Greetings between Muslims and non-Muslims

Can you talk about greetings between Muslims and non-Muslims? Can Muslims initiate greetings to non-Muslims? Are they obligated to return their greetings? What do they say? What if the non-Muslim greeting was “Assalaamu Alaykum” (Peace be upon you), the traditional Islamic greeting?

Let’s start with returning a greeting from non-Muslims. The Quran makes it clear that we must return the greeting with a more beautiful one, or at least one like it,

“And when you are greeted with a greeting, greet [in return] with a more beautiful one than it or [at least] return it [in a like manner]. Indeed, God is ever, over all things, an Accountant.” (4:86)

Notice how God ends this verse with His Attribute that emphasizes that He keeps count? Every time you fail to return a greeting, it is written down against you!

What do you say? Something more beautiful! Suppose a non-Muslim says to you, “Merry Christmas!” You can say back, “May you have a happy season!” If they say, “Assalaamu Alaykum”, you can say, “And may peace and guidance be with you!”

A beautiful person can think of many beautiful things to say.

Now, can a Muslim initiate greeting to a non-Muslim? You will read opinions out there that a Muslim shouldn’t. But that opinion does not square with the Quran, which tells us that Moses and Aaron were commanded by God to initiate greeting to Pharaoh! Read it, if you will in verse 20:47,

“So go (Moses and Aaron) to him (Pharaoh) and say, ‘Indeed, we are messengers of your Lord, so send with us the Children of Israel and do not torment them. We have come to you with a sign from your Lord. And peace is upon him who follows guidance.” (20:47)

If we can greet a sworn enemy, all the more reason we should greet friendly folks.

Finally, you may encounter a hadeeth, reported by Al-Bukhaari and narrated by `Aa’isha, may God have been pleased with her, in which she tells an event when a group of Jews came calling on the Prophet (PBUH). When they met him, they said, “Assaamu Alaykum”. A phonetic distortion which means “Death be upon you!” It sounds a lot like “Assalaamu Alaykum, except that it is missing an L. `Aa’isha recognized the curse and said to them, “And may God’s curse be upon you!” What did the Prophet (PBUH) say? He said, “Wa Alaykum” (Likewise)!! He followed God’s orders of returning the “greeting”. It was really a curse disguised as a greeting, but even then, the Prophet (PBUH) gives us the lofty role model of being magnanimous even when insulted. He said to `Aa’isha, “God loves gentleness in everything.”

One Response to “Greetings between Muslims and non-Muslims”

  1. Aapa says:

    It is common sense. A simple greeting may be the entrance to a conversation about Islam.
    Muslims are happy people.

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