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Is it proper to greet a non-Muslim with "As-Salāmu Alaykum" (Peace be upon you) or respond with "wa alaykumu s-salāmu wa rahmatu l-lāhi wa barakātuh" (may peace, mercy and blessings of God be upon you) to non-Muslims?

I do not consider myself Muslim, but I find it respectful to use these greetings to Muslims. It is not much different than I would address a Christian, except the language. Similarly I use "IN SHA' ALLAH" as I would say "God willing".

I don't want to offend anyone by using these greetings.

  • Are you looking for an answer etiquette-wise or an official Islamic viewpoint? The two things aren't always the same thing. – System Down Jul 28 '12 at 2:35
  • yes :) If you could describe both, I'd appreciate it. The reason I ask is that I do not wish to offend but show respect to my fellow creatures of God. – user206 Jul 28 '12 at 2:39
  • I am looking for an answer with more references - especially from the Qur'an. I really like SystemDown's answer. However Muz and Al Ummat suggest that it may still be considered offensive. – user206 Jul 30 '12 at 20:07
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+50

Since I brought this up in chat, I feel I should throw my perspective here. Let me address the inverse of this question (should Muslims return salam?) first, because that issue appears in the mind of Muslims when someone not visibly Muslim gives them salaam. Then, I will address the social implications of doing so.

Should Muslims Return the Greeting of Salam to Non-Muslims?

First of all, there's a principle that the greeting "As-salaamu 'alikum" (peace be upon you) is for the believers (Muslims). I Thought this came from an ayah; however, I cannot locate that ayah presently.

One hadith states:

Do not initiate the greeting of salaam to a Jew or a Christian (Saheeh Muslim)

Based on this, we can conclude that there may be a problem giving salam (or returning it) to non-Muslims. Because we cannot initiate salam to non-Muslims. (Ahlul Kitab is considered a higher level of non-Muslims since their religions were originally also divine; if they can't have salam initiated to them, obviously it would apply to other religions and ways of life that Islam holds at a lower status.)

On the other hand, Islam commands us to treat others well, irrespective of their choice of religion or way of life. In fact, one ayah mentions:

And when you are greeted with a greeting, greet [in return] with one better than it or [at least] return it [in a like manner]. Indeed, Allah is ever, over all things, an Accountant. (Surah Nisaa, verse 86)

Scholars differed about whether it's obligatory to return the greeting or not. Some say yes it is, and some say no it's not.

For those who say yes it is, based on this ayah, they see no problem with returning salam if a non-Muslim (Christian or Jew specifically) initiates salam.

Socially, What Should I (a Non-Muslim) Do?

Socially speaking, it's absolutely proper to greet Muslims with salam even if you are not a Muslim. However, bear in mind two things:

  • They may be confused about whether you are Muslim or not, and
  • They may be confused about whether it's correct for them to return your salam or not.

If you're willing to accept the implications of those two points, then sure, go for it! And finally, some people may be offended if you imply that they are non-Muslim by not returning their salaam, such as those from other groups of Islam that your group's scholars may not consider Muslims.

And Allah knows best.

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Islamic Point of View

When it comes to non-Muslims offering greetings to Muslims I found this hadith:

Anas b. Malik reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: When the People of the Book offer you salutations, you should say: The same to you.

Sahih Muslim

Which tells Muslims to return greetings (whatever they may be) when they are offered to them. This is due that there is no solid consensus on whether Muslims should greet a non Muslim with the salam.

Etiquette Point of View

From my personal experience, whether it is appropriate to use the salam as a non Muslim largely depends on the audience. The more open minded Muslims will most probably be flattered to be greeted with their own words of peace, and will view you positively as someone who accepts them. Some, however, might take offense at a kafir (non-believer) appropriating something they see as holy, especially if they don't know you that well. So my (personal) advice, is to use it with Muslims who you know are comfortable with your presence.

