It is not hidden from you that the conveyance of Salām is the universal greeting of a Muslim to a Muslim, as-Salāmu 'alaykum. It is also not hidden from you that most Muslims may withhold from initiating the greeting of Salām with a Non-Muslim, even if that same Muslim may return the Salām if initiated by a Non-Muslim, but is this approach absolute, and is it inclusive of all scenarios?
Before delving further into this question, we should first know what the Salām is and means before discussing its situational applications. If we were to ask the common person, Muslim or Non-Muslim, what the Salām means, the most common response would be that it means peace. If we were to ask the common person what the Salām is, the most common response would be that it is a greeting quite similar to saying hello and goodbye. While these responses do bear merit, we can also be a bit more reflective than that.
The greeting of Salām is a supplication. It is a prayer said for the one you are entering upon or departing from. Salām means to remove fault and deficiency, so then we are supplicating to Allāh to remove fault and deficiency from the one we are greeting. This goes further. One of Allāh's names is as-Salām, and a means of assuring supplication is responded to is calling upon Allāh by His names and qualities that are most relevant and appropriate to what we are asking.
And to Allāh belongs beautiful names so call upon Him by them.
[Chapter A'rāf (7):180]
Then, by calling upon Allāh by His name as-Salām whilst conveying the greeting, as-Salāmu 'alaykum, may fault and deficiency be removed from you, or the common, may peace be upon you, is not only a prayer but a means of assurance that your prayer is answered for the one you are greeting.
Subsequently, praying for one another and genuinely desiring good for one another is so important within our faith practice that praying such a prayer has been fused within our greeting, and it is a must that this prayer is offered each time we meet or prepare to exit. But can the same generality, genuineness, and generosity be extended to a Non-Muslim, within our faith practice?
al-Qurṭubī [d. 671 A.H.] mentions in his exegesis, "It was asked of Sufyān b. 'Uyaynah [d. 198 A.H.], 'Is it lawful to convey Salām to a Non-Muslim?' He responded, 'Yes, Allah, the Exalted, has stated,
'Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you due to religion and do not expel you from your homes, from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.'
[Chapter Mumtaḥnah (60):8]
And Ibrāhīm ﷺ conveyed to his father, quite obviously a Non-Muslim,
'Salām upon you.'
[Chapter Maryam (19):47]"
al-Qurṭubī continues, "Most apparent from the verse is what Sufyān b. 'Uyaynah has mentioned. Ibrāhīm an-Nakh'ī [d. 96 A.H.] stated, 'If you have some need to fulfill of a person of Jewish faith or Christian faith, then initiate the Salām with him.'
Ergo, what becomes clear from this is that the Ḥadīth of Abū Hurayrah [d. 59 A.H.], 'Do not initiate them with Salām', means do not do so without a justifiable reason, such as fulfilling a trust or due to a need that has presented itself to you or the rights of friendship or the rights of a neighbor or the rights of travel.
aṭ-Ṭabarī [d. 310 A.H.] has mentioned, 'It has been reported on the Salaf [i.e. Ancient Muslims] that they would convey the Salām to the People of the Book [i.e. Juedeo-Christian Faiths]. Ibn Mas'ūd [d. 32 A.H.] would do so with a farmer he had accompanied on the street. 'Alqamah [d. 61 A.H.] then said, 'O Abū 'Abdur Raḥmān, is it not discouraged to initiate the Salām with them?' He responded, 'Yes, however, the rights of friendship.' Also, when Abū Umāmah [d. 86 A.H.] would depart from his home, he would neither pass a Muslim nor Christian, anyone older or younger, except that he would convey the Salām. He was asked about that, and he simply responded that we were ordered to spread the Salām." [Tafsīr al-Qurṭubī 11/111-112, with slight adjustments].
Ibn al-Qayyim [d. 751 A.H.] has mentioned, "Classical and contemporary scholarship has differed over this matter. Most of them say that you should not initiate Salām with them, yet others say it is lawful to initiate Salām with them just as it is lawful to return the Salām to them. This has been reported on Ibn 'Abbās [d. 68 A.H.], Abū Umāmah, and Ibn Muḥayrīz [d. 99 A.H.]. There is a group of them who say it is lawful to initiate the Salām with them when there is a preponderant gain in doing so due to a need one has or fear of harm or a relationship between two people or any reason that would require this. This has also been conveyed on Ibrāhīm an-Nakh'ī and 'Alqamah. al-Awzā''ī [d. 157 A.H.] has mentioned, 'If you convey the Salām, you are conveying to the righteous, and if you leave it off, you have left off the righteous.'" [Zād al-Ma'ād 2/388, with slight adjustments].
And success lies with Allah.
Kenneth "Aqil" Ingram II
Safar 24, 1444 Anno Hegirae
September 20, 2022 Common Era
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