Both Muslims and Jews greet each other with prayers of peace, yet we must ask, what is the significance of the salām and what does it mean?
“And if you are faithful and mindful ˹of Allah˺, you will receive a great reward.” – Qurʾān 3:279d (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, The Clear Quran).
“Is there any reward for goodness except goodness?” – Qurʾān 55:60 (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, The Clear Quran).
These āyāt teach a profound lesson that many miss. When we give the Salām (i.e. when you greet with “as-salāmu ‘alaykum [may the peace of God be upon you], and reply with “wa ‘alaykumus salām/ wa ‘alaykum as-salām [the greeting of prayer is returned; meaning: and upon you the peace of God]) you’re doing several things at once:
1. Making a du‘a for someone (that Allāh, who is As-Salām from Qurʾān 59:23 grants them peace).
2. Fulfilling the command of Allāh to make du‘a:
“Your Lord has proclaimed, “Call upon Me, I will respond to you.” – Qurʾān 40:60 (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, The Clear Quran).
3. Obeying the command of Allāh to give the Salām:
“However, when you enter houses, greet one another with a greeting ˹of peace˺ from Allah, blessed and good. This is how Allah makes His revelations clear to you, so perhaps you will understand.” – Qurʾān 24:61 (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, The Clear Quran).
4. When you reply to the Salām you get the reward of also praying for the other person.
5. When you reply you fulfilll the command of Allāh:
“And when you are greeted, respond with a better greeting or at least similarly. Surely Allah is a ˹vigilant˺ Reckoner of all things.” – Qurʾān 4:86 (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, The Clear Quran).
6. You’re making dhikr (remembrance of God) of Allāh, reminding others to remember Allāh, and obeying the command to remember Allāh from the Qurʾān:
“˹Always˺ remember the Name of your Lord, and devote yourself to Him wholeheartedly.” – Qurʾān 73:8 (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, The Clear Quran).
Imagine just by giving (or returning) something as simple as the Salām that you are fulfilling 7-8 commands of Allāh that are worthy of reward from Him.
Hence, Allāh declares:
“And We have certainly made the Quran easy to remember. So is there anyone who will be mindful?” – Qurʾān 54:17 (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, The Clear Quran).
“So whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it.” – Qurʾān 99:7 (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, The Clear Quran).
This is the beauty and depth of our Islām as found in something so simple as the Islamic greeting, yet it is so rewarding! Such a teaching can also be found in Judaism and Christianity. Jews traditionally greet each other with “shalom aleichem” (which means ‘peace unto you‘), even God in Judges 6:23 is said to have used a form of it as well. In Christianity it seems to have certainly been a greeting which Jesus the son of Mary is said to have used:
While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” – Luke 24:36 (NIV).
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” – John 20:19 (NIV).
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:21 (NIV).
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” – John 20:26 (NIV).
There is even a command from Jesus to his disciples, which is very similar to the command the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave to his companions:
“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ – Luke 10:5 (NIV).
While this practise is preserved by Muslims and Jews, most evangelical Christians do not keep this practise, though the Catholic Church keeps some form of this tradition in the rite of peace, but usually this specific phrase is not used and the rite involves shaking of the hands or hugging. The Salām then, is something beautiful, rewarding and meaningful, it is a simple practise but one which invokes the peace of God upon all of His creation.
And Allāh knows best.