  • +1 Thank you for the good answer. "... will view you positively as someone who accepts them" - I have no problem accepting anyone who believes in one almighty God. Having that reciprocated has been the problem :) – user206 Jul 28 '12 at 3:14
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    You may also want to include the reason of the saying of Prophet (SM) that, The Jews at that time used Salam with slightly changed sound as "Assamu Alaikum", which means "Death should be upon you". So, Prophet (SM) said, return them what they given you. So, the meaning is,Whatever they wish greetings, it is returned to them. – Anwar Jul 28 '12 at 9:48
  • @SystemDown your answer talks about returning salam to non-Muslims. It doesn't discuss giving salam to non-Muslims, which I feel should be addressed. – ashes999 Jul 28 '12 at 14:59
  • I'm a bit confused. I take the quoted hadith to mean that If a non-Muslim offers Salaam to a Muslim, the Muslim should not reply by returning the salaam, but should rather say "the same to you." – Daniel Aug 6 '13 at 20:25
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Excuse me for reviving this old question, but after reading the previous answers, I believe some context is due, especially a historical one. I'll try to summarize in a concise points. The answer to your question is in the last point.

  • In a salutation context, the word "Assalam" does not mean (nor refer to) God's name "Assalam". Even though the two words are written the same, the context provides different meaning.

  • The Islamic salutation has a clear meaning, and that meaning was better recognized in earlier times. The full salutation is read "Assalamu alikum warahmatu Allah wabarakatoh", which roughly translates to "Peace be upon you, and Allah's mercy and blessings". The words are meant to convey their meanings, it's not just a salutation.

  • The first part, "Assalamu alikum" (Peace be upon you), implies peaceful interaction with others. This is (logically) forbidden to say to enemies, regardless of their religion, unless the speaker is intentional about it, because he cannot take it back. This rule is clearly evident at times of war.

    • The contrapositive version of the previous rule is that if someone is offered peace it cannot be retracted. An enemy who is granted peace is guaranteed to be safe until he returns to his faction. (Except of course if he commits an action that would break peace, such as killing a Muslim.)

    • The same applies to Muslims as well. Muslims are never supposed to fight, and this salutation should be a constant reminder of peaceful coexistence even at times of conflicts. Conflicts must be solved peacefully if possible.

  • The second part, "Warahmatu Allah" (Allah's mercy be upon you), is a prayer for God to be merciful upon your soul. It's a prayer that all Muslims pray for each other. However, it is strictly forbidden for non-Muslims, because asking for forgiveness and mercy can only be for Muslims.

    مَا كَانَ لِلنَّبِيِّ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَن يَسْتَغْفِرُوا لِلْمُشْرِكِينَ وَلَوْ كَانُوا أُولِي قُرْبَىٰ مِن بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُمْ أَنَّهُمْ أَصْحَابُ الْجَحِيمِ

    سورة التوبة، الآية 113

    It is not for the Prophet and those who have believed to ask forgiveness for the polytheists, even if they were relatives, after it has become clear to them that they are companions of Hellfire.

    Surat Attawbah, Ayah 113

  • Thus, in normal cases, especially peace times, a Muslim greeting a non-Muslim may say "Assalamu alikum". However, he may not complete the longer salutation. In practice, many Muslims salute fellow Muslims with just "Assalamu alikum", so there is no offense to non-Muslims here. (However, it's much better for a Muslim to salute other Muslims with the full salutation.)
    Note: Some schools would find it unacceptable for a Muslim to start salutation by saying "Assalamu alikum" to a non-Muslim.

  • From non-Muslims, it is always welcome to hear the salutation from them, at least in the short form "Assalamu alikum." But please make sure you mean it (which you normally do) and will act based on it. For example, you don't say that and then get into a quarrel with somebody. Some people may welcome the full salutations, but others may not. However, everybody is expected to be welcoming for the short form of the salutation, "Assalamu alikum".

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In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful

Light on history@

In pre-Islamic Arabia, when people met, they used to greet each other with various greetings. Islam changed and replaced these greetings with this standard form of greeting.

