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When I first learnt how to pray salat, I was taught as part of the tashahud to recite the phrase "السلام عليكم أيها النبي."

I am hardly fluent in Arabic, but my translation of the above is basically "Peace be upon you, oh prophet." As a native English speaker this has always felt wrong to me, as using the second-person pronoun "you" suggests that I am speaking (and thus praying) directly to the prophet, rather than to God Almighty; this brings to me concerns of shirk.

My question here isn't about whether reciting the tashahud itself is required, or exactly what form it should take; I am more concerned about the actual Arabic construction of the sentence itself. Does the use of "كم" (or, as I have also seen used, "ك") in this case have the same connotations in Arabic? Or can it be reasonably used to refer to a third-party in a manner not seen in English?

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2  
No it implies YOU as you guessed! But no shirk point in it, we do not send peace to Allah, the Peace. Also we can talk with the holy prophet --peace be upon him-- and he hears us and sees us and is one of the witnesses at the Judging day! – owari Dec 21 '12 at 20:14

It means: "Peace be upon you, O prophet!"

Your concern is valid and can be dealt in two ways:

  1. During lifetime of the Prophet these words were to be taken literally. After he passed away they should be taken as a figure of speech; just like poetic apostrophe.
  2. Second person should be replaced with third person. The following narration testifies that at least some companions did make this choice:

حدثنا أبو نعيم، حدثنا سيف، قال: سمعت مجاهدا، يقول: حدثني عبد الله بن سخبرة أبو معمر، قال: سمعت ابن مسعود، يقول: علمني رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم التشهد - كفي بين كفيه - كما يعلمني السورة من القرآن، قال: " التحيات لله، والصلوات والطيبات، السلام عليك أيها النبي ورحمة الله وبركاته، السلام علينا وعلى عباد الله الصالحين، أشهد أن لا إله إلا الله، وأشهد أن محمدا عبده ورسوله " وهو بين ظهرانينا، فلما قبض قلنا: السلام على النبي

I heard Ibn Masood Saying: The Messenger of God (pbuh) taught me tashahhud - while my hand was in his hands - the way he used to teach me surahs from the Qur'an. He said: "All reverence, all worship, all sanctity are due to God. Peace be upon you, O prophet and the mercy of God and His blessings. Peace be upon us all and on the righteous servants of God. I bear witness that there is no god but God alone, And I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and His Messenger." And he was in our midst. When he passed away we started saying: Peace be on the Prophet.

The above hadith is from Musnad Ahmad. I could not find it online. However, its version in Bukhari can be accessed here.

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The Holy Prophet (saww) hears our salaam when recited at his grave and he is conveyed our salaam when recited from afar. We are not addressing a "third" party when greeting him.

و قال رسول الله (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) من سلم علي عند قبري سمعته و من سلم علي من بعيد بلغته سلام الله عليه و رحمة الله و بركاته .

And the Messenger of Allah (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) said: Whoever recites the salam over me near my grave, I hear him, and whoever recites the salam upon me from afar, it is conveyed [to me]. The peace of Allah and the mercy of Allah and His blessings be upon him.
[Awa'il al-Maqalat, p. 73]

Also "کم" is a plural in Arabic (when addressing more than two people). The reason for us using "کم" while greeting each other individually is because of the presence of angels around us. We never use a plural when addressing Divinely appointed representatives of Allah because of their authority over the rest of creation. Hence, the correct form is to use "ک" for the Prophet (saww).

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This is part of Tashahud (Attahiyat),

السلام عليكم أيها النبي = "Peace be upon you O' Prophet!"

"You", is there because your salutation goes to and is heard by the Prophet Sallallahu Alaihi Wasalam himself.

The full meaning is

Salutations to God and prayers and good deeds. Peace be upon you, O Prophet, and the mercy of God and his blessings. Peace be on us and on the righteous servants of God. I bear witness that there is no god but God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and His messenger.

