, by AQEEDAT-ULLAH QASMI
Although the culture and tradition of Salam (greetings) is not found among the Muslims as per the teachings of Islam, Qur’ān and ahadith, it is still significantly present in the Muslim society. However the tragedy is that Salam has been turned into a mere tradition and very little effort is made to understand its real meaning and the reasons as to why it has been ordained. Because of this neither its purpose gets served nor does it bring out the effective results in the society we live in. However whatever is the part of a culture cannot be negated completely. Although its blessings do reach us in some form or the other yet according to the saying of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be to him), “Good deeds depend on the intentions with which they have been done”. When the goals and rationale are not clear, the real results and benefits remain out of sight and do not reach us automatically.
When people meet, they, in accordance with their religion, culture or tradition, use certain words to greet one another. Hindu brethren use words like Ram Ram, Jai Shri Ram, Namaste or Namaskar for greeting people. This is because the Hindus believe Raja Ramchandra Ji as God, God incarnate or consider his name to be the name of God; hence, before starting conversation, they raise the name of God and remember and chant God’s name. They consider it to be a virtuous deed and believe the act of greeting as a good deed. However in this greeting, there is nothing more than the expression of emotions that one shows to the other.
Namaste or Namaskar is the expression of reverence and respect for the other person. These words mean that in your respect I bow down my head. Hence it not only means respect, it means that I respect you to such an extent that I bow before you. Sometimes they touch the feet of the other person while in some cases put their head over the feet of the person and most commonly they stand with their hands folded.
Islam also considers respecting others as important and one of its important teachings is to show respect and give honour to people. The Messenger of Allah said, “The one who does not show mercy to younger ones and respect to elders is not from us.” However Islam has placed levels and there is a hierarchical system when it comes to respect and reverence. For example, the elder brother deserves respect; however he is not entitled to the respect that the mother deserves. Similarly, uncles need to be respected and honoured, however they cannot reach the level of respect that the father enjoys. Hence in Islam, every individual is given respect according to his/her level and bowing before anyone is the last level of respect that one can pay and one can receive or is entitled to. Hence one must bow down, but only to the one who is supreme and greatest of all.
The teaching of Islam is that such reverence and respect of bowing down should only be done to Allah and making anyone equal to Allah or even considering the commandments of anyone above Allah is shirk. The Qur’ān says, “And We have enjoined on man concerning his parents — his mother bears him in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning takes two years — ‘Give thanks to Me and to thy parents. Unto Me is the final return. And if they contend with thee to make thee set up equals with Me concerning which thou hast no knowledge, obey them not, but be a kind companion to them in all worldly affairs; and in spiritual matters follow the way of him who turns to Me. Then unto Me will be your return and I shall inform you of what you used to do.” (Surah Luqman 14-15). And the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) said, “It is unlawful to follow those commandments of the Makhluq (anyone besides Allah) which lead to disobedience of Allah.”
In Islam, bowing before anyone is equivalent to prostrating, which is nothing but worship, and Islam reserves worship only for Allah, the Creator. It is not permitted to worship or prostrate before anyone as it is haram (completely prohibited). The Qur’ān says, “Do not prostrate before the Sun and the Moon, instead, prostrate to Allah, who has created them” (Surah Fussilat 37). Clearly, here prohibiting prostration before the Sun and the Moon is prohibition from bowing before them. Those among the Muslims who consider Sajdae-Tazeemi (voluntary prostration) as lawful and defend themselves by bringing in the aspects of ablution and qibla (direction in which prostration is done) which are a must for prostration, must concentrate on the above mentioned verse of the Holy Qur’ān as prostrating before the Sun and the Moon does not mean anything. Those prostrating to the Sun and the Moon does not fulfil the condition of ablution and qibla. So prostrating before anyone besides Allah is like worshipping besides Allah and hence prostration of any kind is called worship and the Qur’ān and ahadith prohibits one from doing so. Sanskrit words Namaste or Namaskar also represent such intense form of reverence and respect.