Meaning@

The greeting Assalamu Alaykum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh is commonly translated as May the peace of Allah descend upon you and His Mercy andBlessings.

Greeting to Non-Muslim@

“A believer may greet a non-Muslim (with the greeting of salam) if he has a need from him otherwise it is prohibitively disliked (makruh).

Therefore, one should abstain from saying Salam to the disbelievers, for the Hadith says: Do not commence by greeting the Christians and Jews with Salam. If you meet one of them on a pathway, force them to walk on the side” recorded by al-Bukhari.

If a Jew, Christian or fire-worshipper greets you, then there is nothing wrong in replying to them, but one should not say more than Wa alaykum.

It is stated in al-Shir’a (name of a book) that when one greets non-Muslims, one should say: Assalamu ala man ittaba’a al-huda (may peace be upon the guided ones).

The reason for this impermissibility of saying Salam to non-Muslims is to not show them respect. When one greets them for a need, it is not out of respect, thus permissible.

(Radd al-Muhtar ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar, 6/412).

In case of Crowded(Muslim & Non-Muslim)@

How to greet a gathering in which there are Muslims and non-Muslims?

A long Hadith has been recorded on the authority of Usama ibn Zaid (Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) passed by a gathering in which there were Muslims, Idolaters and Jews, and the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) greeted them and invited them to Allah. (Sahih al-Bukhari).

The author of Tafsir al-Mazhari states:

If a group consists of Muslims, Idolaters and Jews, one should greet them (with Salam), as mentioned in the Hadith recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim from Usama ibn Zaid.

However, the intention should be to say Salam to the Muslims (of that group) so that it does not entail commencing to greet non-Muslims

(Ahkam al-Quran by al-Tahanawi, 2/306).

Conclusion@:

1) It is impermissible to greet non-Muslims with the Islamic greeting of Assalamu Alaykum.

2) One may greet non-Muslims with the greeting they themselves use

3) If a non-Muslim greets a Muslim with the Islamic greeting, one should respond by saying Alaykum or Assalamu ala man ittaba’a al-huda. While doing so, one should pray that Allah Almighty guide him/her.

5) If a group consists of Muslims and non-Muslims, then it is permissible to greet them with the Islamic greeting. However, the intention should be to greet the Muslims only.

MAY ALLAH GUIDE US

  • In the salutation context, the word "Assalam" does not mean (nor refer to) Allah's name. – Hosam Aly Nov 10 '12 at 5:31
  • @HosamAly thanks for correction, actually I read somewhere, but after your comment I again did research and you are right. I edited my answer. – RobinHood Nov 11 '12 at 4:32
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It is known, that when a person from the people of the book say the greetings, a Muslim will say and on you.

Anas (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) said, "When the people of the Book greet you (i.e., by saying 'As-Samu 'Alaikum,' meaning death be upon you), you should respond with: 'Wa 'alaikum' [The same on you (i.e., and death will be upon you, for no one will escape death)]."

[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

وعن أنس رضي الله عنه قال‏:‏ قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم‏:‏ ‏"‏إذا سلم عليكم أهل الكتاب فقولوا‏:‏ وعليكم” ‏(‏‏(‏متفق عليه‏)‏‏)‏

Riad Assaliheen

It is also known, that if a Jew says Assaam Alaikum (which means may death be upon you) you say Wa Alaikum, and on you.

Narrated Ibn `Umar:

Allah's Apostle said, "When the Jews greet anyone of you they say: 'Sam'Alaika (death be upon you); so you should say; 'Wa 'Alaika (and upon you).'"

حَدَّثَنَا مُسَدَّدٌ، حَدَّثَنَا يَحْيَى بْنُ سَعِيدٍ، عَنْ سُفْيَانَ، وَمَالِكِ بْنِ أَنَسٍ، قَالاَ حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ دِينَارٍ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ ابْنَ عُمَرَ ـ رضى الله عنهما ـ يَقُولُ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ "‏ إِنَّ الْيَهُودَ إِذَا سَلَّمُوا عَلَى أَحَدِكُمْ إِنَّمَا يَقُولُونَ سَامٌ عَلَيْكَ‏.‏ فَقُلْ عَلَيْكَ ‏"‏‏.‏

Bukari

I also recall reading some where that if a non-believer says the salaams than just say "Salam" or peace. Or perhaps it is as brother Muz said in his answer.

