of Allah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam said, “Shaking hands denotes the completion of greeting”. (al-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud)
Salam is in essence a really beautiful teaching of Islam. It not only increases love and affection between Muslims but is also a cause of their forgiveness. The Prophet of Allah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam said, “When two Muslims meet and shake hands, and at the same time glorify Allah, and beg forgiveness for themselves, they shall be forgiven.” (Abu Dawud)
(Adapted from the chapter ‘Rules and Proprieties of Meeting’ in the book ‘Meaning and Message of the Traditions’ (Ma’arif al-Hadith) by Maulana Muhammad Manzur Numani)