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Open Minds: 'Can I use 'As-salamu alaikum' as a non-Muslim?'.

RECENTLY there was a letter in 7DAYS from a man who was told he should not be using the greeting 'As-salamu alaikum' as he is not a Muslim.

I was quite shocked by this, but wondered if it is inappropriate for people of other faiths to use it?

So, let's begin by looking at the greeting and where it comes from. As'salamu alaikum is, of course, Arabic, but its basic foundation is that it is a greeting shared by various religions and cultures, including Islam. It means: 'Peace be upon you'. The ancient Greeks greeted each other with "Charie" or peace and so did the first followers of Moses and Jesus. As a Muslim you have submitted freely to the teachings of Allah and HE teaches us that all humans are the same, regardless of gender, colour, status, age and that the relationship between mankind should be about peace and peaceful living.

So you shalt not lie, shalt not steal, take care of thy neighbour and honour thy parents. These commandments are shared by many faiths, so whether you are Christian, Jew, or whatever, you may believe in these axioms. They are the basis of most societies.

So how is it that Islam does not allow everyone to greet mankind with peace?

Islam was the last revelation, the last update for mankind, I like to call it the 'operating system between mankind'. So when somebody says "are you Muslim, why are you using this greeting?" Please forgive their lack of true knowledge of the faith.

Was there a circumstance when sharing this greeting was not permitted or to be said or used? We can look back at a time when the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) was delivering the message of Islam (peace) and there were people who opposed, mocked and rejected his prophethood, just like groups of people rejected Moses and Jesus in their time.

Those rejecters used to sarcastically say 'as'sam' alaik (death be upon you) instead of 'as'salamu alaikum' (peace be upon you). So therefore it was not appropriate to say as'salamu alaikum to them and this is where the prohibition came from.

To some, it extends a bit of confusion about the how and to whom the greeting should be used. If anyone says to you 'may death be upon you' then you would not greet them with 'peace be with you'. So, in this case the Prophet (PBUH) advised believers to wait to be greeted first, then return the greeting if it is good.

In the Quran it emphasises that when you are greeted by someone, return a better greeting.

This is the most common use of as'salamu alaikum and when someone greets you, then you should greet him or her back with more by saying as'salamu alaikum wa rahmatullah he wa barakatuhu -- meaning 'peace be upon you and peace and blessings of Allah be upon you'. A non-Arabic speaker who says the full greeting may be saying it without really understanding the full meaning behind it.

It is not for us to judge whether or not the greeting is understood in its deepest terms, or whether they are using the greeting to put us at ease or to attempt to honour us by greeting us with our favoured greeting. We should not speculate on the person's intentions and wonder if they are being sarcastic or joking; we should take them at face value, that they are sharing with us a simple yet meaningful greeting of peace.

Of course if it is evident that your intention is to mock me, to make fun of me, then I will not necessarily be happy because this is someA[degrees]thing we have to be appropriate about. It's not 'hello, how are you doing?' It's not 'what's up dog?' like what my son would say to be cool.

The whole principle of the message of faith is the unity of mankind. God is the only judge between us.

So I hope that we learn rather than use 'Hi, how are you doing,' or bonjour, guten tag, ciao, hola, that we go back to our original Shalom alaikum or Ah'leem alaikum or the last revelation as' salamu alaikum.

When we meet from now on I hope we simply wish each other peace and wellbeing and we really mean it. My hope is that this small country can be an example of peace, and we spread our goodwill to other nations, an example of a city of peace with no barriers between the people.

As'salamu Alaikum... to all.

Nasif Kayed is general manager of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Every week in 7DAYS he addresses topics about culture and life. Do you have a question for Nasif? Email openminds@7days.ae

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Publication:7 Days (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Feb 10, 2013
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