I would, to be on the good side not say the greetings in Arabic if you are not Muslim, because you do not know who will get offended and how they might react. Now the reason why I also suggest not to say it in Arabic is because Arabic is considered the religion's language, and if you say some words, it is like you are making fun of it. WllahA'llamm.

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Salam(islamicic) - peace...with so much more meaning than just one word behind it. Shalom(jewish) - peace...with so much more meaning than just one word behind it.

When you look these words up in the dictionary, you can write a whole book about just the word and its intent! In English...it just has a jew words of explanation. It does not convey the religious intent of these words. So, for the non-religious, it just means peace, which is nice and it is polite, kind and shows a good heart or good manners.

When you say salam, or shalom, or peace to a Christian...they will return the same word to you. But what they mean when they say or return that greeting, they do so with a different intent. The point is, it depends upon who you believe in, who do you call god?

Therefore i can understand why the jew/muslim may be offended because they do not recognise or accept any other god eg the Christian God and they do not want His blessings as they see it as an insult. The Christian, however, interpret it as His God the trinity God, they return the greeting with the meaning that they understand it to have - their interpretation of these words or blessings of peace. They do not believe that the peace and the love of their God, is exclusive to Christians only, they believe that the peace of God is for everyone, so they should be allowed, as it is their right and their belief to give the greeting? Yes? - unlike the belief of muslims, jews and other religions who believe that their god only saves them exclusively - they also have the right to their beliefs that their god saves only them and that the blessing is not to be passed onto other people...yes? Yes! So the problem comes then if the Christian passes this blessing onto another religion whom he knows will be offended...he would be in the wrong. His right may not infringe upon the right of another yes? That is true...but it is complicated, you must agree, because both have rights you may say and both will infringe upon the other? Yes, then the Christian should act according to his faith which is to not offend, to not pick up offence and not to enter into arguments, they are to be peace makers... and if using this greeting causes offence or has the opposite effect than that of peace...then they should abstain from using it. It is called wisdom along with common sense and good manners. Something greatly lacking in today's society.

So to accept or return the greeting may depend upon the intent, it may depend upon the religious views of the other person, and it may just depend on good manners? Everyone is entitled to their own interpretation. Some may be offended. So, it can be very easy to offend or just irritate some people if you do not know them well...and we should be wise about this. One can only really do the right thing, if you know the other person's stance upon this greeting. If a muslim greets me (as on my fb message i received this morning from a muslim friend in afghanistan) then i greet him back...peace to you too. And in my heart, i pray. I did this, because he first greeted me. I would not greet him first with this greeting, he may be offended, i dont know him that well. Was I offended by his greeting? Not at all! It gave me the opportunity to send him some blessings.

Generally people respond with the same greeting to be polite and most people do not really convey "messages" other than to be polite and they generally experience the greeting as being very nice, kind and polite - good manners...depending on their own views.

Lastly, i hope we can all cut each other some slack...life is too short to hold grudges. Rather make excuses for one another...maybe that person didnt really mean it like that...or maybe that person just doesnt know you well and wouldnt it be better to just let it go? God bless you!

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Quran teaches us....