Subah Bakhair and Shab Bakhair are the Persian words that are used to greet people. In this greeting a person wishes another person with goodness, peace and security and prays for the well being of the other. In English, words like Good Morning, Good Night, Good Evening and Good Afternoon are used which again mean the same as the above mentioned Persian words. However, the greetings of both the languages are time bound as it deals specifically with morning, afternoon, night, etc., whereas Assalamu Alaikum carries a lot of expanse and the wishes and the prayers are not limited to the specific time and place unlike in Shab Bakhair or Good Morning.
Assalamu Alaikum means “May Allah shower peace and security on you from His side, or May you remain in peace and security.” When one Muslim brother meets another Muslim brother he says, Assalamu Alaikum. Second saying of the Lord in the Quran is, “And when you are greeted with a prayer, greet ye with a better prayer or at least return it. Surely, Allah takes account of all things.” (Surah Nisa 86). The other one replies by saying Walaikum Assalam – you too remain in peace and security from the Lord. In the Islamic greeting both the persons pray for the well-being, peace and security for each other and most importantly, unlike other greetings, Assalamu Alaikum is not time bound and carries the expanse which encompasses every time period.
Both the greeter and the respondent, whether they know each other or not, whether young or old, whether men or women, when they meet, pray for goodness and bliss for the person. Salam fosters love, unity and brotherhood among the people and creates a healthy and loving atmosphere in the society. It can also be taken as a prayer for the collective good of all. A Muslim, by simply saying Assalamu Alaikum, collects all the blessings and good prayers. Its broader meaning is that may Allah shower his blessings of peace and security over you, may He protect your life, wealth and honour, may He protect your household, may He protect your Deen and faith, may He protect your children, relatives and friends, and may He protect you in this world and in the hereafter.
Apart from praying for all the good things, Assalamu Alaikum also means that the one who is greeting only wants, from the core of the heart, your well-being and security; hence do not develop any kind of negative feeling regarding the greeter as he will not harm you in the least possible way. The prayer that the greeter does not only encompass night or the day, evening or morning, but, it encompasses everything, this world as well as the hereafter.
If a person says Assalamu Alaikum to his brother it is as if he is praying for the well-being of his brother, however, if the person in actual does not have good feelings regarding his brother while saying Assalamu Alaikum and instead carries negative thoughts about the person, hurl abuses at him, fights with him, backbites about him then it means that he does not at all pray for him. One can only pray for the well-being and peace for his brother when his head and heart remain free from every kind of negative thoughts or hatred for that person.
If a person says Assalamu Alaikum with hatred in the heart, it clearly means that he is a liar, a fraud and a deceiver. He says with his tongue which he means not and outwardly claims that he is praying for the person before him but inwardly hates him. This is nothing but nifaq (hypocrisy) and the person is a munafiq (hypocrite), who is even worse than an open and ardent enemy. Allah says in the Holy Qur’ān, “Verily, the hypocrites will be in the lowest depths (grade) of the Fire; no helper will you find for them.” (Surah Nisa 145)
Salam means that a person from his side gives assurance and guarantee to the person that his heart is free from every kind of hatred and that he prays to Allah for the well-being, goodness and security of the person. He further gives assurance with the fact that if he had any negative thoughts in the heart then how could he prayed to Allah. It is also a fact that Allah does not accept the supplications of a person who does not supplicate with pure and clean heart. Besides saying Assalamu Alaikum with the tongue, a person’s gesture and expressions should also support the fact that he is humbly praying for the betterment and well-being of the person.
The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) said, “It is incumbent upon a Muslim to greet other Muslims.” It should be disseminated more and more in the society as it promotes love, affection and unity. Muslims by saying Assalamu Alaikum foster the bond of love and ensure that they are well-wishers of one another. This is the reason why, among all the other communities, Muslim community is the one which cares for his brother, be it any part of the world and expresses disgust and dislike when anything untoward happens to his brother. If the words Assalamu Alaikum are said with good intention and clean heart, then it can bring extremely good results in the society.