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Meaning

السلام عليكم is often translated as peace and Allah's mercy and blessing be upon you. Scholars (here an Explanation of the words of tashahud by ibn Baz ) say that in this special context in السلام عليك أيها النبي, salam refers to السلامة which may mean safety, well being etc.: so by this we ask Allah to protect and keep His Messenger (peace be upon him) safe from any evil. This is what i could add to the already given answers on the meaning as you already noticed the major difference is plural vs singular!

Now I will start analyzing the two opposite sentences السلام عليكم أيها النبي and السلام عليك أيها النبي from a fiqh and a linguistic POV.

Saying السلام عليكم أيها النبي in tashahud?

The (plural) version you cited السلام عليكم أيها النبي is unknown to me and as you mentioned it sounds wrong and even a search on Sunna.com shows that this version is not quoted in any (major) hadith collection.

The well known and good referenced version is the singular form السلام عليك أيها النبي you may find evidences for an other version السلام على النبي for example in Muwatta' Malik. These both versions are acceptable both in Arabic language and at situation of the tashahud in prayer (See also my linked fatwas).

I found the plural form on this site and in the Fatwa 531 of Sheikh ibn 'Othaymyn on this site (both without quoting a source), but some scholars point at the third possible explanation for the use which i will explain later!

About your shirk matter:

We know that often we use the plural form السلام عليكم even if we greet one person this is also according to the rules of the Arabic language acceptable, as in cases the singular can be replaced by the plural and vice versa and we have many examples of this in the Quran you may find it out if you read the Quran in different riwayat for example in Surat al-Baqara, al-A'raaf, Ibrahim, al-Hijr, al-Kahf, al-Furqan, an-Naml, a-Rum, Fatir, ash-Shura and al-Jathiyah some riwaya it's the wind/storm= الريح in others the winds = الرياح and even in surat al-Kahf (18) in the story of the two man among one was apparently a believer and the other a rich man who had two gardens جنتين some riwayat seem to forget that the man had two of them and go ahead considering one garden جنته others go ahead speaking in the dual plural ( لأجدن خيرا منها منقلبا kufi scripture vs. ** منهما** Makky, Madani and Shami scripture) form!

Using plural instead of singular and vice versa is common in Arabic language!

Now about the matter you addressed السلام عليكم seems wrong as we are addressing our Messenger (May peace be upon him) as a single person! I think i have to possible explanations:

  • The plural form is a kind of way to honor him as in Arabic the equivalent a way of the honorific speech is using a plural انتم (examples: سيادتكم, فخامتكم) so you use this might be a reason for that.
  • An other reason might be as we do the salat 'ala an-Nabiy الصلاة على النبي we often include his family (Ahl-al-Bait) or even his sahaba in it so a plural form would be acceptable.
  • A third reason -which is related to my first point- is that the plural form السلام عليكم is considered and used for honoring the death based on this riwaya of the hadith (see also in Suann abi Dawod and Sunan ibn Majah) where we are taught what to say when visiting the graveyard!

And finally in this case shirk isn't a matter as yes we believe in one God, but it's not him who is addressed by these words, as we rather ask him to have mercy and protect our beloved Prophet (Peace be upon him). On the other Hand assuming the plural form is correct i think i have given evidences that it could be considered either to honor or to add Ahl-al-Bait (May Allah be pleased with them) into the tashahud which is totally acceptable because of the salat al ibrahimya (for example, which is a part of the tashahud and addresses both Aal-Ibrahim and Aal-Mohammad (May peace be upon both of them)): so shirk seems out of question, unless your intention was something different!

Here's one fatwa where the matter of discussion is whether the expression السلام عليك أيها النبي or السلام على النبي and if any is related to shirk! And here is one about using an expression for greeting which differs from what our Messenger has taught us!

And Allah knows best.

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I'm not sure you've quite understood my question; my shirky concerns about -كم aren't about the assumed plurality at all, they're about it being an apparently direct second-person address to the Prophet while I'm supposed to be praying to God alone. – goldPseudo Oct 13 '15 at 21:16
    
@goldPseudo I think now my answer is a bit more illsutrative – Medi1Saif Mar 31 at 8:18

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