Para 6 - Al-Anaam (MAKKA) : Verse 54

وَاِذَا جَآءَكَ الَّذِيۡنَ يُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ بِاٰيٰتِنَا فَقُلۡ سَلَمٌ عَلَيۡكُمۡ‌ كَتَبَ رَبُّكُمۡ عَلٰى نَفۡسِهِ الرَّحۡمَةَ‌ ۙ اَنَّهٗ مَنۡ عَمِلَ مِنۡكُمۡ سُوۡٓءًۢا بِجَهَالَةٍ ثُمَّ تَابَ مِنۡۢ بَعۡدِهٖ وَاَصۡلَحَۙ فَاَنَّهٗ غَفُوۡرٌ رَّحِيۡمٌ

When those who believe in Our Ayât (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) come to you, say: "Salâmun 'Alaikum" (peace be on you); your Lord has written (prescribed) Mercy for Himself, so that, if any of you does evil in ignorance, and thereafter repents and does righteous good deeds (by obeying Allâh), then surely, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

Sura 13 - Al-Rad (MAKKA) : Verse 24

سَلٰمٌ عَلَيۡكُمۡ بِمَا صَبَرۡتُمۡ‌ فَنِعۡمَ عُقۡبَى الدَّارِوَالَّذِيۡنَ يَنۡقُضُوۡنَ عَهۡدَ اللّٰهِ مِنۡۢ بَعۡدِ مِيۡثَاقِهٖ وَيَقۡطَعُوۡنَ مَاۤ اَمَرَ اللّٰهُ بِهٖۤ اَنۡ يُّوۡصَلَ وَيُفۡسِدُوۡنَ فِى الۡاَرۡضِ‌ۙ اُولٰۤٮِٕكَ لَهُمُ اللَّعۡنَةُ وَلَهُمۡ سُوۡۤءُ الدَّارِ‏ؕ‏

"Salâmun 'Alaikum (peace be upon you) for that you persevered in patience! Excellent indeed is the final home!

Sura 16 - An-Nahl (MAKKA) : Verse 32

الَّذِيۡنَ تَتَوَفّٰٮهُمُ الۡمَلٰۤٮِٕكَةُ طَيِّبِيۡنَ‌ ۙ يَقُوۡلُوۡنَ سَلٰمٌ عَلَيۡكُمُۙ ادۡخُلُوا الۡجَـنَّةَ بِمَا كُنۡتُمۡ تَعۡمَلُوۡنَ‏ Those whose lives the angels take while they are in a pious state (i.e. pure from all evil, and worshipping none but Allâh Alone) saying (to them): Salâmun 'Alaikum (peace be on you) enter you Paradise, because of that (the good) which you used to do (in the world)."

Sura 33 - Al-Ahzab (MADINA) : Verse 44

تَحِيَّتُهُمۡ يَوۡمَ يَلۡقَوۡنَهٗ سَلٰمٌ ۖۚ وَاَعَدَّ لَهُمۡ اَجۡرًا كَرِيۡمًا‏

Their greeting on the Day they shall meet Him will be "Salâm: Peace (i.e. the angels will say to them: Salâmu 'Alaikum)!" And He has prepared for them a generous reward (i.e. Paradise).

Sura 39 - Az-Zumar (MAKKA) : Verse 73

وَسِيۡقَ الَّذِيۡنَ اتَّقَوۡا رَبَّهُمۡ اِلَى الۡجَـنَّةِ زُمَرًا‌ؕ حَتّٰٓى اِذَا جَآءُوۡهَا وَفُتِحَتۡ اَبۡوَابُهَا وَقَالَ لَهُمۡ خَزَنَتُهَا سَلٰمٌ عَلَيۡكُمۡ طِبۡتُمۡ فَادۡخُلُوۡهَا خٰلِدِيۡنَ‏

And those who kept their duty to their Lord will be led to Paradise in groups, till, when they reach it, and its gates will be opened (before their arrival for their reception) and its keepers will say: Salâmun 'Alaikum (peace be upon you)! You have done well, so enter here to abide therein."

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) addressed letter to MUNZIR BIN SAWAI with salutation/Greetings SALAM UN ALAIKUM. And this guides us that a muslim can greet a non-muslim with salutation Salam un Alaikum.

Whence come this third source of guidance to say ASSALAM ALAIKUM!

  • Especially the Letter of our Messenger (Peace be upon him) shows that this ahadith about not beginning the salutation and greeting have weaknesses! – Medi1Saif Dec 21 '15 at 6:17

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